This Game could end up meaning everything for Vanderbilt, which is sitting on the bubble for the NCAA Tournament. The Commodores had a great chance to insure a bid, but couldn’t hold onto a 19-point lead at Kentucky on Tuesday. To give them some confidence, the ‘Dores already beat Florida a little over a month ago, 68-66, in Gainesville.
It was a back-and-forth Game the entire way with Vandy surprisingly coming out on the winning end. It wasn’t a typical Game for the Gators as KeVaughn Allen went for 29 points, which is a lot for a team that usually gets balanced production. And that’s exactly how Vandy won with Four guys in double figures as well as 10 made threes as a team. Florida tried to get John Egbunu going down low, but he finished with just six points and six turnovers. Now that they don’t have Egbunu, that won’t be a problem, but that’s not exactly a good thing. KeVarrius Hayes has played a bigger role as the starting five, but he isn’t nearly as good of a rebounder and doesn’t provide much offensively.
However, this might be the type of Game that Hayes is better suited for as Vandy is built around its shooting. Everyone on the Commodores can shoot and that’s a main reason they won that first meeting. Egbunu isn’t used to defending on the perimeter and he had an issue with that. If Hayes can deal with LUke Kornet’s shooting beyond the arc, that would be the first step of winning for Florida. And while Vanderbilt has some great road wins this season, it also has Four home losses in SEC play. They’ve beaten a number of teams on the road, but failed to close the deal in home Games.
Florida arguably played its worst Game of the season in that first loss to Vandy and that’ll be something to consider if betting the Commodores. Allen had a great Game, but no one else did much as Kasey Hill and Canyon Berry were both well under season averages. The Gators are built on team basketball and that’s what they didn’t do in that first Game. But while getting more balance on the offensive end is key, Florida’s best-ranked defense in the SEC needs to have a better Game.
Vandy’s array of shooters is the main reason they’ve won so many road Games, including the Florida one. The Commodores lead the Conference in effective field goal percentage because they have two guys that average better than 45% from range (Riley LAChance, Nolan Cressler), but also 7-footer LUke Kornet and of course their other leading scorers, Jeff Roberson and Matthew Fisher-Davis. When everyone on a team can shoot and stretch the floor, that’s what leads to the inconsistency from Vandy this season, from the highs of road wins to the lows of home losses.
The Gators have the best defense in the conference, but that didn’t show up in the first Game. If they can bring that and if Hayes can match up better than Egbunu, this will be another battle that’s back-and-forth most of the way. But will Vandy’s threes be enough to steal the Game late again, and further enhance its chances of an NCAA bid?
Our Pick – Vanderbilt +4