Franz Beard: Thoughts of the Day

THOUGHTS OF THE DAY: MARCH 6, 2019

CAN THE SENIORS GO OUT WINNERS TONIGHT?

The final home game of the season means Senior Night for KeVaughn Allen, Kevarrius Hayes and Jalen Hudson. It probably hasn’t been the kind of senior year any of the three envisioned but if they can help the Gators (17-12, 9-7 SEC) knock off 10th-ranked LSU (24-5, 14-2 SEC) tonight (7 p.m., ESPN2) their final memories of the O-Dome will be rather pleasant because they walk away having sealed up an NCAA Tournament bid.

LSU comes to Gainesville with an NCAA bid all locked up. About the only questions for the Tigers are (a) can they win the SEC championship and (b) can they get a #2 seed for the NCAA Tournament? The answers to both those questions could be determined tonight against a Florida team that comes into the game with the confidence of having knocked off the Tigers in overtime a couple of weeks ago in Baton Rouge. With Tennessee (27-3, 15-2 SEC) blowing the doors off Mississippi State (21-9, 9-8 SEC) Tuesday night, LSU has to come up with a win to keep pace with the Vols for the SEC title. A loss to the Gators might put even a #4 NCAA seed in jeopardy.

A second win over LSU would ensure the Gators make the NCAA Tournament for a third straight season. Asking the Gators to knock off LSU a second time is a tall order, but beating LSU in Baton Rouge was no small accomplishment so UF will go into tonight’s game with a certain amount of confidence. The Gators have to also understand that because of their loss to Georgia back on Saturday, they have to score a win in this last week of the regular season or they’ll have to win perhaps twice at the SEC Tournament in Nashville to make the NCAA field.

Can the confidence of having played well in Baton Rouge help Allen, Hayes and Hudson to come up big tonight? It might be impossible for for Florida to win if any one of the three can’t offer strong contributions. In Baton Rouge, Allen hit 5-9 from the 3-point line and scored 21 to lead the Gators. Hudson came off the bench to score 15 including 3-7 from the 3-point line. Hayes battled with LSU’s towering front line of 6-10 Naz Reid and 6-11 Kavell Bigby-Williams and came up with 10 points, 7 rebounds and 2 blocked shots. Similar production tonight would go a long way toward giving the Gators a shot at very big and necessary win.

Here are five keys to a Florida win:

(1) Once again, the Gators have to make LSU point guard Tremont Waters a jump shooter. That was a successful strategy in the first meeting when Waters hit 3-12 from the field and only 2-8 from the 3-point line. With LSU’s size advantage, any time Waters gets in the paint he’s a threat to dump the ball off for Reid or Bigby-Williams to dunk or go all the way to the rim where he’s adept at finishing and drawing the foul. He’s capable of heating up from the outside but he’s a lot less dangerous from 22 feet than he is in the paint.

(2) Bring quick double teams to Naz Reid and Bigby-Williams. Although they combined for 26 points in the first meeting nine of those points came on free throws and another 10 on stickbacks. The double teams gave them fits (Reid turned it over 5 times) and made it tough to shoot. Neither one is a very good passer (they combined for 2 assists even though there was someone open every time the Gators doubled down), so the double team strategy is sound. The Gators just can’t be predictable about how and when they double down.

(3) The Gators have to keep Skylar Mays and Javonte Smart off the foul line. They’re streaky outside shooters and physical drivers who trust their ability to put the ball on the deck and get to the rim. In the last three games – all LSU wins – they are a combined 38-44 from the foul line. In those same three games, Mays and Smart are a combined 12-39 from the 3-point line. The Gators have to cut off the driving lanes and take their chances that neither Smart nor Mays will heat up from the outside.

(4) Someone is going to have to hit some shots. If you take away his 5-9 against LSU and 3-5 against Tennessee, Allen has hit only 15 of his last 63 3-pointers. Take away the 3-9 he hit against LSU and Noah Locke is 4-26. Those two guys have to hit some shots and stretch the defense so that Hudson and Keyontae Johnson can get to the rim off the bounce.

(5) Andrew Nembhard has to control the tempo by making sure the Gators keep the basketball moving. Florida can ill-afford a game when it’s one pass and then someone launches. As they proved in the first LSU encounter, the Gators can get shots. LSU is not that good defensively. Move the ball, get open shots and pray that Florida’s shooters can knock down some shots.

Tuesday’s SEC scores
South Carolina (15-15, 10-7 SEC) 71, Texas A&M (13-16, 6-11 SEC) 54
#5 Tennessee (27-3, 15-2 SEC) 71, Mississippi State (21-9, 9-8 SEC) 54
#6 Kentucky (25-5, 14-3 SEC) 80, Ole Miss (19-11, 9-8 SEC) 76
Auburn (21-9, 10-7 SEC) 66, Alabama (17-13, 8-9 SEC) 60

Wednesday’s SEC Games
#10 LSU (24-5, 14-2 SEC) at FLORIDA (17-12, 9-7 SEC)
Missouri (13-15, 4-12 SEC) at Georgia (11-18, 2-14 SEC)
Arkansas (15-14, 6-10 SEC) at Vanderbilt (9-20, 0-16 SEC)

BOOMING BATS: GATORS HAMMER FGCU, 15-0

That wasn’t a bad Florida Gulf Coast team the Gators (10-4) punched out, 15-0, Tuesday night at McKethan Stadium. The visiting Eagles actually have some very good arms on their pitching staff (2.60 ERA prior to Tuesday night), but Florida treated them like batting practice, hammering out three homers and 14 hits to back up four pitchers who combined to limit the Eagles to four hits while posting the first shutout of the season.

