THOUGHTS OF THE DAY: FEBRUARY 18, 2019
CONSISTENCY IS WHAT IS NEEDED NOW
In the last two games, both Florida (14-11, 6-6 SEC) victories, KeVaughn Allen and Noah Locke have combined to go 2-21 from the 3-point line and 7-32 from the field overall. Prior to the wins over Vanderbilt and Alabama, the book on beating the Gators was to shut down Allen and Locke because without them, Florida didn’t have enough offense to win an SEC game. Well, for two games, at least, you can burn that book because the Gators have discovered some other offensive weapons and they’ve been a little less reliant on the 3-ball all the while amping up their defensive game to its best level of the season.
Freshman point guard Andrew Nembhard, who went 9-9 from the field and scored 21 points in the Gators 71-53 win over Alabama, is 13-14 from the field in the last two games and 3-3 on the 3-ball. In the last six games, he’s 26-42 from the field and 7-13 on 3-pointers. Freshman Keyontae Johnson has scored 29 points and grabbed 22 rebounds in the last two wins including a 14/13 performance against Alabama. He has become Florida’s go-to rebounder with 46 in the last five games and 77 in the last nine. Not bad when you consider he’s the shortest (6-5) power forward in the SEC.
Allen and Locke are proven shooters and shooters have to shoot so when they’re open, you give them the green light to launch. While they’ve struggled to find the ocean from the end of the pier in the last two games, the Gators have actually shot fewer 3-balls (41) and the rest of the team is a more than respectable 9-20. Imagine what might happen if the other Gators can maintain that pace and both Allen and Locke start finding the bottom of the net again.
Defensively, the Gators held Vandy and Alabama to a combined 110 points, but it was the Alabama game that might have been Florida’s best effort of the season. What few shots Alabama got off that were uncontested were typically from 3-5 feet deeper than usual. Florida brought the double teams so quickly and from so many angles, the Crimson Tide was rushing passes and firing off one ill-advised shot after another.
What the Gators showed last week is they are evolving and maturing as a team. They’re definitely better than they were earlier in the SEC portion of the season, but like any young team, you worry that they’re still struggling to find the level of consistency it takes to be more than a .500 team in league play. If they can match the level of defensive intensity they’ve shown the last couple of games and they can get any kind of contributions from Allen and Locke, the last third of the SEC season could be rather interesting.
SEC BASKETBALL STUFF
TENNESSEE (23-2, 11-1 SEC): Was what happened at Kentucky just a bad night at the office or were the Vols exposed? Kentucky’s players looked like men who are accustomed to winning back alley fights. The Vols looked like the guy in the old Charles Atlas ads who got sand kicked in his face. Sometimes it takes a loss like this for a team to regroup, regain its focus and then get back in a winning rhythm. Fortunately for UT, there is Vandy as a get well game in Knoxville before Saturday’s roadie to Baton Rouge.
Tuesday: vs. Vanderbilt (9-16, 0-12 SEC); Saturday: at LSU (21-4, 11-1 SEC)
LSU (21-4, 11-1 SEC): The Tigers can take sole possession of first place in the SEC with a couple of wins in Baton Rouge this week. If they get caught looking ahead to the Saturday matchup with Tennessee, they could be lulled into a really bad performance against a Florida team that makes people play ugly. Joe Lunardi has moved the Tigers up to the 4-line in his latest bracketology.
Wednesday: vs. Florida (14-11, 6-6 SEC); Saturday: vs. Tennessee (23-2, 11-1 SEC)
KENTUCKY (21-4, 10-2 SEC): Against Tennessee we finally got to see what Kentucky looks like when John Calipari has everyone on the same page. The Wildcats were tough, physical, played great defense and nobody cared who got the shots. If Cal can keep UK playing with that kind of intensity, then the Cats are legitimate possibilities to make the Final Four. Right now, Lunardi has them a #2 seed.
Tuesday: at Missouri (12-12, 3-9 SEC); Saturday: vs. Auburn (17-8, 6-6 SEC)
OLE MISS (18-7, 8-4 SEC): With a couple of wins this week, the Rebels can all but clinch their spot in the NCAA brackets. If they can win four of their last six, they won’t have to play until Friday night at the SEC Tournament. Ole Miss is currently projected as a #8 seed in the NCAA Tournament by Joe Lunardi.
