A few thoughts to jump start your Friday morning:
GATORS OPEN SERIES WITH 4-1 WIN OVER OLE MISS
Kevin O’Sullivan’s unconventional approach to 3rd-ranked Ole Miss (20-5, 6-1 SEC) paid off for the Gators (17-8, 4-3 SEC) Thursday night at the Florida Ballpark. O’Sullivan started closer Franco Aleman and brought in his normal first game of the weekend starter Tommy Mace from the bullpen. The two righthanders combined to limit Ole Miss to four hits as the 10th-ranked (by Collegiate Baseball) Gators opened the three-game series with a 4-1 win.
Aleman (1-1, 3.16 ERA) got the win, giving up three hits and an unearned run while striking out three in four innings. Mace (4-1, 2.25 ERA) got his first save of the year, giving up one hit, two walks and striking out seven in the final five innings. Mace struck out the side in the top of the ninth to cap his strong effort in relief.
Freshman Colby Halter got the game-winning RBI in the fourth when he singled to right field to drive home Jordan Butler, who had reached on an error and stole second. The Gators added two insurance runs in the bottom of the eighth when Jacob Young tripled to drive home Jordan Carrion and Nathan Hickey grounded out to second. Hickey had Florida’s other RBI with a run-scoring double in the bottom of the first.
O’Sullivan plans to use the same unconventional approach against Ole Miss tonight when Christian Scott (0-1, 1.35 ERA) gets the start with typical second-game starer Jack Leftwich (4-1, 2.23 ERA) coming in from the bullpen.
The Gators remained two games behind No. 1 ranked and SEC East leader Vanderbilt (21-3, 6-1 SEC), which clobbered LSU in Baton Rouge, 13-1. Despite the loss, Ole Miss remained in the top spot in the SEC West as 4th-ranked Arkansas (20-4, 5-2 SEC), dropped a 2-1 decision to Auburn (12-11, 1-6 SEC).
SCOTTIE LEWIS DECLARES FOR THE NBA
Scottie Lewis, who came to Florida as 5-star recruit in 2019, is leaving the program. Lewis has declared for the NBA Draft and will hire an agent after two years at Florida which offered plenty of promise but ended with far too much inconsistency.
With the departure of Lewis, Florida coach Mike White has lost six players from the 2020-21 Gators. Noah Locke, Omar Payne, Ques Glover and Osayi Osifo have placed their names in the NCAA transfer portal while Tre Mann has declared for the NBA and is hiring an agent. Colin Castleton will go through the draft evaluations but he’s not hiring an agent and almost certainly will return to UF after getting feedback on what needs to improve next year from NBA coaches and scouts.
Lewis averaged 8.2 points and 3.4 rebounds in his 51-game Florida playing career. He scored in double figures in five of Florida’s first six games in the just completed season but managed to score 10 or more just three more times the rest of the season. He averaged 5.0 points in the final seven games of the season but 15 of those came against Virginia Tech in the first game of the NCAA Tournament. Lewis was scoreless against Oral Roberts in the 81-78 loss in the final game of the year.
From a strictly athletic standpoint, Lewis is a tremendous prospect, but he was hindered by a lack of consistency throughout and failed to show much in the way of improvement this past season. Lewis’ draft stock has plummeted this season but because the NBA puts so much stock in potential and athleticism, Lewis will almost certainly be offered a free agent contract and a chance to develop his game in the G-League.
Roster update: With six gone and Keyontae Johnson unlikely to return due to health issues, White has six scholarship players returning (Castleton, Anthony Duruji, Tyree Appleby, Jason Jitoboh, Samson Ruzhentsev and Neils Lane) if no one else departs. Kowacie Reeves is the lone high school signee.
OTHER UF SPORTS Gymnastics: The Gators are the No. 1 seed nationally as they begin their quest for the fourth NCAA championship in school history at the Athens Regional tonight.
Men’s Tennis: The No. 1 ranked Gators (15-1, 9-0 SEC) will face Vanderbilt (6-11, 0-8 SEC) in Nashville today and return home to face No. 22 Kentucky (14-5, 4-4 SEC) Sunday.
Softball: The 5th-ranked Gators (25-3, 8-1 SEC) will be in Athens this weekend to face 20th-ranked Georgia (22-5, 3-3 SEC).
Lacrosse: The 10th-ranked Gators (8-2, 5-0 AAC) got a 20-9 American Athletic Conference win over East Carolina (3-8, 1-4 AAC) Thursday afternoon in Gainesville. The two teams will meet Saturday at 11 a.m. at Donald Dizney Stadium.
Women’s tennis: The 15th-ranked Gators (10-6, 8-3 SEC) won their fifth straight match Thursday afternoon by taking out No. 21 Kentucky 5-1 at the Ring Tennis Complex. The Gators face 19th-ranked Vanderbilt (12-5, 4-5 SEC) Saturday morning at the Ring Tennis Complex.
Soccer: The Becky Burleigh era at the University of Florida comes to an end Saturday at Miami. Burleigh is the only coach the Gators (5-8-3) have had since taking up the sport in 1995.
OVER, UNDER, AROUND AND THROUGH THE SEC (FOOTBALL, HOOPS) Alabama: Defensive coordinator Pete Golding got a raise in pay to $1.5 million and a contract extension to remain at Alabama until 2024.
