Running with the Vols

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Teams throughout the country face the same dilemma when playing No. 7 Tennessee.

You can either roll the dice by running and playing to Tennessee’s strength going up and down the floor. Or you can slow the game down in an attempt to neutralize their speed and ability to hit open 3-pointers in transition.

Florida coach Billy Donovan chose to run, because that’s what the Gators have done all season. Plus, with an undersized team, Florida isn’t going to win many games playing slow-down, post-up halfcourt offense.

Early on, the strategy worked. Florida did an excellent job breaking Tennessee’s press and were able to get some easy baskets in transition to jump to a 48-44 lead. But there was a method to Tennessee’s mad pace. By the final 10 minutes, the Gators were spent. Florida front-rimmed shots (and even air-balled a few) and was unable to get back and guard Tennessee after the misses.

After the game, I asked Billy if he felt any team in the country could run with Tennessee, given their depth and comfort playing that style. I think Billy may have known where I was headed in asking the question.

“I think teams that face them are going to play their style of play,” Donovan said. “I don’t think Memphis, Duke, North Carolina are going to slow the game down and get out of what they do well.

“I don’t know if we could have scored as many points as we did in the first half if we slowed the game down. No question, though, their overall depth and athletic ability was a factor in the final 10 minutes.”

A bigger issue at this point might be Florida’s bench, which has regressed offensively since SEC play began. Chandler Parsons gave Florida solid minutes Tuesday, but both Parsons and Adam Allen have been unable to shoot well from 3-point range in league games.

Jonathan Mitchell went right back to the bench after an early turnover, and against Tennessee’s pressure, couldn’t be trusted on the floor for long stretches because of his passing and ball-handling limitations. Alex Tyus did a decent job spelling Marreese Speights, who played one of the best games of his Florida career.

As a result of the lack of bench production, Donovan played all five of his starters for more than 30 minutes. And for 30 minutes Florida stayed with the No. 7 team in the country, but more production from the bench may have allowed the Gators to hang around longer.