Preview & Prediction: By Blake Hofstad
Tennessee (12-7, 3-2) is looking to crawl back into the national picture after dropping their last two games. A win over rival Florida (18-3, 5-1) would work wonders. The Volunteers defeated Florida in both Florida’s NCAA Tournament seasons at Thompson-Boiling Arena, and are perennially one of the toughest teams to knock off on their home floor. That hasn’t necessarily held true this season, but the Gators won’t find an easy game in Knoxville. Florida’s schedule has been the object of much criticism, and for good reason. Their non-conference schedule featured five games of what can be considered legitimate opponents, and the Gators went a pedestrian 3-2, hanging their hats on a win over Washington in Kansas City. In a down SEC, Florida has to take advantage of the few opportunities they get to earn marquee wins. Tennessee isn’t living up to expectations, but a win in Knoxville would certainly be a win to be proud of.
The key to Florida’s success lies with Nick Calathes. The 6-6 point forward is one of the SEC’s best players, and does a little bit of everything. His stat line includes 17.8 points, 5.4 rebounds, 6.6 assists and 1.9 steals per game. He is Florida’s best shooting threat. The Gator offense revolves around him. By no means is he the Gator’s only solid player. Big men Alex Tyus and Chandler Parsons have really stepped up to fill the void left by Marreese Speights, especially Tyus, who has blossomed into a machine down low, dropping 62% of his shots. Parsons’ passing skills set him apart; he is a finesse big man who matches up well with a skill set similar to Tennessee’s Tyler Smith. Dan Werner’s stats look good, but most Gator fans will tell you that they wish he would spend more time on the bench. He makes the occasional good plays, but oftentimes looks lost out on the court. Pint-sized guard Erving Walker is a sparkplug off the bench. He scores, dishes and shoots; unfortunately his output seems to be off and on. He scored 2 points in the Florida State loss and had 0 assists to 5 turnovers in the South Carolina game, but in the big win at Vanderbilt he dumped in 17 and had 6 dimes. Senior leader Walter Hodge is an adept complement to Calathes. He is a very good shooter who has a great assist to turnover ratio, and is a very good defender. Players who see around 10-15 minutes of time a game are all Gators who will play a larger role as their careers go on, as all are freshman. Big man Kenny Kadji chips in 5.4 and 2.6 off the bench, as well as aptly providing breathers for Tyus and Parsons. Wingman Ray Shipman is a big time rebounder for a 6-5 guy. Allan Chaney also provides frontcourt help. Florida is very deep in the frontcourt, but relies on a lot of minutes from Calathes, as they only have three legitimate guards.
Tennessee is stocked with talent. Unfortunately that hasn’t translated to success on the court, but the Vols are dangerous. Their athleticism is their biggest plus. Tyler Smith embodies UT basketball. A superb athlete, Smith is also one of the most versatile players in the game, leading his team in points and assists while snagging 6.2 rebounds per game. Wayne Chism is widely regarded as the most talented headband wearer in college basketball, but brings game to the table as well. Chism is a monster on the glass, and has started shooting a higher 3 point percentage in recent games. JP Prince is one of the most unheralded players in the country. He plays much like his cousin, Tayshaun. His calling card is defense, he quietly pours in 10 points a game and utilizes a long wingspan to haul in offensive rebounds. The Juco transfer, Bobby Maze, is struggling to find his shot in SEC play, and his percentages have dropped. Tennessee’s stellar freshman class is one of the chief reasons why they were expected to do so well this season. Cameron Tatum, Scotty Hopson and Renaldo Woolridge are the freshmen who get the most time. Tatum and Hopson both get around 9 a game, while Woolridge gets about half that number, albeit in less playing time. A preview of Tennessee wouldn’t be complete without a mention of the big fella, Brian Williams. Williams is a monster of a rebounder, and is the Vols’ top rebounder per 40 minutes.
Tennessee needs to win this basketball game. They can’t afford to slip behind in a league that is looking at about 4 bids this year. The SEC is wide open, and if Tennessee can’t find its way, expect another team to step up. That being said, Florida is not deep enough to take down the Vols in Knoxville.
Winner: Tennessee Margin: 5-8 points
- Bracketology: Selection Sunday Projection
- Bracketology: Saturday Night NCAA Tournament Projection
- Non-BCS Top 25: Creighton, Colorado St Rise
- College Basketball Top 50: Indiana Ends Regular Season #1
- Non-BCS Top 25: Valpo Replaces BYU
- College Basketball Top 50: Maryland and Iowa St Drop Out
- Non-BCS Top 25: Davidson In, Wyoming Out
- College Basketball Top 50: #2 Gonzaga Hits All-Time High
- Non-BCS Top 25: Air Force, Davidson Making Moves
- College Basketball Top 50: Another Week, Another #1
About Blake Hofstad
An avid sports fan, you can nearly always find Blake Hofstad playing, watching, writing or just talking sports. His favorite team is the Wisconsin Badgers, and he is a huge Big Ten and Missouri Valley fan. The two things he hates about college basketball are Duke and the love Duke gets from most media members. You can find more of Blake's work on Onlinesportsfanatic.com.