Florida taking on Tennessee (7 p.m., ESPN2 or WatchESPN) doesn't have the luster it did when Billy Donovan and Bruce Pearl were matching wits, nor even the juice that existed when Cuonzo Martin was building the Vols back into an SEC power.
The best storyline entering Wednesday night's clash between the Gators and Vols — Florida's SEC road opener — would be Florida coach Mike White turning down Tennessee in 2014 and holding out for a better job down the road, one that materialized when Donovan left Florida to coach the Oklahoma City Thunder one year later. Instead of White, Tennessee hired Southern Miss coach Donnie Tyndall, who lasted just one season in Knoxville before being fired amid a sweeping NCAA probe into his actions as the Golden Eagles' head coach.
Tennessee didn't compound its error in hiring Tyndall by retaining him, and arguably got a better coach when it lucked out by landing former Texas coach Rick Barnes to take the big chair for a team that went 16-16 in 2014-15, and was on the receiving end of the only double-digit defeat the Gators handed out in their final 17 games last season — one that doubled as Donovan's 500th win.
But Barnes hasn't made the Vols appreciably better, either. Tennessee is 7-6 in 2015-16, and has one win over a team in the top 150 of KenPom — a four-point home win over UNC Asheville in its season opener. Barnes has sped up his team significantly, and Tennessee's averaging 72.0 possessions per game compared to a glacial 60.5 in 2014-15, but Tyndall's Vols finished the season at No. 89 in KenPom — this year's Vols are No. 104.
The thing that Tennessee is best at is protecting the basketball: The Vols are eighth nationally in turnover percentage, an especially impressive mark given their tempo. But while they're also good at not getting shots blocked and above average on the offensive boards, there's just nothing else they do notably well on offense — they're just solid, and I'm doubtful that solid will go very far against Florida's harrowing defense, fourth nationally in defensive efficiency.
If the Gators should be worried about anything, it's the either or both of the combination of point guard Kevin Punter and guard/forward Armani Moore getting hot from deep, as both players are capable of big shooting nights. Otherwise, Tennessee is a team that exchanges size (the Vols are No. 347 of 351 Division I teams in Effective Height) for quickness ... and faces a squad that has both.
KeVaughn Allen's emergence has given White three fleet guards to deploy, and Kasey Hill's move to the bench has allowed him to be a terror — to both teams, sometimes — in relief of Chris Chiozza. But Florida also has John Egbunu and Dorian Finney-Smith, both of whom may stand taller than anyone suiting up for Tennessee tonight
And while Egbunu had a fine night on Saturday against Georgia, Doe-Doe is due to get rolling again, after posting his first consecutive games with an Offensive Rating under 85 since last January against Florida State and the Dawgs.
If Florida can stand tall inside and keep Tennessee from getting too hot from deep, the Gators could well sing songs of victory on their way back down from Rocky Top.