THOUGHTS OF THE DAY: FEBRUARY 27, 2019
CAN GATORS BREAK MEMORIAL GYM LOSING STREAK?
Maybe it’s the funky way they do the team benches – they’re on opposite ends of the floor – but something seems to throw the Florida Gators (16-11, 8-6 SEC) off when they travel to Nashville to face Vanderbilt (9-18, 0-14 SEC) in ancient Memorial Gym. The Gators are 17-48 all time in Memorial Gym and they’ve lost their last four but none of the games of the last four years is as important as the one tonight (9 p.m., SEC Network). A win and the Gators move one step closer to securing an NCAA Tournament bid without having to win a game or two at the SEC Tournament in a couple of weeks. A loss and Florida may find itself right back on the bubble.
Winning won’t be easy, not in this building where the Commodores seem to give everybody a run for their money and certainly not against a team that is long overdue to win its first SEC game of the season. Among Vandy’s close calls at Memorial gym is an 88-83 overtime loss to then #1 Tennessee. The Gators are going to have to shoot the ball better than they did in last Saturday’s 64-60 win over Vanderbilt and they’re going to have to play even better defense than they did two weeks ago when they knocked off Vanderbilt in Gainesville. In that game, the Gators forced 19 Vanderbilt turnovers and shut down point guard Saben Lee (4 points, 5 turnovers), 6-10 Simisola Shittu (5 points, 6 rebounds) and 3-point gunner Matt Ryan (3-11 including 0 for his last 8 from deep).
Since beating Vandy two weeks ago, Florida has embarked on a four-game winning streak that has both Joe Lunardi and Jerry Palm removing them from the NCAA bubble and placing the Gators squarely on their #10 lines. If the Gators can add two more wins to their streak starting tonight at Vandy and Saturday at the O-Dome against SEC bottom feeder Georgia, it will give the Gators 18 regular season wins and 10 in the SEC, which should be enough to make the NCAA field no matter what happens next week with #13 LSU and #4 Kentucky.
The current streak also has the Gators still in the hunt for a top four finish in the Southeastern Conference. A Florida win coupled with an Ole Miss loss to Tennessee would create a four-way logjam for fourth at 9-6 with Ole Miss, South Carolina and Mississippi State.
Here are five keys to a Florida win tonight:
(1) Put the pressure on Saben Lee. He’s not a natural point guard as it showed in Vandy’s loss to Florida and when he has to think too much about protecting the basketball he loses focus on scoring. He has a dominant right hand, so the Gators have to force him left. As a 3-point shooter, he’s not very good at getting his own shot so the Gators can’t let him get his feet set.
(2) Matt Ryan is another Vandy shooter who can’t get his own shot. Like Lee, he has to get both feet set and his shoulders squared. He is 6-8 and can shoot over people if it’s catch and shoot. The Gators were successful two weeks ago in making him dribble left or right before launching and most of his final 8 shots didn’t even come close.
(3) Negate Vandy’s size advantage with quick double teams. The Commodores will go 6-10, 6-8, 6-8, 6-6 and 6-2 in the starting lineup and they come off the bench 6-11, 6-7 and 6-2. Size they have, quickness they don’t. Nor are they one of the more gifted passing teams in the league. The Commodores average only 12 assists per game, next to last in the SEC, and they have all sorts of problems passing out of the double teams. UF needs to double up on the wings and bring the double team from the baseline when Shittu gets the ball on the inside.
(4) The Gators need to do a better job shooting the 3-ball than they did in Saturday’s win over Missouri (UF was 3-15) or the win over Vandy two weeks ago. KeVaughn Allen and Noah Locke combined to go 2-19 in the win over Vandy. They were 1-9 against Missouri. Because Vanderbilt isn’t particularly quick, there will be a lot of open 3-point shots but the Gators can’t afford to fall in love with the 3-ball. They do need to hit some shots, however.
(5) Jalen Hudson and Isaiah Stokes have to provide offense coming off the bench. Hudson seems to have broken out of his scoring slump with four double figures efforts in his last five games. What seems to have gotten Hudson going was a commitment to playing better defense. Due to the injury to Keith Stone he’s had to play a lot of small forward and some power forward so he’s had to get the job done against bigger people and he’s done a respectable job. As his defense has picked up so has his offense. When Florida’s first half offense against Missouri was stagnant, Stokes carried the team with eight impressive points in nine minutes. If Hudson and Stokes can combine for 16 or more points off the bench tonight, Florida is going to be very tough to beat.
Tuesday’s SEC games
Alabama (17-11, 8-7 SEC) 68, South Carolina (14-14, 9-6 SEC) 62
Mississippi State (21-7, 9-6 SEC) 68, Missouri (12-15, 3-12 SEC) 49 #4 Kentucky (24-4, 13-2 SEC) 70, Arkansas (14-14, 5-10 SEC) 66
#13 LSU (23-5, 13-2 SEC) 66, Texas A&M (12-15, 5-10 SEC) 55
Wednesday’s SEC games
FLORIDA (16-11, 8-6 SEC) at Vanderbilt (9-18, 0-14 SEC)
#7 Tennessee (24-3, 12-2 SEC) at Ole Miss (19-8, 9-5 SEC)
Auburn (18-9, 7-7 SEC) at Georgia (10-17, 1-13 SEC)
CRISP EARNS FIFTH SAVE, GATORS STOP JU, 5-4, IN 10
Michael Byrne may be gone, but the Gators (6-3) have themselves a closer. Freshman Nolan Crisp, a January enrollee who should be prepping for his senior prom up in Georgia, picked up his fifth save of the year and his third in the last three games Tuesday night to preserve a 5-4 win in 10 innings at Jacksonville University.
