After two very convincing home wins, Tennessee hits the road to Gainesville to take on the Florida Gators - a team that should give a better challenge to the current SEC leaders. Florida is a real Jekyll-and-Hyde team who is currently undefeated at home but managed their first road win of the season with a 65-63 squeaker against South Carolina on Sunday. (You can bet that they're happy to face Tennessee on their own court for the first of two such matchups this season.) While the Lady Vols are rightly favored tonight, this is one of the conference games on the schedule that you can actually see a way for the underdog to win. Florida has had their own growing pains this year, but they do possess team depth - a crucial piece of the puzzle for any team taking on Tennessee.
The first eye-popper about Florida is that only one player has averaged double-digit scoring this year - and that at merely 10.2 points per game. Florida does not rely on one shooter to shoulder the load in a game; this is a definite plus for the Gators, as Tennessee loves to shut down an opponent's leading scorer and see who else can shoot. Only 60% of Florida's points have come from their starters, however, so Tennessee will have to generalize their defense.
One consequence of the lack of a go-to scorer is that Florida only averages 67.1 points per game, which is about 120th in Division 1 play (Tennessee averages 81.9). Florida will not beat Tennessee by getting into a scoring festival. However, Florida does tend to take smart shots and averages 42 % from the floor, which is better than Tennessee's previous two opponents.
The team depth of Florida also surfaces in the number of minutes played by each player: 10 of their 12 players average over 10 minutes per game, with the 11th player averaging 9.1. The backups play significant minutes and aren't just breather bait for the starters. The used roster depth is a must when playing an elite team like Tennessee and will help Florida maintain the energy and pace that this game will demand.
If Tennessee's recent Renaissance of defense and rebounding are for real, they will show up in this game. Without the hustle element to the game, Tennessee will find themselves in a close match against a smart, deep Florida team. If Tennessee's defense shows up, they can hold Florida to 30%-ish shooting and take home another convincing win.
This is a do-or-die game for Florida; with an early loss to Auburn, the Gators can find themselves two games back of both Tennessee and Georgia with one lost tiebreak - a deficit that no team can reasonably be expected to overcome in SEC play. On the other side, a Florida win will put them only a game behind Georgia with a tiebreaker against the Lady Vols. They have plenty of motivation and will show up with their best. What will Tennessee bring?
Prediction: 81 - 64