WHAT HAPPENS WHEN THE GATORS MAKE SOME SHOTS We saw what happens to the Gators when they can’t hit a bull in the butt with a bass fiddle from close range this past Saturday in Oxford. Florida’s 68-51 loss to Ole Miss was about as ugly a shooting game as it gets. The way Texas A&M plays defense (Aggies were holding opponents to 60.3 points per game prior to Wednesday night), it figured to be another rotten night at the shooting range for Florida (15-9, 7-4), but just the opposite happened. Instead of throwing up one SCUD after another, the Gators burned the Aggies with an exceptional shooting night as they scored a 78-61 win on the road in College Station.
The Gators hit 51.9% (27-52) of their shots from the field overall, 44.4% (12-27) from the three-point line and 85.7% (12-14) from the foul line. Throughout the game, Florida’s passing was crisp and timely. Led by Keyontae Johnson (six assists) and Andrew Nembhard (five), Florida had 15 assists on their 27 made baskets. Many of those passes found their way into the hands of Noah Locke, who loaded it up for 5-10 three-point shooting on his way to a 21-point night. Nembhard, who has been slumping with his outside shooting, hit 9-11 from the field and 3-5 from the three-point line. Scottie Lewis went 3-4 on his three-pointers.
On a night when the Aggies effectively blanketed Kerry Blackshear Jr. and took him out of the game, the Gators found other scoring options plus they dominated the rebounding with a 36-20 advantage. Florida’s 14 offensive rebounds were converted into 18 second chance points. Johnson had another double-double with 10 points and a game-high 10 rebounds to go with those six assists.
This was a game the Gators desperately needed, not only from the standpoint of picking up a road win that helps their NCAA resume, but also because they needed to prove they can get points even when there is a successful effort to eliminate Blackshear as a scorer (eight points, 1-2 from the field and 6-6 from the foul line). In that Blackshear is Florida’s only true inside scoring option, the Gators are going to have to find points from other players, plus they’ll need consistent contributions from the freshmen. Wednesday night, UF got 15 points from the freshmen (nine from Scottie Lewis, three each from Tre Mann and Jason Jitoboh).
The Aggies are pretty much a one-dimensional team but they’re capable of beating good teams when they can dictate defensively what other teams can do. Wednesday night, the Gators moved the ball, hit shots and burned the Aggies badly. This is what UF needs the rest of the way.
SEC BASKETBALL Wednesday’s scores FLORIDA (15-9, 7-4 SEC) 78, Texas A&M (11-12, 5-6 SEC) 61
South Carolina (15-9, 7-4 SEC) 75, Georgia (12-12, 2-9 SEC) 59 #11 Auburn 22-2, 9-2 SEC) 95, Alabama (13-11, 5-6 SEC) 91, OT
Saturday’s games Vanderbilt (9-15, 1-10 SEC) at FLORIDA (15-9, 7-4 SEC), SEC Network Mississippi State (15-9, 6-5 SEC) at Arkansas (16-8, 4-7 SEC), SEC Network Ole Miss (13-11, 4-7 SEC) at #12 Kentucky (19-5, 9-2 SEC), ESPN Georgia (12-12, 2-9 SEC) at Texas A&M (11-12, 5-6 SEC), SEC Network #25 LSU (18-6, 9-2 SEC) at Alabama (13-11, 5-6 SEC), ESPN2 #11 Auburn (22-2, 9-2 SEC) at Missouri (11-13, 3-8 SEC), ESPN2 Tennessee (14-10, 6-5 SEC) at South Carolina (15-9, 7-4 SEC), SEC Network
THINKING OUT LOUD ON THURSDAY (1) The Southeastern Conference has eight head football coaches who earn at least $5 million: Nick Saban (Alabama) $9.1 million; Ed Orgeron (LSU) $8.7 million; Jimbo Fisher (Texas A&M) $7.5 million; Gus Malzahn (Auburn) $6.9 million; Kirby Smart (Georgia) $6.8 million; DAN MULLEN (FLORIDA) $6.1 MILLION; Mike Leach (Mississippi State) $5 million; and Mike Stoops (Kentucky) $5 million.
(2) Unbeaten 4th-ranked San Diego State (25-0) is no fluke and is quite capable of playing and beating anyone in the country. Point guard Malachi Flynn might be the most efficient at his position as there is in the country, scoring 16.4 points per game while hitting 37.2% of his threes and 83.2% from the foul line and with a 5.1-1.5 assist-to-turnover ratio. If he’s not a first or second team All-America selection there’s something wrong with the people who choose the teams. The center on the team is Yanni Wetzell (12 points, 6.5 rebounds per game), a grad transfer from Vanderbilt. Talk about going from the outhouse to the penthouse. Last year Vandy was winless in SEC play (0-18) and now he’s playing for an unbeaten team that could make the Final Four.
