This game separates itself from everything else in so many ways. Florida is the best team we've played all year, by far. Georgetown is rolling right now, Memphis is doing their usual C-USA business, and the Wichita State win still looks good, no doubt. But Florida is a different animal, a contender for a number one seed in the NCAA Tournament and still very much in the driver's seat in this league. The Gators don't just win, they dominate: Florida's 12 SEC wins have come by an average of 25 points. That includes 22 points in Baton Rouge, 21 in College Station, 17 in Athens, 35 in Starkville, and 31 at Auburn. The Gators did lose at Arkansas and at Missouri (two teams they beat handily in Gainesville), so there is precedent, but not one a whole lot of people are putting a whole lot of weight in.
This is the biggest game of Cuonzo Martin's tenure at Tennessee, by far. The season finale win last year against Vanderbilt was huge, no doubt, as it got the Vols squarely on the bubble headed to the SEC Tournament. But given the quality of the opponent tonight and, in turn, what a win would do for us and for Cuonzo? This is as big as it's ever been for us the last two years.
Whatever history is worth, it is massively on our side. The only thing keeping us from calling this the best team Cuonzo has faced at UT is last year's Kentucky team...and when they came to Knoxville in Jarnell Stokes' very first game, they were lucky to get out alive by three points. Not just Bruce Pearl, but a Cuonzo Martin Tennessee team has stood toe to toe with the best of the best in Knoxville before.
And then there's this rivalry, which has been colored orange from the day Pearl walked in, which is even more impressive considering the Gators are clearly the best program in the SEC in these last eight years. The Vols are 10-5 against Florida since 2006. Florida's wins include a game in 2007 played without Chris Lofton, a Gainesville win in 2010, and a three game sweep in Pearl's last season. But any doubts about change in this rivalry were erased last year, when Tennessee dominated Florida twice, and neither game was as close as the final score indicated. First came the beacon of hope in Knoxville to open SEC play, where the Vols held Florida to 35.7% from the field and almost thirty points under their scoring average in a 67-56 win, a game the Vols led by as many as 16 points in the second half. In the rematch in Gainesville, the Vols led by 14 with two minutes to go before late Florida threes made the final score 75-70 Vols. It was Florida's first home loss of the season.
Keep in mind, that was an Elite Eight Florida team. And keep in mind...most of the personnel is exactly the same this year.
Forget the RPI, forget the bubble, forget the standings. Let's talk about what we can do to win. Because it will take the best of our best basketball to get the job done tonight.
What does this Florida team do well? Lots of things:
- Field Goal Percentage: 49.2%, 8th nationally, best in the SEC
- Three Pointers Attempted (597), Made (232), and Percentage (38.9%), all best in the SEC
- Defensive Rebounding Percentage: 72.3%, second in the SEC
- Assists Per Game (16.0) and Assist/Turnover Ratio (1.4), both best in the SEC. A/TO ratio is 9th nationally.
- Field Goal Percentage Defense: 37.3%, best in the SEC
- Opponent Three Point Percentage: 30.1%, best in the SEC
- Florida leads the SEC in both offensive and defensive effective FG%
- Florida leads the SEC in both offensive and defensive points per possession