A few thoughts to jump start your Friday morning:
FIVE THINGS THAT HAVE ME THINKING ON FRIDAY 1. YA GOT TROUBLE, RIGHT HERE IN RIVER CITY: If you ever saw “The Music Man,” whether as a Broadway production or on the big screen, then you’re familiar with that line in which Meredith Wilson discusses the moral demise of a small town in Indiana due to the opening of a pool hall. In the case of University of Florida basketball the trouble in River City is in the form of Covid-19, which has postponed a third straight game for the Gators (10-5, 6-4 SEC), but the trouble extends well beyond UF. A league that missed only one of 70 football games from late September until December 19 has seen basketball games postponed left and right without a plan to make up the games.
I think the Gators have a team that is capable of winning at least a couple of games in the NCAA Tournament if all things are equal, but there is nothing equal about the schedule moving forward. And, no one in the SEC office seems to have come up with any kind of plan to make up all the lost games prior to the SEC Tournament beginning March 10 in Nashville. For the Gators to make up for lost games they would have to play three games per week for the next three weeks. If they have to make up all of the lost games – who’s to say there won’t be more before the regular season ends on March 3 – they will be at such a distinct disadvantage that it could cost them making the NCAA field.
This should highlight the problem for Florida. Alabama leads the league with an 11-1 record and with Georgia on the Saturday marquee, the Crimson Tide will have a three-game lead in the games played column over the Gators. Barring something totally unforeseen such as Alabama going in the tank, the Crimson Tide is going to win the SEC regular season championship by a wide margin. The problem isn’t who’s going to win the SEC title but seeding for the league tournament. The five teams that trail Alabama in the SEC standings all have four losses in league play. Unless their games this weekend are postponed, Tennessee, Arkansas and LSU will play their 12th SEC game. Missouri, which has a 6-4 league record just like Florida, will be playing its 11th game.
Tennessee, Arkansas, LSU, Missouri and Florida are all trying to earn one of the three remaining first round SEC Tournament byes. Finish among the top four in the regular season standings and you don’t play in the SEC Tournament until Friday. If the Gators were to finish fifth in the regular season, they would be playing on Thursday and it would take winning three straight games to make the tournament championship game as opposed to two straight by finishing second through fourth, quite a disadvantage if the Gators need a couple of wins in Nashville to make it to the NCAA.
If the SEC reboots the schedule so that every team plays its 18 league games, while the Gators are playing three games per week for the next three weeks Tennessee, Arkansas and LSU will have only one week that requires a third game and Missouri two. The SEC prides itself on fairness, but what’s fair about that kind of arrangement? Does SEC commissioner Greg Sankey lop a couple of games off everyone’s schedule and make it 16 games for everyone? That might actually work, providing, of course, no other games are postponed but even that has some fairness problems.
So this Florida team that can be so good when Tre Mann, Colin Castleton, Noah Locke and Tyree Appleby are all on the same page can only sit and wait for someone in the SEC office to come up with some sort of schedule that invokes a measure of fairness. With Arkansas (15-5, 7-4 SEC) on the schedule for Tuesday night in Fayette Nam, can the Gators even hope to play with any sense of timing and togetherness after missing three straight games and however many practice days since they last played?
Ya got trouble, Gators, right here in River City.
2. FLORIDA GYMNASTICS, SOFTBALL, VOLLEYBALL, LACROSSE: It will be college gymnastics at its best when the No.1 Gators take on No. 2 LSU in Baton Rouge tonight, the marquee matchup of the entire season that could go a long way toward deciding the SEC championship. The Gators head into tonight’s meet (SEC Network, 7:30 p.m.) leading the conference on balance beam, vault and uneven bars with LSU leading in floor exercise.
The Gators hold the nation’s top score of 197.85 against Missouri a couple of weeks ago. The Gators are led by junior Trinity Thomas, whose 39.75 all-around score (achieved twice this season) is the top score in the nation.
Softball: We will never know just how good Florida’s softball team could have been last season when the Covid-19 virus shut down all collegiate sports. At the time, the Gators were 23-4 and had wins over five ranked teams. Nearly all the moving parts return from that crew for Tim Walton (750-156 at Florida; 862-219 overall), who heads into Saturday’s doubleheader against South Florida in Tampa with the nation’s 7th-ranked team in the USA Today Coaches Poll.
Seven of last year’s starters return including slugging first baseman Kendyl Lindamin (62 homers, 207 RBI in her career which includes two years at Minnesota), gap-hitting Charla Echols (.417 batting average last year with eight homers) and second baseman Hannah Adams (.375 last year). They will be joined by Alabama transfer shortstop Skylar Wallace (.387 last year in Tuscaloosa). Florida also has one of the top 1-2 pitching duos in the country in Natalie Lugo (career 17-5, 1.92 ERA, 235 strikeouts in 189-2/3 innings) and Rylee Trlicek (9-2 as a freshman in 2020, 1.99 ERA).
The Gators have more than enough talent to win the SEC. Do they have enough talent to make it back to the Women’s College World Series for the 11th time since 2008 and win Florida’s third NCAA title in school history?
Volleyball: The spring portion of the schedule has begun with the Gators ranked 9th nationally. Thursday they completed a two-game sweep of LSU to move to 10-2 overall, 5-1 SEC. The Gators will travel to Mississippi State next weekend.
