THOUGHTS OF THE DAY: FEBRUARY 15, 2019
GRANTHAM STAYS, GETS RAISE, CONTRACT EXTENSION
After mulling an offer to become the defensive coordinator for the Cincinnati Bengals, Todd Grantham elected to remain with the University of Florida where he was immediately rewarded with a brand new contract that will raise his salary to $1.8 million per season and keep him at UF at least until 2022. The raise makes Grantham the third highest paid defensive coordinator in the SEC (Dave Aranda of LSU makes $2.5 million and Kevin Steele of Auburn makes $2 million) and one of the five highest paid coordinators in all of college football.
That athletic director Scott Stricklin and head coach Dan Mullen would move quickly to not only raise Grantham’s salary but give him the security of a 4-year deal, is a positive sign about the direction of the Florida football program. You don’t give a coordinator a 5-year deal unless you’ve got the program on championship footing. Now it is time to ante up for the rest of the Florida coaching staff, which last year ranked in the lower third of the SEC. There is no excuse that a school with athletic revenues of more than $131 million has a football coaching staff that isn’t among the top third of the league. If you want to compete at the same level as Alabama, Georgia and LSU, you can’t have your assistant coaches making significantly less money.
Grantham, who was Mullen’s defensive coordinator at Mississippi State in 2017, took over pretty much the same guys who were part of an underperforming Florida defense in 2017 and turned them into one of the most improved units in the entire nation, finishing #28 nationally (343.3 yards per game). With eight starters returning and 19 of the top 22 on the two-deep returning in 2019, the Gators figure to become one of the nation’s elite defensive units. It must also be noted that the defensive unit Grantham left behind at Mississippi State led the nation in total defense in 2018.
Florida defensive improvements last year under Grantham:
Scoring defense: 27.3 in 2017; 20.0 in 2018
Turnovers forced: 17 in 2017; 26 in 2018
Sacks: 21 in 2017; 37 in 2018
Fumbles recovered: 3 in 2017; 12 in 2018
Yards per pass attempt allowed: 8.0 in 2017; 6.2 in 2018
Yards per play allowed: 5.73 in 2017; 5.12 in 2018
KEYONTAE JOHNSON UF MVP; STOKES MUST PLAY MORE
You are in the majority if you didn’t think Florida (13-11, 5-6 SEC) could win a basketball game on a night when KeVaughn Allen and Noah Locke combined to hit 2-19 shots from the floor (1-13 on 3-pointers) for nine total points (6 for Allen, 3 for Locke). Even though Allen and Locke couldn’t throw it in the ocean from the end of the pier Wednesday night, the Gators still slugged out a 66-57 win over Vanderbilt (9-15, 0-11 SEC), thanks, in part, to another blue collar efficient game from freshman power forward Keyontae Johnson and perhaps redshirt freshman center Isaiah Stokes’ best game of his Florida career.
Johnson led the Gators with 15 points and 9 rebounds, plus he turned in a very solid defensive effort while battling players 3-5 inches taller all night long. Since taking over as an undersized (he’s 6-5, 220) power forward following the injury to Keith Stone, Johnson has given the Gators consistent effort and production while raising his season averages to 7.1 points and 5.7 rebounds per game. Unquestionably, he’s Florida’s toughest and most physical player. Considering the size he gives up every night, you could make a very solid case that he’s Florida’s most valuable player, at least in the SEC portion of the schedule.
Stokes gave the Gators 8 points in nine minutes on 3-5 shooting from the field and 2-2 from the foul line. Kevarrius Hayes and Dontay Bassett combined to give the Gators seven points in the 31 combined minutes they were on the floor. Although he’s had moments when he looked like the proverbial lost ball in the tall weeds defensively, Stokes more than held his own in the paint. Vandy’s 6-10 Simisola Shittu and 6-11 backup Yanni Wetzell managed only 7 points the entire evening against all three Florida big guys.
Two things are obvious as the Gators hit the final 7-game stretch of the regular season starting with a roadie to Alabama (15-9, 6-5 SEC) Saturday (2 p.m., ESPNU): (1) Johnson has to remain consistent while amping up his offensive game since opponents are going to try to neutralize Allen and Locke; and (2) Stokes needs more minutes since he has the best post scoring game of any of UF’s three big guys.
SEC BASKETBALL STUFF
When 5th-ranked Kentucky (20-4, 9-2 SEC) dropped a 73-71 decision to 19th-ranked LSU (20-4, 10-1 SEC) Tuesday night at Rupp on a controversial last second tip-in (officials pretty much blew an offensive goal tend), it marked the first home loss of the season for the Wildcats. Could they go down for an unheard of second straight game at Rupp Saturday when #1 Tennessee (23-1, 11-0 SEC) comes to town or will the Vols drop their first league game of the season? Two critical matchups to watch: Kentucky’s 6-8, 230-pound P.J. Washington (14.4 points, 8.1 rebounds per game) vs. Tennessee’s 6-7, 240-pound Grant Williams (19.4 points, 7.4 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.2 steals, 1.6 blocks per game) and Kentucky point guard Ashton Hagans (7.1 points, 2.4 rebounds, 4.4 assists, 2.1 steals per game) vs. Tennessee point guard Jordan Bone (13.2 points, 3.2 rebounds, 6.5 assists per game). Whoever gets the best of these matchups likely wins the game.
In their final seven SEC games, LSU (20-4, 10-1 SEC) faces only two teams (Tennessee and Alabama) with winning records in league play. LSU sophomore point guard Tremont Waters (15.7 points, 3.1 rebounds, 6.0 assists, 3.1 steals per game) is making a legitimate case for SEC Player of the Year. If Tennessee stumbles and LSU wins the SEC regular season championship, Waters might get the vote as the league’s best player.
