Florida vs. No. 2Tennessee
* When:Wednesday, 7 p.m.(ET)
* Where:Exactech Arena/O'Connell Center / Gainesville, Fla.
* Records: Florida (12-9, 5-3) / Tennessee (18-3, 7-1)
* TV:ESPN2 (Kevin Fitzgeraldand Jimmy Dykes)
* Radio: Gator Sports Network from LEARFIELD (Sean Kelleyand Lee Humphrey)
|Florida||Position||Height / Weight||Class||Statistics|
|Colin Castleton||F||6-11/ 240||5th-Senior||14.9 pts / 7.6 reb / 3.2 blk|
|Will Richard||G||6-5 / 206||Sophomore||10.2 pts / 4.5 reb|
|Riley Kugel||G||6-5 / 207||Freshman||6.8 pts / 2.3 reb|
|Myreon Jones||G||6-3 / 177||5th-Senior||5.1 pts / 3.0 reb|
|Kyle Lofton||G||6-3 / 188||5th-Senior||8.5 pts / 2.9 reb / 3.0 ast|
|Tennessee||Position||Height / Weight||Class||Statistics|
|Julian Phillips||F||6-8 / 198||Freshman||9.7 pts / 5.1 reb|
|Oliver Nkamhoua||F||6-9 / 236||Senior||11.0 pts / 5.1 reb|
|Josiah-Jordan James||G||6-6 / 224||Senior||10.1 pts / 4.5 reb|
|Santiago Vescovi||G||6-3/ 192||Senior||12.2 pts / 4.3reb / 3.1 ast|
|Zakai Zeigler||G||6-9 / 171||Sophomore||11.2 pts / 3.0 reb / 5.1 ast|
Setup / Series / Last Meeting
Florida and second-ranked Tennessee return to Southeastern Conference action after taking part Saturday in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge to very different results. The Gators, who have won five of six in league play, left their offense in Gainesville and got blasted 64-50 at fifth-ranked Kansas State, while the Volunteers and their incomparable defense whipped 10th-ranked Texas 82-71 in Knoxville. ... UT will come to town as the nation's No. 1-rated overall team, according to KenPom.com advance metrics, as well as No. 1 in defensive efficiency. UF has played KenPom's top-ranked team 10 times since the service began in 2002. The Gators are 0-10 in those games. ... Tennessee leads the all-time series 80-58 and has been dominate of late, what with three consecutive wins and seven of the previous eight, dating to 2018. In their last meeting (the only one of the '22 season), the Vols prevailed 78-71 on Jan. 26 at Thompson-Boling Arena, erasing an eight-point halftime deficit against the undermanned UF team that was without forward Colin Castleton (shoulder) and lost backup center Jason Jitoboh late in the first half to what turned out to be a season-ending eye injury. Junior point guard Santiago Vescovi led with 23 points, thanks to 5-for-8 from the 3-point lineand four assists. Freshman guard Kennedy Chandler, a second-round pick of the Memphis Grizzles six months later, had 17 points and five assists, as UT exploited UF's lack of size to shoot 50 percent in the second half, while the Gators hit just 35 percent after the break. Florida was led by 16 points a piece from forward forward Anthony Duruji and point guard Tyree Appleby. ... Tennessee is 8-2 against Florida under Coach Rick Barnes, who arrived in Knoxville for the 2015-16 season. Barnes is 1-2 in games at the O'Dome, including a 26-point loss in 2021 when the Vols came in at No. 6 and absorbed thelargest margin of defeat by a top-10 team in Florida program history. ... This will markUF coach Todd Golden'sfirst game against UT.
Tale of the Tape
|.397||Field-goal percentage defense||.345|
|.311||3-point percentage defense||.220|
|49th||KenPom.com overall ranking||1st|
|147th||KenPom.com offensive efficiency||33rd|
|8th||KenPom.com defensive efficiency||1st|
|63rd||KenPom.com adjusted tempo||199th|
|50th||NCAA Evaluation Tool (NET) ranking||2nd|
|22nd||Overall strength of schedule ranking||29th|
They did themselves zero favors in the first of this ridiculous four-game stretch that will pit the Gators against three top-five teams over 11 days (with the fourth game a road trip to Kentucky). The date against the Vols will be the only home game of the killer quartet and needless to say if K-State, which was No. 40 nationally in defense, can limit UF to just 31 percent from the floor (and
18 from distance) the going will be much, much tougher against the best defensive team in the country. ... The Gators will need to bank on their defense, currently eighth nationally, to keep them in the game and almost certainly need a heavy-lifting effortfrom forward Colin Castleton(49.8 percent on this season) against a team that, despite lacking great size, is also the second-best offensive rebounding team in the country, grabbing 38 percent of its misses.. ... Florida has held 11 of its previous 13 opponents to under 40-percent shooting, including seven of its eight SEC opponents. Since the start of conference play, the Gators rate No. 6 nationally in defensive efficiency, which is third-best in the league behind Tennessee (1st) and Alabama (3rd).... The perimeter combination of Will Richard, who started at the "4" spot, and off-guard Myreon Jones combined to go eight of 21 from the floor and 3-for-13 from the arc, with both players finishing with 11 points against the Wildcats. Those two, along with Castleton (13 points, 8 rebounds, 4 blocks), were the only Gators to reach double figures last game. The balance of the team combined to go 4-for-25 overall and 1-for-9 from 3. ... Guard Riley Kugel, making his second start in place of sophomore forward Alex Fudge, was two of nine with five rebounds.Point guard Kyle Loftonhit just one of his seven shotsand had only one assist (tough to get 'em when teammates are shooting 31 percent for the game, 21 in the first half)on his way to scoring five points. ... Backup guard Kowacie Reeves, who scored 24 points the previous two games and dropped five 3s,missed all five of his field-goal attempts, three from the arc at KSU, as the Florida bench scored just three points. ... Fudge (7.2 ppg, 4.9 rpg) returned to action after missing a game and a half in concussion protocol. He had two points, one rebound and a couple turnovers in 13 minutes. Whether Golden opts to return Fudge to the starting lineup will be a game-daydecision, but he'll have his hands full with Tennessee's physicality (every Gator will).
