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Preview: Florida Comes to Nashville to Face a Slumping Commodore Team

The Gators are struggling in 2014-15, but they aren't the team that will bring a seven-game losing streak to Memorial Gym. Can Vanderbilt find their strength in time to fend off Florida on Tuesday?

The foreground image makes Shelton Mitchell look like a toddler, and I like that.
The foreground image makes Shelton Mitchell look like a toddler, and I like that.
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Early in the season, the chance to knock off a disjointed Florida team had many Commodore fans excited. Now, a seven-game losing streak has tempered Vanderbilt's expectations.

The 'Dores haven't won since dispatching Bruce Pearl and the Auburn Tigers back on January 6th. Some of those struggles have been the result of a rigid schedule - six of their seven games came against teams in the RPI top 40 - but it's becoming clearer and clearer that a lack of veteran steadiness has stung this team late in games. Vanderbilt has the talent to throw punches with anyone in the league, but they don't yet have the mental toughness to hang in the pocket for the full 40 minutes.

They'll get a big test when an up-and-down Gator team comes to Nashville. Florida has won two straight and notched a big win over Arkansas their last time out - but that came after a three-game losing streak that included double-digit defeats to Georgia and LSU. As such, it's tough to predict exactly which Florida team we'll see on Tuesday night.

That doesn't mean we aren't going to try. Let's take a closer look at tonight's Vandy/UF matchup.

The Opponent: The University of Florida (12-9, 5-3 SEC)

KenPom Rankings: Florida is 34th. Vanderbilt is 66th.

Key Stat: 9.5. After losing four heartbreaking games by an average of 4.5 points per game (including an overtime defeat against LSU), Vanderbilt has been beaten by 9.5 ppg in their last two. The Commodores got run off the court early against Texas A&M and struggled to fight their way back into an 11-point loss. They played better against Georgia, but could not get any closer than a four-point gap in their eventual 62-70 loss to the Bulldogs.

Has the emotional impact of those close losses begun to affect Vandy's play on the court? The 'Dores looked frustrated throughout Saturday's game against the Aggies and often rushed through plays with a misplaced sense of urgency. There's still time to right the ship against Florida, but an athletic Gator team has the ability to pester them back into a bad place with quick-scoring runs. Can the Commodores recover in time to play intelligent, even-keeled basketball against their SEC East rival?

Matchup to Watch: Dorian Finney-Smith vs. Vanderbilt's power forwards. The 'Dores have had no success in stopping their opponents' second-biggest man on the floor recently. Jalen Jones led all scorers with 15 points in the A&M loss, Nemanja Djurisic put up 15 and nine during the Georgia game, and Jordan Mickey and Jarell Martin combined for approximately 400 points and rebounds in LSU's overtime win against Vanderbilt.

That's good news for Finney-Smith, who is coming off a stellar 16-point, nine rebound, four assist game in Florida's upset win over Arkansas. Vanderbilt has a pair of forwards who bring important qualities to the post. Luke Kornet is a long-armed seven footer who can block shots. James Siakam is a tenacious man-up defender who uses his body to deter opponents and clear the glass after a miss. Unfortunately, each player's strengths are the other's weaknesses, and that creates gaps that opponents have exploited in Vandy's recent losses.

Starters and Rotation Players:

Pos. Player PPG RPG APG
G - Wade Baldwin IV 7.5 3.6 4.3
G - Riley LaChance 12.4 3.0 2.7
F - Jeff Roberson 4.7 3.5 1.0
F - Luke Kornet 9.0 3.9 0.7
C - Damian Jones 15.2 6.8 0.9
Key Reserves
F - James Siakam 8.3 5.2 0.6
G/F - Matthew Fisher-Davis 6.1 2.1 1.1
G - Shelton Mitchell 4.8 2.3 3.8
Pos. Player PPG RPG APG
G - Kasey Hill 7.5 2.3 4.3
G - Eli Carter 7.6 2.1 1.9
G - Michael Frazier II 13.0 4.7 1.6
F - Dorian Finney-Smith 13.2 5.7 1.8
C - Jon Horford 6.7 4.8 0.4
Key Reserves
G - Chris Chiozza 4.0 1.7 2.0
F - Jacob Kurtz 4.5 4.3 1.1
F - Devin Robinson 5.9 3.9 0.1