Gators Face Another Tall Task

After getting completely outplayed at Arkansas the Gator basketball team must have a quick turnaround to get ready for the best all-around team in the SEC. Florida heads to Knoxville for a Tuesday night game against Tennessee with precious little time to work on the problems the Gators had in Fayetteville.

A win would tie No. 22 ranked Florida with the No. 7 ranked Vols atop the SEC East at 6-2 as the teams reach the midpoint of the conference schedule. Tennessee was supposed to be in this position with so much back from last season, but the Gators are surprise contenders at this stage.

Gators Face Mr. Smith, Mr. Smith and Mr. Smith

Tennessee has more guys named "smith" than a convention of married men picking up hookers. The trio of Smiths is what sets Tennessee apart from other teams in the SEC. You start with JaJuan Smith, a 6-3 senior who is second on the team in scoring (14.4) and three pointers made (53) and leads the team with 40 steals. Then you have Ramar Smith, a 6-2 sophomore who scores 8.5 points a game, is second on the team in assists (70) and steals (28) and is a superb defender. The new member of the Smith clan is transfer Tyler Smith who is the best Smith of them all. Tyler Smith averages 13 points a game, is tied for the team lead with 6.1 rebounds a game and leads the team with 78 assists and a .409 three-point accuracy.

But the Vols are much more than just a bunch of guys names Smith (sorry, no one on the team is named Wesson). The Vols have the phenomenal shooter in Chris Lofton, ultra athletic big man Wayne Chism and a long bench. The Vols will press you from the time team bus pulls into the parking lot at Thompson-Boling Arena. Florida's ball handling will be put to the test in a major way, as will the Gators lack of depth.

Florida Coach Billy Donovan talked about the Tennessee Volunteers.

"They're a very good team," he said. "They are ranked in the top ten all year long. They've played a terrific schedule. I think Bruce (Pearl) has done a great job with his guys. They've got a lot of depth at a lot of different spots. The additions of (J.P. Prince and Tyler Smith has given them two athletic, long, wing-type player. Duke Crews and Wayne Chism are a year older and then you look at (Jordan) Howell. They've just got a lot of pieces and they're a team that's played exceptionally well all year long. It will be a great challenge for our guys to see how we come back from that game Saturday."

Senior guard Chris Lofton is a guy they Gators have seen more than enough of over the past four seasons. Lofton is the SEC's All-Time leader in three point field goals and can make the longest and most difficult shots seems rather routine. I asked Donovan about how hard it is to guard Lofton.

"I think it was two years ago when we were up there playing and coming inside five minutes to go in the game and he hit two shots over Corey Brewer that you just couldn't have defended any better," Donovan said. "When you have a guy like that who can make those kinds of shots it's an incredible gift and talent and sometimes all you can do is watch. He's as good as anyone I've seen of being able when he goes up rock back and create space so you can't get to it. That's why I've always felt he can play at the next level because he's such a great shot maker and he can do it with great range."

Donovan also pointed out Lofton does other things well, too.

"He gets a lot of attention for his scoring and shooting, but he does a lot of good things for his team," he said. "He's a really good passer, he's very good at pick and rolls, and he's just a smart, intelligent kid. I've always liked him a lot watching him play."

The Gators have their hands full against the boys up in Rocky Top and will have to do a number of things well to have a chance to spring an upset that would greatly strengthen Florida's NCAA resume'. But as usual the most important thing of all is for the Gators to shoot a solid percentage from outside the arc. The Gators make 42 percent of their 3-point shots in their victories, but just over 20 percent in the four losses.

Questions or comments? Contact's Chris Chmielenski

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