Their defensive numbers are absolutely sick,even more so in SEC play, which has always been a calling card of Rick Barnes-coached teams. Such was the case last season when UT finished second in the conference during the regular season, then won the SEC Tournament at Tampa, only to fall prey to another one of Barnes' calling cards: failure in the NCAA Tournament. In each
of Tennessee's' four NCAA berths under Barnes, the Vols have lost to lower seeds and only once reached the Sweet 16. This March might be different, however, especially if the continue to defend at 34.5-percent from the floor and give up just 22 percent from the 3-point line. And one more stat about the UT defense: The Vols have three players with at least 31 steals on the season, including two with more than 40. For context, UF's steals leader is Castleton with 21. ...The Vols' resume includes an early season loss to middling Colorado at Nashville and road defeat atArizona, but they did beat Butler, Southern California and defending national champion Kansas to win the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas, plus Maryland on neutral court in Brooklyn. UT's lone league loss was a 63-56 setback at Kentucky, but it blasted Ole Miss by 34 and handed South Carolina and LSU home losses by 42 and 21 respectively.... Tennessee is an incredibly balanced bunch, with five starters basically averaging double figures, but none at more than 12.2 points. The Vols have seven players who average overthree rebounds per game; three at a team-best 5.1. ... Point guard Santiago Vescovi joined the program over Christmas of the 2019-20season, by way of Uruguay, and has been a stalwart on both ends since, with 1,100 points, nearly 400 rebounds and more than 300 assists while starting 95 of 99 games. ... While Vescovi does a little bit of everything in his combo guard role, so does diminutive point guard Zakai Zeigler, who is the team's No. 2 scorer and leader in bothassists and steals. Zeigler is a New York City tough guy, who will not back down from anything. Against Texas, he made seven of 10 shots, three 3s and all five of his free throws (he shoots 84.5 percent at the line) over 37 minutes. His 48 steals lead the team, with Vescovi right behind at 40. Beware the passing lanes.... Forward Olivier Nkamhoua, from Finland, dominated the Longhorns with 27 points on 12-for-15 shooting, to go with eight rebounds and three assists. He's at nearly 60 percent from the floor and 35 from deep.It was Nkamhoua's hand that slapped Jitoboh in the face last year and ended his season. ... Guard Josiah-Jordan James, the former McDonald's All American, was supposed to be a one-and-done when he arrived in campus. Well, he's a senior now and after missing some games with nagging injuries has returned to the starting lineup and averaged ly 14 points and better than six rebounds the last four games. ... Forward Julian Phillips, the freshman who has started every game, was the fourth McDonald's selectee to sign with UT in as many years. Phillips, the South Carolina product, is averaging just shy of double figures, but has hit them eight times this season, including a career-high 25 against USC. ... Backup center Uros Plavsic(5.8 ppg, 4.3 rpg) goes 7-1 and 265 pounds. ... Reserve guard Tyreke Key (8.6 ppg, 2.8 rpg) will play starter's minutes (25.2) and needs to be accounted for on the perimeter. His 90 attempts from 3 are third-most on the team. He's hit at nearly 36 percent out there.
Numbers of Note
* 2— Florida home games against the Volunteers since the 2018 league season. The Gators went 1-1 in those games.
* 5— Road games against the Volunteers since the 2018 league season, an odd discrepancy. The Gators went 0-5 in those games.
* 7— Where Barnes, with 772 career wins,ranks among all-time victories by active coaches, behind only Syracuse's Joe Boeheim (1,112),West Virginia's Bob Huggins (857), Coastal Carolina's Cliff Ellis (829), Kentucky's John Calipari (824), Iona's Rick Pitino (820) and Kansas' Bill Self (780).
* 1968— The last time the Gators played back-to-back games against teams ranked in the AP top five. The dates were Jan. 15 and Jan. 20, oddly with both games against Tennessee. The Vols won the first, 67-52, at Knoxville, while the Gators won 59-46 five days later at old Alligator Alley.
* 2016—The last year the Gators played No. 1 in KenPom. The date was Nov. 25. The event was the Advocare Invitational. The place was HP Fieldhouse at ESPN Wide World of Sports at Lake Buena Vista. The opponent was 11th-ranked Gonzaga, which defeated UF 77-72 behind 18 points from guard Josh Perkins. Florida was in the game throughout, thanks to forward Devin Robinson's 18 points,Kevaughn Allen's 15 and the team's22-for-24 shooting at the free-throw line, but the Gators undermined themselves by making just two of 19 from the 3-point line (sound familiar), andjust one of 11 after halftime.
It's the only home gamein this four-game mine field of powerhouses, but will the Rowdy Reptiles, et aleven matter against the smothering UTdefense?