The SEC in Joe Lunardi’s latest bracketology: Tennessee #1 in the South Region; Kentucky #2 in the Midwest; LSU #4 in the East; Auburn #7 in the South; Mississippi State #7 in the West; Ole Miss #8 in the Midwest; and Alabama #10 in the East. Lunardi has Florida on the First Four Out line.
Saturday’s SEC games
FLORIDA (13-11, 5-6 SEC) at Alabama (15-9, 6-5 SEC)
Auburn (16-8, 5-6 SEC) at Vanderbilt (9-15, 0-11 SEC)
Texas A&M (10-13, 3-8 SEC) at South Carolina (12-12, 7-4 SEC)
Missouri (12-11, 2-9 SEC) at Ole Miss (17-7, 7-4 SEC)
#19 LSU (20-4, 10-1 SEC) at Georgia (10-14, 1-10 SEC)
#1 Tennessee (23-1 11-0 SEC) at #5 Kentucky (20-4, 9-2 SEC)
Mississippi State (17-7, 5-6 SEC) at Arkansas (14-10, 5-6 SEC)
GATORS OPEN BASEBALL SEASON VS. LONG BEACH STATE
Junior righty Tyler Dyson (9-3 career, 3.93 ERA) will get the ball tonight when the 3rd-ranked Gators open their 2019 baseball season at McKethan Stadium against the Long Beach State Dirtbags (6:30 p.m., SEC Network+). Sophomore Tommy Mace (5-0 career, 4.16 ERA) will get the Saturday start (4 p.m., SEC Network+) and Jack Leftwich (5-5 career, 4.20 ERA) will be the Sunday (12 noon, SEC Network+) starter.
Florida, which leads the country with 421 wins since 2010, will start three true freshman in the opening night lineup – 1B Kendrick Calilao; 3B Cory Acton and CF Judd Fabian. That’s the fifth time that has happened since 2010.
Florida’s opening day starters: C Brady Smith (.264, 2 HR, 15 RBI in 2018); 1B Calilao; 2B Blake Reese (.253, 5 HR, 43 RBI in 2018); SS Brady McConnell (.136, 1 HR 2 RBI in 2018); 3B Acton; LF Austin Langworthy (.290, 4 HR, 29 RBI in 2018); CF Fabian; RF Wil Dalton (.262, 19 HR, 62 RBI in 2018); DH Nelson Maldonado (.273, 9 HR, 44 RBI in 2018)
SEC FOOTBALL STUFF: Arkansas and Florida State are the frontrunners to land Nick Starkel, who will leave Texas A&M in May as a graduate transfer. That seems a little odd since Arkansas landed SMU grad transfer Ben Hicks, who threw for 2,582 yards and 19 TDs last year, and FSU has James Blackman, who redshirted last season but threw for 2,230 yards and 19 TDs in 2017 … Former Auburn linebacker Kris Frost, who took out an insurance policy prior to his final season, collected $1.5 million because injuries prevented him playing in the NFL … LSU defensive tackle Davin Cotton had a change of heart and removed his name from the NCAA transfer portal, but redshirt freshman DL Dominic Livingston placed his name in the portal … Cory Bichey has been elevated to head strength and conditioning coach at Mississippi State. Bichey was an assistant last year to Anthony Piroli, who left MSU to join the staff of the Tampa Bay Bucs … Mark Stoops is considering hiring older brother Mike Stoops as his defensive coordinator. Stoops was fired as the Oklahoma DC at midseason of 2018 by Lincoln Riley … Missouri has officially filed an appeal of its 1-year bow ban with the NCAA Division I Infractions Committee. As part of his statement discussing the appeal, Mizzou AD said, “Mizzou’s case involved an isolated incident within our program, however, the penalties applied are overly harsh, not in line with established precedent” … Former 5-star signee Josh Belk has left the South Carolina football program. As a freshman in 2018, Belk played in four games and got a redshirt … Ole Miss athletic director Ross Bjork took to WJOX in Birmingham to defend his football coach after Mississippi talk radio host Bo Bounds made disparaging remarks about Matt Luke on the Paul Finebaum Show … Vanderbilt hired former Auburn assistant Tim Horton to coach running backs and former NFL assistant Devin Fitzsimmons to coach tight ends.
RANDOM THOUGHTS: The Associated Press says former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick wanted a minimum of $20 million to play in the fledgling Alliance of American Football. Kaepernick hasn’t played in the league since 2016 … Obviously, the Baltimore Ravens are fully committed to former Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson as their QB of the future because they’re trading former Super Bowl XLVII MVP Joe Flacco to the Denver Broncos. The Broncos have to figure out what to do with Case Keenum who is due to be paid $18 million in 2019 … Former Northern Illinois and Minnesota head football coach Jerry Kill, who had to retire from coaching due to health issues, has been named athletic director at Southern Illinois … Jaylon Ferguson of Louisiana Tech, rated the #5 DE in the 2019 draft, has had his invitation to the combine rescinded because of a simple battery charge that stemmed from a fight his freshman year and resulted in a deferred judgment and $189 fine … Former LSU ace Aaron Nola has signed a 4-year, $45 million contract with the Philadelphia Phillies. Nola went 17-6 with the Phillies last year with a 2.37 ERA … James Harden of the Houston Rockets scored 42 points Wednesday night, his 31st consecutive game with at least 30 points which ties Wilt Chamberlain for the all-time NBA record … Former Gator point guard Nick Calathes and Rick Pitino-coached Panathinkaikos will play for the Greek Cup championship Sunday. Calathes averages 9.3 points, 3 rebounds and 7.1 assists per game.