Florida vs. Tennessee, 2014 SEC Tournament, Game Thread: Two hot teams meet

Kevin C. Cox

Tennessee's the hottest team in the SEC. But the Vols are only marginally hotter than the Gators.

One of the two teams in Saturday's Florida-Tennessee SEC Tournament semifinal (1 p.m., ABC) comes in with four double-digit wins in its last four games by an average of 21.5 points, a streak of heat including a win over an NCAA Tournament-bound team, and no wins by fewer than 18 points in those games.

It's not Tennessee.

No, those are the numbers Florida — merely the best team in the SEC, not its "hottest" — can boast, having ripped through LSU, South Carolina, Kentucky, and Missouri over its last four. Tennessee's crushed Vanderbilt, Auburn, Missouri, and South Carolina by an average of 27 points over its last four games, and in so doing has vaulted from No. 26 to No. 13 in the KenPom rankings, made its case for inclusion in the 2014 NCAA Tournament airtight, and earned "SEC's hottest team" and "SEC Tournament sleeper" sobriquets.

Context matters, though, and context makes Tennessee's hot streak a little less impressive. Tennessee's made mincemeat of some drained teams: It doubled up Vanderbilt at home after the depleted Commodores gave Florida all it could handle in Nashville, tore apart Auburn after the Tigers got blasted by Alabama, blew out Missouri at home after the Tigers got a close win on Senior Night against Texas A&M, and thumped South Carolina on Friday, after the Gamecocks won two games to get to that SEC Tournament quarterfinal.

Florida played South Carolina at home after the Gamecocks knocked off Kentucky, sure — but Carolina was up, not down, for that game, and on fuller rest. LSU was up for its road trip to Florida, a week after just missing taking down Kentucky at Rupp, but Florida just blew the Tigers' doors off. Kentucky is Kentucky. And Missouri played well for one half against Florida on Friday, before the Gators dusted them late.

Yes, Tennessee has played extraordinarily well of late — but so has Florida, against tougher competition. And Florida has handled Tennessee twice this year.

Handled is too kind for how Florida mauled Tennessee in Gainesville, pressing the Vols' guards into oblivion, but the Gators' win on Rocky Top came hard, and with the aid of a lot of good play down the stretch from Scottie Wilbekin and Patric Young's layout rebound. The Gators are a bad matchup for the Vols, as well, with post players who can at least compete with Jarnell Stokes and Jeronne Maymon, a stopper for Jordan McRae, and a press that presents all sorts of problems for Tennessee's inconsistent point guards. And they're likely to split the difference on shooting heat between a good day inside with some inaccuracy outside (Florida's day in Gainesville) and the reverse (Florida's trip to Knoxville), too, especially given how Michael Frazier II has caught fire of late.

Tennessee is hot. There is no way to honestly analyze this team right now without acknowledging that. But Florida is better — and almost as hot.

Someone's playing firefighter today. My bet's on the Gators.

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