Vols host Gators at 9:05

Vols host Gators at 9:05

Tennessee's confounding mastery of Florida - eight wins in the last 10 meetings - may have an answer: Perhaps the Vols buy into all of the great things Gator coach Billy Donovan has to say about them.

Even with the Big Orange reeling from five losses in the past eight games, Donovan is making the Vols sound like world-beaters as tonight's 9:05 tipoff at Thompson-Boling Arena approaches:

"They are very, very long and very, very athletic and very, very deep," he said this week. "They play a lot of different people - probably one of the deepest teams we play against. They have familiar names - (Cameron) Tatum, (Scotty) Hopson, (Melvin) Goins and Brian Williams - and they added a terrific freshman, Tobias Harris, who is as good as any forward in America ..."

The Gator coach didn't call it quits after praising the Vol starters, however. He raved about their backups, as well.

"They can come off the bench with a lot of athleticism and speed and quickness," Donovan said. "So they are a team that can overwhelm you with athleticism, size and length. They are an explosive offensive team. They can get out and transition and really, really score in transition."

Donovan even found some kind words to share regarding Tennessee's struggling halfcourt offense.

"They have the ability to throw the ball inside to Williams and Tobias to score, and they obviously have guys like Tatum, Hopson and Goins who can shoot from the perimeter," the Gator coach said. "And Trae Golden shoots really well as a freshman, so they are a team that presents and poses a lot of challenges defensively for you."

Although the Vols already have lost home games to Oakland (89-82), Southern Cal (65-64) and College of Charleston (91-78), they are virtually invincible at Thompson-Boling, based on Donovan's scouting report.

"Any time that you go on the road and play in a game like this its always a challenge," he said, adding that he and his aides will "try and get our guys as prepared as we possibly can going into Knoxville."

It should be noted that Tennessee's 8-2 record in the last 10 meetings with Donovan's Gators was accomplished with Bruce Pearl calling the shots from the Vol bench. He won't be there tonight due to an SEC-imposed suspension. Instead, associate head coach Tony Jones will be running the team, as he did in last Saturday's 68-65 loss at Arkansas.

Naturally, Donovan suggests that won't make much difference.

"I don't know all the inner workings of their staff or how they're handling the situation," the Gator coach said. "But I would say this: When I had (aides) John Pelphrey and Anthony Grant and guys that who had been with me for long periods of time, I think you all start to think alike and prepare alike.... They (Vol coaches) are probably more equipped to handle that than I would be because (because) they do have a pretty cohesive group that has been together for a while, that knows the system and what Bruce wants inside and out."

NOTES: Florida is expected to start 6-10, 240-pound Vernon Macklin (10.9 points, 6.2 rebounds per game), 6-10, 215-pound Chandler Parsons (10.4 points, 6.7 rebounds, 3.6 assists), 6-8, 220-pound Alex Tyus (8.8 points), 6-2 Kenny Boynton (12.6 points) and 5-8 Erving Walker (14.3 points, 3.3 assists per game).... The Gators lead the SEC in rebound margin at plus-7.9. Tennessee ranks third at plus-6.6.... Vol point guard Melvin Goins has hit eight of his last 12 shots from 3-point range.... Vol forward Tobias Harris has recorded double-doubles in three of the past four games. He has struggled from 3 the past eight games, however, making just 1 of 18 treys after sinking 7 of 10 in Games 1-7.... Tonight's game will be televised by ESPN.

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