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What to Know: No. 3 Tennessee at Florida

(Photo via Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports)

Tennessee remains on the road this weekend when they travel down to Gainesville, Florida to take on the Florida Gators.

The No. 3 Vols (13-1, 2-0 SEC) just won on the road against Missouri this past Tuesday, handing the Tigers an 87-63 loss in Columbia. The Gators (9-5, 1-1 SEC) just earned their first SEC victory of the season when they won on the road against Arkansas on Wednesday, defeating the Razorbacks 57-51.

When the two teams meet on Saturday, it’ll be a meeting of two of the best defenses in college basketball. The Vols also have a potent offense, averaging 86.4 points per game, including an average of 91.5 points in their first two SEC games. Tennessee is riding a nine-game winning streak while Florida has started 1-1 in SEC play but have won four of their last five games.

Tennessee holds an all-time record of 74-57 against Florida, but the Gators have won five of the last seven meetings between the two teams.

Florida head coach Mike White is in his fourth season as the Gators’ head coach, and his Florida squads have won at least 21 games in his previous three seasons. The Gators have made it to the NCAA Tournament the last two years, and they’ll try to ride their defense to make it back for a third-consecutive season this year.

The Vols have dominated the start of SEC play. No other major-conference school over the last 20 years has started out conference play with a plus-70 point differential in their first two conference games. Tennessee handed Georgia a 46-point loss last weekend and just defeated Missouri by 24 points on Tuesday.

The Gators have played two ranked teams so far this season, and they’ve lost both. They lost 81-60 to No. 17 Florida State to start the season, and they fell to No. 10 Michigan State by a score of 63-59 in the beginning of December.

Here’s everything you need to know when the Vols play Florida on Saturday.

Expect a Lot of Defense

Tennessee and Florida are arguably the two best defensive teams in the SEC. So if you’re looking for a game that will feature a lot of points, you might want to look elsewhere.

Florida is holding opponents to the fewest points per game in the SEC, allowing teams to score just 60 points per game. That’s the eighth-best defensive average in all of college basketball. They also have one of the best shooting percentage defense in the conference, holding opponents to just 39 percent shooting from the floor. They’re forcing teams to commit 16.6 turnovers per game this season as well.

The Vols, meanwhile, are only giving up 65 points per game to opponents and are holding teams to just 37.3 percent shooting. Tennessee has also totaled 87 blocks as a team this season, and that’s the eighth-most in all of college basketball.

Florida has held all but two of their opponents to under 70 points this season. Only Florida State and South Carolina have eclipsed the 70-point mark against the Gators this season, and both those games resulted in losses for Florida. The Vols have held nine of their 14 opponents to fewer than 70 points this season.

Bogging You Down

If you thought Missouri played an ugly and slow brand of basketball, wait till you see Florida.

According to Ken Pomeroy’s analytics, no team in the SEC has a slower pace of play than the Gators. Missouri ranked second-to-last in the conference in tempo, but Florida is last in that regard. The Gators rank 331st out of 353 Division I teams in college basketball in terms of tempo.

Teams are only getting off an average of 52.6 field goal attempts per game against Florida this season, and they’re only making 39 percent of those shots. Tennessee’s offense is averaging 60.6 field goal attempts per contest, and they’re making 51.4 percent of those attempts. That’s the fourth-highest field goal percentage in all of college basketball.

Tennessee’s offense works on ball movement and getting multiple players opportunities to score. But Florida does a good job of not letting that happen. They’re allowing the seventh-fewest assists in the country this season, only giving up 144 assists all year. The Vols have totaled the eighth-most assists in Division I this season, racking up 290 assists in 14 games.

Playing Some Small Ball

The Vols aren’t the tallest team in college basketball, but they’ll have a decided size advantage on Saturday.

Florida doesn’t consistently play a player who is taller than 6-foot-9. Their top two players in terms of minutes per game — Andrew Nembhard and KeVaughn Allen — measure in at 6-foot-5 and 6-foot-2 respectively. Kevarrius Hayes and Keith Stone both play around 21 minutes per game, and both are around 6-foot-8 in height, but only Stone (233 pounds) really has the overall size to contend with the Vols’ bigger players.

The Gators are more guard-heavy and don’t rely on their post presence. All five of their top scorers measure in at 6-foot-5 or shorter.

Florida is led by the 6-foot-2 Allen with 10.9 points per game, and the 6-foot-3 Noah Locke is averaging 10 points per game. The Gators are led in rebounding by Hayes (5.9 per game), Keyontae Johnson (4.6), and Stone (4.4).

Winning in “The Swamp” is Difficult 

While Florida’s basketball court isn’t called “The Swamp” like their football stadium, it’s been about as difficult for the Vols to win in Gainesville in basketball as it has been in football.

Tennessee may lead the all-time series against the Gators in basketball, but Florida holds a decided edge when they’re the home team. Florida is 35-25 all-time against Tennessee at home, and the Vols have lost three-straight games in Gainesville. Their last win on the road against the Gators came on February 11th of 2012 when Tennessee defeated Florida 75-70.

Aside from that win, the Vols have lost five of the last six games they’ve played in Gainesville. And they’ve rarely been close.

Florida has beaten Tennessee by an average margin of 14 points in their last five wins against the Vols in Gainesville. The Vols did beat Florida last year in the lone meeting between the two teams, handing the Gators a 62-57 loss in Knoxville. But they’ll be looking for their first win in Gainesville in almost seven years this Saturday.

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