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Florida vs. Vanderbilt, Game Thread: Gators want to end skid by prolonging Commodores’ misery

Florida is in a rut. Vanderbilt is in a ditch.

NCAA Basketball: Mississippi State at Florida Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Florida Gators haven’t won an SEC game — or a men’s basketball game, to be fair — in two whole weeks. It feels like a long time, so long that the dull roar of the “Fire Mike White” crowd has returned.

The Vanderbilt Commodores — Florida’s opponent on this Saturday night (8:30 p.m. Eastern, SEC Network) — haven’t won an SEC game since 2018. (Yes, that means they don’t have a win in 2020, either.)

There are very different kinds of skids, in other words.

Vandy is 8-12 on the year under first-year head coach Jerry Stackhouse, who has thus far failed to depart from the losing ways in SEC play that got former coach — and Mike White nemesis — Bryce Drew fired. Its best win may have been over Davidson; that was also its last win, though, coming on the day before New Year’s Eve. Since then, the ‘Dores are 0-7 in SEC play, and have only come within single digits of their foes twice: First, in their SEC opener against Auburn, and then on Wednesday at Rupp Arena against Kentucky. A bad Texas A&M team drilled Vandy by 19 in Memorial Gym; a wildly inconsistent South Carolina team walloped it by 36 in Columbia.

That’s not to say that Vanderbilt isn’t talented. In Aaron Nesmith, the Commodores might have a lottery pick in the NBA Draft for a second straight season. Saben Lee remains a quick-twitch scorer who can get points on anyone. Scotty Pippen — yes, son of Scottie; yes, it’s spelled like that anyway — and Dylan Disu are a strong tandem of freshmen, and each played well against Kentucky.

The problem is that that talent is either hurt or young or inconsistent. Nesmith — third nationally in three-point percentage through 14 games of this season — is the hurt one, having suffered a foot injury in early January that is likely to keep him sidelined for the rest of the season. Given his NBA prospects, that injury has also perhaps ended his Vanderbilt career, just like Darius Garland’s season-ending injury did a year ago.

Lee has reverted to his freshman-year shooting from behind the arc, dipping below 30 percent from distance after shooting a very good 37 percent in 2018-19. Pippen — who’s a 6’1” guard, not a clone of his lanky father — is making under 40 percent of his twos, and Disu, while a ferocious rebounder and strong defender, will probably take his 100th three against the Gators before making his 30th on the year, as he’s 27-for-98 from distance thus far.

If that sounds more dire than Florida’s situation — one in which a lot of young players and one talented upperclassman are struggling to play with intensity for 40 minutes every night — it’s because it is. Even considering Vandy’s recent successes against the Gators under Drew, the eternally miserable experience that is playing at Memorial Gym, and Florida’s own struggles, the Gators are favored to win comfortably in Nashville. Poor shooting or inconsistent effort could make that a problem ... but Vandy also took advantage of some of that against Kentucky, and still ultimately lost by nine.

Florida is better — and in a much shallower hole — than Vandy, we presume. If the ‘Dores start digging out by getting this win, though, the Gators will have a much different outlook on the world as of Sunday.