Arkansas: Arkansas got a huge transfer when Pitt small forward Au’Diese Toney (6-6, 210) committed to the Razorbacks Thursday night. Toney averaged 14.4 points, 5.9 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game for Pitt last season.
Auburn: As an April Fool’s joke on the Auburn nation, a tweet was sent out showing blue turf on the football practice field, obviously a takeoff from the Smurf Turf at Boise State where HBC Bryan Harsin is an alum and former head coach.
Georgia: The Bulldogs took a big hit when forward Toumani Camara (6-8, 210) put his name in the transfer portal Thursday. Camara averaged 12.8 points and a team-high 7.7 rebounds.
Kentucky: Keon Brooks is likely to test the NBA draft waters but probably won’t hire an agent. He is likely to return to Kentucky. Davion Mintz is deciding whether to come back to Kentucky for what will be his sixth year or turn pro.
LSU: Wide receiver Terrace Marshall and corner Kary Vincent both ran 4.38 in the 40 at LSU’s pro day.
Mississippi State: Small forward Jalen Johnson (6-6, 210) put his name in the transfer portal. Johnson averaged 5.2 points per game last year and has 1,061 points in a career that includes stops at Saint Louis and Louisiana-Lafayette.
Missouri: The Tigers finished spring football practice Thursday.
Ole Miss: Power forward Romello White (6-8, 235) has declared for the NBA Draft.
South Carolina: Guard Jermaine Couisnard will go through the NBA draft process but will not hire an agent. He averaged 10.1 points and 3.0 rebounds per game.
Texas A&M: Jimbo Fisher will be looking to replace a 4-year starting quarterback and four starters from his offensive line as spring practice begins in College Station.
FINAL FOUR PICKS
Houston (28-3) vs. Baylor (26-2): Don’t expect a lot of scoring as both these teams play in your face defense and are content to grind out wins. I like Baylor’s guard three some of Jared Butler, MaCio Teague and Davion Mitchell, plus I think Mark Vital is as solid a non-shot blocking defender in the paint as there is in the country. Plus, I think Scott Drew will outcoach Kelvin Sampson. Baylor wins but it’s white knuckles.
UCLA (22-9) vs. Gonzaga (29-0): The Zags are on a mission to become the first unbeaten team since 1976 Indiana. They have won 27 consecutive games by at least 10 points and have had only one game decided by fewer than 10. They’re favored to win this one by 14. UCLA’s only hope is to slow this to a crawl the way they did against Michigan when they held the Wolverines to 49 points. The Zags really don’t care what the other team does. They’re the ones that dictate the pace and they will run UCLA out of the gym.
ROY WILLIAMS RETIRES AT NORTH CAROLINA; TEXAS HIRES CHRIS BEARD
Roy Williams isn’t going out on top like he probably planned but he is retiring because he feels in his heart that he isn’t the coach he wants to be or thinks the University of North Carolina deserves. He leaves the college game with 903 wins which ranks fourth all-time and three NCAA championships. He’s going out on his own terms, just four years removed from the NCAA title that gave him one more than his mentor Dean Smith.
So who replaces Roy? If Carolina decides to stay within the family, the two obvious names are UNC-Greensboro coach Wes Miller and current UNC assistant Hubert Davis. Miller played for Williams at UNC and was a member of the 2005 national championship team. His UNC-G teams have won 104 games in the last four years. He makes $301,500 at UNC-G. Davis spent nine years on Williams’ staff, played for Dean Smith and is paid in the neighborhood of $400,000.
If UNC goes outside the family, here are two names that will check nearly all the boxes – Virginia coach Tony Bennett and Maryland coach Mark “The Sturgeon” Turgeon. Bennett has won a national championship at UVa and is one of the most respected coaches in the college game. He’s won big without near the kind of talent he could attract to Chapel Hill. Bennett has a career record of 364-136, 295-103 at Virginia where he makes $4.15 million per year. The Sturgeon was a Williams assistant at Kansas. Prior to Maryland, he was the head coach at Jacksonville State, Wichita State and Texas A&M. Turgeon is 471-272 in 23 years as a head coach with a salary of $2.7 million.
Chris Beard leaving Texas Tech came as a surprise since he was a Bobby Knight assistant for ten years at Tech and was being paid just a tad less than $5 million. He is 207-84 in a coaching career that had HBC gigs at McMurry, Angelo State and Little Rock prior to Texas Tech, where he went 112-55 and was the NCAA runner-up in 2019.
ONE FINAL PITHY THOUGHT: My grandmother, the sage Ivey Van Sickle, used to say that some people have more money than they have brains or common sense. She didn’t realize at the time that she was talking about University of Texas boosters, who ponied up more than $15 million to buy out the football contract of Tom Herman back in January. Once Herman was a goner, Texas gave Alabama offensive coordinator a 6-year deal worth $34.2 million. Shaka Smart, who could have gotten $7.1 million had he allowed Texas to fire him, left a few days ago to become the head coach at Marquette. Shaka’s replacement is former Texas Tech coach Chris Beard. His buyout was a mere $4 million but he was making a tad less than $5 million in Lubbock. No details were available Thursday night, but it is expected Beard will be paid something in the $6.5-7 million range. The numbers remind us of that old saying in the state of Texas: Only God has more money than the Longhorns.