With Selection Sunday less than 48 hours away, conference tournaments are heating up. With the 2014 SEC Tournament in Atlanta nearing its end, no semifinal match-up may be more competitive and evenly matched than the upcoming game between the No. 1 Florida Gators and No. 4 Tennessee Volunteers at 1:00 p.m. EST on ABC.
Tennessee absolutely hammered an exhausted South Carolina Gamecocks squad in the quarterfinals that just couldn’t compete with the much more talented Volunteers. Tennessee’s stifling defense only allowed the Gamecocks to shoot around 27 percent from the floor and no South Carolina player to score over nine points.
Jarnell Stokes went for a 22-point, 15-rebound double-double in the 59 – 44 win, but, if this was any other team than South Carolina, the Vols likely would have lost. Missed free throws, only two made three-pointers and an unacceptable number of turnovers will have Cuonzo Martin coaching his team hard before the semifinals in hopes that he can get them focused on offense as well as defense.
Florida was tied 29 – 29 with the Missouri Tigers to start the second half of its quarterfinal match-up, but had an almost flawless defensive performance against the Tigers, finishing the game 72 – 49. The Tigers, who can boast one of the most explosive offensive duos in college basketball with Jordan Clarkson and Jabari Brown, went less than 8 percent from behind the three-point line, making just one three. Florida struggled late in the first half, but got it done in the second.
Florida and Tennessee will face off in what looks like a game between not only two of the top teams in the SEC, but two teams that are likely the hottest teams in the country as well. The winner of this game should be able to beat the winner of the other semifinal and win the 2014 SEC Championship.
If there is any team in the SEC that can beat Florida, it’s Tennessee. There isn’t a hotter team in all of college basketball right now than the Volunteers, who have won the past five games by an average of 23 points. When Tennessee is on and focused, they’re a Final Four caliber team.
Florida, on the other hand, have already defeated Tennessee twice this season. The first time in Gainesville the Gators blew out the Vols, but the second time in Knoxville Tennessee had an opportunity to win. Remember, until this season, Florida never defeated Tennessee under Martin.
I think Florida is the best team in the country and that it will eventually be the national champions. Unfortunately, it won’t win this game against the streaking Vols. The best team in the SEC over the past few seasons hasn’t won the SEC Championship, and this is the time that the Gators slip up to keep that trend going. My final prediction is a two possession game somewhere around 66 – 60 with a Tennessee win behind the improved defense of Josh Richardson.
However, nothing motivates a Billy Donovan coached team more than a disappointing loss. Expect Florida to rebound, shake off the loss and cruise to at least the Final Four. It wouldn’t be called March Madness without the No. 1 overall seed falling in the final week of the season.