Tennessee is looking to end its losing skid Saturday when a hot Florida team comes to Thompson-Boling Arena. The Vols have lost two and a row and three of their last four.
Rick Barnes’ program has had success against Mike White in the Gators as the Vols have posted a 4-1 record against Florida since Barnes arrival. Saturday, however, could be a tough task for Tennessee. Florida has started to play its basketball of the season winning four of its last five.
Tennessee’s NCAA Tournament chances are all but finished. However, the Vols hope a win Saturday could strengthen their NIT chances while providing a win over a rival.
It’s been a rough few weeks for Tennessee. Since the Vols decisive victory over Arkansas just over two weeks ago Tennessee has struggled. Posting a 1-3 record during the stretch, Tennessee has turned it over 17 times a game including costly ones with second half leads at South Carolina and Auburn.
“There's a lot of things that can go into it, but it goes back to decisions,” Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes said of the Vols’ turnover struggles. “Whether it's players decisions or referee's decisions, there's a lot of things that go into turnovers. I don't think referees are the reason you turn the ball over 25 times, but some of their decisions can lead to guys having to go in the game when you wish other guys were in there, and some of those turnovers occur.”
Florida’s pressure defense isn’t its strength as the Gators rank 10th in the SEC forcing 13 turnovers a game and 12th in steals per game. Nevertheless, if the Vols don’t tighten up on offense they could be in for a long afternoon.
Florida opened the season ranked in the top five, but the Gators stumbled out the gates going 8-4 in the non-conference slate. Florida has bounced back from its poor start posting a 10-5 conference record, good for third in the SEC.
As Florida’s young talent has meshed with its established veterans and grad transfer, Florida has started to hit its stride. Florida lost close at Kentucky a week ago before dominating LSU, 81-66 Tuesday night.
Florida ranks eighth in the SEC scoring 72.6 points per game, but the Gators can shoot the 3-pointer ranking second in the SEC at just under 35% a game. Despite its high shooting percentage, Florida prefers to attack the basket opposed to shooting 3-pointers.
The Gators rank eighth in the SEC taking 20.8 3-pointers a game and fourth in the league in field goal percentage (45%).
Forwards Keyontae Johnson and Kerry Blackshear have led the way for Florida on the season with Johnson scoring 14.2 points a game and grabbing 7.2 boards a contest.
Blackshear, a Virginia Tech grad transfer who chose Florida over Tennessee and others this offseason, averages 13.1 points and 7.5 rebounds per game.
Andrew Nembhard is turning in a strong sophomore season scoring 11.8 points per game while running the Gator’s offense, dropping off 5.4 assists a game.
Sophomore guard Noah Locke has been a 3-point assassin for the Gators scoring 10.1 points per game while shooting 43% from beyond the arc. Talented freshman Scottie Lewis had a slow start to the season but is starting to figure things out posting 8.2 points and 3.4 rebounds per game.
Tipoff from Thompson-Boling Arena is set for 2 p.m. ET and will be broadcast on ESPN2.