Good luck trying to make sense out of the Southeastern Conference these days. In Tuesday night’s slate of games, Alabama lost to last-place Georgia, Kentucky needed overtime to dispatch Mississippi State and Auburn, playing for the first time as the top-ranked team in the country, survived Missouri’s upset bid.
Now it is No. 18 Tennessee that will look to improve to 11-0 at home against a Florida team with just one true road win.
The Volunteers are just 3-4 against Top 25 teams while Florida will be playing a ranked opponent for the first time.
Tennessee came into the season with the second-best odds to win the SEC title at +450 but the Volunteers looked overmatched in a recent showdown with preseason favorite Kentucky.
- Game: Florida (12-7) at Tennessee (13-5)
- Location: Thompson-Boling Arena, Knoxville, TN
- Day/Time: Wednesday, 6 p.m. ET
- Television: ESPN2
Florida Gators at Tennessee Volunteers
Top Scorer Castleton Missing
Earlier this season, the Florida Gators spent multiple weeks ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 poll. Some of that could be attributed to winning the first six games but much of it had to do with the strong play of Colin Castleton.
The 6-foot-11 senior was a consistent producer as he scored in double figures in 15 of the 16 games in which he played. Castleton finished with nine points in the one game when he was held under 10. He also had seven double-doubles and flirted with a triple-double (10 points, seven rebounds and eight blocked shots) in a win at South Carolina on Jan. 15. Unfortunately, Castleton hasn’t played since due to a shoulder injury and there is no timetable for his return.
The Gators defeated Mississippi State and Vanderbilt without the team’s leading scorer and rebounder, but it was a different story when they traveled to play an Ole Miss team with just one conference win to its credit.
Florida shot its way out of that game, missing 25 of 29 three-point attempts. The Gators very efficient inside the three-point line, going 15 of 21, but the failure to get more of those shots and settle for perimeter jumpers led to a 16-point loss. It didn’t help that of the nine players on the court for at least 10 minutes, four of them either had zero field goals or made just one shot from the field.
Jason Jitoboh did what he could as he made all six shots and matched a season-high with 12 points. Tyree Appleby came off the bench to record his third straight double-digit scoring game. More efforts like that will be needed from multiple Florida players moving forward, especially with reports coming out that Castleton will not play against Tennessee.
Castleton leads the Gators in scoring and rebounds and missed Florida’s last two games.
— Ryan Schumpert (@rschump00) January 26, 2022
Florida has covered against the college basketball spreads in just one of the last seven games against Tennessee.
Tennessee Perfect at Home
It seems like ages ago when the Tennessee Volunteers suffered a pair of four-game losing streaks to rival Florida. It took place from 2010-11 and again from 2014-15. Since then Tennessee has gone 7-2 against the Gators and covered in each of those contests.
The last two meetings weren’t particularly close, as the Volunteers won by 11 and 12 points in a span of less than a week.
Tennessee hasn’t lost at home to Florida since 2014 and will look to keep that trend going, especially considering that the Volunteers are one of three teams with perfect records at home.
What is interesting about that gaudy home record is that Tennessee’s top scorers – Santiago Vescovi and Kennedy Chandler – both have higher scoring averages away from home. However, Olivier Nkamhoua, John Fulkerson and Zakai Zeigler all have better numbers at home.
Tennessee received a lift from 7-foot junior Uros Plavsic in a home win over No. 13 LSU, as he had 12 points and six rebounds. That followed a game with 13 points and seven rebounds in a win at Vanderbilt.
Another game like that would give Tennessee a pretty good chance to stay undefeated at home.
Since allowing Kentucky to shoot 68 percent, including 61 percent from three-point range, the Volunteers have held LSU and Vanderbilt to 38 percent from the field and 27 percent on three-pointers.
Tennessee has covered against the Las Vegas odds in seven of its last 10 contests.
Vols to Turn Up Pressure on Gators
Tennessee freshman Kennedy Chandler is second in the SEC in steals while Tennessee and Florida rank third and fourth in the conference in steals per game, so look for both teams to try to apply defensive pressure.
Something to consider for those who bet online: The total has gone under in 10 of Tennessee’s last 13 games and in four of Florida’s last five games. The total has also finished under in four of the last five Tennessee-Florida showdowns. Although the total for Wednesday’s game is pretty low at 131, it won’t be surprising to see visiting Florida trying to limit the number of Tennessee possessions.
The 9½-point line is rather large for two SEC rivals but without Castleton, it won’t be surprising to see Tennessee pull away.