Gators Wrap Up Regular Season in Nashville

After clinching a share of the SEC Championship on Tuesday with a win over Alabama, the Gators have a chance to clinch an outright title on Saturday in Nashville. The unique situation is that it could actually happen before Florida takes the floor against Vanderbilt at 6 p.m.

Alabama hosts Georgia on Saturday at 1:30 p.m. If the Crimson Tide loses, the Gators will clinch the outright SEC Championship before even playing their game. If Alabama wins, Florida must win at Vanderbilt or it will split the championship with Alabama.

In the end, an SEC Championship is still the same whether sharing it or not. The only difference comes in two schools sizing for rings instead of one.

Florida head coach Billy Donovan is in a tough situation. His team will be at shoot around and at the hotel on Saturday before the game, and it's likely his team will watch the Alabama-Georgia game. He just has to make sure they are watching for entertainment and not being caught hanging on every play.

"We cannot allow ourselves to emotionally get caught up playing or spectating in that game," Donovan said. "They've got to distance themselves from that. Obviously, we'll know something before we play, but you can get emotionally caught up in it thinking if Georgia wins, "okay we're good now." We need to be focused on what we have to do in this game.

"We shouldn't concern ourselves with things going on with guys outside the locker room. Your emotions can go either way in a situation like that. We've got to really talk to our guys about how to handle that going forward. That game should have no bearing on how we go out there and play."

Whether the conference championship is Florida's or split with Alabama, Donovan doesn't care. He knows his team will add their fifth SEC Championship and rings will be sent to the basketball complex when the season is over.

"If you win an SEC Championship, you win an SEC Championship," Donovan said. "The scheduling is so different for everybody. It's hard to say it's not as meaningful if not outright. If it was a 22-game schedule and everybody played home and away, then it would be different. But it's not. The schedule is totally different. This time of year with the RPI on our division's side, everybody's schedule is different even in the same conference."

On the court Saturday, Florida is in for a challenge, but that doesn't come as a surprise. Vanderbilt took the Gators to overtime in Gainesville before Florida snuck out with a 65-61 win.

The matchup now takes place in Nashville, where the Commodores have a distinct home court advantage at Memorial Gymnasium. It has always been a difficult place for visiting teams to shoot, and the benches are also on the baseline under both baskets. The fans aren't lining the sideline and the court has an elevated feel from the student section.

"There are teams that have played exceptionally at home and Vanderbilt is one of those," Donovan said. "I've always liked it. I think it's a good shooting environment. I think they're the kind of team that has a mystique of playing there. You look at the stats in how they shoot the three at home and away, plus the difference in points they score. It's a unique place and a different place."

Slowing down the Vanderbilt offense usually happens with one player. Guard John Jenkins averages 19.4 points per game, and he had 22 in the teams first meeting in Gainesville.

"He's a definite key," Donovan said. "He's got to be a key. They have a team with a lot of different weapons. Jenkins is a great player, and you've got to know where he's at all times. He is a special player. There haven't been many guys come through this league that can shoot the ball as well as him, even with guys in his face."

The Gators could cheat out to the perimeter with extra players to cover Jenkins, but the emergence of Festus Ezeli at center doesn't make that possible. He averages 12.8 points per game and 6.3 rebounds. His physicality makes him a tough cover for any big man in the conference.

"Ezeli has grown offensively and they have a post presence," Donovan said. "He can put your whole frontcourt in foul trouble."


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