Florida vs. Vanderbilt, Game Thread: Newly No. 1 Gators want to avoid bad Memorial memory

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Florida takes its shiny new number on the road.

Every element of a trap game is there for Florida's trip to Vanderbilt tonight (7 p.m., ESPN / WatchESPN).

Florida is No. 1 now, for the first time in seven years. Florida is very, very good, and just off an exhausting and emotional stretch of four tough games in two weeks that culminated in a fun, nyah-nyah-to-you-Marshall win on Saturday. Vanderbilt is not, but Vanderbilt is feisty, and has the weirdness of Memorial Gym in its pocket; Florida's lost four of its last five trips to Memorial Gym, and its last game at Memorial Gym as the No. 1 team in the country was its last game as the No. 1 team in the country during the regular season. Those Commodores beat the best Florida team ever, the best team in the country that year — and by 13.

One problem: Those Commodores, and most of the teams that have beaten Florida, were actually good; these ones are, well, not.

Vanderbilt's had some very good teams under Kevin Stallings, the only SEC coach other than Billy Donovan whose tenure dates back to the 20th century, but either the 2012-13 or the 2013-14 'Dores will be his worst team per KenPom since the 2002-03 squad that is the only team in Stallings's career as a head coach to finish more than one game under .500 for a full season. This team has played .500 basketball in the SEC to date, but it's also gotten fifth from the bottom in adjusted offensive efficiency in SEC play, pedestrian defensively, and being outscored by 0.02 points per trip. This team not being good isn't really Stallings's fault; in fact, its record is more accurately interpreted as a testament to how good a coach he is.

But we can mostly thank the schedule for that record: Vandy took its loss to Kentucky at home, got Missouri at home just before Jabari Brown went thermonuclear, and has visited Alabama, LSU, Texas A&M, Georgia, South Carolina, Missouri, and Auburn to date, ducking at least three of the four toughest games — roadies at Florida, Kentucky, LSU, and Tennessee — that it could potentially have had this year. The 'Dores beat Tennessee at home, too, and between that win and the one over Missouri, it's possible that Vandy's claim to fame this year will be helping keep those two teams out of the NCAA Tournament.

It should not, even given the "Memorial Magic" and Florida's own rocky history with No. 1, include an upset of the Gators on this night. Vandy is a good defensive team, especially on the perimeter, but it is lousy at controlling the boards, and Florida should feast inside. And beyond forwards Rod Odom and James Siakam — shooter and bruiser, respectively — the 'Dores have few options that seem likely to star against the Gators' defense, with mediocre guards (Kyle Fuller and Dai-Jon Parker) and a foul-happy center (Damian Jones) making up the rest of Vandy's starting lineup, and naught but beanpole Luke Kornet and little-used Shelby Moats on the bench.

I'll worry if Vandy hits shots, and, given Florida's run of iffy perimeter defense, that means I'll probably get a chance to worry tonight. But I don't expect we'll be worrying for very long.

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