Florida and Tennessee couldn’t be on more opposite ends of the basketball spectrum.
On the one hand, you have the Vols, ranked third in the latest Associated Press poll, leading the SEC in scoring and ninth in the NCAA in points per game.
On the other hand, there’s Florida, unranked and unloved by the basketball rims, ranked 274th in scoring.
Tennessee is 13-1 and being talked about as possibly the nation’s best team. Florida is 9-5 and — despite coming off a big road win against Arkansas — firmly on the bubble for the postseason.
Tennessee has four older starters — two juniors and two seniors — who are averaging a combined 61.6 points a game. Florida’s upperclassmen have been enigmas all season. (The latest is Keith Stone, scoreless in two SEC games this year.)
But, hey, it’s a college basketball game and Florida enjoys home-court advantage so anything can happen, right?
“It’s a chance for us to prove ourselves, exactly what we’re capable of,” said senior Kevarrius Hayes. “So I get pretty stoked.”
Florida will have plenty of opportunities to strengthen its resume over the next two months and the Vols will offer up two of them, today at 6 p.m. and again Feb. 9.
But the Florida head coach didn’t sound optimistic Friday talking about Tennessee.
“You name it, they’ve got it,” Mike White said, “They’ve got a chance to win a national championship.
“There are no weaknesses. We are going to have to play our best basketball just to have a chance.”
In two SEC games this year, Tennessee has won by an average of 35 points a game. The Vols have won nine straight and the only loss this season was to Kansas in Brooklyn, N.Y., in overtime.
“Watching Tennessee puts it all in perspective relevant to what a really good team looks like,” White said, “and what you hope to be.”
The Vols are led by forward Grant Williams, the SEC player of the year last season, and senior Admiral Schofield. Williams is averaging 18.8 points a game and Schofield 18.0. Those are the top two averages in the SEC.
“Admiral posts like a five (a center) and shoots like a two (shooting guard),” White said. “Grant Williams might be the best player in the league, Schofield might have something to say about that.
“They just play the game. They’re good at everything. You can do a really good job on both of those guys in isolation and force a really tough one and it’s a pretty good shot for those guys.”
It’s not just a two-man show for Tennessee, which also features point guard Jordan Bone and rebounding demon Kyle Alexander. The Vols are long and the bench is deep.
Florida hopes to counter with a defense that, for the most part, has been stellar all season. The Gators lead the SEC and are eighth nationally in scoring defense.
“I’d be surprised if we don’t play really hard,” White said. “I’d be shocked if we don’t come out at the tip and play really hard. Our guys will play hard. We’ll make them earn it.
“But this is an offense where you can play your B game or even an A and they could still put 80 on you.”
Who: No. 3 Tennessee (13-1, 2-0 SEC) vs. Florida (9-5, 1-1)
When: 6 p.m.
Where: O’Connell Center
Radio: 103.7-FM, 98.1-FM, AM-850
KeVaughn Allen; G; 6-2; Sr.; 10.9 ppg; 2.8 apg
Noah Locke; G; 6-3; Fr.; 10.0 ppg; 2.4 rpg
Andrew Nembhard; G; 6-5; Fr.; 7.4 ppg; 5.7 apg
Keith Stone; F; 6;8; Jr.; 6.5 ppg; 4.5 rpg
Kevarrius Hayes; C; 6-9; Sr.; 6.7 ppg; 5.9 rpg
NO. 3 TENNESSEE (13-1/2-0)
Grant Williams; F; 6-7; Jr.; 18.8 ppg; 7.8 rpg.
Kyle Alexander; F; 6-11; Sr.; 10.6. ppg; 8.1 rpg
Jordan Bone; G; 6-3; Jr.; 14.2 ppg; 6.3 apg
Admiral Schofield; G; 6-6; Sr.; 18.0 ppg; 6.2 apg
Yves Pons; G; 6-6; So.; 4.0; ppg; 3.1 apg
NOTES: Florida under coach Mike White has not won a matchup with a top-five team, losing all three tries (two of them to Duke). … Florida played Tennessee tough in their only meeting a year ago, losing 62-57 in Knoxville. Grant Williams had 23 points and Admiral Schofield 16. … It’s early and somewhat meaningless, but Joe Lundari’s latest bracketology has Florida in as a 10 seed and Tennessee a 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. … White actually has more wins at Florida than Tennessee coach Rick Barnes does at his school 78-70. The two came into the conference the same year. … The game is sold out.
— Pat Dooley