Franz Beard: Thoughts of the Day

THOUGHTS OF THE DAY: FEBRUARY 22, 2019

Now we get to see how the Florida Gators (15-11, 7-6 SEC) respond to real pressure. With the momentum of a 3-game winning streak that includes Wednesday night’s 82-77 overtime win over 13th-ranked LSU in Baton Rouge, the NCAA Tournament no longer seems like a pipedream but an attainable goal. Of course, that means the Gators have to prove they’re capable of handling the kind of pressure they haven’t had to deal with all season.

Saturday’s matchup (4 p.m., ESPNU) with Missouri (12-13, 3-10 SEC) is the first of three very winnable games that will go a long way toward determining if the Gators are marching to the NCAA madness or trying to stay motivated while playing in the NIT. Should Florida knock off Mizzou, (at) Vanderbilt and Georgia they’ll have 18 regular season wins and 10 in the Southeastern Conference. You can almost bet the farm that if the Gators get to 10 SEC wins they’ll be dancing even if they roll snake eyes against LSU and (at) Kentucky in the final two regular season games. Anything less than 18 regular season wins will require the Gators getting a win or two in the SEC Tournament in Nashville and that’s the last thing Mike White wants for this young team. There is pressure enough on the Gators to win their next three. Imagine the pressure on a team that starts three freshmen if they have to score a couple of wins in Nashville to make the NCAA field.

Saturday at the O-Dome the Gators will also honor the 1994 Florida team that became the first in school history to make the Final Four. That team’s motto was “Find a Way,” which would also seem quite fitting for this year’s team. It was only a couple of weeks ago that even the NIT was looking like a longshot, but White has gotten this team to see beyond their deficiencies to become one of those teams nobody wants to play right now.

Here are the postseason chances for the rest of the SEC:

#5 TENNESSEE (24-2, 12-1 SEC): The Vols are back in the driver’s season in the SEC championship race, but they still have games with (at) #13 LSU, (at) Ole Miss, #4 Kentucky, Mississippi State and (at) Auburn. If they win those five they’re a lock to be a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

#4 KENTUCKY (22-4, 11-2 SEC): The Wildcats are pushing for a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Their March 2 showdown with Tennessee in Knoxville could decide the SEC title and elevate the Cats to the #1 line.

#13 LSU (21-5, 11-2 SEC): If the Tigers can knock off Tennessee Saturday, they’re in the driver’s seat for the SEC title. They need to win the SEC to get much higher than a #4 seed.

SOUTH CAROLINA (14-12, 9-4 SEC): The Gamecocks have the SEC record but they need another four regular season wins and probably an SEC Tournament win to make it to the NCAA. Otherwise, it’s the NIT.

OLE MISS (18-8, 8-5 SEC): The Rebels are probably in the NCAA Tournament but they can’t be too comfortable, not with Tennessee and Kentucky still on the schedule. One win probably gets it done. Two would make the NCAA a lock.

MISSISSIPPI STATE (19-7, 7-6 SEC): The Bulldogs don’t have a signature win, but if they can win three of their last five SEC games they’ll make the NCAA Tournament.

AUBURN (18-8, 7-6 SEC): Auburn gets in with two more SEC wins, but the Tigers need to win at least one of the three games with (at) Kentucky, Mississippi State or Tennessee.

ALABAMA (15-11, 5-7 SEC): The Crimson Tide have lost three straight and their season is nosediving. Unless they close out the regular season with five straight wins or make it to the SEC Tournament championship game, they’re NIT bound.

ARKANSAS (14-12, 5-8 SEC): The Razorbacks need at least three or four wins just to make the NIT. To get into the NCAA they have to win the SEC Tournament.

Saturday’s SEC games
Missouri (12-13, 3-10 SEC) at FLORIDA (15-11, 7-6 SEC)
#5 Tennessee (24-2, 12-1 SEC) at #13 LSU (21-5, 11-2 SEC)
Auburn (18-8, 7-6 SEC) at #4 Kentucky (22-4, 11-2 SEC)
Georgia (10-16, 1-12 SEC) at Ole Miss (18-8, 8-5 SEC)
Vanderbilt (9-17, 0-13 SEC) at Alabama (15-11, 5-7 SEC)
South Carolina (14-12, 9-4 SEC) at Mississippi State (19-7, 7-6 SEC)
Texas A&M (11-14, 4-9 SEC) at Arkansas (14-12, 5-8 SEC)

UF SPRING SPORTS

The Florida men’s swimming team rode a 1-2-3 finish in the 400 IM and a first place in the 100 butterfly to take the lead after day three in the SEC Swimming and Diving Championships in Athens, Georgia. Over on the women’s side, Florida moved into second place behind third day leader Texas A&M.

