Meighan Simmons, pictured in her natural environment (shooting). - Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports
The Lady Vols travel to Gainesville, where Jennifer George and the Florida Gators are avoiding hangovers by starting at 11:30 AM. Yeah, what?
So, let's start with the obvious: this first tip time is all kinds of awkward. Really, 11:30 AM on a Sunday? Is anyone even going to be awake for this game? Who planned this? (In related news, this game will be shown on ESPNU.)
Okay, now that the mandatory complaining about the start time is over with, these Florida Gators haven't changed too much from the iteration we saw dominated by the Lady Vols in the SEC Tournament last year. In that game, Glory Johnson claimed Jennifer George as her own - I can only assume she relinquished that right when she graduated - so if y'all remember the discounting of Georgia I was doing in spades last week, I'm going to have the same problem with George. Apologies in advance.
Still, she's Florida's leader in points (13.2) and boards (8.9), so discount that at your own peril. (She also weirdly has more steals per game than assists per game. I don't think I'd read into that much, though.) Beyond her, Jaterra Bonds (11.6 ppg, 3.8 apg, but 3.5 TO/g) and Carlie Needles are probably the key players for Florida. And yes, I see you Sydnee Moss and your 10.6 ppg; I also see your 11 shots per game and 2.8 FTs per game. You better be able to average 10.6 ppg.
In related news, there are chunks of Florida's roster which feel a little bit like dead wood. I'm unclear as to why Lily Svete has started every game; she doesn't contribute anything stat-wise. Really, I had to reach to find a key player beyond Bonds and George; a lot of players I'd - for lack of better words - expect that kind of production, given those minutes. Sure, every player getting regular PT averages at least 5 points per game; they also average at least 15 minutes and 4 shots per game, so of course.
For the most part, Florida uses a three-guard rotation, so the same theoretical position issues Missouri tried to force on Tennessee will be happening here. The differences, such as they are, is that Florida doesn't have a dead-eye off the bench like Morgan Eye, and the rest of the Gator team is better than Mizzou. They're also a bit more inside-out, which makes little sense for a guard-dominated team but again, Jennifer George.
So what does that mean for the Lady Vols? BULLET POINTS, THAT'S WHAT.
- Who has the answer for George? This will likely fall to one of Isabelle Harrison or Bashaara Graves. Graves has the kind of game that would cause George fits, were Graves a junior; as it stands now, Graves may end up a bit squelched by George. However, Harrison should have the interior game to give her fits. The difference between the Harrison/Graves came and what Glory did is Glory was more comfortable at 12-15 feet than either of them; I'm not sure it'll matter, but it's worth bearing out at least. This is the kind of game that Cierra Burdick could wreck house in.
- The schedule edge. Florida's losses for the most part aren't bad - no huge shame in losing to Florida State, at Kentucky, or at (13-2) Michigan. However, that loss to Arizona State (who has a loss to 5-9 Washington State)? Yeah, that stings. Their best win is probably against LSU. Tennessee has - I think - five wins better than that (Georgia Tech, Miami, North Carolina, Texas Georgia). So sure, Florida's 13-4; Tennessee might be 16-1 with that schedule, and I wouldn't blink at 17-0.
- Guard defense. Meighan Simmons' on-ball defense (and Ariel Massengale's as well - she's gotten a lot better this year) will be critical - Florida's going to use a lot of guard play. Then again, it also goes without saying that I'm going to recommend letting Sydnee Moss shoot her heart out. (And no, Simmons does not get a free pass to shoot every time Moss does - I'm just praying she goes 40% from the field.)
- Inside-out. I keep coming back to this because it's where the Lady Vols are best; the Harrison-Graves-Jones interior rotation is a big, effective deal. Simmons will shoot, regardless of what the interior group does. She's going to be way more effective if Harrison or Graves makes hay inside. Taber Spani should be able to take some liberties with corner treys, but I don't think the Lady Vols will need too much with her.
- This start time. Man, this makes predictions hard. I would normally think this would be a 20-point Tennessee win at least, but 11:30 AM on the road? That isn't as much fun. Let's call a 71-58 Lady Vol win, which seems light but I'm assuming nobody wakes up until halftime. (Hooper, for the record, is calling a 75-59 game.) I'll also call Harrison with a double-double again.