When the Florida Gators take the court on Saturday — with their No. 2 seed in the SEC Tournament in hand, their chances of an SEC championship shared with the Kentucky Wildcats dependent on whether yet another Kentucky comeback was fully consummated, and their NCAA Tournament standing unlikely to be affected too significantly by the outcome of the game — they will not have much to play for other than a 25-win regular season, pride, and revenge.
When the Vanderbilt Commodores come out to that same court at Memorial Gym in Nashville (2 p.m., ESPN or WatchESPN), they will be playing for a win they may need to make the NCAA Tournament, precious positioning within the SEC’s mid-card for next week’s conference tournament, and their two-man senior class.
So, yes, there could be a motivation gap on this Saturday.
Florida is poised to earn a top-four seed in the NCAA Tournament, and will be in better shape if it can avenge its only home loss of the season — and beat the only SEC team Mike White’s Gators have yet to defeat in his short Florida tenure — on this Saturday. But Florida doesn’t need this one the way Vanderbilt does, not with the impressive lines already on its résumé.
Instead, this could be a good opportunity for Florida to beat a dangerous team that will play a lot like many of the squirrelly double-digit seeds the Gators could see in March Madness. Vandy downed Florida in Gainesville largely by making 10 threes and limiting the Gators’ offense outside of KeVaughn Allen, who had 29 points in the 68-66 loss. NCAA Tournament foes might do more to take away Allen than Vandy could or did, but the three-shooting is not a bad call: Four of Florida’s six defeats on the year have come with its foes making six or more threes, and two came with 10 swishes from distance.
And Vanderbilt is seventh nationally in threes taken as a percentage of field goal attempts, so we can be sure that Matthew Fisher-Davis, Luke Kornet, Riley LaChance, and Jeff Roberson — all of whom have hoisted more than 100 threes this year — will be firing away again on this Saturday.
Florida’s three-point defense is excellent this year, in a way it has not been since the days of back-to-back titles. The Gators rank No. 11 nationally in three-point percentage allowed, at just over 30 percent, and teams get just under a quarter of their points from deep against White’s charges, a penurious figure that ranks No. 330 of 351 Division 1 teams. And they have survived a #Science fair before.
Still, Florida’s success in keeping the Commodores from doing damage behind the arc will do much to determine the outcome of this game.