It seems like every college basketball season, the SEC looks the same way it does now for the No. 7 Florida Gators and the Tennessee Volunteers. Florida leads the conference and is ranked in the top 10, and Tennessee is struggling to find enough quality wins to make a push for the 2014 NCAA Tournament. However, the game between the Volunteers and the Gators will be huge for both teams.
I know what you’re thinking; why would a win over a 2014 NCAA Tournament bubble team matter to a Gators squad that is all but assured a top-three seed in March Madness? It matters because Florida has never defeated the Volunteers since Cuonzo Martin took over.
As one of the most experienced teams in the SEC, Florida players like Patric Young, Casey Prather, Michael Frazier II and Scottie Wilbekin all have been around long enough to know that they haven’t beaten Tennessee in the post-Bruce Pearl era. A win would boost their confidence, which tends to look shaky at times, and make them almost uncatchable by any team not named the Kentucky Wildcats in the race for the SEC regular season title.
On the other hand, Tennessee is in desperate need of a marquee win. They’ve beaten some decent opponents, but are lacking a huge win against a ranked opponent. The Volunteers nearly knocked off the Wildcats in Lexington, but never stood a chance because they couldn’t hit from three. Jarnell Stokes turns into a different player against top teams and if Jeronne Maymon and Jordan McRae can step up, Tennessee has a legitimate chance to defeat Florida away from home.
However, in terms of Florida going undefeated in the SEC, the game that Florida is most at risk of losing is not against Kentucky, but the second game versus the Volunteers in Knoxville. Under Martin, Tennessee is 13-2 in the month of February. If the Volunteers continue to improve as the 2014 NCAA tournament draws near (as they have in recent seasons), Florida may find themselves having to face Tennessee three times — the final time being for the SEC Championship.