Things will be different this time in Knoxville.
Florida is the better team.
The Gators will win.
Many times I have quietly uttered these assurances, perhaps hoping to reaffirm my own beliefs. Too often, however, the only affirmation provided is the one suggesting the Volunteers “have the Gators’ number.”
And the numbers aren’t pretty.
Florida has been vanquished in 8 of its last 10 trips to Thompson-Boling Arena with even the title teams falling in both visits.
Anthony Roberson, Matt Walsh and David Lee witnessed the most lopsided season split in 2003-2004 when the Volunteers incredibly avenged a 38-point loss to later capture the seemingly routine home victory.
But hey, the past is the just that — the past.
Things will be different this time in Knoxville if…
5) Remember that thing about amnesia?: Well, forget it.
Saturday it was advised that the Gators erase from memory its brief history against Missouri. Tonight, Florida should recollect, relive and revile its recent Knoxville legacy. Too often Florida has arrived with the better team but for many reasons did not prove so on Summit Court. The Gators are a veteran squad, tested in big games and hostile environments. Florida need not run from its futile past, but rather use is as fuel and fire — much the same way Missouri did three nights ago. At times, the Gators have looked flat in the opening stanza of road games. Properly channeled emotions could have Florida playing on edge from the opening tip.
4) Yeah, but you gotta make ‘em: Facing a Missouri team that ranked near the bottom in 3-point defense, the Gators dialed-up 33 long-distance attempts on Saturday. Unfortunately, 23 of those went “clang,” “clunk” and “clink.” Tennessee is a better defensive team from beyond the arc, yielding the fewest attempts to conference opposition. While perimeter length may make it difficult to find frequent shots, occasional undisciplined defense will result in some open looks for the Gators. Though good at limiting opportunities, the Volunteers rank a modest 10th in the conference for 3-point percentage defense. Florida will most likely to find its chances in transition and must make ‘em count.
3) Be in the Zone: Expect Florida to play a fair amount of zone versus the Volunteers. Following the loss to Missouri, Donovan conceded that a lack of depth attributed to a defense that “broke down” in the final stretch, forcing a late defensive switch. The Gators are even more short-handed now, and that adjustment will likely be made earlier and more often with Florida playing zone throughout the game. Tennessee is not a particularly strong 3-point shooting squad, but the Gators should by wary of the ‘Stache. Skylar McBee leads the Volunteers with 41 makes from beyond the arc. If Florida is effective in the zone, it should be able to “buy minutes,” defend the interior and mitigate foul trouble. The Gators have generally been a better man-to-man team, but tonight it must be solid in the zone.
2) Be Selfish: The Gators would be well-suited to do as my three-year-old son: keep what is theirs and take what is not. Perhaps Florida’s greatest advantage in the contest is that of turnover margin. The Gators ranks second in the conference with a plus-3.8 per-game figure, while the Volunteers rank 11th and concede nearly a minu-3 margin to its opposition. Unlike the slap-happy Tennessee teams of yester-year, this season’s squad also ranks dead last in conference steals. Florida may not press much for reasons relating to depth but should pressure the ball and look to create turnovers. Though recently improved, Trae Golden is sometimes sloppy with the ball, as is Jordan McRae.
1) CRASH: Florida has “crashed and burned” in recent Knoxville outings, but may avoid the same fate if tonight’s “crashing” is relegated to the boards. Perhaps the proverbial “story of the game” versus Missouri was the minus-12 rebounding margin the Gators could not overcome. A similar deficit to Tennessee will yield similar results. Though Missouri boasts the top rebounding margin in the conference, the Volunteers slip in just below with a plus-5.5 per-game margin. With Will Yeguete and Michael Frazier II sidelined, Florida will have a most formidable challenge in keeping Tennessee off the glass. Extended time in the zone may exacerbate the issue by making box-out recognition more difficult. It was said here on Saturday, and again now: Florida may need a monster performance from Patric Young, who this time will face the conference’s top rebounder in Stokes. Just “keeping it close” on the boards may be enough.