Process

January 26: #18 Tennessee 78, Florida 71 (14-5, 5-3 SEC)
January 29: Texas 52, #18 Tennessee 51 (14-6)

And I saw Sisyphus at his endless task raising his prodigious stone with both his hands. With hands and feet he tried to roll it up to the top of the hill, but always, just before he could roll it over on to the other side, its weight would be too much for him, and the pitiless stone would come thundering down again on to the plain.

Here is the final play of Saturday’s game with precisely 3.4 seconds on the clock. Zakai Zeigler takes the inbound, uses his Jared Harper-like speed to get down the court extremely quickly, and goes into the final play. Right here, right now, Zeigler is stopped as he touches the top of the key. With Nkamhoua trailing by way of receiving the final inbounds pass, Tennessee is playing 4-on-5, but look at the attention Zeigler draws. This turns the play into a 3-on-2.

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Two players are covered up: Victor Bailey, Jr. in one corner, Santiago Vescovi in the other. Would I have had Bailey on the court? Probably not, because Justin Powell is objectively better. But Justin Powell did not tie the game with a genuinely spectacular rebound and putback, so I get why Bailey is there. When Zeigler pulls up at 3.4 seconds to pass the ball, the highest-quality option on this play, as this screencap suggests, is Josiah-Jordan James for an open three on the right wing.

For his career on this shot – a three-pointer of any kind on the wing – James is a 31% shooter. For his career in general, James is a 31% three-point shooter. For his career on catch-and-shoot threes of any kind, James is 31% from the field. He is remarkably consistent, if nothing else. Yet some context is needed. When James receives the ball, he has scored eight of Tennessee’s 16 points as part of a 16-0 run that turned the game from a 51-35 ball of pathetic annoyance to a 51-51 ball of I Am Actually Laughing. He is 3-for-6 from three; every other player on the team combined is 2-for-11, including partner Vescovi, who is 0-for-5 from deep and 1-for-8 from the field.

James receives the ball. Here’s how it looks with 2.7 seconds to go.

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When James starts his shooting motion, I would charitably say that the closest Texas defender is five feet away. In the study Jimmy Dykes showed during last week’s LSU game, Tennessee had been shooting roughly 38% on any three where the defender was four feet or further away. James could have passed this to Vescovi, which I would’ve been fine with, but at that time, the Texas defender (Devin Askew) is closer to Vescovi than James.

The final play, which Rick Barnes drew up out of a timeout, gave Tennessee’s best three-point shooter on the night a pretty open look. People online keep screaming “YOU DON’T NEED A THREE!” or whatever. I suppose they are factually correct. Zakai Zeigler could have taken his little body, plowed directly ahead into three players of oncoming traffic, and either attempted to draw a foul that may or may not have been called or tossed up a floater over triple coverage. Considering that Zeigler has attempted all of four floaters this season, maybe you’re right. Maybe that is the right call: a shot that Tennessee’s roster as a whole hits 41% of the time, or 0.82 points-per-shot.

Or maybe the process of the play provided the best outcome it reasonably could have. If James gets the ball to Vescovi, great. Take off a second for the pass, take off an additional 0.5-1 seconds for Vescovi to get into his shooting motion. Vescovi reasonably gets that shot off with 0.7 or so seconds left, and maybe it goes in. Fine, luckfarts happen, whatever. But Tennessee did that exact same thing in this exact same game two months ago and everyone pretended they hated it then because “YOU DON’T NEED A THREE!”

That was on a night where the entire team shot at the rate the non-James players shot against Texas.

Because neither of these shots went in, everyone hates them, and everyone wants Rick Barnes jailed for some sort of crime against humanity. (Let it be known that Chris Beard should be held equally accountable for an offense that turned it over on a third of their possessions.) Because no one can seem to understand that the process is fundamentally different than the result, and the process can be good even if and when the result is bad, and the process can be bad even when the result is good (remember when a certain beloved player who shot 30% from three his final two seasons somehow made a fadeaway three to beat VCU?) we are here yet again. And boy, what an absolute joy it is to write about it.

