Mike Strange: Florida, Vols — it's another big game

Mike Strange
Tennessee's Trae Golden, left, and teammate Jordan McRae celebrate a call in their favor while facing Florida on Saturday, Jan. 7, 2012. UT won the SEC opener 67-56.(AMY SMOTHERMAN BURGESS/NEWS SENTINEL)

Photo by Amy Smotherman Burgess, ©KNS/2011

Tennessee's Trae Golden, left, and teammate Jordan McRae celebrate a call in their favor while facing Florida on Saturday, Jan. 7, 2012. UT won the SEC opener 67-56.(AMY SMOTHERMAN BURGESS/NEWS SENTINEL)

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Huge game. Florida and ESPN are in town. The house will be packed. The buzz is back.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.

If the above scenario sounds familiar, well, it is.

Last September, Florida’s visit to Neyland Stadium drummed up all the big-game atmosphere that Tennessee football fans had been missing for too long.

ESPN’s College GameDay crew, once regular guests but lately strangers, set up camp. Two wins had vaulted the Vols back in the Top 25 for the first time in four years. The energy was back. It felt like the old days — the good old days.

Tonight, Thompson-Boling Arena will be rocking. ESPN is again in the house for a 9 p.m. tipoff. The guests are Billy Donovan’s No. 8-ranked Gators, the class thus far of the SEC men’s basketball season.

In short, another UT campaign will be measured against Florida in a big-game environment. And again, home-court advantage to Tennessee.

“We’re not blind to the fact that it is a big game,’’ junior Jordan McRae said Monday, “but we’ve still got to play it as (just) another game.’’

Even though it’s not.

The national spotlight and the opponent are the same, but after that, the football and basketball dynamics go their separate ways.

The UT-Florida football clash came in mid-September. All, really, Tennessee had done to earn the attention was beat North Carolina State.

Florida won that game, 37-20. The upshot was that the Vols weren’t ready for prime time after all.

Tonight’s basketball game comes near the end of the season, not the start. Whatever the hype, it’s based on real results, not first impressions and hope.

The Vols aren’t ranked, not even close. But they’ve done more to justify any accolades they’re getting than the football team had by Sept. 15.

A little more than two weeks ago there was no reason to project ahead and envision a meaningful engagement with Florida. A home loss to Georgia on Feb. 6 pointed the season south.

Then a funny thing happened: A five-game winning streak has changed everything.

Now, beating Florida would be more than just a few laughs in a grim month. It would be an important stride in making up lost ground on an NCAA tournament bid.

“I haven’t really looked at the standings,’’ said sophomore Jarnell Stokes. “I just know if we keep winning we should be good.’’

Florida is one of four regular-season games left for the Vols. At 16-10, 8-6 SEC, they’d better, indeed, keep winning.

A win tonight would be the biggest resume-builder of all. And it doesn’t look nearly as far-fetched as it did not so very long ago.

The Vols are shooting the ball with confidence, quite a turn of events. Trae Golden was rewarded for his re-emergence Monday by being named SEC player of the week.

The team that once couldn’t make game-winning plays made a month’s worth in a four-overtime win at Texas A&M on Saturday, a showcase of resilience.

“One of the things that’s overlooked,’’ said UT coach Cuonzo Martin, “(is) you’re fighting to be in the NCAA tournament and fighting to win your league, and all those things we talk about.

“But the thing I give our guys the most credit for is continuing to compete and not giving up. And that’s a hard thing to do when you’re struggling.’’

The struggling has subsided. UT basketball is fun again — and fun to watch.

Make no mistake, a lot of people will be watching tonight.

They’ll be watching Florida for any cracks in what could be a No. 1 seed-worthy NCAA tournament resume.

But they’ll be watching Tennessee, too. The Vols have done their part to make this a legitimate big game.

Mike Strange may be reached at strangem@knoxnews.com. Follow him on Twitter at Strangemike44.

