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Florida vs. Tennessee, SEC Tournament, Game Thread: Gators vie for season series with Vols

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Which Florida — and Tennessee — teams will show up in Nashville?

NCAA Basketball: Florida at Tennessee Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

The Florida Gators and Tennessee Volunteers have met twice in men’s basketball this season, producing two wildly different results.

But the two teams have been wildly different in those two games, too — and which ones show up for the rubber match in Friday’s SEC Tournament quarterfinal (2:30 p.m., ESPN or ESPN+) will probably determine who wins it.

Will the Gators that throttled Tennessee in Gainesville be the ones on display? That team didn’t have Colin Castleton or Scottie Lewis available, but sicced defensive ace Niels Lane on a Tennessee team that was without Jaden Springer and appeared to be without a pulse for much of the day, forcing 18 turnovers and producing the Vols’ worst offensive outing of the year in a 75-49 victory.

Or will it be the Tennessee team that took a Tre Mann-less Florida’s best punch and countered with flattening force just this past Sunday in Knoxville that takes the floor? Springer was available for the Vols, but the chief differences for them were the play of John Fulkerson, Keon Johnson, and especially Victor Bailey, who each had 14 points and helped the Vols rally from a huge early hole. Florida got plenty from Tyree Appleby (19 points, three assists) in its 65-54 loss, but precious little else: Without Mann to steady its offense, Florida had only one other scorer in double figures, and Castleton had to really sweat for his 11 points.

On the line in this game is not just passage to the SEC Tournament semifinals, and a crack at high-flying Alabama or bragging rights in a season but a valuable Quadrant 1 win that could propel either the Gators or Vols to the No. 7 seed line for the NCAA Tournament — where, crucially, they would not be in line to see any of this year’s vaunted No. 1 seeds in the round of 32. And both teams surely know those stakes.

It’ll be fun to see which one plays with more awareness of them.