The regular season is finally coming to an end on Sunday as the Tennessee Volunteers take on the Florida Gators.
This game will be televised on ESPNU and tip-off is at noon.
This is the Vols’ last home game and Senior Day for Forwards Yves Pons and John Fulkerson.
The Vols dropped out of the AP Poll after their 77-72 loss to Auburn.
This is the first time Tennessee has been out of the AP Top-25 poll all season.
Tennessee currently sits with a 16-7 overall record and a 9-7 conference record.
Florida is coming off a 72-70 loss to Counzo Martin’s Missouri team.
Florida’s loss against Missouri snapped their three-game win streak which saw wins over Georgia, Auburn, and Kentucky.
To say this game is important for Rick Barnes and the Vols would be an understatement.
Tennessee has a lot to play for in this game and must find a way to bounce back from their bad Auburn loss.
If Tennessee wins on Sunday, Tennessee will get a double-round bye and be the 4 seed in the SEC Tournament.
But if the Vols lose on Sunday, Tennessee could be as low as a 7 seed in the conference tournament.
So in order for the Vols to win and secure that 4 seed, here is what they must do to beat Florida:
Grab Those Boards
One of the things I said that the Vols needed to do beat Auburn was to do a better job in rebounding.
Well, they didn’t and that is what killed the Vols’ chances of winning.
Tennessee was outrebounded 41-34 and gave up 16 offensive rebounds in their loss.
Tennessee can not let that happen again.
The Vols have struggled with their inside game all season but they must find an answer.
It’s March, time is running out, Tennessee must change this if they want to end the regular season on a good note and make a run in the Big Dance.
If Tennessee can win the rebound margin against the Gators, Tennessee will have a great chance of ending the regular season with a W.
More Production From the Bench
Another problem that Tennessee has had all season is the lack of production from the bench.
The freshman duo of Springer and Johnson always gets you at least 20 points, and sometimes Pons goes off as well, but Tennessee does not have anyone on the bench that they can rely on that consistently scores buckets for them.
Here is how many points Tennessee’s bench has scored for the Vols in the last 5 games: 38.
Tennessee’s bench has only scored 38 total points in the last 5 games, averaging just 7.6 points a game.
That is not going to win you many basketball games if any.
Tennessee’s bench only scored 6 points in last Saturday’s loss to Auburn (all 6 coming from Santiago Vescovi).
More guys have to step up.
Josiah-Jordan James in the last three games he has played has scored just 11 total points (averaging 3.67 ppg).
James played 19 minutes last Saturday and did not score a single point.
James as well as Vescovi and Oliver Nkamhoua need to step up their production come Sunday.
Most of us don’t expect much from EJ Anosike or Devontae Gains, but if James, Vescovi, and Nkamhoua can combine for 15-20 points off the bench, Tennessee will secure that 4 seed for the SEC Tournament.
Have Fulkerson Come Off the Bench
Senior John Fulkerson is not having the season we all thought he would have.
Getting preseason All-SEC honors and coming off a fantastic Junior season, many Vol fans had high hopes that this would be his breakout season.
But that has not been the case this year.
I know he is a fan favorite and an East Tennessee native, but it would be best for this team if John Fulkerson comes off the bench for the rest of the season.
Fulkerson has become a liability on the floor.
Fulkerson has scored just 4 points in five of the last six games.
Tennessee is not getting the same production from him as they did last season and his scoring struggles are hindering this offense.
John Fulkerson is still an important player for the Vols and we all know what he’s capable of, but he needs to come off the bench and get his minutes from there.
Tennessee needs to go with the 4 guards and 1 forward starting 5 with Jordan-James at the 4 and Pons at the 5.
This game is not only important because Florida is our rival, but there are seeding implications as well.
If Vols manage to outrebound Florida, get more production from the bench, and have John Fulkerson come off the bench, Tennessee will secure the 4 seed in the SEC Tournament.