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The SEC's Worst Losses: Florida

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Vanderbilt desperately needs a quality win. It can get one when Florida comes to town.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Vanderbilt had the momentum of a three-game winning streak implode when they suffered a 19-point loss to No. 23 Kentucky. Now, they can get back on track - and lock down a win over an RPI Top 25 program - by beating conference rival Florida at home.

That won't be an easy task. The Gators are currently 5-2 in conference play and are tied for second place in the SEC alongside two other teams that have already beaten the Commodores - Kentucky and LSU. Florida was supposed to be in flux after last year's 16-17 record and the departure of longtime head coach Billy Donovan, but a solid performance in 2015-16 has the team on track to return to the NCAA Tournament.

Vandy is trending in the opposite direction. Though a recent three-game winning streak helped boost morale, it's difficult to argue this team hasn't been a major disappointment. The 'Dores were ranked as high as No. 12 in the nation before hitting a 3-7 skid that dropped them out of the rankings and onto the unpleasant side of the tournament bubble. A win over Florida would give them their first real quality win of the season - something they'll need in order to show the selection committee they're more than just a collection of underachieving talent.

Florida (13-6, 5-2 SEC, ranked No. 26 in Ken Pomeroy's ratings)

Worst Loss: at Tennessee (10-9. 3-4 SEC No. 81 KenPom, No. 89 CBS RPI), 69-83
Other Losses: vs. Purdue, at Miami (FL), at Michigan State, vs. Florida State, at Texas A&M

For the second game in a row, Vanderbilt faces a team ranked 26th in the KenPom rankings. Kentucky rose up to 22nd after thrashing the Commodores with an array of acrobatic shots in the paint, leaving the Gators and their three-game winning streak to fill that void. Florida has only lost twice in league play this season - once to No. 15 Texas A&M, and once in a surprising 14-point loss to Tennessee.

The Volunteers trailed for exactly 66 seconds early in the first half and then beat the tar out of Florida to take a commanding 53-31 lead into the locker room. The Gators gave up a 35-11 run that effectively ended this game just 19 minutes after the opening tipoff. Tennessee led by as many as 30 points in the second half before letting off the gas and cruising to a 14-point victory.

Point of emphasis: Big performances from star players. Tennessee got 26 points - including a 3-3 performance from three-point range - from star guard Kevin Punter. Though Admiral Schofield's 17-point, eight rebound game also played a big part, Florida's inability to stop UT's best player was a huge part of their defeat in Knoxville. Vanderbilt has two guys that share the "No. 1 threat" crown - Wade Baldwin IV and Damian Jones. Both should be pretty hungry after a humiliating loss in Lexington on Saturday.

Keys to the Game:

  • Crash the offensive boards. Tennessee lost the overall offensive rebound battle 17 to 15, but that's because the Gators had considerably more opportunities after missing 46 shots from the field. Florida pulled down 37 percent of their missed FGs. The Vols grabbed 43 percent of their own misses, leading to 15 second chance points in a blowout win.
  • Force Florida to shoot three-pointers. The Gators have four players who attempt 45 percent or more of their shots from three-point range. However, only two have made more than 35 percent of those three-pointers this season. Against Tennessee, forward Justin Leon shot a solid 3-5 from long range, but Florida's other three shooters - Dorian Finney-Smith, Chris Chiozza, and KeVaughn Allen - went 4-15. Finney-Smith (41.1 3-pt%) is dangerous, but these streaky Gators can shoot themselves out of a game as quickly as they can rally back into it.
  • Capitalize on Vanderbilt's size and scoring advantage in the paint. Florida sophomore John Egbunu is an emerging complement to the Gator offense, but his 4-10 performance against UT was nearly 20 points below his season shooting average. Vanderbilt will have the opportunity to badger him into tough shots on the defensive end. More importantly, Damian Jones and Luke Kornet should be able to draw fouls in one-on-one matchups against the 6'11" shot blocker. Egbunu is the only Gator regular with the size to cover Vandy's twin towers, but he's also had issues with foul trouble this season. He's committed a foul for every 7:26 of court time this winter - a mark similar to Jones' 7:22.