THOUGHTS OF THE DAY: APRIL 1, 2019
THE GATORS WERE CLOSER THAN YOU THINK
Auburn (30-7) beat Kentucky (30-7), 77-71, Sunday in overtime to win the Midwest Regional to advance to the Final Four. In the East Regional, Michigan State (32-6) scored a 68-67 win over top seeded Duke (32-6) to fill out the final slot in the Final Four bracket. These are the same Auburn Tigers that required a zebra swallowing his whistle to beat the Florida Gators in the semifinals of the Southeastern Conference Tournament. They’re the same Michigan State Spartans that squeezed out a 63-59 win over the Gators back in December, a game that Florida should have won.
What these two games – and about seven others, most of which were against teams that made it to the NCAA Tournament – tell us is the Gators weren’t all that far away from being one of the better teams in the country. Of Florida’s 16 losses, only the season opener to Florida State and the final game of the season against Michigan could be called bad losses. Nine of the other 14 losses were by seven or fewer points, which means a couple of made shots and a defensive stop or two and the Gators are a 29-win team. Let’s say the Gators go 5-4 in those nine games. Now you’re talking a 24-win team in the regular season and instead of a #10 seed in the NCAA Tournament, the Gators probably are a #4 or #5.
This isn’t an attempt to make any kind of excuses for Florida’s 20-16 season. You can’t squeeze toothpaste back into the tube and you can’t re-write this past season, but if Mike White can have the Gators that close to an exceptional season given the injuries that depleted his front court, the unexpected slumps by proven scorers Jalen Hudson and KeVaughn Allen and the lack of any kind of inside game then he’s not all that far away from taking the Gators to the next level and keeping them there.
Mike White has gotten far too much criticism from people who are a functioning cell or two away from brain dead when it comes to knowing and understanding basketball. Ask people who really know the game inside and out – coaches, referees and analysts – and to a one they will tell you Mike White has a brilliant coaching future. What those two Elite Eight games told us Sunday is that the Gators were closer than you think and that the next level for the UF basketball program under Mike White is also closer than you think.
RUTH TO THE RESCUE, GATORS SWEEP ALABAMA
When Jack Leftwich had to leave the game with a blister on his finger Sunday, Kevin O’Sullivan turned to redshirt freshman Hunter Ruth, who gave the Gators 7-2/3 strong innings, allowing 4 hits and striking out 5 to help Florida (20-10, 4-5 SEC) complete a weekend sweep with a 6-3 win over Alabama (20-9, 2-7 SEC). Florida took game one, 3-1, behind a complete game 3-hitter by Tommy Mace and game two, 12-3, behind a barrage of five home runs, two by Brady McConnell.
Ruth, who gave up 4 runs in a 1-inning appearance against Vanderbilt last week, had his good stuff going Sunday, throwing a hard sinking fast ball that got 9 ground outs and kept the Alabama hitters completely off stride. Ruth got support at the plate from Austin Langworthy, who hit a run-scoring double and a 2-run homer as part of a 9-hit Florida attack.
Next up for the Gators is a Tuesday date at McKethan Stadium with Florida A&M.
UF spring sports: It was a big weekend for Florida’s 2nd-ranked men’s tennis team (17-2, 9-0 SEC) as the Gators took out #32 LSU (14-7, 2-6 SEC), 5-2, on Friday and then followed that up with a 5-2 win over 7th-ranked Texas A&M (17-4, 7-1 SEC). The Gators go on the road next weekend to face 20th-ranked Alabama and Auburn.
The UF women’s tennis team rebounded from last a bad weekend to score a couple of wins over higher ranked teams. The 31st-ranked Gators (9-8, 6-4 SEC) scored a 4-3 win over 23rd-ranked LSU (14-8, 4-6 SEC) in Baton Rouge Friday and then shocked 12th-ranked Texas A&M (18-5, 6-4) Sunday, 4-2. The Gators will be at home next weekend against Alabama (15-9, 3-6 SEC) and Auburn (13-11, 0-9 SEC).
