No. 2 Florida at Tennessee Saturday, 7 p.m. ET
The men on the sidelines have done two of the best coaching jobs in the country this season.
Florida and Tennessee are the two highest-scoring teams in the SEC, each averaging more than 80 points per game. Florida is shooting 52 percent from the floor and 41 percent from the arc, while Tennessee leads the SEC in 3-pointers made per game and steals. Both teams like to run, and both teams understand how to pressure and deal with pressure.
Bruce Pearl has energized a Tennessee program by making the players buy into a style that camouflages some of the players' weaknesses. The Vols play mostly man-to-man defense, overplaying the passing lanes and using traps and switches to keep teams off balance. In addition, Pearl likes to throw a 1-2-2 ¾-court press and a 1-2-1-1 press to make big men handle the ball and slow down the pace of the game.
On the offensive end, Tennessee runs a lot of baseline flex, keeping it wide, along with some ball screening action, staggers and screen-the-screener action. The Vols run good stuff, and have some good players running it.
The best player is C.J. Watson, a do-it-all guard who can run the team, pass and score. He has size, vision and good court sense. Chris Lofton is one of the best shooters in the country, and you have to make him put it on the floor to take away his catch-and-shoot opportunities. Dane Bradshaw scraps for everything he gets, Andre Patterson is a terrific offensive rebounder who runs the floor and Major Wingate is much more productive and reliable this season.
Florida has been spectacular in navigating the season without a loss, but has not yet been tested in a big way. Usually, the Gators will have played a few heavyweights by now, but most of the big names on Florida's schedule have been less powerful than one would usually expect. Wake Forest, Syracuse, Florida State and Miami are all good, but not great. Still, you don't get to pick your opponents, and Florida has answered every bell.
The Gators are a very unselfish team that passes the ball extremely well. Florida averages almost 20 assists per game and does a great job of making the extra pass. Billy Donovan runs a lot of set plays, and they have multiple options that are well conceived and well run, using a lot of ball screens, slips, flares and creative use of big men. Plus, Florida loves to get out in transition and run when there are numbers.
The Gators will press, mostly in man-to-man with some run-and-jump, and will try to get teams to play at a faster speed than they practice so that nonhandlers are forced to make plays on the run.
Taurean Green has been the key guy because he has keyed the offense with his poise and the defense with his on-ball pressure. Corey Brewer is one of the most versatile players in the SEC, and Al Horford one of the most improved. Lee Humphrey can make open shots to stretch your defense, and Joakim Noah is a great blender who gets offensive rebounds, blocks shots and runs the floor and finishes.
Key matchup: Taurean Green and C.J. Watson. The two floor leaders are going to have to settle their teams and make quality decisions in attacking and getting good flow. It will be important to decide when to take it and when to make the other team guard you to wear them down. Watson leads the Vols in scoring, is second to Dane Bradshaw in assists and steals and is automatic at the free throw line. Green leads the Gators in scoring and assists and is automatic from the line as well.
Key stats: Live ball turnovers and offensive rebounding. Since both teams will press and pressure, controlling the ball will be critical. It is one thing to turn the ball over by tossing it out of bounds; at least then you can set your defense. If you have a live ball turnover, your opponent gets to take it the other way and score while you are scrambling. With some open-court situations and long shots, there will be offensive rebound and long-rebound situations. Tennessee is the weakest rebounding team in the league, while Florida is one of the strongest. Rebounding will be important, and a fast pace is one thing that can keep Florida from dominating the glass.
X-factors: Joakim Noah and Dane Bradshaw. Noah is a stellar frontcourt athlete who will be able to find openings from running the court and getting to the glass. He could have a good game just by pursuing the ball and running the floor hard with a purpose. Bradshaw gets a lot out of his ability. He knows how to play and is versatile and skilled. Bradshaw is one of those players who just finds a way.
What to watch for: Watch how Florida is able to break the press and the decisions that are made when they do. If Florida breaks the press to score, and takes good shots in doing so, the Gators will have a good chance to win a big one on the road. Watch how Tennessee changes defenses and looks to keep the young Florida team off balance. If Tennessee can shake Florida with different looks, Tennessee can get a big win.
Jay Bilas, a college basketball analyst for ESPN, is a regular contributor to Insider.