Florida (24-2, 11-0 SEC) at Vanderbilt (17-8, 7-4 SEC), Saturday, Feb. 17, 2007. Tip-off: 12 P.M. CT, Memorial Gymnasium (14,316)
RPI: Florida: 6 (58 SOS); Vanderbilt: 43 (27 SOS)
Sagarin ratings: Florida: 1; Vanderbilt: 54
Rankings: Florida is listed No. 1 in both the AP and ESPN-USA Today polls. Vanderbilt is not ranked in either poll.
Line: Florida is favored by 6.5 points
Series info: 113th meeting; Vanderbilt leads the all-time series 59-53; Vanderbilt leads 37-12 in Nashville; Florida leads 36-20 in Gainesville and 5-2 at neutral sites.
Coaches: Kevin Stallings is in his eighth year at Vanderbilt (139-104) and his 14th year overall (262-167); Billy Donovan is in his 11th year at Florida (250-100) and his 13th year overall (285-120).
Radio: In Nashville, the game is carried on the ISP Radio Network (WGFX 104.5 FM).
Television: CBS Sports. Craig Bolerjack provides play-by-play alongside color analyst Clark Kellogg.
3 - Alex Gordon, G, 5-11, 164, Jr., Pensacola, Fla. (8.0 ppg, 3.6 apg)
32 - Shan Foster, G/F, 6-6, 200, Jr., Kenner, La. (14.7 ppg, 4.8 rpg)
4 - Derrick Byars, G/F, 6-7, 230, Sr.-Tr., Memphis, Tenn. (16.5 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 3.0 apg)
20 - Dan Cage, G, 6-5, 215, Sr., Indianapolis, Ind. (11.6 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 2.0 apg)
41 - Ross Neltner, F, 6-9, 247, Jr.-Tr., Fort Thomas, Ky. (10.0 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 2.3 apg)
11 - Taurean Green, G, 6-0, 177, Jr., Fort Lauderdale, Fla. (13.8 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 3.6 apg)
12 - Lee Humphrey, G, 6-2, 192, Sr., Maryville, Tenn. (10.2 ppg, 1.8 apg)
2 - Corey Brewer, F, 6-9, 185, Jr., Portland, Tenn. (13.0 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 3.0 apg)
13 - Joakim Noah, F, 6-11, 232, Jr., New York, N.Y. (12.6 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 1.8 bpg)
42 - Al Horford, F, 6-10, 245, Jr., Puerto Plata, D.R. (12.6 ppg, 8.7 rpg, 1.6 bpg)
This has been the season almost everyone predicted for the defending national champion Florida Gators. Riding a 17 game winning streak, and ranked No. 1 in both national polls, Donovan can clinch the SEC East crown today with four games left to play.
And it's no secret why. Realistically, Florida could populate the entire All-SEC first team this year and get little argument. Green leads the team in scoring. Humphrey leads the league in 3-point accuracy at 60 percent, and to put that in perspective, Vandy's Cage is second at 48.5 percent. Brewer us the SEC's best wing defender; Noah is sixth in the league in rebounding, and Horford ranks seventh. The list goes on and on.
Vanderbilt led for most of the first matchup, taking a 41-30 lead into halftime. But Florida outscored Vanderbilt 44-23 after halftime thanks in part to a 13-0 run to start the second half. The Gators shot a scorching 72.7 percent in the second half, due to Humphrey's 3-point bombs and Noah and Horford's inside dunks.
As a team, Florida ranks No. 1 in the SEC in field goal percentage, 3-point percentage, scoring defense, field goal percentage defense, 3-point defense, and both offensive and defensive rebounding. Quite frankly, it appears the only thing that will stop Florida from going undefeated and winning the league title will be Florida itself.
If the Gators are on their game, they cannot be beaten. Vandy's four-guard attack works best against teams with slow frontcourt athletes who cannot run the court. Well, obviously, if there's one team in the NCAA that doesn't fit that description it is the Gators. Noah, Horford, Hodge, and even Dan Werner are guards in forward bodies. All of them are perfectly content chasing Cage across the baseline.