Karl Havoc / "I Don't Even Want To Be Around Anymore" | Know Your Meme


The good news is that Tennessee overcome what felt a little like a luckfart game in midweek against Florida. It’s the exact kind of annoying slop you have to get through to achieve an SEC Tournament double-bye. I no longer have delusions of grandeur that Auburn is somehow going to blow the 1 seed; that seems very well locked up. The more interesting thing is that Tennessee still remains on track to battle Kentucky for the 2 seed. While neither side would admit it, it benefits both to simply avoid Auburn as long as they have to.

The process of Tennessee’s midweek game against Florida was pretty fantastic. In that one, Tennessee got off 21 catch-and-shoot attempts; 12 were deemed unguarded by Synergy, which was genuinely surprising and positive against a Florida defense that hadn’t allowed that many open three-point attempts in months. Tennessee deservingly had their best day from deep in some time.

That Vescovi open three was the result of Justin Powell, of all people, driving to the lane and dishing it to the corner to the best shooter on the team. Florida and Texas have fundamentally different defensive structures that result in much different outcomes, but in this game, Tennessee’s roster simply knew where to strike to create good processes that resulted in good, happy outcomes.

The funny thing about all of what’s happening with Tennessee basketball right now is that immediately after I described them as the kings of slop, they went out and produced the most watchable SEC game they’ve played in since 2018-19. Florida/Tennessee would’ve been a blast to watch if you were a neutral fan, or if you simply were unaware that Pat Adams was in existence. All sorts of great shot-making; all sorts of quality individual play. Tennessee played really good defense for most of this game and still got a test they probably needed after shutting down LSU. I liked it!

I think I would like it more, though, if Tennessee simply never receives Pat Adams for a basketball game again. For the first time ever Wednesday, my little brother (a freshman at Tennessee) and I attended a Tennessee basketball game ‘together.’ Well, he’s in the student section and I’m in the upper deck where I hear what I assume to be an otherwise-sweet child yelling “BOO VOLS! GO GATORS!” in the middle of every free throw attempt, but whatever.

I bring this up because with two minutes left, I made plans to meet up with him after the game to say hello. That was at 7:56 PM Eastern. The game ended 26 minutes later. This is not a sustainable thing. If the SEC wants to get calls right, that’s fine, I get it. But the SEC must find a way to both 1) Get calls right; while 2) Doing it in 30 seconds or less. We do not need full two-minute timeouts for every review. We do not need to hand both teams a chance to get a breather. We can surely officiate a game correctly – which Pat Adams did not do – and surely get in and out of an arena in a reasonable span of time. Maybe next year, when I’m reminded again that being a member of this conference Just Means More.


Here are the last 32 Elite Eight teams and how they ranked on KenPom on January 30.

That is a long image. Here is the point: of the last 32 teams to make the Elite Eight, 12 ranked outside of the KenPom top 15 on January 30. 10 had either an offense or defense that ranked outside of the top 50 nationally. The #1 team made it every year – hello, 2021-22 Gonzaga – but #2 had a 50% success rate. #5 made it once. #6 and #7, supposedly both on track for the Elite Eight, went a combined 0-for-8.

It is a long season that culminates in a tournament where you have zero control of your strength of schedule after the first round. Weird stuff happens every single year. Upsets happen every single year. I would advise not pulling the ripcord until the ripcord has been pulled for you, especially when the operators of the ripcord are currently 13th on KenPom.


Various notes and stuff that didn’t make it in:

  • Ban 6 PM weekday tips. On a normal day with no game, my wife and I live 20 minutes from the University campus. We left home at 4:57 PM ET, the earliest we could leave. We did not park for the Florida game until 6:07 PM ET; we did not enter the arena until 6:18. I understand that television decides everything now. I understand that money is money. I also understand that doing this horse[REDACTED] to fans for another decade is going to lead to a whole new wave of articles about Why Fans Have Stopped Attending College Sports Events in 2032.
  • All that said about Pat Adams, Tennessee did get the normal home whistle. Everyone has seen Josiah-Jordan James obviously fouling a three-point shooter and somehow not getting called for it, but there were a few other things Tennessee got away with. The foul differential settled at Florida +3, which is pretty much average for a game involving Pat Adams.
  • Plavsic minutes, we hardly knew you. Fulkerson played his way into the game-closing lineup against Florida in a deserving manner. Tennessee went with James/Nkamhoua as the closing frontcourt against Texas, which is something I’ve only been asking for since November. Uros will have good games here and there, but I think I overreacted last week. That’s on me.
  • Texas shot extremely well and still only scored 52. That is wild! Texas posted a 63.5% eFG%. They still somehow only managed 0.918 PPP. That’s the lowest offensive efficiency of any team in 2021-22 with a minimum of a 63% eFG%. Tennessee had to deal with an outlier shooting night from three for Texas and still nearly won.
  • A team finally forced Tennessee back to 2020-21. Part of why the Texas game was frustrating as it was: the play-by-play stats credit Tennessee as taking 18 non-rim twos. I think these were more of the hook shot/floater variety than anything with mid-range jumpers, but it helps explain why Tennessee had such a hard time finding points. Texas really did play a terrific defensive game for 35 minutes.
  • Zakai Zeigler has earned a starter-level role. After last night, Zeigler now sits in a virtual tie with Justin Powell for fifth on the team in PRPG!, Bart Torvik’s all-encompassing Points Above Replacement stat. He’s third in box plus-minus. The team is 6.8 points better with him on the court than off, per Hoop-Explorer. The closing lineup should be Chandler/Zeigler/Vescovi/James/Nkamhoua until further notice.

Show Me My Opponent, 2021-22: Florida

GAME INFORMATION
OPPONENT Florida (12-7, 3-4 SEC, #42 KenPom)
(15-10, 9-7 SEC, Round of 32 2020-21)
LOCATION Thompson-Boling Arena
Knoxville, TN
TIME Wednesday, January 26
6 PM ET
CHANNEL ESPN2
ANNOUNCERS Tom Hart (PBP)
Jimmy Dykes (analyst)
SPREAD Sinners: Tennessee -9.5
KenPom: Tennessee -9

Torvik: Tennessee -7.5

I think that one of the nicest things that has ever happened to me is the University of Tennessee switching email addresses from the tidy “@utk.edu” to the monstrous “@vols.utk.edu.” Terrible? Obviously. But what this has done is:

  1. Kept me from accessing an email account I have no use for, aside from a letter of recommendation I forgot to save;
  2. Has erased an email I sent to a sportswriter about why Tennessee should hire Mike White after the 2013-14 basketball season.

Praise be for this disappearance into the digital ether.

Tennessee has not lost at home to Florida since said 2013-14 season and has impressively only done so once since 2011. The Gators have as many wins in Thompson-Boling since 2011 as Chattanooga and Austin Peay. Florida did beat a good (#26 KenPom) Ohio State team this year, but has also lost to Maryland (#82), Mississippi (#116), and most embarrassingly, Texas Southern (#174). If they get football every single year, Tennessee gets basketball. Seems fair to me.


Florida’s offense

Barring something surprising, Tennessee is going to go two consecutive seasons without playing a full-strength Florida side. Colin Castleton is Florida’s best player and most reliable scorer; you can’t tell the story of these Gators without talking about him. The story when he’s off the court is pretty fascinating (‘On’ is Castleton, ‘Off’ without):

Even when adjusting for 3PT% luck, it’s a pretty similar split: Florida is about 10-11 points worse per 100 possessions when Castleton doesn’t touch the court. The shot selection is perhaps the most interesting part of this:

  • Castleton On: 43.3% of FGA at rim/17.7% midrange/39.1% 3PA
  • Castleton Off: 29.9% rim/17.3% midrange/52.8% 3PA

That is a massive swing. Florida goes from generating what would be the 29th-highest attempt rate in CBB at the rim to 337th sans Castleton. It’s two completely unique and different offenses. If you’re like me and live in frequent fear of three-point variance, this is a little scary, but the people taking these shots for Florida are doing a great job at smoothing over potential fears.

Anyway, onto the show. Mike White made a big deal of changing his offense in the offseason to a more 5-out style where even Castleton was occasionally taking a three. Eric Fawcett is the main guy to go to if you want to learn about Florida. His observations are that Florida started out entirely pursuing this new 5-out style in November (when they started a 72-hour period of Ohio State’s athletic programs eating it on national television):

The problem is that teams began to adjust to Florida’s new style. In December, Florida lost a game that was understandable (Oklahoma), one that was…less understandable (Maryland), and one that was a complete debacle (Texas Southern). Shockingly, Mike White proved slow to adjust to others’ adjustments.

