THOUGHTS OF THE DAY; FEBRUARY 4, 2019
TAKE DEEP BREATHS; AVOID SHARP OBJECTS
Although the first Wednesday in February is no longer as suspenseful as it used to be before there was such a thing as the early signing period, there are still some big recruiting decisions that have to be made, quite a few of which will affect Dan Mullen and the Florida Gators. Depending on who you listen to most, the Gators are likely to land one 4-star recruit and have a shot to get a signed LOI from 2-3 others. If you’re a glass half empty type, getting one more 4-star would be a disappointment even if it elevates the Gators to either 9th or 10th in the final rankings. If you’re a glass half full type, you’re thinking UF gets one or two more but a top ten class in only Mullen’s second year is a very big deal.
I think the Gators sign 4-star corner Kaiir Elam (6-1, 182, North Palm Beach, FL The Benjamin School) but I’m not all that sure what happens with 4-star athlete Mark Antony-Richards (6-1, 195, West Palm Beach, FL Wellington) or 4-star defensive end Charles Moore (6-4, 268, Louisville, MS). Nobody seems to have a real handle on what either one of those guys are going to do although Florida is very much a serious player with both. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Gators land one, both or come up empty.
There is also a lot of speculation that 4-star defensive end Khris Bogle (6-4, 215, Fort Lauderdale, FL Cardinal Gibbons) might flip from his longstanding Alabama commitment. Even some Alabama recruiting experts seem to think it’s 50-50 at best that he’ll sign with Nick Saban and the Tide. If he doesn’t, most agree that it will come down to Florida and Miami. If he flips, I think he’ll be a Gator.
I’m not Jason Higdon, who will forget more recruiting in the next hour than I’ll know in the next year, but I think Florida is going to land at least one more 4-star besides Elam to finish something like 8th or 9th in the final recruiting standings but I reserve the right to swing and miss on that prediction.
So here’s some good advice: Step back off the ledge. Take a lot of deep breaths. Make sure you’ve padlocked all the sharp objects in your house or office Wednesday morning.
It’s going to be all right, no matter what.
DEFENSE IS GREAT BUT SOMEONE HAS TO HIT SHOTS
Despite Florida’s well-documented vertical challenges, the Gators (12-9, 4-4 SEC) are among the best defensive teams in the entire country and the numbers bear it out. The Gators are holding opponents to 62.8 points per game, which is 15th nationally. Opponents are shooting only 41.1% from the floor overall and just 31.5% from the 3-point line. Florida forces 16.3 turnovers per game and scores 18.3 points off the turnovers.
Those are the kind of numbers you can win with, and Florida does win – that is when the Gators are actually hitting 3-pointers with any kind of consistency. The 3-point shooting stats from the Gators 9 losses are sobering proof that the Gators live and die by the 3-ball. The Gators have launched 243 3-pointers in their 9 losses but the ball has found the bottom of the net only 75 times. That’s 30.8% and that doesn’t cut it.
Florida shot well last Wednesday night, hitting 11-26 on 3-pointers (42.3%) to score an overtime win over Ole Miss. That win was sandwiched between an 8-27 night against TCU (27.3%) and a 5-19 effort against Kentucky (26.3%). Both the TCU and Kentucky games were winnable if the Gators could have knocked down some shots.
Six of Florida’s nine losses are by 7 or fewer points so figure that two or three more 3-pointers in those games and the Gators are sitting at 18-3 right now. At 18-3 the Gators would be ranked in the top ten, their NCAA Tournament berth assured. At 12-9, they need at least 7-8 more wins to have a shot at the NCAA. If the Gators could have shot better in the last 10 minutes of losses to #1 Tennessee and #7 Kentucky they would have had a chance for a signature win over a highly ranked team but in both those losses, the Gators went ice cold in the second half when they needed points the most.
There is no question that even though the Gators lack anything close to ideal size, they play lock down defense at a near elite level. Because of that same size differential, Florida has to rely on the 3-ball to have a chance to win against decent teams. When the Gators hit shots, they can beat just about anyone. When they go stone cold like they did in the last 13 minutes against Kentucky, it’s close but no cigar.
RANKING SEC BASKETBALL TOP TO BOTTOM
1. TENNESSEE (20-1, 8-0 SEC): The Vols, who have set a school record with 16 consecutive wins, will hold on to the #1 ranking for the third straight week when the AP and Coaches polls are announced today … In his last five games, Grant Williams is averaging 25.6 points and 6.4 rebounds while hitting 41-67 shots from the field.