© 2013 govolsxtra.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Comments » 16

VOLSnTITANS writes:

Tennessee - 109
Florida - 44

Book it

tnvol4ever writes:

Billy D. and the Gators won't quit like Teflon John and the Kitty Cats but the vols still win by at least 6. GBO

mocsandvolsfan writes:

Sorry guys but right now it's a tie. 0-0

I'd pick UT but it just depends on which UT shows up. I hope we're actually better than the last 6(?) teams UT put on the court. If not then it may be a toss up. I believe UT will win. "Lord help my unbelief".
I'm thinking Donovan will have them ready to play all out. I hope so. BECAUSE if we beat Florida with Florida at their best then we can win out AND win the SEC tourney. I believe our potential is as good as anyone's.

Just for fun

UT 75 Florida 74. Both teams will give a fine showing. Homecourt wins. AND not because of the refs...maybe.

jt45 writes:

The confidence this team has right now and home court advantage if the crowd gets into the game could be the deciding factor, but I believe if Golden plays well UT wins this one. Bench play needs to step it up a notch, Hall needs to be aggressive and play like he did against UK. The Vols will be Stoked against Donovans boys.

8inarow writes:

in response to mocsandvolsfan:

Sorry guys but right now it's a tie. 0-0

I'd pick UT but it just depends on which UT shows up. I hope we're actually better than the last 6(?) teams UT put on the court. If not then it may be a toss up. I believe UT will win. "Lord help my unbelief".
I'm thinking Donovan will have them ready to play all out. I hope so. BECAUSE if we beat Florida with Florida at their best then we can win out AND win the SEC tourney. I believe our potential is as good as anyone's.

Just for fun

UT 75 Florida 74. Both teams will give a fine showing. Homecourt wins. AND not because of the refs...maybe.

UT will go to the line 28 times, Florida 8. UT is given win by 3.

mocsandvolsfan writes:

in response to 8inarow:

UT will go to the line 28 times, Florida 8. UT is given win by 3.

I suppose the refs gave Florida the game last year at your place. You may actually be correct. It depends on which refs show up too.hehe The home court refs or the over fair refs who keep changing the decisions trying to be fair and instead just disrupt the game.

In fairness to refs I'd hate to have their job. I like to believe that for the most part they are trying to be accurate. mostly...maybe

johnlg00 writes:

in response to 8inarow:

UT will go to the line 28 times, Florida 8. UT is given win by 3.

I said it before, but obviously I'll have to say it again to see if it penetrates THIS time. The Vols generally get less home-court advantage from the refs than most other teams. Even when TBA is full, the crowd isn't as loud on the court as it is elsewhere, because the ceiling is so high and because many of the best seats are filled by older people who tell people around them to sit down and shut up. Martin does not visibly work the refs from the sidelines as much as some other coaches. As for the SEC office, they have more incentive for Florida to continue to win than they do UT because Florida has been the best and highest-ranked team in the league this year.

If the Vols get more fouls called in their favor than the Gators do, it will be because they will have taken it inside more than the Gators. Young averages less than 10 shots a game. Murphy will go inside on a drive but he hardly ever posts up. The Gator guards will drive, but they are best running in the open floor and shooting outside. That is just not a recipe that invites a lot of fouling. The Vols go inside to Jarnell as often as possible. No one defender can contain him. Golden, McRae, Richardson, and Moore will drive the basket as often as possible. The Vols have cut their 3-pointers by more than half during this win streak. They know that their game depends on scoring in the paint and that is what they have been doing lately. Do you get it NOW, DA?

mocsandvolsfan writes:

LOL JohnlgOO!! I thought I was the one with no patience for the "intruders". While I believe he asked for the DA comment I'm not sure YOU should have been the one to say it. Let one of us that we don't want banned say the DA comments.just sayin'. It'd be just like KNS(whom I reverently respect) to ban someone who actually makes sense on here.hehe
btw I hope we DO cause them to foul more.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to mocsandvolsfan:

LOL JohnlgOO!! I thought I was the one with no patience for the "intruders". While I believe he asked for the DA comment I'm not sure YOU should have been the one to say it. Let one of us that we don't want banned say the DA comments.just sayin'. It'd be just like KNS(whom I reverently respect) to ban someone who actually makes sense on here.hehe
btw I hope we DO cause them to foul more.