The 3rd-ranked Florida softball team will open play in the Bubly Invitational at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium with a 5 p.m. matchup with Illinois State and 7:30 game with FAMU.

Tyler Dyson will be the Friday night starter (6:30 p.m.) for the 3rd-ranked Florida baseball team (3-2) which will be trying to break a 2-game losing streak. Tommy Mace (1-0) will be the Saturday (6:30 p.m.) and Jack Leftwich (1-0) will be the Sunday (1 p.m.) starter.

The 5th-ranked Gators (1-1) will travel to #16 Loyola Saturday in a non-conference lacrosse match … Florida’s women’s tennis team (2-3) will play host to Oklahoma at 5 p.m. today … Florida’s men’s and women’s indoor track teams will be in Fayetteville, Arkansas this weekend for the SEC championships. The Florida men are ranked #3 nationally while the women are ranked #7.

A LOOK AT THE PRE-OCTOBER 1 SEC FOOTBALL SCHEDULES

SEC EAST
FLORIDA: An interesting quirk of Florida’s pre-October 1 schedule is the Gators have back-to-back SEC games sandwiched between a pair of D1AA opponents. The toughest pre-October 1 game will probably be an improved Tennessee team but it’s at home. Prediction: 5-0, 2-0 SEC

August 31: Miami (Orlando, FL); September 7: Tennessee-Martin (D1AA); September 14: at Kentucky; September 21: Tennessee; September 28: Towson State (D1AA)

GEORGIA: The Bulldogs start the season on the road against Vandy, quite odd in that the opener is on the road and an SEC game. After that, the only tough game pre-October 1 is Notre Dame in Athens. Prediction: 4-0, 1-0 SEC

August 31: at Vanderbilt; September 7: Murray State (D1AA); September 14: Arkansas State; September 21: Notre Dame; September 28: Open

KENTUCKY: The Wildcats should open the season with a pair of easy wins before the Gators come to town, the first of three straight SEC games to close out the pre-October schedule. After the Gators, it’s roadies with Mississippi State and South Carolina. Prediction: 2-3, 0-3 SEC

August 31: Toledo; September 7: Eastern Michigan; September 14: Florida; September 21: at Mississippi State; September 28: at South Carolina

MISSOURI: Slow starts have been Mizzou’s calling card the last three seasons. That should change this year. The only losable game is their only SEC matchup against South Carolina at home. Prediction: 4-0

August 31: at Wyoming; September 7: West Virginia; September 14: Southeast Missouri (D1AA); September 21: South Carolina; September 28: Open

SOUTH CAROLINA: The Gamecocks will close out September with three straight SEC games starting with Alabama in Columbia followed by (at) Missouri and then Kentucky back home. This is not a schedule conducive of a fast start. Prediction: 3-2, 1-2 SEC

August 31: North Carolina (Charlotte); September 7: Charleston Southern (D1AA); September 14: Alabama; September 21: at Missouri; September 28: Kentucky

TENNESSEE: A lot of folks are getting on the Tennessee bandwagon early. The first three games are easy and should get the Vols off to a 3-0 start complete with soaring expectations. Then comes the trip to Gainesville to face the Gators and a close encounter with reality. Prediction: 3-1, 0-1 SEC

August 31: Georgia State; September 7: BYU; September 14: Chattanooga (D1AA); September 21: at Florida; September 28: Open

VANDERBILT: The only winnable game in the pre-October 1 schedule is the last one against Northern Illinois of the MAC and even that won’t be easy. Prior to NIU, the Commodores have Georgia, (at) Purdue and LSU. If the Commodores open the season 0-4, buzzards will be seen circling the Vandy football complex starting on September 29. Prediction: 1-3, 0-2 SEC

August 31: Georgia; September 7: at Purdue; September 14: Open; September 21: LSU; September 28: Northern Illinois

SEC WEST

ALABAMA: Nick Saban is still the coach. Tua is still the quarterback. All those wide receivers are back. All the 4- and 5-star guys that are gone to the NFL will be replaced by 4- and 5-star guys biding their time until it’s their turn to go pro. Prediction: 5-0, 2-0 SEC

August 31: Duke (Atlanta, GA); September 7: New Mexico State; September 14: at South Carolina; September 21: Southern Miss; September 28: Ole Miss