There isn't a match-up today that favors Vanderbilt. But, Byars' determination -- as demonstrated in Wednesday's 32-point performance against South Carolina -- could be a deciding factor that leans toward Vandy. Byars played stellar defense on Kelley, whom I believe is the most unsung player in the SEC. Brewer is a whiner who hates physical defensive play, and he is susceptable to being his own worst enemy on the court. If Stallings puts Byars on Brewer, I like that matchup.
But the difference today will probably be Humphrey. His three consecutive 3-pointers in the Gainesville game broke the game open, and Vandy cannot afford to let Noah and Horford go crazy in the paint and let Humphrey kill them from 3.
Conversely, when Cage isn't guarding Humphrey he needs to do his damage from 3 on the other side of the court. Cage has become Vandy's X-Factor, and this is without a doubt the biggest game of his college career. I look for Cage, with his father in the stands, to try to put on a show that the producers of the movie Hoosiers would be proud of.
I've said for several weeks now that the only team left on Florida's schedule that I believe could defeat them is Vanderbilt. With a sold out home crowd, national television audience, and the seniors looking to punch their ticket to the NCAA Tournament, I predict this will go down as one for the Magical record books.
Vanderbilt 75, Florida 73
VandySports.com Staff Writer
There's five games left in the regular season and it is widely presumed Vanderbilt roughly needs to win two of those to get into the Big Dance. One thing is for certain if one of those two were to be against the 24-2 Florida Gators there would probably be nobody sweating out Selection Sunday in the Commodore camp. It wasn't so long ago you just, more or less, expected every game against UF on the Vandy floor to come out a Commodore victory or, at least, a competitive loss. Now on the losing end of the last seven meetings nothing is taken for granted in Nashville.
Florida is good there's no doubt about that. They are stronger than Vandy in the paint and when they hit their perimeter shots are practically unbeatable by anybody in the nation. Vanderbilt hasn't faced a number one team at Memorial Gym in 14 years and does have a puncher's chance to win this game. Though the Gators can and will score on the Vandy interior they only were able to climb back into the game in Gainesville this season with outside marksmanship.
To win this game the Commodores need to take the tempo to the Gators and force the issue and pace. They did well for most of the game earlier this season as did Alabama. Somehow Vandy will need to finally contain the conference's best percentage outside shooter in Lee Humphrey. This guy always seems to get it done against Vanderbilt.
On the other side of the coin Vanderbilt needs to fire and strike from the mid-range and eliminate the need for the offensive rebound. I firmly believe Florida to be the best team in all the land. For some crazy reason I'll take a leap of faith in this weekend's prediction. It shouldn't happen, but I'm predicting:
Vanderbilt 79, Florida 78
Some of the best memories of my life involve the Commodores playing No. 1 at Memorial Gym. I fondly remember Charles Mayes and company bombing in 3's to beat North Carolina in the late-80's, and, of course, Vandy's 1993 thrashing of top-ranked Kentucky during the SEC title year. Today's game could be another in a long line of classic games I'll remember forever should Vandy pull another upset. I get chills just thinking about what the atmosphere in Memorial could be like today.
It won't be easy, for sure, but the Commodores proved that, for at least a half, they could hang with the Gators, and more. The ill-fated eight-minute segment of the second half did Vandy in, of course, but I liked the way the team didn't play afraid the entire night.
I expect that confidence to carry over to today's game. Of course, confidence doesn't solve everything--mainly, the fact that Vandy still has to match up with both Joakim Noah and Al Horford, which is going to be tough with Vandy's four-guard lineup. Then, there's the challenge of stopping Lee Humphrey, who is vying with UT's Chris Lofton for the title of the league's best shooter. Humphrey will get his looks, and Vandy just has to hope he doesn't get red-hot.