Tuesday: vs. Missouri (11-9, 2-6 SEC); Saturday: vs. FLORIDA (12-9, 4-4 SEC)
2. KENTUCKY (18-3, 7-1 SEC): The key to Kentucky’s run of eight straight wins can be found on the defensive end. The Wildcats have become the best defensive team in the SEC and they’re one of the four or five best in the entire country. Who would have thought that after UK gave up 118 points to Duke in the season opener?
Tuesday: vs. South Carolina (11-10, 6-2 SEC); Saturday: at #22 Mississippi State (16-5, 4-4 SEC)
3. LSU (17-4, 7-1 SEC): LSU had its 18-game winning streak at the Maravich Center snapped with the 90-89 loss to Arkansas Saturday night. The Tigers had to battle back from an 18-point deficit and were in position to win the game but missed three potential game-winning shots in the final 10 seconds.
Wednesday: at #22 Mississippi State (16-5, 4-4 SEC); Saturday: vs. Auburn (17-4, 4-4 SEC)
4. AUBURN (15-6, 4-4 SEC): In picking up wins over Missouri and Alabama last week, the Tigers hit 29 3-pointers. Bryce Brown hit 9-17 from long distance in the two victories and it hitting 41.3% on his 3-pointers this season.
Tuesday: vs. FLORIDA (12-9, 4-4 SEC); Saturday: at #19 LSU (17-4, 7-1 SEC)
5. MISSISSIPPI STATE (16-5, 4-4 SEC): The Bulldogs will be facing their first two ranked teams of the season this week when they face #19 LSU and #7 Kentucky, both games in Starkville.
Wednesday: vs. #19 LSU (17-4, 7-1 SEC); Saturday: vs. #7 Kentucky (18-3, 7-1 SEC)
6. SOUTH CAROLINA (11-10, 6-2 SEC): In his last four games, Chris Silva has averaged 23.5 points and 9.75 rebounds while hitting 31-48 from the field.
Tuesday: at #7 Kentucky (18-3, 7-1 SEC); Saturday: vs. Arkansas (13-8, 4-4 SEC)
7. ARKANSAS (13-8, 4-4 SEC): The Razorbacks are coming off one of their better weeks of the season. Last week they scored a 10-point win over Georgia in one of their better defensive performances and they followed that up by hanging 90 on 19th-ranked LSU to score a win on the road.
Tuesday: vs. Vanderbilt (9-12, 0-8 SEC); Saturday: at South Carolina (11-10, 6-2 SEC)
8. FLORIDA (12-9; 4-4 SEC): You can make a case that when KeVaughn Allen and Noah Locke are hitting shots, the Gators are winning. In Florida’s last two losses (to TCU and Kentucky), they have combined to shoot 13-49 from the field overall and 6-28 from the 3-point line.
Tuesday: at Auburn (15-6, 4-4 SEC); Saturday: at #1 Tennessee (20-1, 8-0 SEC)
9. OLE MISS (14-7, 4-4 SEC): The Rebels went 0-2 in SEC play last week. They’ve lost four games in a row including three SEC contests. Consider this week’s games with Texas A&M and Georgia as must wins if Ole Miss intends to get back into NCAA Tournament contention.
Wednesday: vs. Texas A&M (8-12, 1-7 SEC); Saturday: at Georgia (10-11, 1-7 SEC)
10. ALABAMA (13-8, 4-4 SEC): Consider last week the story of the season for Alabama. The Tide earned a tough win over 22nd ranked Mississippi State but followed that up with a blowout loss to Auburn.
Wednesday: vs. Georgia (10-11, 1-7 SEC); Saturday: at Vanderbilt (9-12, 0-8 SEC)
11. MISSOURI (11-9, 2-6 SEC): The Tigers bounced back from a 34-point loss to Auburn to knock of Vanderbilt Saturday night, snapping a 3-game losing streak.
Tuesday: at #1 Tennessee (20-1, 8-0 SEC); Saturday: vs. Texas A&M (8-12, 1-7 SEC)
12. GEORGIA (10-11, 1-7 SEC): About the only bright spot in SEC play has been sophomore Nicolas Claxton, who is averaging 12.7 points, 9.3 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 1.3 steals and 2.8 blocks per game.
