Scouting Report: Florida

Revenge was sweet for the Vanderbilt men's squad on Tuesday, as the ‘Dores throttled visiting Kentucky and avenged a January loss in Lexington. At 5-6 in conference play, the Commodores are two games behind the four teams tied for the SEC East lead. On Saturday, they'll have a chance to make up ground on at least one of those teams, as they hit the road to take on the Florida Gators.

Vandy's Last Game

On the strength of what was perhaps their best half of the season, the Commodores were able to turn a close game into an easy win down the stretch.  Vanderbilt shot 59.1 percent and scored 47 points in a second half that saw the hosts display deadly offensive versatility.  Jermaine Beal and Lance Goulbourne scored 17 points apiece to pace the Commodores, while A.J. Ogilvy and Jeff Taylor added 15 and 14 respectively.

Facing a Kentucky team that was without Patrick Patterson, Vanderbilt took advantage of an unusually soft Wildcat defense.  The ‘Dores aggressively attacked the basket all night, scoring 26 points in the paint and 32 more from the free throw line.

With Patterson out, the only real offensive weapon at Kentucky's disposal was Jodie Meeks, and though the dynamic guard scored 26 points, the Commodores defended him as well as any SEC team has this season.  Meeks needed 21 shots to get his 26 points as Jeff Taylor and the other Commodore perimeter defenders consistently denied him the ball and pressured him out to half court.  Vanderbilt's quickness and length in the backcourt made life very difficult for Meeks and Kentucky.  The ‘Dores will need to maintain that intensity against a Florida team that torched them from the perimeter in Nashville.

Florida At-A-Glance

Billy Donovan's Gators (20-6, 7-4) sprinted out to an early lead in the SEC East, winning five of their first six games.  A trip to Knoxville sent Florida into a bit of a tailspin; the Gators were routed by Tennessee and proceeded to lose two of their next three games.  Most perplexing was a road loss to Georgia, a game that gave the Bulldogs their first SEC win. 

Though the Gators don't play at a particularly high tempo, they boast the SEC's highest scoring offense during conference play with 78.7 points per game.  Helmed by do-everything guard Nick Calathes, the Florida offense is one of the nation's most efficient.  The Gators lead the conference in three-point shooting at 38.3 percent, and they convert a blistering 54.1 percent of their two-point attempts.  Donovan's squad also leads the SEC with 16.6 assists per game and has committed the fewest turnovers, coughing up the ball just 11.9 times per contest.

Florida and Vanderbilt met in Nashville nearly a month ago in a game that the Commodores would like to forget.  The Gators caught fire from beyond the arc and routed the ‘Dores by a score of 94-69.

Starting Lineup

Nick Calathes – Sophomore, 6-6, 194 lbs. – Among the league leaders in nearly every statistical category, Calathes has been the SEC's best all-around player since the start of conference play.  The sophomore ranks third in scoring (21.2 ppg), first in assists (6.4 apg), second in steals (2.1 spg), fifth in field goal percentage (50.0 percent), and thirteenth in rebounding (6.8 rpg) in league play.  Offensively, Calathes had arguably his worst conference game in Nashville, scoring 15 points and handing out just four assists while committing five turnovers.  The Gators didn't need a standout performance from their star to beat the ‘Dores in Memorial, but if Jeff Taylor can play the same kind of defense on Calathes that he did on Jodie Meeks, he'll severely inhibit Florida's most important catalyst.

Alex Tyus – Sophomore, 6-8, 220 lbs. – After averaging 10.3 points through Florida's first seven conference games, Tyus has begun to show that he can be a consistent scorer in the post for the Gators.  Over the last four games, the sophomore forward is averaging 14.8 points on 60.4 percent shooting.  One of the league's most athletic big men, Tyus has the quickness to beat other posts to the bucket and is a strong finisher around the rim.  He finished with nine points and three rebounds in the Gators' win over Vanderbilt.

