Thursday, December 18, 2014 · 10:25 a.m.

Preview: Tennessee at No. 6 Florida

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Jarnell Stokes battles with Florida defenders. (Photo: Billy Weeks)


Tennessee (12-6, 3-2 SEC) at No. 6 Florida (16-2, 5-0)

Saturday, Jan. 25, 4:00 p.m. ET

The O’Connell Center (11,548) • Gainesville, Fla.

TV: ESPN

Radio: Vol Network (WGOW-FM 102.3, Chattanooga)

Series Record: Tennessee leads 72-52

 

Probable Florida Starters

G-Scottie Wilbekin, 6-2, 175, SR (12.5 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 3.6 apg)

G-Michael Frazier II, 6-4, 200, SO (12.1 ppg, 3.4 rpg, .454 3FG%)

F-Casey Prather 6-6, 210, SR, (17.1 ppg, 5.6 rpg, .611 FG%)

F-Will Yeguete, 6-8, 230, SR, (5.5 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 1.1 spg)

C-Patric Young, 6-9, 240, SR (10.6 ppg, 6.2 rpg)

Key Reserves: Dorian Finney-Smith (6-8, 212, SO); Kasey Hill (6-1, 181, FR); DeVon Walker 6-6, 195, SO)

 

Probable Tennessee Starters

G-Antonio Barton, 6-2, 180, SR, (8.3 ppg, 2.3 rpg, .385 3FG%)

G-Jordan McRae, 6-6, 185, SR, (19.2 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 2.8 apg)

G-Josh Richardson, 6-6, 190, JR, (8.9 ppg, 3.1 rpg, .433 3FG%)

F-Jeronne Maymon, 6-8, 260, SR (11.2 ppg, 8.2 rpg, 3.7 orpg)

F-Jarnell Stokes, 6-8, 260, JR, (13.4 ppg, 9.7 rpg, 4.1 orpg)

Key Reserves: Darius Thompson (6-5, 180, FR); Derek Reese (6-8, 220, SO); D’Montre Edwards (6-6, 205, SR)

 

The opening tip

Like Kentucky, last weekend’s opponent, Florida is one of the most talented teams in the nation.

The Gators, however, bring something else to the table. Yes, there are future professional players on the roster, but Florida, led by 18th-year head coach Billy Donovan, also has a level of experience that few in the nation can boast.

The Gators have been tested. Their starting five – consisting of four seniors and a sophomore – have seen about everything the SEC can throw at them and they have a bevy of postseason experience as well. 

But don’t expect Tennessee to be too intimidated. The Vols, despite regularly going in as an underdog against Florida, finds ways to beat the Gators. An unranked Tennessee squad has knocked off a top-10 Florida team eight times. The Vols are also riding a three-game winning streak over the Gators and coach Cuonzo Martin has never lost to them.

Jordan McRae celebrates a basket. (Photo: Billy Weeks)

Regardless of recent history, Saturday’s trip to Gainesville will still be a challenge for the inconsistent Vols. Tennessee escaped with an ugly win over Arkansas on Wednesday, but its up-and-down performances over the last couple of weeks makes it tough to predict which Tennessee squad will show up.

The Vols must tighten up their perimeter defense, cut down on turnovers and, especially in games against talented opponents like Florida, they need players such as Josh Richardson and Antonio Barton to step up and help the ‘Big 3’ of Jarnell Stokes, Jeronne Maymon and Jordan McRae carry the scoring lead.

McRae can put the team on his back against opponents such as Arkansas (34 points), but expect the Gators to clamp down on him and make others hit shots.

Florida, meanwhile, brings a balanced approach of its own with five players averaging at least 10 points. And while Florida has plenty of options on offense and averages a respectable 72.1 ppg, it's defense that’s made the Gators a top-10 squad.

They lead the SEC with just 59.8 ppg given up. The Vols will have to hit some tough shots and perhaps get some easy points off of turnovers to stick around in this one and extend their winning streak over Florida to four.

Quotable

"The one thing I talked to our guys about is you're going through a lot of things in league play – ups and downs. You'll see teams get beat that didn't expect to get beat. You'll see stuff happen. That's part of league play, but the key is to be consistent – get a W and keep moving, learn from it.”

– Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin

Putbacks

Florida’s only two losses this season have come on the road to ranked teams (Wisconsin, UConn). The Gators are a perfect 10-0 on the year at home. … The Vols have played at some tough places this year. Including Florida’s perfect home record, the teams UT has played on the road have a 54-2 mark. The Vols lost at Xavier, at Wichita and at Kentucky, but knocked off LSU in their SEC road opener. … In SEC play, UT leads the conference in free-throw shooting (75.6 percent) and rebounding margin (+11). … Florida is 19-1 in the month of January over the last three years, but its last lost in the month came to Tennessee in 2012. … This game features the SEC’s top-two active leaders in rebounds with Patric Young leading the way with 721. Stokes is second with 618.

Prediction

Florida 70, Tennessee 64

Daniel Lewis covers Tennessee athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @DanielNooga

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