In January, Florida lost three in a row, then got back on the wagon until Castleton’s injury, then got smoked in a COVID makeup game by Mississippi. The good news for Florida: it isn’t really the offense’s fault. Torvik rates it out as a top-40 unit since SEC play started, and to White’s credit, he’s sort of turned his offense into a blend of what they used to run and what he wants to run.

The individual players you’ll see running these sets in the post-Castleton era (however long it lasts) are Phlandrous Fleming Jr. (10.3 PPG), Tyree Appleby (9.7 PPG), and Anthony Duruji (9.6 PPG). All three will take turns scoring and attempting to put up enough shots (also, points) to drag Florida to a road victory.

Fleming is the most versatile of the three. He’s horrifically inefficient on twos (53% at the rim, 33% on non-rim twos), but if you squint, he’s a player that can score at all three levels and does so somewhat well. Aside from having a truly insane and amazing name, Fleming is the co-secondary ball-handler behind Appleby along with Myreon Jones. My guess is that Fleming would like to think he’s at his best going downhill to the rim, but he’s been at his best as a shooter. 33% on threes is…not great, but also useful enough to make sense.

Appleby is the main ball-handler in Florida’s numerous ball-screen sets. You’ll see him run these with Duruji (the 4) or Jason Jitoboh (the 5) as the screener; Tennessee has to be prepared for Duruji in particular to pop out for a three. Without Castleton, Appleby has turned into Just A Shooter; of 27 shot attempts in Florida’s last three games, 26 were threes. Appleby is a career 35% shooter that is somehow better off the dribble than spotting up.

Last is Duruji, the best non-Castleton player on the roster and seemingly the only non-center who can score at the rim with any regularity at all. With Castleton off, Duruji is the best/most versatile frontcourt option the Gators have. He can score from outside and down low, sometimes coming from outside to the low post:

Beyond those three, you have a smattering of Just A Guys. Brandon McKissic is a Summit League transfer that mostly takes threes, but is nailing them at a 25% rate. Jason Jitoboh is an absolute behemoth (6’11”, 305) that is exclusively a threat at the rim. Myreon Jones takes a lot of shots but can’t hit them (44.1% eFG%, 30.1% 3PT%) well at all. CJ Felder is interesting (41.4% 3PT%) but is a minus defender that didn’t play against Mississippi due to a non-COVID illness.

CHART! The official Chart Guide is now as follows:

Yes: “Be afraid.” 😬
Somewhat: “They can hit this but not very efficiently.” 🤔
No: “Either never attempts this shot or is atrocious at making it.” 🥳

Florida’s defense

Very similar to 2020-21 to the point that I could fart out last year’s previews and be done with it. They press after made baskets but don’t force a lot of turnovers with it; they exclusively run man-to-man defense; they almost always hedge or double on ball screens. I don’t know, Florida’s defense has sort of reached this stage of boring competency where they’re never bad and often fairly good but never a serious threat to be great.

There’s a couple of reasons why this is the case:

  1. Florida is excellent at forcing bad shots but really bad at rebounding them;
  2. Florida is excellent at forcing turnovers but their aggressiveness can either lead to foul trouble or easy twos, depending on the opponent.

No team is perfect by any means; even Gonzaga and Arizona and, yes, Auburn have their flaws. Florida’s just seem particularly potent. This year, the Gators have become one of the nation’s most three-averse defenses. Only 29.8% of opponent shots are from deep, which the graphic notes as the 12th-lowest rate in America. That’s a pretty notable jump for a team that did this for the first three years of the White era then backed off for the last three. To White’s credit, Florida surrenders one of the lowest rates of catch-and-shoot threes in America, forcing a ton of off-the-dribble twos and runners instead.

That’s good. Even the fact that Florida allows a ton of attempts at the rim – the 24th-highest rate in America! – is largely fine, because Florida (read: Colin Castleton) has done a great job at blocking attempts down low. The Gators sit 15th in the nation in Block% largely because Castleton has 42 of them.