Tuesday: at South Carolina (13-12, 8-4 SEC); Saturday: vs. Georgia (10-15, 1-11 SEC)
SOUTH CAROLINA (13-12, 8-4 SEC): The Gamecocks need to win five of their last six to get back into Joe Lunardi’s good bracketology graces. They’ve got the SEC resume’ but they need to get to 18 wins overall. Even with 18 regular season wins, they might need an SEC Tournament win to make the NCAA Tournament.
Tuesday: vs. Ole Miss (18-7, 8-4 SEC); Saturday: at Mississippi State (18-7, 6-6 SEC)
AUBURN (17-8, 6-6 SEC): The Tigers have to hit enough shots from the 3-point line to negate what they give up on the inside. Lunardi dropped them from the #7 line to a #9 last week.
Wednesday: vs. Arkansas (14-11, 5-7 SEC); Saturday: at Kentucky (21-4, 10-2 SEC)
MISSISSIPPI STATE (18-7, 6-6 SEC): Ben Howland suspended starting guard Nick Weatherspoon indefinitely. If he’s gone for good, the Bulldogs are going to have real problems finding points to replace him. They are sitting on the #7 line on Lunardi’s brackets but they could move down to a 10 or 11 if Weatherspoon doesn’t return.
Wednesday: at Georgia (10-15, 1-11 SEC); Saturday: vs. South Carolina (13-12, 8-4 SEC)
ALABAMA (15-10, 6-6 SEC): The Crimson Tide played with such a lack of energy against Florida that Cecil Hurt of the Tuscaloosa News wrote that they looked like they had been struck by a tranquilizer dart. If they can’t play better than they did against the Gators, Alabama is going to have a hard time making the NCAA field. Right now, Lunardi has them on the #10 line.
Tuesday: at Texas A&M (10-14, 3-9 SEC); Saturday: at Vanderbilt (9-16, 0-12 SEC)
FLORIDA (14-11, 6-6 SEC): The Gators won two games last week without decent shooting from KeVaughn Allen or Noah Locke. If UF is to make the NCAA field (Lunardi has them first four out right now), those two will have to hit some shots.
Wednesday: at LSU (21-4, 11-1 SEC); Saturday: vs. Missouri (12-12, 3-9 SEC)
ARKANSAS (14-11, 5-7 SEC): With three straight SEC losses, the Razorbacks are about to play their way into the NIT. To make the NCAA field, they need a combination of six regular season or SEC Tournament wins. Anything less and it’s another year of the Nobody’s Interested Tournament.
Wednesday: at Auburn (17-8, 6-6 SEC); Saturday: vs. Texas A&M (10-14, 3-9 SEC)
MISSOURI (12-12, 3-9 SEC): The Tigers have lost three of their last four and they face Kentucky Tuesday night. This is the kind of season that winning 15 games in the regular season would be an accomplishment.
Tuesday: vs. Kentucky (21-4, 10-2 SEC); Saturday: at Florida (14-11, 6-6 SEC)
TEXAS A&M (10-14, 3-9 SEC): Everybody likes Billy Kennedy and everybody knows he’s a good basketball coach. Will the Aggie faithful remember he had them in the Elite Eight last year when he had three guys who earn an NBA paycheck on his roster or will they look at the team that’s struggling every night this year and pink slip him?
Tuesday: vs. Alabama (15-11, 6-6 SEC); Saturday: at Arkansas (14-11, 5-7 SEC)
GEORGIA (10-15, 1-11 SEC): The Bulldogs have lost six in a row and there is every good chance they won’t win another game. They did get a commitment from 5-star recruit Anthony Edwards last week. That’s about the only good basketball news coming out of Athens these days.
Wednesday: vs. Mississippi State (18-7, 6-6 SEC); Saturday: at Ole Miss (18-7, 8-4 SEC)
VANDERBILT (9-16, 0-12 SEC): A reverse run of the SEC table seems imminent for the Commodores who measure success in the league by respectable losses.
Tuesday: at Tennessee (23-2, 11-1 SEC); Saturday: at Alabama (15-10, 6-6 SEC)
O’SULLIVAN GETS HIS 500TH WIN
With their 3-1 win over Long Beach State Sunday afternoon, the Gators not only completed a sweep over the visiting Dirtbags, but they earned win #500 for head coach Kevin O’Sullivan. O’Sullivan reached the 500 victory plateau in only 729 games.
Pitching was Florida’s calling card on the opening weekend as the Gators came away from the 3-game set with a team ERA of 1.33. The Gators had their struggles at the plate (.233 team batting average) but the combination of pitching and defense was more than adequate to shut down Long Beach State. In picking up the win Sunday, Jack Leftwich went 6 innings, gave up 5 hits and struck out 5 without issuing a walk. Freshman Hunter Ruth gave the Gators two innings of 1-hit relief and freshman closer Nolan Crisp got his second save of the weekend with a scoreless ninth.