I'm glad most people on here seem to think of me as a nice guy, and I generally try to be. However, I can't stand wilfull, malicious stupidity and sometimes I can't resist trying to stamp it out or at least punish it in my gentlemanly way(;-P). At least I didn't spell out "DA"!

johnlg00 writes:

Oh, BTW and somewhat off-topic, did anyone see the Kansas at Iowa State game last night? KU has had some stumbles lately but are still ranked in the top 10. Iowa State is a rising power under new coach Fred Hoiberg, an ISU legend and former NBA player. ISU outplayed KU for most of the game and had a two point lead with just a few seconds remaining, KU's ball. KU's leading scorer took the ball on a strong drive and jumped DIRECTLY into the chest of an ISU defender in PERFECT defensive position, arms raised straight over his head and perfectly rigid with heels a good foot and a half outside the restrictive arc, a good step before the KU guy took off. There was no question of a flop; the KU guy drove his knee into the center of the defender's chest who was KNOCKED straight back. No call. The shot missed, the ball fell to the floor, and a scramble ensued on the baseline. The clueless ref who swallowed his whistle on the previous play called a foul on the ISU player--who was flat on his back and arms nowhere NEAR the ball--that he had just robbed by not calling a charge he had CLEARLY drawn. The KU guy stepped to the line, made two free-throws to tie the game, and KU won in overtime.

We often give refs a hard time, but that was the WORST no-call, followed by a COMPLETELY unnecessary foul call, that I think I have ever seen in 50+ years of involvement in basketball. The announcers were speechless. Truly, even though I don't really care about either of those teams, I wouldn't have been at all surprised, or even particularly bothered, if those refs got lynched trying to get out of the building. The NCAA could not have possibly scripted a more perfect example in an instructional video to educate refs on the charge-block rule than that play, yet the ref just totally BLEW it, and then called a foul that NOBODY else saw, and ISU lost an opportunity for a program-changing win on national TV. But what can you do? I just hope the Vols never get robbed on a single play like that EVER. Honestly, I don't even want to see a Vol OPPONENT robbed like that. Sheesh!

jamgod writes:

in response to 9willbesofine:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Usually I wouldn't respond to a post like this cause they are favord...but your just a jerk stiring things up and its gonna be funny when the game gets played and it goes a lot closer than that.

johnlg00 writes:

The play I described above was discussed on ESPN's "Around the Horn" and "Pardon the Interruption" shows. The ATH panel, somewhat to my surprise, danced around the issue with remarks like "the players should decide the game, not the refs" and "no one play decides the outcome of a game" and such. PTI's Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon, on the other hand, both agreed that ISU got "hosed", that the big programs like KU, UK, UNC, Duke and such seem to ALWAYS get calls like that, and that it could well cost ISU an NCAA berth, but since ISU has scored the first- and third-most points on KU this year, both losses, the committee should somehow take this into account in deciding who gets into the tournament.

tobytyler writes:

in response to 9willbesofine:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

More like ut by 30, I'm predicting ut 88, uk, I mean uf 58.

GeorgiaVolunteer writes:

Just like football?? Maybe ten years ago.

SUPERVOL writes:

in response to 9willbesofine:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Thanks for your business Gator Bait. You and your boys just got dealt with!

johnlg00 writes:

in response to SUPERVOL:

Thanks for your business Gator Bait. You and your boys just got dealt with!

And no doubt our ol' Vandy buddy, PH, is counting how many clients he lost after selling them on his Florida pick. Some people just never learn!

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