The problem is that Castleton has 42 blocks, no other Florida roster member has more than 13, and Castleton is likely still unavailable. Even when filtering out garbage time and regressing for 3PT% luck, Florida’s defense is about 5.6 points worse per 100 possessions when Castleton is off the floor. I assume you’ll be shocked to hear what the biggest difference is.

  • Castleton On: 48.3% 2PT% allowed, 33.7% FG% midrange, 57.1% FG% rim
  • Castleton Off: 52% 2PT% allowed, 40% FG% midrange, 59.7% FG% rim

I think that there should probably be some sort of luck-adjustment function for midrange attempts as a majority of those are jumpers, but you get the point. Sans Castleton, Florida forces fewer turnovers (24.8% TO% versus 21.4%), fouls way more (22.8% FTR vs. 34.3%), and blocks far fewer shots (6.1 BPG when Castleton plays, 4.0 BPG when he doesn’t).

There hasn’t been a huge shift in shot selection in the post-Castleton era, but when your center options are a guy who commits 8.1 fouls per 40 (Jitoboh) or one that commits 7.2 (Tuongthach Gatkek), well, you know what’s coming. Florida’s given up a 62.3% hit rate down low while just demolishing anyone who touches the paint. Florida’s given up 20+ free throw attempts in three straight games and is averaging 20.3 fouls a game or, you know, a double bonus every half.

That’s after giving up 20+ FTAs in just five of their first 16 games. The other thing of note here: the rebounding. Florida still forces turnovers at a good rate, but their defensive rebounding this season is poor. KenPom Plus breaks down how a team ranks by their DREB% on shots at the rim, midrange, and from three. Florida: 255th in DREB% on missed threes. Tennessee: 48th in OREB% on missed threes. Don’t be surprised if/when Tennessee picks up three or four OREBs on deep-ball misses.

Again: still a good defense, still will force Tennessee into their fair share of tough situations. Yet I would be significantly more fearful of this unit if Castleton were on the floor.

How Tennessee matches up

Kind of a fascinating game theory matchup, no? One team that takes more shots from three than it has in program history playing a defense whose main goal is to funnel you inside the three-point line. This is the only team in 2021-22 Tennessee plays that’s remotely this focused on denying threes, but if you like encouraging notes, the next-closest opponent (so far) is Arizona. (Texas is ahead of Arizona, but that game hasn’t been played yet, obviously.)

To Florida’s credit, I think they’ve been really good at forcing turnovers in ball-screen situations. That hard hedge can force younger guards to either pick up their dribble and find themselves in a double team or make a bad pass to a person that’s not open. If you can work your way around a hedge, you should be able to at least get a shot up with the remainder of your possession.

I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that Rick Barnes and staff have looked towards Oklahoma for some portion of their scout. Oklahoma got 14 points off of ten P&R Roll Man possessions in their 74-67 win, easily the most points anyone’s exploited Florida’s P&R coverage for. Shockingly, Tennessee hasn’t really done much of that so far, but of all teams, they found a hole in Alabama’s ball-screen coverage that allowed for several easy points down low. All of them were via Olivier Nkamhoua.

If Tennessee can draw that secondary defender (likely Duruji) out to the perimeter, Nkamhoua can use his body to create space either for two points or a foul.

Along with this, Florida had a shocking amount of trouble slowing down Daeshun Ruffin of Ole Miss on Monday. Ruffin is a miniscule point guard that jitterbugged his way to 21 points, all of which were either at the rim or the free throw line. Ruffin drew six fouls across 33 on-court minutes and it genuinely could’ve been ten if they imported officials from 2012. Florida fans seem terrified of what Kennedy Chandler and Zakai Zeigler could do to them. I say exploit these issues anywhere and everywhere possible.

Defensively…well, you have three guys to stop and only one of them is really potent at all three levels. Appleby has turned into Just A Shooter, and really, the entire team has. When you’re taking 53% of your shots from deep when a certain player is out of the game, that’s genuinely pretty wild. About 79% of Florida threes are of the catch-and-shoot variety, per Synergy.