Crisp came on to pitch the 10th and put the Dolphins down 1-2-3. Crisp was Florida’s fourth pitcher of the game, all of them freshmen. Justin Alintoff went the first three innings, allowing all four JU runs. David Leuthje came on to go 3-1/3 innings, allowing two hits and striking out two without a walk. He was relieved by Christian Scott, who gave up one hit and one walk in 2-2/3 innings to earn his first Florida victory.
It was another early enrollee freshman who delivered the game-winning hit. After freshman Cory Acton drew a 1-out walk in the top of the 10th, center fielder Jud Fabian came through with a run-scoring double to provide the margin of victory.
The Gators scored two in the first on a sacrifice fly by freshman Kendrick Calilao and a double by sophomore Jordan Butler. Sophomore Brady McConnell had an RBI single in the third and senior Nelson Maldonado tied the game at 4-4 with an RBI double in the seventh.
In the top of the third, right fielder Wil Dalton was ejected by the home plate umpire for apparently doing nothing more than taking a deep breath (I don’t have to make this up). When HBC Kevin O’Sullivan questioned the call, he too was ejected.
The Gators return home tonight to face UCF at McKethan Stadium.
GATORS IN THE RANKINGS
Men’s indoor track and field: Florida is #2 behind #1 Texas Tech. The Gators were #3 in the previous poll.
Gymnastics: The Gators remain #3 in the poll behind #1 Oklahoma and #2 UCLA.
Softball: The Gators are #3, trailing #1 Florida State and #2 UCLA.
Women’s indoor track and field: The Gators are #4 behind #1 Arkansas, #2 Southern Cal and #3 LSU. Florida was previously ranked #7.
Baseball: The Gators are #5 in the Baseball America poll, #7 in the D1Baseball.com poll, #9 in the NCBWA poll and #13 in the Collegiate Baseball poll.
Women’s golf: The Gators are ranked #8 in the Golfweek.com poll. Southern Cal is #1. Ahead of the Gators from the SEC are #6 Vanderbilt and #7 Arkansas.
Men’s Tennis: The Gators slipped to #10 in the ITA rankings. Ohio State is #1. Mississippi State (#8) is the only SEC team ranked higher than Florida.
Lacrosse: The Gators slipped to #13 in the rankings.
Men’s golf: The Gators are currently ranked #33. Oklahoma State is #1. Vanderbilt is #5 and the highest ranked SEC team.
SEC FOOTBALL STUFF
South Carolina linebacker T.J. Brunson, who was in on 106 tackles last season, will miss the spring after surgery to repair a sports hernia and some damaged cartilage in his knee. Brunson is one of seven Gamecocks who will miss spring due to injuries. The others are LB Daniel Fennell, TE Caleb Jenerette, DL Tyreek Johnson, RB Caleb Kinlaw, DL Javon Kinlaw and LB Rosendo Louis … Vanderbilt D-line coach Nick Eason is leaving for a job with the Cincinnati Bengals. Eason joined the Vandy staff just two weeks ago … Bert Biffani, who was a quality control assistant on the defensive staff at Tennessee, has left to become a graduate assistant at Texas A&M. Biffani previously worked for Jimbo Fisher at FSU from 2013-17 … Florida Atlantic HBC Lane Kiffin will be one of the speakers at Georgia’s coaches clinic … It is being reported that Mississippi State linebackers coach Tem Lekabu is leaving for an NFL job and that HBC Joe Moorhead will name a replacement rather quickly.
RANDOM THOUGHTS: Ohio State DE Nick Bosa is the top rated prospect by Chris Trapasso of CBSSports.com heading into the NFL Combine. Trapasso rates Florida’s Jachai Polite #22, Jawaan Taylor #25, Chauncey Gardner-Johnson #35 and Fred Johnson #100 … Randy Gregory, who missed all but two games in 2016 and all of 2017 for violating the league’s substance abuse policy, has been suspended again by the NFL. Maybe it’s time for some tough love and a permanent ban from playing in the NFL … Another Cowboy, defensive tackle David Irving, is being evaluated for what could be his third drug suspension in three seasons. Another one the NFL needs to cut loose permanently … Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has placed four of his NBA championship rings up for auction with the proceeds being donated to his Skyhook Foundation to benefit kids who want to learn about science, technology, engineering and math. Don’t you wish more professional athletes were this concerned about the next generation? … Nolan Arenado signed an 8-year, $260 million deal with the Colorado Rockies, which is nice work if you can get it. He hit .297 last year with 38 homers and 110 RBIs … Northwestern tight end Cameron Green has retired from football, citing concerns with concussions and head injuries. Green says there is a family history of concussions and head injuries … Iowa basketball coach Fran McCaffrey chased after an official, cursing all the way, after the Hawkeyes lost to Ohio State Tuesday night … Without Zion Williamson, Duke lost at Virginia Tech, 77-72, Tuesday night.