But, I think the 'Dores can use that to their advantage offensively, spreading the floor and taking Noah and Horford away from the inside, freeing up some back-door opportuntites for lay-ups and taking the pressure off the permimeter. For sure, the 'Dores should do better than their 3-of-18 performance from 3-point range in Gainesville.
I also like the way Byars carried the team on Wednesday, and think that Saturday may be a chance to put himself at the top of the league's player of the year candidates. Byars has proven he can carry the team at times, and never in his career will he get a bigger opportunity than Saturday.
The bottom line is that the Gators are the nation's best team, and I'll go on record now predicting them to repeat as national champions in March. But I've seen a riled-up Vandy crowd inspire the Commodores to play a notch above what anyone knew was possible, and tomorrow, I'm predicting another bit of Memorial Magic with seniors Byars and Cage making some huge plays down the stretch, and the Commodores giving me another lasting memory to file away.
Vanderbilt 78, Florida 77
VandySports.com Recruiting Editor/Publisher
Vanderbilt has everything to gain in this game with virtually no one outside of the Vanderbilt fanbase expecting them to win. Florida has absolutely nothing to lose other than an undefeated league record, which some say is a bad omen for the NCAA tournament anyways.
If Vanderbilt defeats the Gators, simply put, they are in the NCAA tournament. You don't defeat the clear number one team in the land and defending national champions in mid-February and miss the dance. The pressure isn't necessarily on Vanderbilt, but the prize is clearly in front of them.
However, the Gators have proven for the past couple of weeks that though they are vunerable, they still know how to get it done when needed. Whether it's Noah and Horford on the inside, Green and Humphrey from the outside, or every Commodore fans favorite, Corey Brewer from everywhere on the court, Florida has the strongest starting five in the nation. Balance is always the key to their victories and head coach Billy Donovan finally found the formula and the right mix to make Florida a national power and not just a dog and pony show.
Vanderbilt has to try to offset that balance somehow defensively and confuse Florida's bigs while not letting the Gator's perimeter players get open looks. Vanderbilt has to make this a game where Corey Brewer has to beat them. Brewer makes all of the "dagger" plays and he will likely bring tons of them with him on Saturday as he loves to play his best in front of the Nashville crowd. Brewer will make mistakes though and if VU gives him enough rope, he could potentially hang himself with awful shot selection and forced drives that disrupts Florida's offensive flow.
This game will be won or lost defensively. Of course, the 'Dores can't have cold shooting spells and scorers like Byars, Foster, Gordon, Cage, and Neltner, all need to bring their stroke and moves if they have any hopes to win.
After the Tennessee game, I predicted Vanderbilt to beat the Gators on this day and in my mind, I know Vanderbilt will win and I believe I even know the score. However, seeing as though three of my fellow panelists have already gone with the 'Dores, I will go with the opposite pick just to break any potential jinx!
Florida 81 Vanderbilt 80, in OT.
VandySports.com Guest Writer
What can be said about the Gators. In my mind, they are clearly the best team in the nation. Offensively, they really don't have any weaknesses. On defense, they aren't as good, but with the shot blockers in the middle, and Corey Brewer being able to lock down someone, they are still very solid on that end of the floor.
For Vandy to win this game, I believe Memorial will have to give them that edge that it has so many times in the past. VU has to have one of those "Magical" nights, where they play at the absolute top of their games. A great shooting afternoon could spell trouble for the Gators.
Also, Vandy needs to hit them hard both in the early minutes of the game and the early minutes of halftime. They can't get down by double digits to this Florida team.
I believe, however, with the scare at home versus Vanderbilt, and also their recent scare versus Alabama, Florida will come into this game focused. I'm afraid Vandy maybe overhyped for this game, which could cause them to play loose with the ball or be too strong on their shots early in the game.
f that doesn't happen, VU could keep this one close the entire time. At the end, however, I'm not expecting a victory.
Florida 81, Vanderbilt 73