There’s a couple of ways I think Tennessee could exploit this to great success; forcing Appleby and Myreon Jones into some really ill-advised kickouts when they touch the paint is probably my favorite. But, as usual, this game is going to come down to if you’re doing everything you physically can to make Florida’s deep balls hard, difficult shots. The Gators generate lots of corner threes; per CBB Analytics, they get off 9.2 a game, which is the third-most in America behind Alabama and, uh, Purdue Fort Wayne. Kickouts will happen; Tennessee’s just gotta be there to make them hard shots.

I’m of the opinion that you can do relatively little to control the outcome of an opponent’s three-pointer, but per the study you saw in Saturday’s game via Jimmy Dykes, I would imagine that being within 3-4 feet on as many shots as possible is a great way to maximize your potential for success. Frankly, if Florida is unable to hit 10+ threes in this one, it would take a serious overperformance elsewhere to win this game.

Starters + rotations

Metric explanations: Role is algorithmically-determined by Bart Torvik. MPG is minutes per game. PPG/RPG/APG/Fouls/Twos/Threes are what you’d guess. USG% is the percentage of possessions a player uses on the court. OREB%/DREB% are your available rebounds usurped. Finally, PRPG! is Bart Torvik’s Points Over Replacement metric; the higher the better. If you’re on mobile, zoom in; if on desktop, right click -> Open Image in New Tab.

Three things to watch for

  • Which team attempts fewer mid-range twos? Florida has become even more mid-averse than Tennessee, a genuinely surprising turn for a team that loved mid-range twos not long ago.
  • Can Tennessee get one of Duruji/Jitoboh in foul trouble? The Gator backcourt doesn’t commit many, so forcing Mike White to use depth pieces he really doesn’t want to use would be ideal.
  • Who gets the higher-quality threes? Any team can barf up a bunch, but getting lots of open, catch-and-shoot threes isn’t easy. I wouldn’t be surprised if Florida put up 30 deep balls in this one, but if they require multiple dribbles or are well-guarded, you have to live and be comfortable with that defensive process.

Key matchups

Anthony Duruji vs. Olivier Nkamhoua. Nkamhoua could really use a good performance; it feels like the last time he stood out in a positive manner was the Mississippi game three weeks ago. Meanwhile, Duruji’s been struggling with fouls as of late, but is a very legit threat both inside and out.

Tyree Appleby vs. Kennedy Chandler. If Chandler forces Appleby to take a bunch of tough threes, he’s done all he can do; Appleby is gonna toss ’em up from deep no matter what Chandler does. On the other end, Appleby was a defensive liability against Mississippi but is typically better than that. Chandler needs to push the issue in the paint early and often.

Phlandrous Fleming vs. A Cornucopia. All of Justin Powell, Josiah-Jordan James, and Santiago Vescovi are currently averaging 8+ MPG at the 3, so who knows. Fleming is the only three-level scorer I see on the Florida roster, though he’s not that efficient.

Three predictions

  1. Multiple times, I think about Alabama somehow losing to both Georgia and Missouri in a two-week span and start laughing;
  2. Florida goes on a run of 2+ made threes and follows it with 6+ consecutive misses;
  3. Tennessee 72, Florida 62.

Show Me My SEC Tournament Opponent, 2020-21: Florida

Hey, look who it is! Didn’t Tennessee just get done playing this team five days ago? Why, yes, they did. What you’ll see below is just about exactly the last preview, though with some small alterations and an attempt to show just how badly Florida was harmed down the stretch by having Tre Mann (their leading scorer in SEC play) unavailable for the game due to a migraine. Florida beat Vanderbilt 69-63 yesterday, if you didn’t see it, with Mann going for 22 points. He is important. So is this game for Tennessee’s NCAA Tournament seeding hopes.

Game information:

  • THE OPPONENT: 5-seed Florida (14-8, 9-7).
  • THE TIME: 30 minutes after Alabama/Mississippi State; most likely around 2:30 PM ET.
  • THE CHANNEL: ESPN.
  • THE ANNOUNCERS: Karl Ravech (PBP) and Jimmy Dykes (color).
  • THE SPREAD: Tennessee -4.5????

Click below to achieve your dreams of drifting ahead to your preferred section.

NEXT PAGE: Did you know Tennessee hasn’t beaten Florida in the SEC Tournament since 1984? They’ve also only played Florida thrice in the SECT since then, but, yeah

Show Me My Opponent, 2020-21: Florida (#2)

It’s Sunday, it’s early, and this is the final game of the SEC’s regular season. I’m tired. Super sim to the start of this game, please.