The Eagles were in the game until the bottom of the fifth when the wheels came off. By the time the Eagles retired the side, the Gators had plated 10 runs and it was 12-0. Nelson Madonado hit a 3-run double and Brady McConnell and Kendrick Calilao had 2-run singles in the inning.

McConnell hit a solo homer in the first and Brady Smith hit a solo shot in the third. Austin Langworthy hit a 2-run homer in the seventh. McConnell, Calilao, Maldonado, Jud Fabian and Cory Acton all had 2-hit games for the Gators.

Nick Blasucci (1 hit, 3 strikeouts) got the start and pitched the first two innings for UF. Christian Scott (2 hits, 2 strikeouts) came on to pitch the next three and came away with the win. Justin Alintoff (1 hit, e strikeouts) went innings six through eight and Kirby McMullen pitched a hitless ninth.

The Gators will face Florida Gulf Coast at McKethan stadium tonight at 6.

GATORS IN THE POLLS

MEN’S INDOOR TRACK: The Gators hold down the #2 spot behind top-ranked Texas Tech.

GYMNASTICS: The #3 Gators trail Oklahoma and UCLA in the poll.

SOFTBALL: The Gators are #4 in the USA Today/NFCA coaches poll, trailing FSU, UCLA and Oklahoma. The Gators are #5 in the ESPN/USA Softball poll.

BASEBALL: In addition to a #5 ranking from D1Baseball.com and a #7 from the NCBWA, the Gators are #5 in the USA Today Coaches poll and #5 in the BaseballAmerica.com poll. Vanderbilt is #1 in everybody’s poll.

MEN’S SWIMMING: The Gators are #5 in the final CCSAA poll that came out at the end of February.

WOMEN’S INDOOR TRACK: The Gators are currently ranked #6. Arkansas (#1) and LSU (#3) are SEC teams ahead of UF.

WOMEN’S SWIMMING: The Gators are #8 in the final CCSAA poll before the NCAA championships.

WOMEN’S GOLF: The Gators hold down the #8 ranking in the Golfweek.com poll. SEC teams ahead of the Gators are #5 Vanderbilt and #6 Arkansas.

MEN’S TENNIS: The Gators moved up one spot in the rankings to #9. The Gators are the top-ranked SEC team. Ohio State and Texas remained 1-2 at the top of the poll.

MEN’S GOLF: The Gators are #33 in the Golfweek.com poll. Vanderbilt (#5) is the highest ranked team from the SEC.

WOMEN’S TENNIS: The Gators are down two spots to #45 in the rankings. Have they ever been ranked this low?

SEC FOOTBALL STUFF

ESPN’s Tom Luginbill ripped Ole Miss receiver D.K. Metcalf, who had a brilliant NFL Combine. Tweeted Luginbill: “Everybody falling in love with DK Metcalf needs to watch the film. Just because you are a physical freak doesn’t mean you are a great player. He’s been marginally productive. He’s a straight lined player. 67 career receptions?” Luginbill didn’t mention that Metcalf played only two seasons, only seven games in 2018 when he had 26 catches for 569 yards and 5 touchdowns. That’s a mere 21.88 yards per catch. I’ll take that kind of marginal production any day of the week … When Jim Chaney left Georgia to take the offensive coordinator job at Tennessee it was reported that Kirby Smart went hard after Kentucky OC Eddie Gran. The Georgia media has tried to downplay Smart’s interest in Gran. Asked just how seriously Georgia was interested, Gran responded, “Serious in the point they offered the job. It came down to I love this community (Lexington), I love this administration … the guy I work for is fantastic” … The focus will be on improving an offensive line that allowed 35 sacks in 2018 when LSU opens its spring practice Thursday … Last year’s starting LG Sadarius Hutcherson has been moved to LT at South Carolina … Early enrollee OL Chris Akporoghene will miss the rest of Tennessee’s spring practice after a knee procedure.

RANDOM THOUGHTS: Former Major Leaguer Jose Canseco is offering batting tips to Tim Tebow. I’m sure he will graciously thank Jose, but considering the number of times Jose swung the bat and missed, Tim might find some better people for some advice … Wrestler King Kong Bundy has died and I don’t feel so good myself. Bundy, who was 6-4 and a whopping 458 pounds when he was in the squared circle (thanks Gordon Solie for that one), was famous for his steel cage bout with Hulk Hogan at Wrestlemania II and was always scripted as a bad guy. Actually he was quite a nice guy in real life … The Tampa Bay Bucs and starting LT Donovan Smith agreed on a new 3-year, $41.25 million contract with $27 million guaranteed … The New York Giants allowed safety Landon Collins walk after he made his third Pro Bowl in his four years in the NFL. That doesn’t make a lot of sense … Since signing Manny Machado, the San Diego Padres have sold $3 million worth of tickets. With another $27 million in sales they will have paid for Machado’s 2019 salary … It was sentencing day for three key players in the college basketball corruption scandal. Former Adidas executive James Gatto got nine months in Club Fed while Adidas consultant Merl Code got six. Aspriing sports agent Christian Dawkins also got six months.