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Columnists | Message Board  | Daily Dribble

By Jeff Borzello

February 22nd, 2006


Game of the Week: Tennessee at Florida

Wednesday February 22nd - 8:00 Regional TV


With only a few games left on each teamís schedule, conference races are starting to clear up and regular season titles are being clinched left and right. However, most of the major conferences are still up for grabs. The Big Ten has six teams within 1.5 games of each other; the Pac-10 has five teams within 1.5 games; the Big 12 title will be decided this weekend when Texas faces Kansas; UConn and Villanova are going to decide who wins the Big East; and the SEC has three teams with a chance at the championship. As far as games this week go, the SEC will have the most important game in terms of the effect on the conference race when Tennessee heads to Florida.
Tennessee has been one of the biggest surprises this season as a result of new coach Bruce Pearl, the favorite for Coach of the Year. His energy and pressure defense have led this Volunteers team to a 19-2 record, 10-4 in the SEC. In addition, they are one of the hottest teams in the nation. Prior to losing this weekend to Alabama, they had won 8 in a row and 13 of 15. Tennessee has beaten Florida once this season, and also defeated Texas on the road earlier in the season. Their worst loss was to Oklahoma State in Oklahoma City back in December. The Volunteers average over 83 points per game, and allow just below 74 per game. In other words, they both score and give up the most points in the league. Tennessee, ranked a surprising 4th in the RPI, are the 9th-most efficient offensive team in the country but only the 82nd-most efficient defensive club, according to Ken Pomeroy.
Like the Volunteers, Florida has been a huge surprise this season. They lost their three leading scorers from last season, but that has turned out to be addition by subtraction. Coach of the Year candidate Billy Donovan has meshed a talented group into a team that is 22-4 overall, and 8-4 in the SEC. They were also the last undefeated team in the country. However, the Gators have struggled somewhat lately. They have lost 2 of 4, and are only 5-4 in their last 9 games. Their best wins to date are Syracuse and LSU, while getting swept by South Carolina and losing to Arkansas werenít the most impressive of losses. Florida averages 81 points per game, and allows just over 64 points per game, best in the conference. The Gators, 22nd in the RPI, have the 20th-most efficient offense and the 19th-most efficient defense.
Tennessee is a perimeter-heavy team that plays four guards at times. When they get production from the paint, it makes them very difficult to beat. They press the ball from the opening tip and donít let up. The Vols force plenty of turnovers and donít turn the ball over much themselves. They are tough to prepare for on short notice, which bodes well for the NCAA Tournament. The Volunteers have two of the best guards in the country in C.J. Watson (15.2 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 4.2 apg, 2.2 spg, 41% 3pt) and Chris Lofton (17.8 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 1.9 apg, 2.1 spg, 48% 3pt). Watson is a very good all-around point guard, and is a candidate for All-SEC honors. He is an above-average three-point shooter, doesnít turn the ball over, and is a solid defender. In addition, he is a decent rebounder for his size and can pour in points if necessary. Watson has only failed to score in double-digits once this season. Lofton might be the best three-point shooter in the countryóyes, including J.J. Redick. In his last four games, he shot 29 for 41 from beyond the arc, translating to an astonishing 71%. He is an excellent scorer and a solid defender who gets into passing lanes for steals. Lofton is also an outstanding free-throw shooter. Three more perimeter players average over 20 minutes per game. Dane Bradshaw (7.0 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 4.1 apg, 1.9 spg) is the third starter on the wing. He produces in all areas of the game. Before Andre Patterson began starting a few games ago, the 6-4 Bradshaw played the power forward position. He is second on the team in rebounding (15th in the SEC) and assists (8th in the SEC). Bradshaw can also score on occasion and is a very good defender. JaJuan Smith (9.7 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 1.5 spg) and Stanly Asumnu (8.8 ppg, 3.0 rpg) provide excellent production off the bench. Smith is instant offense and can also get into the passing lanes for steals. However, he tends to shoot too much and is not overly efficient. Asumnu is a versatile wing player who can score quite efficiently and can also rebound and distribute well. He, like Bradshaw, can swing to the frontcourt to relieve the post players for a few minutes.
Inside, two players see the majority of the minutes. Major Wingate (10.7 ppg, 4.0 rpg) is the main option down low. He leads the team in FG percentage and can put the ball in the basket, but he is a liability on the rebounding end. He is not even the Top 30 in the SEC, and is the worst rebounding center in the conference. Moreover, he is not much of a defensive presence in the post. With that said, he is a consistent point producer who has only fouled out of one game all season. Andre Patterson (10.2 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 1.2 spg) is an unsung forward who is always around the ball and always seems to be involved, one way or another. He can score fairly well and leads the team in rebounding. Additionally, he is a solid defender who can also pass the ball. He began starting 7 games in a row, and that is when Tennessee really took off.