Wednesday: at Alabama (13-8, 4-4 SEC); Saturday: vs. Ole Miss (14-7, 4-4 SEC)
13. TEXAS A&M (8-12, 1-7 SEC): The Aggies got no momentum from their SEC-Big 12 Challenge win over Kansas State and promptly went down twice last week in SEC play. Unless they make a surge in the remaining 10 games on the SEC slate or else the AD and school prez are feeling particularly benevolent, Billy Kennedy will be cashing buyout checks next year.
Wednesday: at Ole Miss (14-7, 4-4 SEC); Saturday: at Missouri (11-9, 2-6 SEC)
14. VANDERBILT (9-12, 0-8 SEC): The Commodores hit a low point of the season last week when Kentucky beat them by 35 at Memorial Gym, a game in which they shot only 37.5% and turned the ball over 20 times.
Tuesday: at Arkansas (13-8, 4-4 SEC); Saturday: vs. Alabama (13-8, 4-4 SEC)
SEC FOOTBALL STUFF: The SEC divided $627.1 million among its 14 member institutions. That comes out to more than $43.1 million per school. To put it in perspective, the ACC distributed only $28 million per school … Missouri is planning to appeal the harsh NCAA sanctions which will prevent the Tigers from going to a bowl game after the 2019 season. The school has the support and backing of the Southeastern Conference … AL.com reporter Michael Cassagrande has confirmed that Steve Sarkisian (offensive coordinator), Kyle Flood (O-line), Charles Huff (running backs), Sal Sunseri (linebackers) and Charles Kelly (secondary) are already on the Alabama payroll and have received their first month’s paycheck … LSU got a commitment from juco defensive end Soni Fonua (6-4, 264, Salt Lake City, UT/Mesa, AZ Mesa Community College) … 5-star defensive tackle Nathan Pickering (6-3, 286, Seminary, MS) is shutting down his recruitment to all schools except Mississippi State.
SEC AVERAGE ATTENDANCE IN 2018
1. Alabama 101,561
2. LSU 100,819
3. Texas A&M 99,844
4. Tennessee 92,983
5. Georgia 92,746
6. Auburn 84,462
7. FLORIDA 82,328
8. South Carolina 73,826
9. Arkansas 59,740
10. Mississippi State 58,057
11. Ole Miss 55,684
12. Kentucky 55,117
13. Missouri 51,465
14. Vanderbilt 28,044
RANDOM THOUGHTS: Whether you love them or hate them, you have to tip your hat to Bill Bellichick, Tom Brady and the New England Patriots, who won their sixth Super Bowl in 18 years Sunday evening by knocking off the Los Angeles Rams, 13-3. Bellichick’s defensive game plan totally shut down the high powered Rams offense and Brady was vintage Brady in the fourth quarter when he led the Patriots to 10 points to clinch the game. Bellichick and Brady will go down as the greatest of all time. Nobody else has six Super Bowl trophies except the Patriots … The hits just keep on coming at Florida State. Quarterback Deondre Francois has been dismissed from the team after a video posted on Instagram by his girlfriend is filled with threats of physical and verbal abuse. The woman indicated that this wasn’t the first time for Francois to abuse her and stated “I lost my first child because of all the beating …” … North Carolina State scored 24 points against Virginia Tech Saturday. For the whole game. North Carolina State went 9-54 from the field. And here you were thinking the Gators can’t shoot … Just when you thought the NCAA had cornered the market on stupidity and hypocrisy, it declared Silvio De Sousa ineligible for the entire 2018-19 and 2019-20 seasons. De Sousa’s guardian benefitted financially during his recruitment to Kansas. There is no evidence that De Sousa had any knowledge of the benefits or that he personally benefitted. Former Adidas consultant T.J. Gassnola, who was charged with making the payment, testified under oath in federal court that Kansas coach Bill Self or anyone at KU knew about the payment. Self called the ruling “mean-spirited and vindictive.” Kansas will appeal. De Sousa needs to hire good attorneys and go after the NCAA for damages … Easily the two best Super Bowl commercials were the first Bud Light corn syrup commercial in which the giant barrel of corn syrup is delivered first to Miller Lite and then to Coors Lite and the Amazon commercial about Harrison Ford and his dog ordering food and treats using Alexa.