Vanderbilt hopes to continue its recent hot shooting stretch and extend success in the series when it plays at Florida on Saturday afternoon in the SEC season opener for both. The Commodores averaged 86.5 points and made 29 shots from beyond the arc while routing two mid-majors before the Christmas break and go for a sixth straight win against Florida.
“It’s a clean slate,” Vanderbilt senior guard Riley LaChance told the team’s website. “(The Gators have) a ton of new guys on that team this year. But they’re going to be really hungry against us because we beat them three times (in 2016-17). We’ve got to come out with a chip on our shoulder.” The Commodores were 0-5 against major-conference teams during the non-league section of the schedule and need a confidence-building win against Florida, which is 3-4 in its last seven games after a strong start. The Gators knocked off James Madison and Incarnate Word at home before the break, but they are still looking for the level of play that helped them score over 100 points in consecutive wins over Stanford and No. 19 Gonzaga in November. “We’re not (shooting) with the level of confidence that we were. We’re searching,” Florida coach Mike White told reporters. “I have to find a way to get these guys to play with the same look in their eye they were playing with earlier in the year, while continuing to progress defensively.”
TV: 4 p.m. ET, ESPN2
ABOUT VANDERBILT (5-7, 0-0 SEC): The Commodores are still shooting just 41.1 percent from the field on the season despite strong efforts in their last two games, but confidence is rising. “We’ve got to continue to move the ball on offense,” LaChance told reporters after the wins over Houston Baptist and Alcorn State. “The last two games, we did that. We moved the ball and didn’t settle for bad shots. We finally put a full 40 minutes together.” Senior forward Jeff Roberson leads the team in scoring (14.4) and rebounding (8.3) while senior guard Matthew Fisher-Davis averages 12 points.
ABOUT FLORIDA (8-4, 0-0): The Gators have plenty of players who can score with four players averaging in double figures, but they need to improve their numbers on the defensive end (73.8 points per game, 44 percent shooting against). Junior guard Jalen Hudson, a transfer from Virginia Tech, has drained a team-high 33 shots from 3-point range and leads the team in scoring (18.2) while Rice transfer Egor Koulechov (14.1 points, team-best 6.7 boards) has also been a factor. Senior guard Chris Chiozza runs the show, contributing 12.9 points with team highs of 5.8 assists and 2.0 steals per contest.
1. Florida G KeVaughn Allen shot 43.8 percent from the field when he led the team in scoring last season, but is connecting on just 34.4 percent in 2017-18.
2. LaChance boasts 350 career assists and needs one to tie Al McKinney for 10th on the program’s all-time list.
3. The Gators entered Friday ranked 12th in the nation in turnover margin (plus-5.3), coughing the ball up just 10.8 times per game.
PREDICTION: Florida 78, Vanderbilt 68