Crisp, who skipped his senior season in high school to early enroll at UF, got a save with a scoreless ninth on Saturday when the Gators beat Long Beach State, 5-2. In that game, starter Tommy Mace went 7 innings, allowing 5 hits while striking out 7. Freshman Christian Scott pitched a scoreless eighth. In a 4-run second that gave the Gators all the offense they needed, Blake Reese drove in two runs with a bloop double and freshman Jud Fabian, another early enrollee, followed with an RBI-double. Fabian also had the defensive play of the game when he threw out Tanner Carlson at the plate from center field.
In the Friday night opener, won by the Gators, 8-2, Jordan Butler picked up the win with two innings of middle relief. Will Dalton and Brady Smith each drove in a couple of runs.
The Gators travel to Tampa to play South Florida on Tuesday then return home Wednesday for a matchup with North Florida.
UF SPRING SPORTS WEEKEND ROUNDUP
Florida’s 4th-ranked softball team racked up its second straight 5-win weekend at the Littlewood Classic in Tempe, Arizona. The Gators (11-0) outscored Illinois State, Arizona State, San Diego, Utah State and Central Michigan by a combined 42-8. The Gators, who have outscored 11 opponents by a 78-13 margin, are hitting .351 as a team. Five Gators have already hit two homers. Led by Kelly Barnhill (6 wins, 3 saves) the Florida pitching staff has a 1.22 ERA. The Gators return home Wednesday to face Jacksonville.
The 2nd-ranked Florida gymnastics team blew the doors off 9th-ranked Alabama in Tuscaloosa Friday night, 197.325-196.475. Florida posted the second highest floor rotation (49.725) in program history. Freshman Trinity Thomas won her second straight all-around title (39.525). The Gators host Georgia Friday night at the O-Dome.
In women’s golf, the 8th-ranked Gators are tied for fifth, 10 shots off the lead after one round of the Allstate Sugar Bowl Tournament. A birdie and three pars on the final hole gave 2nd-ranked Vanderbilt a 1-shot win over the UF men’s golf team in the Florida Gator Invitational.
The 4th-ranked UF men’s tennis team lost to #5 Southern Cal Friday but bounced back to beat #14 Illinois in the ITA National Team Indoor Championships. In women’s tennis, the 22nd-ranked Gators evened their record at 2-2 with a 4-1 win over North Florida on Saturday.
SEC FOOTBALL STUFF: Derrick Ansley, who coached the secondary at Alabama in 2016-17 when Jeremy Pruitt was the Tide’s defensive coordinator, has been hired by Pruitt as the defensive coordinator at Tennessee. His 3-year contract is worth $1 million yearly … LSU has hired former Cleveland Browns assistant OL coach Mark Hutson as an offensive analyst … Auburn secondary coach Greg Brown is leaving to coach the corners at Purdue according to Pete Thamel … Outside linebackers coach Dan Lanning has been promoted to defensive coordinator at Georgia and inside linebackers coach Glenn Shumann has been promoted to co-defensive coordinator … Kentucky promoted tight ends coach Vince Marrow, who doubles as recruiting coordinator, to associate head coach. The promotion comes with a bump in pay to $650,000 … Auburn director of player relations has been hired by Arkansas to coach its defensive line.
RANDOM THOUGHTS: Steve Spurrier and the Orlando Apollos ran their record to 2-0 with a 37-28 road win over the San Antonio Commanders. The Apollos scored the final 20 points and got the win on a pick-6 … Former Gator point guard Nick Calathes was the MVP of the Greek Cup Championship Game when he scored 19 points and added 9 assists to lead Rick Pitino-coached Panathinakos to a 79-73 win over PAOK … When Kyler Murray was trying to make a decision about playing baseball or football, he sought the advice of Tim Tebow, who told him to follow his heart. Murray has decided he will pursue an NFL dream … Former Gator Jaylen Watkins, who missed the entire 2018 season when he tore an ACL in a preseason game, has signed a 1-year deal to remain with the Los Angeles Chargers … Now that Colin Kaepernick has settled with the NFL for a reported $60-80 million, he says he still wants to play football … Joe Gibbs Racing made it a clean sweep at the Daytona 500 Sunday, with a 1-2-3 finish (1. Danny Hamlin; 2. Kyle Busch; 3. Erik Jones).