In all seriousness, you don’t really need millions of words about this game. With a win, Tennessee can somewhat salvage this turd of an SEC season by getting the final double-bye in next week’s conference tournament. With a loss, I think I’m moving out to a farm and not thinking about the Internet for a while.

Game information:

  • THE OPPONENT: Florida (13-7, 9-6).
  • THE TIME: 12 PM ET. For some reason.
  • THE CHANNEL: ESPNU. First ESPNU appearance this season!
  • THE ANNOUNCERS: Tom Hart (PBP) and Jimmy Dykes (color).
  • THE SPREAD: Tennessee -4.5.

Click ahead to get to your preferred section if you’d like.

NEXT PAGE: Please win

Show Me My Opponent, 2020-21: Florida (#1)

To be frank, it’s a little difficult to write these previews, knowing that in a normal world, Florida likely would’ve had Keyontae Johnson available. Before we even really get started here, a reminder for Vol fans to be praying for his recovery and for the best possible outcome.

Alright, back to the rivalry. Tennessee has defeated Florida on four straight occasions. Mike White, who was about $250K in assistant money away from being Tennessee’s head coach, is 1-5 against Rick Barnes. And I have to say, this is one of my favorite sites on the Internet at the moment.

Here are the things to know about these Florida Gators:

  • Based on the roster they had heading into the season, Bart Torvik’s site had them ranked 10th. I know, I know: sounds ridiculous. But Bart’s site also nailed how good Texas would be when a lot of others doubted.
  • That said, the Gators are now ranked 37th and freefalling on the same site.
  • The Gators are as close to a schizophrenic team as Tennessee can draw this year. They’ve got five 90+ Game Scores on Torvik’s site (that’s very good)…and five performances of 72 or worse (that’s not good).
  • The only player who was on Tennessee’s roster the last time Tennessee lost to Florida (2017) is John Fulkerson.
  • Mike White is 1-5 against Rick Barnes and 56-34 against all other SEC competition.

Here is a game information section to relieve pressure from Grant Ramey’s mentions.

  • THE OPPONENT: Florida (6-4, 3-3).
  • THE CHANNEL: ESPN. Dick Vitale is on the call, just FYI.
  • THE TIME: 7 PM ET.
  • THE SPREAD: Tennessee -7.

To move ahead to a certain section, click below.

NEXT PAGE: If you ask politely I’ll give you my thoughts on Tennessee football. Just kiddin’

Show Me My Opponent: Florida

From last week:

There are no KenPom Top 25 teams in The Stretch. That’s excellent. What’s not excellent is that Tennessee has only racked up seven conference wins to this point in a season where they really needed eight or more to feel good about this. Two games in particular will sit poorly with the players and staff if they can’t turn it around in these five games: the 63-58 home loss to a terrible Texas A&M squad and last weekend’s two-point road loss to South Carolina. The second of those is far less offensive to me than dropping a home decision to a team that has lost to Harvard, Temple, and Fairfield.

It’s all in the past now. Tennessee can rectify those games by winning one more game than they’re expected to. Both KenPom and Torvik anticipate Tennessee finishing the season 2-3 in these five games. That would add at least one Quadrant 1 win, which brings Tennessee to three on the season…or the same number as 21-6 Saint Mary’s, which is not good when you’ll end up playing six more Q1 opponents than they will. If Tennessee can get to four, that gets them onto the bubble. It’s that simple. Can Tennessee actually Do It? We’ll see.

Reader, they did not Do It. They were about 10 minutes away from Doing It, blew the game, and then got demolished by a team with more to play for on Wednesday. If all you care about is the NCAA Tournament, the season is over and you can begin planning your spring break travels without factoring in a potential Tennessee Thursday/Friday game. (Personally, I suggest that this is a great time to jump on the ETSU bandwagon if you haven’t yet.) This is an NIT team, assuming they can fart out 1-2 more wins this year, and that’s pretty much it.

If Tennessee somehow goes 2-1 over these final three, that would be nice. But no one trusts this team to do so, and no one should, really. Thinking about next year does make it better, though.

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