Auburn is Now The #1 Team In College Basketball
Florida hits the court for the third time in five days Wednesday night when the Vols host the Gators at Thompson-Boling Arena.
It’s been an up-and-down season for Florida (12-7, 3-4 SEC). The Gators opened the season 6-0 with wins over Florida State, Cal and Ohio State. Mike White’s seventh Florida team limped its way to conference play losing three of its final six non conference games including an embarrassing loss to Texas Southern.
That poor play continued into SEC play where the Gators dropped three straight challenging games to open SEC play. Since then, Florida has found some life, winning three straight games — two without star Colin Castleton — before falling at Ole Miss Monday night.
“Well, Florida, Mike White, what can you say? I mean, again, he’s lost a valuable player (Colin Castleton) and won a big game at home against Mississippi State,” Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes said. “A key guy went down, and they got another tough win Saturday, they had a tough week. … But Mike, he does a great job, he’s taken what he’s gotten, it’s a testament to him, hasn’t complained about any of it. I do think his team has great confidence in him because they have followed his lead to the hilt and they can put numbers on you if you don’t guard them, they can turn you over if you don’t take care of the basketball.”
Castleton’s status is a major question for the rivalry matchup. The Florida power forward suffered a shoulder injury during practice on Jan. 18 and hasn’t played since. The Gators’ offense performed well in the first game without its leading scorer, totaling 80 points in a win over Mississippi State.
In the two games since, Florida is averaging just 57.5 points per game. Castleton is one of just two Gators averaging double-digit points, totaling 15.4 points and 9.1 rebounds per game.
Castleton’s status for Wednesday night’s game isn’t official, but the senior forward isn’t listed as a “potential starter” on Florida’s game notes.
With Castleton out, Florida has turned to its backcourt and Phlandrous Fleming Jr. (10.3 PPG) and Tyree Appleby (9.7 PPG).
“Mike’s back to doing the things that I always remember his teams doing,” Barnes said. “Changing defenses, a lot like what we faced here Saturday, you know 2-2-1, can fall back, can run and double at any time or throw a 1-3-1 at you, can mix up some zones in there with man and he’s doing that. As you would expect the last two games they’ve shot a few more threes since they don’t have their post guy, they normally throw it in to. Obviously playing through their guards even more.”
Statistically, the Gators are neither great or bad at nearly anything. Balanced on both ends, Florida ranks 55th nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency and 44th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency.
Florida has struggled to take care of the basketball this season, ranking 340th in steal percentage against. Tennessee’s backcourt trio of Kennedy Chandler, Santiago Vescovi and Zakai Zeigler could shine against the Gators. The trio combines for 5.8 steals per game and the Vols rank third nationally in steal percentage.
The Gators put great stress on defending the three-point line. Only 23% of opponents’ points come from beyond the three-point line while the Gators give up the sixth highest percentage of points from within the three-point line.
Barnes and Tennessee are looking to continue its recent dominance over Mike White and Florida. Both coaches are in their seventh season with their respective schools. The Vols hold a 7-2 advantage over Florida during that stretch.
Tennessee and Florida will tip-off from Thompson-Boling Arena at 6 p.m. ET. Tom Hart and Jimmy Dykes will broadcast the game on ESPN2.