I cannot stand Tennessee basketball. Kentucky is an easier mark, especially with their measured response to the Enes Kanter situation. But Kentucky has won stuff. Tennessee has won jack squat. However, the Great Pumpkin Bruce Pearl has hyped up his program as much as an Under Armour commercial. Pearl is a good coach, but he would have you believe Tennessee is an elite program, when the closest they have gotten to a Final Four was a one-point loss to Michigan State in the Elite Eight last season.
The one thing the Vols have been able to hold over the Gators in the last few years has been their record against Florida. Pearl is a staggering 8-2 against UF, including 3-1 against the Oh Fours. For those of us who hold Billy Donovan above all others, it especially pisses us off to know that the family man Donovan cannot figure out the ladies' man Pearl.
With Pearl serving out a SEC suspension tonight against Florida (12-3, 1-0), it would seem as if Tennessee (10-5, 0-1) is finally in trouble against the Gators. Instead, this game is just as evenly matched as it was before.
While Tennessee scores five points more and Florida allows nine points less, the only major gap between the teams is in fouls (UF commits the least amount of fouls in the nation). Which means this game will come down to the stupid things coaches say, but we all have listened to as athletes; stay focused and make plays. The Gators and the Vols have each shown the ability to play up or down to their opponents. The Vols have defeated Memphis, Pitt and Villanova, but lost to Charlotte, Oakland and the College of Charleston. We know the Florida story.
Melvin Goins, Scotty Hopson and Cameron Tatum return, with Hopson leading the way with 16.3ppg. But the Vols also bring 6-foot-8 freshman Tobias Harris, who is averaging 15.5 points and 7.8 rebounds per game. He has scored in double digits in 14 of 15 games.
The biggest thing UF has to do is play some defense at Knoxville. We have seen too many times the Gators fall behind on the road, only to fall short in a desperate rally. In their games at Tennessee lately, the early deficit can turn into a blow out. The Gators need easy buckets inside from Vernon Macklin, but cannot allow the Vols guards to dictate the game.
A loss here doesn't hurt the Gators, but a win would be huge to create separation between UF and the Vols.