Wednesday, Jan. 6, 7:00 p.m. ET
Thompson-Boling Arena (21,678) • Knoxville, Tenn.
Probable Florida Starters
G-Chris Chiozza, 6-0, 175, SP (6.7 ppg, 2.8 rpg)
G-KeVaughn Allen, 6-2, 183, FR (10.2 ppg, 2.0 rpg)
F-Justin Leon, 6-8, 196, JR (2.5 ppg, 1.8 rpg)
F-Dorian Finney-Smith, 6-8, 220, RS SR, (13.2 ppg, 7.4 rpg)
F-John Egbunu, 6-11, 255, RS SO, (11.0 ppg, 7.0 rpg)
Probable Tennessee Starters
G-Kevin Punter, 6-4, 180, SR (22.8 ppg, 3.8 apg)
G-Devon Baulkman 6-4, 200, SR (10.0 ppg, 3.8 rpg)
F-Admiral Schofield, 6-5, 240, FR (6.4 ppg, 3.2 rpg)
F-Armani Moore, 6-5, 215, SR (13.9 ppg, 8.2 rpg)
F-Derek Reese, 6-7, 230, SR (3.9 ppg, 6.8 rpg)
Setting the Table
Tennessee has held court so far at home under Rick Barnes, winning its first seven games at Thompson-Boling Arena on the season. The Vols, however, are still looking for a win against a major opponent and will be tested by the Gators – a team the Vols have lost four straight against – on Wednesday evening.
It’ll be an odd sight for the Vols to take on Florida without Billy Donovan on the sideline. The longtime Florida head coach moved on to the NBA following last season, bringing former Louisiana Tech coach Michael White, a name the Vols considered in their recent coaching searches, to Gainesville. The Gators are 9-4 so far on the season and got their SEC schedule underway with a 13-point win over Georgia over the weekend.
The Vols fell to former coach Bruce Pearl at Auburn on Saturday in one of their worst shooting performances in recent history. Tennessee will need to carry over a lot of the good it did in that game, plus get some shots to fall, to hang with the Gators and keep their record perfect at home. And they’ll be doing it in their new Nike alternate Smokey gray uniforms – which will make their debut, marking the first time the Vols have gone with an alternate look since they wore the Adidas version of the gray against the Gators in the 2014 SEC tournament.
“It’s a nice looking uniform, it really is. I think the guys are excited about it. I hope our fans want to come see it.”
– Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes on the alternate Smokey gray look
3 keys for the Vols
1. More attacking from Punter: Glancing at the stats, it’d be easy to assume that guard Kevin Punter is being plenty aggressive since he is currently second in the SEC in scoring (22.8 ppg). But Rick Barnes wants even more aggression from Punter in terms of getting to the rim and opening up opportunities for teammates. “We wish he had that mentality all the time,” Barnes said of Punter. “With the way our system runs, we want him in the attack mode. If he’s in the attack mode, and everybody else does what they’re supposed to do, I think he’ll find them. Once he starts driving the ball, it opens up the outside lanes. If people stay out wide and we’re making 3’s, it’s going to give him a chance to play inside of it.”
2. Compete in rebounding: Florida will have a clear size advantage in this one with its big front line that is anchored by veteran Dorian Finney-Smith and massive forward John Egbunu. And the Gators have put that size to use this season so far – leading the SEC in total rebounds (42.6 per game) and offensive boards (14.4 per game). Tennessee, despite its size limitations, hasn’t been too far behind, however. The Vols are third in the league in rebounding, averaging just under 40 per game. This will be a big test in that area. Both teams will be looking to create easy offense with put-backs, and the side that is able to do that consistently will have the edge.
3. Get Moore involved: The Vols simply aren’t going to win many games when Armani Moore is as limited as he was at Auburn (1 point in 28 minutes). Barnes said the key for Moore is to have him be more decisive with the ball: “What he’s got to do more than anything now, he’s got to move the ball. The longer he holds the ball, the more people are going to try to really shrink the court, and not give him lanes to drive. If he holds the ball, he’s going to get himself in trouble. That’s what happened Saturday. The last couple games, he’s held the ball too much.”
Daniel: Florida 72-67