(16) Florida (22-7) at Vanderbilt (20-9)
Tuesday February 28th, 9:00 p.m. (et)
The Sports Network
By Lucas Gulotta, Associate College Basketball Editor
FACTS & STATS: Site: Memorial Gym (14,316) -- Nashville, Tennessee. Television: ESPN. Home Record: UF 14-1, VU 12-5. Away Record: UF 4-6, VU 6-4. Neutral Record: UF 4-0, VU 2-0. Conference Record: UF 10-4, VU 9-5. Series Record: Series Record: Vanderbilt leads, 63-60.
GAME NOTES: The Vanderbilt Commodores have a chance to tie for second place in the Southeastern Conference tonight as they host the 16th-ranked Florida Gators in a crucial league matchup at Memorial Gym.
The Gators and Commodores are second and third in the SEC standings, respectively. Vanderbilt lost 73-65 in the first encounter between the programs on Feb. 4th. The Gators trail 63-60 in the all-time series with Vandy, but have gone 22-11 against the Commodores with Billy Donovan at the helm.
Florida would secure second place in the SEC with a win tonight as its 10-4 league record is only bettered by Kentucky's perfect mark at this point. The Gators fell to 22-7 overall when they were upset by the Georgia Bulldogs on Saturday. Florida was held under 70 points for the third straight game in the loss, which has to be frustrating as the team's scoring offense average has been lowered to a still impressive 77.7 ppg. The Gators have had success on the offensive end this season due to its tendency to rain threes on opponents. Florida leads the nation with 10.1 makes from beyond the arc per game, but it managed to make just 5-of-23 its last time out. The Gators allowed the Bulldogs to shoot 52.9 percent from the floor on Saturday, which is the highest an opponent has shot this season. If Florida loses today, it will be tied with Vandy for the second spot in the SEC with a season finale against Kentucky this weekend.
The Gators' starting backcourt of Erving Walker, Kenny Boynton, and Bradley Beal combine to make one of the top three-guard attacks in the nation. The trio combined for 44 points in the loss to Georgia in their most recent action. Boynton leads the team with 17.3 ppg, while Beal averages 14.7 points and a team-high 6.5 rebounds per contest. Walker is leading the SEC with a 2.4 assist-to-turnover ratio and is second with 4.8 apg.
Florida's loss to Georgia has given Vandy an unexpected chance at earning a first-round bye in the SEC Tournament. However, the Commodores are also only one game ahead of Alabama and Tennessee in the standings, which means a three- way tie for third is possible with a loss tonight. Although Vandy dropped an 83-74 decision to Kentucky on Saturday, coach Kevin Stallings and his team delivered an encouraging performance against the nation's top ranked squad. The Commodores are a very similar team to Florida statistically, as they carry a scoring average of 73.9 ppg and allow opponents to score 66.1 ppg. VU is 20-9 overall, but just 1-6 against ranked teams this season.
Vandy will try to ride its dynamic duo of John Jenkins and Jeffrey Taylor to victory tonight. Jenkins is leading the SEC in scoring with 20.0 ppg after he has averaged 23.2 ppg in his last four games. The junior guard is on pace to become the first back-to-back SEC scoring champion since LSU's Ronnie Henderson accomplished the feat in 1995 and 1996. Taylor is the closest thing to disallowing Jenkins from another scoring title, as he is second in the conference with 17.3 ppg. VU's center Festus Ezeli will play a vital role tonight. The senior big man will need to protect the rim while Lance Goulbourne does his best to lead the Commodores in the rebounding battle.
Neither side has an overly apparent advantage on paper in this one. Vanderbilt has trotted out four seniors in its starting lineup all season, and on senior night with a share of second place on the line, expect that core to deliver one of its best performances of the season. The Commodores outshot the Gators from the floor but could not keep up at the foul line or from beyond the arc in the first bout. With the friendly rims and audience, VU will fare better this time around against Donovan's talented unit.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Vanderbilt 77, Florida 75
02/28 10:48:47 ET