Chandler Parsons – Sophomore, 6-9, 213 lbs. – After his performance at Memorial, Parsons will be wearing a bulls-eye when the Commodores step onto the court in Gainesville.  The lanky forward has stepped up his play in conference games, best exemplified by his 27-point eruption in Nashville.  Parsons made all but one of his 11 shot attempts, going 7-for-8 from three-point range as he shot over the Commodores' perimeter defenders.  He is averaging 11.8 points per game in SEC play but has made just three trifectas in the six games following his team's rout of Vanderbilt.

Walter Hodge – Senior, 6-0, 170 lbs. – Florida's lone senior has been plagued by inconsistency in SEC play; he's scored in double figures just four times in the Gators' 11 conference games.  His last two games epitomize Hodge's streakiness: He scored 22 points on 8-of-12 shooting against Georgia before making just one of his nine three-point attempts against Alabama.  Hodge isn't a great playmaker, but he is a dangerous outside shooter and can hurt opposing defenses from beyond the arc.

Dan Werner – Junior, 6-8, 230 lbs. – The "glue guy" of Florida's starting five, Werner does a little bit of everything on the court and relishes doing the dirty work for the Gators.  His scoring has dipped since the start of conference play – Werner averages 8.8 points overall but just 6.7 in SEC games – but he's improved his rebounding and assist numbers, grabbing 5.4 boards and dishing out 3.4 helpers per contest in league action.

Bench

Freshman dynamo Erving Walker is Florida's best reserve.  The 5-8 guard scored a then career-high 17 points against the Commodores in Nashville.  Arguably the quickest player in the SEC, Walker consistently beat Vanderbilt defenders off the dribble and knocked down three triples as well.  Ray Shipman, a 6-5 freshman wing, also backs up the Gator guards; he's seen a drop-off in playing time since conference play began.

Fellow freshmen Kenny Kadji and Allan Chaney bolster the Florida frontcourt.  At 6-10, Kadji is Florida's closest to a true center.  The Cameroon native has reached double figures in scoring twice in SEC play.  Chaney's minutes, meanwhile, have virtually disappeared in conference play; the 6-8 forward grabbed two rebounds and failed to score in seven minutes against the Commodores in January.

Keys to the Game

Little Man – Assuming Chandler Parsons doesn't have another career game against Vanderbilt, the Commodores' primary defensive focus should remain on Nick Calathes and, after witnessing his impact first-hand, Erving Walker.  Taylor's superb work on Jodie Meeks should earn him a shot at frustrating Calathes, but the ‘Dores don't have an answer for Walker.  The 5-8 speedster's penetration forces Vanderbilt defenders to help, leaving perimeter shooters open.  Overplaying any Florida is dangerous given the passing abilities of the team as a whole, so the Commodores' best bet may be to keep their big men around the basket and take their chances with Werner and Tyus if the big men step out for jumpers.

Inside Out – A.J. Ogilvy is playing at a much higher level than he was a month ago, when he scored just four points in the loss to Florida.  Since recovering from injury and illness, he has been able to score in traffic as well as away from the basket.  Simultaneously, Vanderbilt's perimeter players have been seeing more open shots and more opportunities for penetration.  This is no coincidence.  Getting the ball into the paint as much as possible will force the Gators to double down on the big Aussie, opening up the perimeter against a Florida backcourt that doesn't have the overall defensive ability of Kentucky's.

Prediction:  To steal a win in Gainesville, Vanderbilt has to limit Florida's perimeter opportunities, but they also must score enough points to keep up with a Gator offense that will put up points even without the barrage of trifectas they unleashed in Memorial.  If Ogilvy and Taylor are at their offensive finest, if Beal can play around 35 mistake-free minutes, and if either Tinsley or Goulbourne can emerge as an extra scorer, then the ‘Dores stand a good chance at pulling the upset.  Otherwise, they'll fall to a Florida squad that presents several match-up problems.  Final Score: Florida 76, Vanderbilt 66.

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