The Vols and the #24 Gators have their only regular season meeting Saturday at 5:15 PM ET (ESPN2). A series dominated by the Big Orange during Bruce Pearl’s tenure had drifted south with four consecutive Gator victories before Rick Barnes and the Vols righted the ship one year ago today by blowing Florida out in a stunning performance. The Vols led 53-31 at halftime and 64-34 seven minutes into the second half, winning 83-69 behind 26 from Kevin Punter.
Beating Florida this time wouldn’t be so stunning the way the Vols have been playing, but it also won’t be easy. The Gators are 13th in KenPom, 23rd in offense and 13th in defense. At 11-3 they have near misses with Gonzaga, Duke, and Florida State, and opened conference play by beating Arkansas in Fayetteville and holding serve at home against Ole Miss.
This is largely last year’s team - guards KeVaughn Allen & Kasey Hill and forwards Devin Robinson & John Egbunu are all back - but they added College of Charleston transfer Canyon Barry, son of underhanded free-throw king Rick.
Where do the Gators excel?
- Turnovers. Florida turns it over on only 13.8% of their possessions, and forces a turnover on 20.2% of opponent possessions. Both numbers are in the Top 30 nationally. The Vols have been above average in both departments and their young team has already played with composure in hostile environments. They had only 10 at Texas A&M and only eight against Arkansas. Maintaining that level of play will be key to a potential upset.
- Shot Blocking. The Gators and Vols are both strong here: Florida sends back 13.4% of opponent shots, Tennessee 13.3%. Egbunu and Grant Williams both block 2.1 shots per game; Williams was especially strong against Moses Kingsley on Tuesday. If you’ve seen Tennessee play at all you’re a fan of this kid; he’s got some Jarnell Stokes in him. That’ll be especially important with John Fulkerson looking at a redshirt.
- KeVaughn Allen shooting threes. He started the year 2-of-11 in the first two games. Since then he’s 29-of-65 (44.6%). In the last three games he’s 14-of-23 (60.9%). I’m not sure Tennessee has faced a shooter this good this season. We’ll learn a lot about these freshmen watching who Barnes chooses to put on him.
On paper this isn’t a game Tennessee has to have to achieve their reasonable goals this season; the Vols at 8-6 (1-1) are 79th in RPI and 63rd in KenPom, and those two numbers aren’t likely to suffer in a competitive loss to this team. And at this point you expect Tennessee to be competitive with everyone, which has made this season a lot more enjoyable than we anticipated so far. We’ll see if the Vols can score their first ranked win and Rick Barnes can go to 2-0 against Mike White.