The Vanderbilt Commodores have two thirteen point losses for their first two efforts in conference play. Their 0-2 record gives them a share of the SEC cellar, along with Auburn and (yes) the Kentucky Wildcats. However, things may now get better for a while. The next two games are at home and, if nothing else, maybe the colossal disadvantage in free throws will disappear. In the Alabama game, it wasn't just that the Tide got a lot more free throws than the Commodores, but they hit 37 of 43 of them (86%)!
The Florida Gators have survived two very tough games to start the conference season at 2-0. After defeating South Carolina 69-60 at home last Saturday, they got a big scare before winning 104-100 at Tennessee on Wednesday. Overall, the Gators are 13-1, the only loss being to Arizona 75-71 in New York. Their best non-conference wins were over Michigan State (74-70), South Florida (92-73), Temple (72-64), Tulane (81-65), and UNC-Charlotte (73-52). They have also defeated Florida State, New Hampshire, High Point, New Orleans, Stetson, and Belmont.
6'8", 250 lbs senior center Udonis Haslem is Florida's main man. He is a four-year starter who is averaging 16.2 ppg and 8.5 rebounds, and gets a ton of free throws, hitting 70% of them. The best way to handle Haslem is to get him in foul trouble early. He is noted for spending most of the first half and a good part of the second on the bench, but this year he has been staying on the court much better. Even so, it might be a good plan to keep him busy early in the game and see what happens.
Power forward Matt Bonner is a 6'10", 240 lbs junior, who is averaging 15.6 ppg and 6.7 rebounds. Unlike Haslem, Bonner will go outside and shoot the three-pointer effectively.
Bonner and Haslem give Florida the best one-two inside punch in the conference, and if they aren't enough, 6'9" freshman David Lee is probably going to be better than either of them, ultimately. He is averaging 7.9 ppg and 5.3 rebounds, and is making over 60% of his shots from the field. Slender 6'9" sophomore Bonell Colas is scoring 3.9 ppg and grabbing 2.5 rebounds. The high and low post positions are definitely not the Gators's weak point, if they have one.
Orien Greene, 6'4" sophomore, starts at shooting guard and averages 4.1 ppg and 2.5 rebounds. However, freshman James White is actually playing more. At 6'6", White is a dynamic individual who, like Lee, is going to be a big-time star. He is averaging 7.5 ppg and can either go outside and shoot or drive to the basket, and is also a shotblocking leaper.
The guard positions are capably manned by 6'4" junior Brett Nelson and 6'3" junior Justin Hamilton. To date, Nelson hasn't been shooting as well as expected, hitting only a third of this three point shots, and averaging 14.5 ppg. He has a habit of coming on strong as the season progresses, and (like Haslem) is regarded as an All-American candidate. The quick Hamilton is an ace defender and leads the team in assists (4 per game), as well as scoring 8.9 ppg. He had a big game against Tennessee, firing in 22 points.
The only other Gator who plays much is 6'4" junior guard Ladarius Halton (5.0 ppg). If the situation dictates, White and Greene may be in the game simultaneously, with Greene running at shooting guard. Nelson can handle the point, although Hamilton usually plays there. Thus, Florida plays nine men, several of whom can play more than one position effectively.
In recent years, Florida has been noted as an outstanding three-point shooting team. This year the Gators are hitting 6.7 per game, but less than a third of their attempts have gone in. When Nelson hits his stride, that situation will probably change for the better.
Florida is obviously a formidable opponent. But the Commodores have a good chance of beating them at home if they can avoid being swamped again by free throws. Look for a very close game, although Florida will be favored to win.