Tennessee Volunteers vs. Florida Gators Preview and Pick

Tennessee Volunteers (26-3), -3, o/u @ Florida Gators (21-8), +3, o/u , Stephen C. O’Connell Center, Gainesville, Florida, 9 p.m. Eastern, Wednesday
by Oracle of Predictem.com

Here we go again. It seems like wherever college basketball fans turn, there is a bubble team taking part in a do-or-die game.

Such is the case for the two-time defending NCAA champion Florida Gators, who, with a 21-8 record, are on the cusp of not make the field. And wouldn’t you know in a must-win game for Florida they have to play host to the 4th ranked Tennessee Volunteers on Wednesday in Gainesville.

With bubble teams like Ohio State and Kansas State scoring big wins on Tuesday night, there is even more pressure on the young Gator squad to get this victory.

Ever since beating then-undefeated Memphis and taking over the top spot in the polls, the Volunteers have looked like anything but they country’s best team, losing to Vanderbilt and barely beating a depleted Kentucky team who is finding themselves to be out of tournament conversations.

With both teams having plenty still on the line, it should be a battle throughout. Florida plays tough at their home arena, therefore, most online sportsbooks opened up with the Gators as just 3-point dogs. The over/under stands at 155 as well.

Although Tennessee held the No. 1 ranking for the first time in school history for just one week, they still have a shot at clinching their first outright SEC title in 41 years. A win against Florida would take them one step closer to that accomplishment.

These two squads hooked up in a high-scoring affair exactly one month ago, where Tennessee came out a big 104-82 winner. The Vols’ 104-point outburst was their second highest of the season, as they had three players finish with over 20 points including senior sharpshooter Chris Lofton, who tallied 26 points, including 6 treys.

Lofton has been a Gator killer throughout his career, averaging 20.3 points on 53.4% shooting against them alone. Tennessee lost in Gainesville a season ago, however, Lofton missed that contest because of an ankle injury. With Lofton in the lineup, Tennessee is 5-1 against Florida, including 2-0 at the O’Connell Center.

Tyler Smith and JaJuan Smith each had 23 points in the contest one month ago in Knoxville, as Tennessee out s hot Florida by a huge 100-69 margin. The Gators also committed 20 turnovers to the Vols’ 9, and were out rebounded on the offensive glass 15-4.

Marreese Speights did his best to make at least look somewhat respectable, scoring 23 points, grabbing 9 boards and blocking 3 shots. After somewhat of a mediocre start to his year, Speights, who was the only player on the team with legitimate playing time coming back from back-to-back national championships, has recorded three straight double-doubles. The most recent output was a 20 point, 10 rebound game in Florida’s loss to Mississippi State on Saturday.

Speights is surrounded by freshman, including an underrated Nick Calathes. Calathes is versatile at 6-feet 6-inches tall and is a tough match up problem for many teams. Calathes leads his team in points (15.6), assists (6.0) and steals (1.6). HE nearly had a triple-double against Tennessee last month with 15 points, 9 rebounds and 8 assists.

If Florida wants to get past one of the nation’s top teams, though, they’ll need freshman Jai Lucas and sophomore Dan Werner to step up, along with junior Walter Hodge.

A team effort is the main ingredient to the Volunteers recipe. They sport the country’s 9th best offense at 82.1 points per game and hold opponents to 29.7% shooting from beyond the arc, which, coincidentally, Florida has struggled with all year long.

The Gators will need to spread the floor and knock down some triples to loosen up that aggressive Tennessee defense. If they aren’t able to knock down a few jump shots, it could get ugly in Gainesville.

Tennessee is 14-11 on the year ATS and 5-5 on the road. In their last 13 road games, the Vols are 9-3-1 ATS when playing a team with a winning percentage of .600 at home. Other than that, there aren’t many trends that favor either team in this match up. The Gators are 0-4 ATS spread in their last four home games, but on the flip side, the home team is 4-1 ATS during the last 5 head-to-head meetings.

Putting all that aside, bettors can look at one trend that may peak their interest. During the last 14 games between these two SEC rivals, the underdog is 10-4 ATS.

The over/under trends don’t tell bettors much either, other than the fact that Florida loves the under during its Wednesday games at a 14-5-1 clip.

Both teams have a lot riding on this game. Florida will have to knock down some outside shots, not turn the ball over, and rebound the basketball if they want to even sniff a win. That might be hard to do, though, against the nation’s 4th best team.

Oracle’s Pick: Another typical trap line by Vegas. The general public is all over Tennessee covering. Take the Gators plus the points as they will probably win straight up.