The Florida softball team finds itself in the most unusual position of digging its way out of a rather deep hole after losing the last two games of a 3-game road series at Ole Miss. The Gators are now 29-8 overall, 3-6 in the SEC, already four full games behind league leading Alabama (36-2, 7-2 SEC).
Florida’s men’s swimming team finished sixth at the NCAA championships, the highest finish of any team from the SEC.
It was a brilliant weekend for Grant Holloway at the Pepsi Relays. He ran a world best 13.28 110-meter hurdles despite a headwind and hitting the 10th hurdle. He ran the nation’s 6th-best time in the 200 (20.66) and anchored the 4X400 relay team that ran the 2nd-best time in the nation (3:03.25) and the 4X100 relay team that ran the nation’s 3rd-best time 38.69. On the women’s side, Yanis David had an NCAA best 46 feet, 1.25 inches in the triple jump and the 4X400 relay ran the nation’s 2nd-best time of 3:27.76.
SEC BASKETBALL STUFF
In knocking off Kentucky (30-7) in overtime to win the Midwest Regional, Auburn (30-7) became the second team in NCAA Tournament history to knock off Kansas, North Carolina and Kentucky in the same tournament. You could say the Tigers left a trail of blue blood on the court because those are the three winningest programs in NCAA basketball history … Auburn has now won 12 games in a row to make its first Final Four in school history … Auburn did it Sunday without Chuma Okeke, their most complete player but Okeke came to the arena at halftime to sit in his wheelchair behind the Auburn bench.
LSU’s season might have ended with that blowout loss to Michigan State in the Sweet 16, but the turmoil is far from over. First and foremost is the question what to do about Will Wade? LSU is almost forced to allow due process even though it’s highly likely Wade is up to his ears in corruption. Then there is the matter of the NCAA. The wiretap involving Javonte Smart is likely the tip of a very large iceberg. You can bet the NCAA is already probing how it is LSU landed Naz Reid and Emmitt Williams, both of whom were more highly regarded than Smart. And, what about Smart, Reid and Williams? They probably need to move on to the professional ranks rather than face the scrutiny of an NCAA investigation. If Smart, Reid and Williams move on out, does Tremont Waters go with them? PREDICTION: LSU will take its chances with unlawful termination and can Wade before all the evidence has been presented in a court of law. Reid, Williams, Smart and Waters will bolt. LSU basketball will go from first to worst and stay worst for at least 3-4 years.
Adam Zagoria is reporting that Buzz Williams leaving Virginia Tech for Texas A&M is a done deal. The Aggies are said to be offering Williams a multi-year deal at $3.5 million per season and apparently there is no backup plan. Yahoo Sports has LSU interim Tony Benford joining Williams as the top assistant in Aggieland. PREDICTION: No brainer here. It’s off to Aggieland.
In the wacky world of Vanderbilt basketball, the new names emerging in the coaching search are Jerry Stackhouse and Ronald Norberg. Stackhouse, a former North Carolina and NBA star, is an assistant coach with the Memphis Grizzlies. He’s never coached college basketball at any level. Norberg, a 29-year-old assistant with the Charlotte Hornets, does have college experience. For one year he was an assistant coach with Northern Kentucky. PREDICTION: No one but no one can screw up a coaching search quite like Vandy. It will be at least two weeks before there is a new coach, maybe even a month.
Wally Hall of the Democrat-Gazette in Little Rock, says Arkansas is focusing its coaching search on Kelvin Sampson (Houston) and Chris Beard (Texas Tech). Houston is offering Sampson a contract extension and a huge raise, plus says it’s prepared to meet and exceed any offer from Arkansas. Chris Beard isn’t going anywhere. You don’t leave a Final Four program for Arkansas. PREDICTION: Sampson and Beard just say no and Arkansas moves on to Plan B or Plan C or Plan D.
