*Hat tip to DWhit, who took time off from his astronaut training regimen to provide the awesome Ogil-Sheik Photoshop.
It's been a while since the 'Dores have seen Florida; the teams' first meeting of the season came in the SEC season opener in Nashville nearly two months ago. Since that Vanderbilt win, the Gators have proven that they belong in the top third of the conference, dispatching teams like Mississippi, Mississippi State, and Tennessee while clawing their way up for a shot at the #2 spot in the SEC East. Though Florida's loss to Georgia on Saturday took some of the luster off the rematch and its effect on conference tournament seeding, the game will no doubt be a battle between two top four SEC squads.
Vandy will head to Gainesville with a bit of swagger after demolishing former SEC West leader Arkansas in Fayetteville. The game was a rarity for the 'Dores, as they led wire to wire and dominated a formerly hot Razorback squad. Florida, conversely, is coming off a sloppy loss and will need another signature victory in their last two SEC games to inspire confidence in their NCAA Tournament chances. They'll no doubt have a fired up crowd behind them as the 'Dores head to the swamp, where Vanderbilt hasn't won since 2001.
Florida (20-9, AP NR, Coaches NR)
Florida has lost five games since the first match-up, although none have been particularly awful. The team fell in a pair of trap games with dangerous teams in South Carolina and Georgia, and then also lost versus NCAA Tournament-bound teams in Xavier, Tennessee, and Kentucky. Despite their solid play of late, the team lies firmly on the at-large selection bubble due primarily to their early out-of-conference struggles.
Georgia enhanced their status as "team no one wants to face in the SEC Tournament" with their win over Florida. Despite a solid comeback effort, the Gators were unable to keep the momentum of their win over Tennessee alive as they fell to the Bulldogs 78-76. While Florida was the more talented team, they were also more disjointed and, at times, inefficient. Their lack of cohesion as a team cost them against an opponent that excels at creating chaos on the court.
Key to destruction: Georgia broke open the game midway through the first half and then held on as Florida was simply unable to get over the hump in their second half comeback effort. The story of the game was the Gators' inability to contain the home team defensively, as the Bulldogs offense cruised to 57.4% shooting. Crisp passes and lapses on defense led to several open looks and easy lay-ups; Georgia recorded assists on 21 of their 31 made baskets.
Additionally, UGA was able to contain Florida frontcourt leader and balding Predator look-a-like Alex Tyus defensively, forcing the offensive focus on Chandler Parsons. Though Parsons came through with flying colors (29 points), his efforts weren't enough to dig the Gators out of their second half hole. Despite Georgia's relative lack of depth, they came at Florida with a balanced attack that kept the visiting team from sustaining momentum. Five players scored nine or more points for the Bulldogs, and the team's 31 points off the bench proved to be the difference.
Keys to the game:
- Hit Florida from all angles: Georgia rolled nine deep to beat the Gators, despite having a limited bench. Role players like Jeremy Price and Ebuka Anyaorah stepped up to keep Florida from clawing their way back into the lead. Vandy's starting five has rolled out a spread out attack for most of the season, and if they can get strong performances from John Jenkins, Lance Goulbourne, and Steve Tchiengang, they'll be able to dispatch the Gators in Gainesville.
- Make the extra pass: Florida's defense showed a lot of holes in their loss Saturday. Georgia was often able to find open players through solid passing, and this led to easy baskets. Vanderbilt is in a rare position with two solid passing big men in A.J. Ogilvy and Andre Walker to pair with a strong backcourt. If the team can swing the ball around and use the shot clock, they'll be able to find good shots and jump start the offense.
- Score early and shut down the crowd: The O'Dome has always been a tough place for the Commodores to play, and their fans are some of the SEC's best in terms of creating a home-court advantage. Vanderbilt needs to jump out to a big early lead to keep the crowd quiet and Florida's advantage at a minimum. Barring that, A.J. Ogilvy needs to go into full pro wrestling heel mode, and just work so emotionally over the top that their hate propels him. Though the latter is a long-shot, it would be the Commodore moment of the decade if he hit a game-winning shot at the O'Dome, and then returned to the court waving the Australian flag like the Iron Sheik just to taunt the fans.