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Tennessee vs Florida Preview

Plenty of size accentuates a great Gator defense, which should present a significant challenge and educational opportunity for Tennessee.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Tennessee opened SEC play by shooting a frosty 3 for 28 from the three point line at Auburn.  The Tigers responded with 12 of 26, which was enough to send the Vols to an 0-1 start in an 83-77 loss on The Plains.  Tennessee is now 7-0 in Knoxville and 0-6 everywhere else.

The good news is the Vols are back-to-back at Thompson-Boling Arena this week.  The bad news is it won't be easy:  the Florida Gators are in town tonight, and #21 Texas A&M comes knocking Saturday.

Florida opened SEC play with a dominant 77-63 win over Georgia.  Mike White is pushing the good-not-great narrative, giving the Gators room to grow.  But they've already shown improvement over last year's below .500 effort.

The Gators are getting it done with defense, which should make this an interesting clash of styles.  Florida allows just 62 points per game and is rated fourth in Ken Pomeroy's defensive ratings.  Florida is holding teams to 37.5% from the floor (13th nationally) and just 40.1% from inside the arc (12th nationally).  And though this may have more to do with who they've played, it's also worth noting teams haven't found answers from three either:  Florida is 43rd nationally in three pointers allowed and 47th in three point attempts allowed.

Auburn invited Tennessee to beat them from the arc, and the Vols were a little too willing to accept the invitation.  Tennessee shoots 33.7% from three this year, with Armani Moore surprisingly leading the way at 39.3% and Kevin Punter just behind at 37.9%.  But those two combined with Devon Baulkman to go 0 for 14 at Auburn, with Detrick Mostella adding just 1 for 6.  The Vols didn't suffer just because players who shouldn't have been shooting threes were launching - everyone was launching, and everyone was coming up empty.  In particular Auburn did a great job on Armani, who scored just one point.

The Vols weren't good enough to beat Auburn with that kind of production, which means it certainly won't get it done against Florida either.  How disciplined and effective they can be against a great Gator defense will be critical; despite having played a number of good teams in the non-conference, Tennessee is yet to see this kind of defensive execution.  Gonzaga is the best defensive team the Vols have played so far, but they rank just 77th in KenPom.

Florida's production is highlighted by six players.  Dorian Finney-Smith, John Egbunu, and Devin Robinson are all 11-13 point per game scorers and all average 7 rebounds.  That front line is 6'8", 6'8", 6'11".  Kyle Alexander looked to be making small steps as a true freshman, but Rick Barnes pulled him after just four minutes against Tennessee State and he did not play against Auburn.  So how the Vols will defend against that kind of size is certainly a question mark again.

Meanwhile freshman guard KeVaughn Allen dropped 32 on Florida State in a close loss, then followed up with 18 against Georgia.  Fellow guard Kasey Hill adds 8.5 points per game, and watch out for Chris Chiozza at 40.5% from the arc.

On paper this is a tough assignment for Tennessee.  The Vols still got 31 from Kevin Punter at Auburn, who is second in the SEC in scoring at 22.8 per game.  But Tennessee has to get more from everyone else, and cannot survive another o-fer from Armani Moore.  The post issues aren't new and will be a significant challenge, but the biggest thing we may learn from this game is what Rick Barnes' offense will do against an elite defensive team.

The Vols are breaking out the smokey greys tonight; let's hope they help the three ball fall.  7:00 PM, ESPN2.