ARKANSAS: The Hogs only won 2 games in 2018. They should improve on that total before the clock strikes October. Prediction: 3-2, 0-2 SEC

August 31: Portland State (D1AA); September 7: at Ole Miss; September 14: Colorado State; September 21: San Jose State; September 28: Texas A&M (Arlington, TX)

AUBURN: The ground beneath Gus Malzahn’s feet is shaky. A pre-October 1 schedule that opens with Oregon and closes with a roadie to Aggieland and a homer with Mississippi State will have the Never Gus crowd thinking there will be a new coach on the Plains in 2020. Those folks might be disappointed. Prediction: 4-1, 1-1 SEC

August 31: Oregon (Dallas, TX); September 7: Tulane; September 14: Kent State; September 21: at Texas A&M; September 28: Mississippi State

LSU: There’s only one tough game on the early schedule and that’s a week two road trip to Texas. Otherwise it should be a fast start. Prediction: 3-1, 1-0 SEC

August 31: Georgia Southern; September 7: at Texas; September 14: Northwestern State (D1AA); September 21: at Vanderbilt; September 28: Open

MISSISSIPPI STATE: The Bulldogs start with four winnable games before they hit the road to Auburn. Prediction: 4-1, 1-1 SEC

August 31: Louisiana-Lafayette (New Orleans); September 7: Southern Miss; September 14: Kansas State; September 21: Kentucky; September 28: at Auburn

OLE MISS: Matt Luke made two exceptional hires when he brought on RichRod as his OC and former Colorado HBC Mike MacIntyre as his DC. The first four are winnable and then there is Alabama in Tuscaloosa to spoil the party. Prediction: 4-1, 0-1 SEC

August 31: at Memphis; September 7: Arkansas; September 14: Southeastern Louisiana (D1AA); September 21: California; September 28: at Alabama

TEXAS A&M: The Aggies will find out how good they are the second week of the season when they travel to 2018 national champ Clemson. There is also a home date with Auburn that’s interesting. Prediction: 4-1, 2-0 SEC

August 31: Texas State; September 7: at Clemson; September 14: Lamar (D1AA); September 21: Auburn; September 28: Arkansas (Arlington, TX)

SEC FOOTBALL STUFF: Arkansas made it official by hiring former Auburn player relations director Kenny Ingram as its D-line coach … Alabama hired a couple of special teams quality control staffers in Joe Houston (from Iowa State) and Jonathan Galante (from Virginia Tech). Houston’s reputation is that of a “kicking whisperer” … LSU defensive lineman Davin Cotton was in the NCAA transfer portal and then out of it. Now he’s back in … After leaving the Kentucky program earlier in the week, left tackle E.J. Price signed with the Saskatchewan Roughriders of the CFL … August Mangin, who was on the Alabama support staff at Alabama, is expected to join the LSU support staff.

MARK BRADLEY SAID IT

Writing about Wednesday night’s North Carolina-Duke game, won handily by North Carolina with an assist from Nike (Google Williams, Zion, broken shoe), Mark Bradley of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution wrote: “College basketball’s best player had hurt himself. What would that mean for March Madness? What if he needs surgery and misses the Big Dance? What would that do for Duke? (Short answer: nothing good.) What about the rest of the field? (Short answer: much good.) What if Zion is only hurt a little but decides, college-football-bowl-style, to skip the NCAA tournament? What if NBA teams look hard at his knee and decide they don’t like what they see? What will this mean for Zion going forward, corporate-affiliation-wise? Will he ever again don a pair of Nikes? And was this some sort of karma for the havoc wrought on college hoops by, ahem, sneaker companies?”

RANDOM THOUGHTS: On a day when everyone who has ever contemplated calling the Morgan Law Firm was weighing in on the possibility that Zion Williamson would sue Nike, I offer this prediction: Within 24 hours of the end of Duke’s basketball season, Nike will sign Zion to the largest rookie shoe contract in history. Some might call that bribery. I tend to call it the only smart thing Nike can do and given the amount of money that will be offered, Zion won’t even blink before signing on the dotted line … FSU hired Randy Clements as its new offensive line coach … USA Today is reporting that the NBA is proposing changing the draft-eligible age from 19 to 18, which could be the first step toward ending the silly one-and-done rule … Former Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Don Newcombe, who won both the National League Cy Young and MVP in 1956, died Tuesday at the age of 92. Newcombe, who was 92, compiled a 149-90 career record with a 3.56 ERA.