Lacrosse: The Gators were 6-2 last year with wins over No. 1 Maryland and No. 3 Stony Brook when the virus halted the season. The Gators open the 2021 season at Louisville Saturday with a preseason No. 8 national ranking. Since the SEC doesn’t sponsor lacrosse, the Gators play in the American Athletic Conference. UF coach Amanda O’Leary is 168-45 in her 11 previous seasons.
3. NCAA WILL REVEAL ITS EARLY TOP 16 SEEDS SATURDAY: In what seems like a knockoff of the College Football Playoff’s weekly show when its top 25 teams are revealed starting a few weeks before the final four teams are chosen, the NCAA will stage its “March Madness Bracket Preview” Saturday at 12:30. If we go by the NCAA Net Rankings here is what the top 16 will look like:
No. 1 seeds: Baylor, Gonzaga, Michigan, Illinois No. 2 seeds: Houston, Virginia, Ohio State, Iowa No. 3 seeds: Villanova, Alabama, Tennessee, Loyola of Chicago No. 4 seeds: Colgate, Texas Tech, Colorado, West Virginia
Comments: There is absolutely no way Colgate from the non-scholarship Patriot League is going to be seeded anywhere close to the top four. Joe Lunardi doesn’t even have the Raiders in his 68-team bracket. He has Navy making it from the Patiot League. Jerry Palm of CBS has Colgate making it as a 14 seed … Despite two No. 1 and two No. 2 seeded teams, the Big Ten will extend its national championship drought. The last Big Ten team to win a national title was Michigan State in 2000 and before that Michigan in 1989.
If the rankings are similar to those at KenPom.com the top 16 will look like: No. 1 seeds: Gonzaga, Baylor, Michigan, Illinois No. 2 seeds: Iowa, Houston, Ohio State, Villanova No. 3 seeds: Virginia, Alabama, Colorado, Wisconsin No. 4 seeds: Southern Cal, Tennessee; Loyola of Chicago, Florida State
Comments: Five from the Big Ten? Oh please. There isn’t a team in the Big Ten that can hang with either Gonzaga or Baylor.
Joe Lunardi lists the following as his top 16 teams: No. 1 seeds: Gonzaga, Baylor, Ohio State, Michigan No. 2 seeds: Alabama, Illinois, Houston, Villanova No. 3 seeds: Texas, Missouri, Virginia, Texas Tech No. 4 seeds: Iowa, Southern Cal, Oklahoma, Tennessee
Comments: Too many from the Big Ten and only one each from the Big East and ACC? Am I the only one who doesn’t see Kentucky, Duke, Kansas or North Carolina among anyone’s top 16 teams? Some might call that righteous.
Jerry Palm lists the following as his top 16 teams: No. 1 seeds: Gonzaga, Baylor, Villanova, Michigan No. 2 seeds: Alabama, Illinois, Ohio State, Missouri No. 3 seeds: Texas Tech, Houston, Tennessee, Texas No. 4 seeds: Iowa, Virginia Tech, West Virginia, Oklahoma
Comments: This makes a lot more sense than the NCAA Net rankings and doesn’t give nearly as much love to the Big Ten with just three teams … Note Palm has three SEC teams and only one from the ACC. How often does that happen?
4. WHEN IN DOUBT, TRADE YOUR QB: This should be a week to remember in the NFL, which has already seen one blockbuster quarterback trade that sent Matt Stafford from Detroit to the Los Angeles Rams in exchange for Jared Goff. The Philadelphia Eagles are edging closer to sending Carson Wentz to the Indianapolis Colts; the New York Jets are shopping Sam Darnold with the hope of landing either Zach Wilson or Justin Fields in the draft; Deshaun Watson wants out of Houston and will get his way before all is said and done but the price will be very high; Teddy Bridgewater is likely to be traded back to the New Orleans Saints, from whence he came so the Carolina Panthers can have a shot at either Trey Lance or Mac Jones; Russell Wilson is being dangled by the Seattle Seahawks to whoever comes up with plenty in return; and Dak Prescott is likely to be traded by the Dallas Cowboys since he’s not planning on signing a contract extension. Some are also predicting that the New England Patriots will make a trade with the San Francisco 49ers for Jimmy Garoppolo.
All this is happening in a year in which as many as five quarterbacks should be taken in the first round of the NFL Draft with possibly two more going on day two.
5. ONE FINAL PITHY THOUGHT: Wherever Rodney Garner has coached in the Southeastern Conference there have been all sorts of whispers that if he doesn’t cheat then he is one of the all-time masters at bending the rules when it comes to recruiting. That has been the case for Garner ever since he broke into the SEC on the Tennessee staff back in 1996-97 and raised eyebrows have followed him to Georgia and Auburn. Garner is leaving Auburn now, heading to Tennessee, which has all sorts of NCAA trouble pending from alleged wrongdoing by former coach Jeremy Pruitt. Perhaps the best way to describe it is Garner is leaving one dysfunctional program for another, where, of course, folks will assume he’s cheating once again. Rodney Garner reminds me of that great line by the late great Robin Williams: “Cats are like Baptists. They raise hell, you just can’t catch them at it.” When it comes to recruiting, Rodney Garner is a cat.