NCAA BASKETBALL STUFF
Texas Tech (30-6) is in its first ever Final Four with four new starters. A year ago, the Red Raiders made it to the Elite Eight before losing to eventual national champ Villanova … First man off the bench for Texas Tech is Brandone Francis, whose collegiate career began with the Florida Gators. One reason Francis left UF was Billy Donovan’s insistence that he play tough defense. He couldn’t and wouldn’t play for Chris Beard at Texas Tech unless he had decided he could and would play hard at that end of the floor.
This was supposed to be Duke’s year thanks to the Zion Williamson and the rest of the nation’s top freshman class but the teams that made it to the Final Four rely heavily on upperclassmen. Auburn doesn’t have a single freshman that contributed to its run to the Final Four. Michigan State starts two seniors and a junior. Texas Tech starts three seniors. Virginia starts three juniors and a junior and a senior are the first two guys off the bench.
In four NCAA Tournament games, Purdue’s Carsen Edwards averaged 34.75 points per game. He hit 28-61 of his 3-point shots and almost singlehandedly willed the Boilermakers into overtime against Virginia. I haven’t seen Edwards’ name on any NBA mock drafts for the first round but I think that might change after his four NCAA Tournament games.
If I had to pick an All-Elite Eight team it would consist of Edwards (Purdue), Cassius Winston (Michigan State), Jarrett Culver (Texas Tech), Jared Harper (Auburn) and Zion Williamson (Duke).
SEC FOOTBALL STUFF
Alabama held its first scrimmage Saturday. Nick Saban said, “I think we have some really good players, we have some guys who can play winning football, but to me we don’t have enough.” Saban likes his first team offensive line but says the second and third units didn’t perform well at the scrimmage.
DT Derek Green, who was an early enrollee to Oklahoma, says he will transfer to Vanderbilt. Back in February, when he decided to leave Oklahoma, Green said he was going to join the Navy to see the world.
Jim Chaney, who is the highest paid offensive coordinator in the country, says Tennessee “was maybe the only job I would have even considered leaving Georgia for.”
In an op-ed published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Missouri athletic director Jim Sterkel questioned why the NCAA hammered Mizzou after the school had acted swiftly and self-reported when it discovered violations. Writes Sterkel: “The penalties that our program is now appealing were surprising in severity, particularly after investigators praised our “exemplary” cooperation throughout the joint investigation. Since the announcement, journalists, community members and Missouri leaders, and even our athletic competitors, have expressed puzzlement that integrity and truthfulness turned out to be a poor strategy.”
LSU’s offense will transform to more run-pass options under new passing game coordinator Joe Brady, who came to LSU after stints on the staffs at Penn State and the New Orleans Saints.
Auburn held its first spring scrimmage on Saturday with 91 snaps. Gus Malzahn said the goal was to get each of the quarterbacks at least 20 snaps. He said the QBs all got to run some zone reads and throw the ball down the field.
With C.J. Conrad gone to the NFL, Kentucky is trying to find a tight end among Justin Rigg, Brenden Bates and Keaton Upshaw. Bates and Upshaw are redshirt freshmen. Rigg is a senior with 7 career catches for 85 yards.
RANDOM THOUGHTS: In his first three games as the New York Mets’ starting first baseman, former Gator Peter Alonso is hitting .500 with 3 doubles and 3 RBI … In the Alliance of American Football, Trent Richardson is showing us exactly why he didn’t cut it in the NFL. He’s just not quick enough as his 2.9 yards per carry attest … Steve Spurrier and the Orlando Apollos (7-1) can clinch their division and no worse than a tie for best record in the AAF’s initial season if they knock off the San Diego Fleet (3-5) next Saturday night in Orlando … A year after he lost in the final of the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, Kevin Kisner made it back to the final and this time knocked in a 20-foot birdie to beat Matt Kuchar 3-and-2 to win the title … Okay, some of probably had Virginia in your Final Four since the Cavaliers were the #1 seed in the South Regional but how many of you had Michigan State (East), Auburn (Midwest) and Texas Tech (West)?