Florida is one of the most balanced teams in the country. All five starters average in double-figures and no one puts up more than 14.2 points per game. They lead the conference in all three shooting categories (FG, FT, 3PT) and also are tops in the SEC in assists. The Gators donít have a go-to-guy, but have several players capable of leading the team in scoring on any given night. They can play at any pace and donít have many weaknesses. There is a reason they were the last undefeated team in the country. It starts with their point guard, Taurean Green (14.2 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 5.2 apg, 1.4 spg, 40% 3pt). One of the most improved players in the country, Green leads the SEC in assists and is one of the best playmakers in the nation. He is a good long-range shooter and is also a solid defender. However, he is prone to turnovers and takes bad shots often. His backcourt partner, Lee Humphrey (10.2 ppg, 2.2 apg, 48% 3pt), is one of the best three-point shooters around. He is not much of a creator, but his shooting extends the defense and allows the rest of the Gators to drive the lane and score inside. You wonít see him venture inside the arc too often, but it is not needed most of the time. Also starting on the wing is Corey Brewer (12.4 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 3.7 apg, 1.7 spg), one of the best all-around players in the conference. He leads the team in steals, is second in assists, and is third in both rebounding and scoring. Brewer has excellent ability to get into passing lanes and create havoc on the defensive end. He is a very good offensive rebounder who scores while slashing to the basket. He is also very good in the open court. Seeing minutes off the bench on the perimeter are freshmen Walter Hodge (5.0 ppg, 1.2 spg) and David Huertas (3.2 ppg). Hodge produces in several aspects and allows Green to take some time off. He is a decent scorer and distributor. In addition, he can shoot the three and create turnovers with his defense. Hodge is capable of filling it up on the offensive end. Huertas is a solid wing who gets just over 10 minutes per game backing up Brewer.
Up front, Florida has one of the most athletic post tandems you will find. Joakim Noah (13.0 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 1.1 spg, 1.9 bpg, 67% fg) has developed into one of the SECís best big men as the season has progressed. His excellent leaping ability allows him to grab offensive rebounds and to block shots. He has a good touch and is tough to stop in the low block. His efficiency from the field is outstanding. Al Horford (11.6 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 1.3 spg, 2.0 bpg, 65% fg) has been rising up NBA draft boards recently. He is athletic and strong and is a hard-nosed player in the paint. Horford is one of the best rebounders and shot-blockers in the conference. He has seven double-doubles this season and is capable of having a big game every night out. Like Noah, he is efficient when shooting the ball. Backing them up is Chris Richard (6.5 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 73% fg), who leads the conference in field-goal percentage. He is a solid scorer and rebounder who is a very good defender. His production has slipped in conference play, but he is still an above-average player off the bench inside. Adrian Moss (3.8 ppg, 2.1 rpg) also sees minutes down low. He is very athletic and has shown potential, but that potential has not translated into much production in his four years at Florida.
Like the first meeting between these two teams earlier this season, this game should be an exciting and high-scoring affair. Both teams can light up the scoreboard but have two completely different styles. Tennessee is a fast-paced, pressing group that gets their points in transition. On the other hand, Florida is a balanced team that can score in multiple settings. They are their best when all of their players are producing on the offensive end. This game is going to come down to Taurean Green handling the Volunteersí pressure. He has six turnovers in the first meeting, and that canít happen again if the Gators are to win. Moreover, Florida has to contain Chris Lofton. He is the hottest he has ever been currently, and if he has a big game, the Gators are going to be in trouble. On the other side, Tennessee needs to get more production from players other than Lofton and C.J. Watson. Watson only had six points in the first game; he obviously needs to score more. Additionally, Major Wingate needs to hold his own down low against Al Horford and Joakim Noah. Andre Patterson canít do all the rebounding. Both Horford and Noah are athletic and aggressive. If they start grabbing every loose ball in sight, the Gators will have a major (no pun intended) advantage. When it comes down to it, I think that, even though Watson will have a better game, Green will handle the press much better and that Noah and Horford will dominate down low. The difference is going to be Corey Brewer on the wing for Florida. He had 20 points and 8 rebounds in the first meeting, and I expect more of the same from him. The Gators will stay in the SEC title race with a win on Wednesday.
Prediction: Florida 78, Tennessee 73
Before my one week hiatus, I pulled off yet another Game of the Week victory as Pittsburgh took down West Virginia by the same 4-point margin that I predicted. West Virginia was somewhat cold from the outside and Aaron Gray dominated down low. It also didnít hurt that Kevin Pittsnogle went scoreless and fouled out. That ran my record to 7-3, with seven straight victories. Hopefully, I will get my eighth consecutive win this week.

Check out Jeff Borzello's March Madness All Season Blog on CHN.




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