All eyes will be on Billy Donovan on Saturday.
No, not because he will finally return to the sideline for the Gators.
But because the floor at the O’Dome will be renamed the Billy Donovan Court at halftime of Florida’s game against Vanderbilt.
In the midst of a turbulent season, fans can put aside the current state of the team and honor the man who thrusted Florida’s men’s basketball program into the national limelight and won back-to-back national titles.
It’ll be easy to forget that there’s a basketball game going on amid all of the festivities.
Partially because Vanderbilt would like to forget about the game, too. The Commodores have endured a brutal season where, aside from giving No. 25 LSU its first SEC loss of the season, highlights have been few and far between.
Vanderbilt’s win over the Tigers on Feb. 5 was its first since the calendar flipped to 2020. Four days before that game, however, the Commodores lost 61-55 to the Gators. Forward Keyontae Johnson and guard Noah Locke combined for 37 points to help Florida escape from Nashville, Tennessee, with an ugly win.
UF is just 5-7 against the Commodores since Donovan left for the NBA, but it has won the last three matchups and the last two that were in Gainesville.
The Gators’ 40.7-percent effort from the field in its last tilt against Vanderbilt was its worst in a victory this season. After bottoming out against Ole Miss last weekend, Florida responded with 78 points on the road against Texas A&M and shot over 50 percent from the field in one of its best offensive performances of the season.
The Gators are heavy favorites, but both teams’ outside shooting is something to keep an eye on. Florida converts on 33.8 percent of its treys, the second-best mark in the conference, and Vanderbilt has the SEC’s worst three-point defense. Look out for Locke, one of the conference’s best three-point shooters. He posted 21 points — shooting 50 percent from three — against a decent Texas A&M defense on Wednesday.
But UF has struggled all season defending the perimeter, where it has allowed opponents to shoot 31.7 percent, the fifth-worst mark in the conference. Four of the Gators’ last six opponents have shot over 40 percent against UF.
Vanderbilt’s offense isn’t very efficient, but it does rank inside the top half of the conference in three-point percentage. However, forward Aaron Nesmith, who still leads the team in points and the SEC in three-point percentage (52.2 percent), has been out since January and is likely out for the season. Guards Scotty Pippen Jr. and Maxwell Evans are still capable shooters from three-point range, with both players shooting at least 33 percent.
Saturday is the end of what appeared to be a relatively easy six-game stretch that started with the Mississippi State game. The Gators have gone 3-2, but a big win over the hapless Commodores would help settle things down before the schedule ramps up to end conference play.
The only opponent outside of KenPom’s top-60 teams remaining on Florida’s schedule is No. 104 Georgia, and two of its last seven games are against No. 12 Kentucky.
The attention Saturday will be on Donovan, but all of the pressure will soon be on the Gators.
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