Florida welcomes one the most dominant teams in the country on Saturday when the Tennessee Volunteers come to town but with great competition comes a great opportunity for a resume-building win the Gators could really use. Unable to win against a ranked opponent yet this season a victory over the #3 ‘Vols would be a marquee win and one that could get the Gators onto the right track moving forward. Currently at 1-1 in SEC play this game will also be the difference between a winning or losing record and a win would be excellent as they follow up Tennessee with a difficult road contest at #14 Mississippi State. Do the Gators have a chance at knocking off one of best teams in the country? They just might. Let’s take a look at some of the storylines entering this game.
Tennessee has a physically imposing starting lineup and I’m curious to see how the Gators try to match it. The ‘Vols often start 6’3” Jordan Bone and 6’5” Jordan Bowden in the backcourt (if there’s a backcourt with two closer sounding names in the country, I want to know about it) but it’s the forward sports where they really bring the beef. Admirable Schofield starts at small forward with a hulking 6’6”, 245-pound frame and Grant Williams has bulk at 6’7”, 240 playing power forward and that could cause some issues for the Gators. Florida went extra small against Arkansas on Wednesday with Jalen Hudson at the “4” and KeVaughn Allen at the “3” and if they want to do that again they’ll be giving up some serious size at both positions. I expect the Gators to get back to a more traditional lineup to match up the size but I think they might look at getting Keyontae Johnson into the starting mix. He has the strength to battle one of Schofield or Williams and offensively made some nice decisions out of the dribble drive offense against Arkansas. I’m curious to see if Isaiah Stokes gets back in the rotation to battle down low, though his foot speed could be attacked by Williams on the perimeter if he decides to take him out there. Who the Gators decide to roll out and when will be interesting and they try to take Tennessee’s physical advantage out of the equation.
When you see the team strength of Tennessee you might think they focus on an identity of defense and though they are really good on that end it’s been their offense that has warranted them being an early Final Four pick in the eyes of many observers. They are currently 4th in KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency ranking and are 13th in effective field goal percentage. The stat that points most to how they play offense is the percentage of their field goals that are assisted which is currently 66.7%, good for 6th in the country and well ahead of Florida’s 53.0%. Having so many of their buckets scored off assists shows how well they move the basketball and how good they are at generating layups at the rim. Jordan Bone is an excellent passer with 6.3 assists per game but everyone on Tennessee contributes in that facet of the game. Grant Williams (3.9), Lamonte Turner (3.0), Jordan Bowden (2.9), and Admiral Schofield (2.9) all have assist numbers that make them look like point guards despite playing other positions and with all those ball movers on the floor at once the Gators will need to be locked in at all times defensively. Obviously the Gators have been rock solid on their end so far this season but this might be the biggest test yet.
Owning The Glass
Tennessee’s physicality is always seen in the rebounding category and they’ve been excellent all season long. Starting center Kyle Alexander leads the way with 8.1 rebounds per game but Grant Williams (7.8) and Admiral Schofield (6.2) aren’t far behind. They love to get after any missed shots and get offensive rebounds on 33.3% of their misses and for that reason the Gators are going to have to battle every time a shot comes off the rim. Rebounding hasn’t been the Gators’ strong suit and the Volunteers will provide a major challenge in this area. The rebounding total will be an interesting one to watch if the Gators stay in this game.
Underrated Player To Watch
If you’re headed to the O’Dome to watch the game Saturday I suggest you get there early enough to see the warm-up of one of the most unique players in college basketball, Yves Pons. Considering he’s Tennessee’s 8th leading scorer and a wing that plays 18 minutes per game you might think I’m playing with you but I assure you, I’m not. A player that NBA scouts love, he has ABSURD athleticism and can throw down some inhuman dunks you aren’t going to see anywhere else. He lacks offensive polish and the basketball IQ to get those opportunities in-game very often but if you can watch him throw down some crazy dunks in the lay-up lines, I suggest you do it.
If there is one area Tennessee is average in offensively, it’s their 3-point shooting. At 34.9% they are 136th in the country and though that isn’t terrible the Gators might be better off letting the Volunteers shoot jumpers than allow the ball to get into the paint where they’re super effective. Both starting guards in Jordan Bone (26.4%) and Jordan Bowden (27.3%) have been bad from behind the arc and that could allow the Gators to really double down on Williams and Schofield.
Getting a win against this wonderfully assembled and developed Tennessee team might seem like a tall task and I know a lot of fans don’t see us staying in the game at all, but here’s something to keep in mind. Tennessee is currently 4th in KenPom’s offensive efficiency ranking and 19th in defense. That is really good. However, Michigan State is currently 2nd in offensive efficiency and 14th in defensive efficiency. The Gators had one of their worst offensive performances of the season in that one and were still in the game until the final possession and considering the numbers think Michigan State is a better team than Tennessee, there is good reason to believe that Gators will take this one right down to the wire. Truthfully, I don’t fully believe those numbers as I think Tennessee is the better squad than Michigan State but I still think the Gators have everything it takes to keep this game close and maybe even come out on top.
Keys To The Game
Florida will have to find lineups that are both efficient offensively and also ones that match up defensively against the potent Volunteers. I think we might see some different groupings than we’ve seen in the past as the Gators match up with Tennessee’s atypical lineup and they’ll need to find some way to generate some chemistry. Staying out of foul trouble will be tough but it’s something they’ll need to do as they can’t afford to be out some key players when they need a big stop on a big possession.
Another question for the Gators will be who can step up offensively. I don’t think that Florida will have a lot of success going at excellent defenders in the frontcourt like Admiral Schofield, Grant Williams, and Kyle Alexander, so I really think it’s up to Florida’s guards to make things happen offensively. Hey, Jalen Hudson, we’ve been waiting for you to explode offensively and this is as good a game for that to happen as any.
I expect this one to stay close due to Florida’s defense while also having full respect for the fact that Tennessee will be a National Championship contender.
It should be a fun one!