(3) Michael Avenatti is probably going to spend some serious time in Club Fed after federal prosecutors played tapes of the California lawyer trying to extort Nike for several million dollars if Nike didn’t meet his demands. On tape, Avenatti was heard saying, “A few million dollars doesn’t move the needle for me. I’ll go take $10 billion dollars off your market cap.” Nike is, however, going to have a hard time explaining evidence revealed during the trial that the shoe/apparel giant was allegedly making payments to influence AAU basketball players to sign scholarships with Nike schools. In separate legal actions, Pittsburgh financial analyst Marty Balzer, already in trouble for his participation with Adidas in college basketball corruption, is going state’s evidence against Nike, claiming he has proof that Nike was paying high school basketball and football players to attend Nike schools.
(4) Since we’re on the subject of corruption and cheating in college basketball, North Carolina State doesn’t deny that assistant coach Orlando Early received $40,000 from Adidas but the school’s lawyers claim there isn’t any evidence to confirm Dennis Smith Jr.’s father ever got that money. Two things you can count on: (a) North Carolina State is going to get hammered by the NCAA and (b) the NCAA will then take sanctions to Cal-Northridge where Mark Gottfried (coach at NC State when the Smith deal was done) is now coaching. Gottfried didn’t invent cheating but he has turned it into an art form.
(5) The leading scorer in the Ivy League is one of several grad transfers that will be highly sought. A rule that is more than 60 years old only allows undergraduates to play sports at Ivy League schools, so Mike Smith (21 points, 4.2 rebounds, 4.7 assists, 1.5 steals per game) will be a hot ticket item on the transfer market in the spring. He has more than 1,400 career points and a 17.0 per game average. Additionally, 2018 Ivy League Player of the Year, Seth Towns (Harvard, averaged 16.0 points, 5.7 rebounds per game) will have to transfer out if he wants to play next year. Towns is sitting out the season with an injury.
(6) Now that Mel Tucker has departed Colorado for Michigan State, Bruce Feldman of The Athletic has a laundry list of replacement candidates for the CU job: Interim CB head coach Darrin Chiaverini, former CU running back and Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bienemy, Arizona Cardinals defensive coordinator and former CU defensive back Vance Joseph, Missouri defensive coordinator Ryan Walters, Navy HBC Ken Niumatalolo, Boise State HBC Bryan Harsin, Air Force HBC Troy Calhoun, former Colorado offensive coordinator and Oregon HBC Mark Helfrich, Alabama analyst and Tennessee HBC Butch Jones, and former Florida/current Central Michigan HBC Jim McElwain. That’s quite a list. Given that this is a financially strapped athletic department that has a habit of going cheap, I think Chiaverini is the odds-on favorite to get the job permanently with all those other names simply window dressing.
GOOD QUOTES FOR THURSDAY
Dan Wetzel of Yahoo Sports on the money gap the Pac-12 (distributes roughly $30 million yearly to each member school) faces against the Big Ten ($50 million) and SEC (more than $45 million), which helps explain why Michigan State was able to double the salary of former Colorado HBC Mel Tucker and offer him a much larger assistant’s pool: “The Pac-12’s problem is trying to figure out how to even stop the gap from growing, let alone close it. The West Coast was never going to be as football mad as the Midwest or South, but things keep getting worse. The league lacks a cash machine such as the Big Ten or SEC Network. The College Football Playoff has frozen out its teams in four of its six years of existence, depressing excitement and donations … Meanwhile, commissioner Larry Scott hasn’t proven nearly as innovative or creative as he was once hyped.”
From Pat Forde of Sports Illustrated on how Michigan State paying Mel Tucker more than $5.5 million is evidence of a truly hypocritical system: “But Tucker and Michigan State take the market to a new level. And the coach’s one-and-done Colorado tenure further exposes the differences between coach empowerment and player empowerment. While nobody should blame Tucker for doubling his salary, there is a little Bobby Petrino in this move. The school that gave him his first chance as a head coach was jilted about as quickly as possible, similar to Petrino using Western Kentucky for a season after it awarded him a scandal rehabilitation job in 2013. Beyond that, there is the sheer hypocrisy of a coach who was quoted as saying in October, ‘There’s no transfer portal in the real world,’ absolutely using the coaching transfer portal to fatten his wallet. Fact is, Tucker has now ‘transferred’ 11 times in his coaching career, bouncing around the college and NFL levels without anyone ever making him sit out a year.”
RANDOM THOUGHTS: The NFL in its infinite wisdom has reinstated Cleveland Browns defensive end Myles Garrett, last seen using his helmet as a weapon, swinging it at the head of Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph … This should alter the way Major League Baseball games are played. MLB altered its rules Wednesday so that, barring injury or illness, starting and relief pitchers will have to face a minimum of three batters before they can be replaced. MLB also increased roster size from 25 to 26 players but capped the number of pitchers at 13 … After throwing 30 interceptions in 2019, Tampa Bay Bucs QB Jameis Winston has undergone LASIK surgery on his eyes. Winston has steadfastly refused to wear contact lenses when he’s playing. Will improved eyesight result in fewer interceptions? … Former Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown has sent an apology to Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger, stating, “I never realized how good I had it.” Brown’s latest apology seems like an ongoing attempt to get back in the good graces of the NFL … Alabama shot an SEC record 59 (count ‘em) three-pointers in losing 95-91 to #11 Auburn in overtime. The Crimson Tide made 22. Auburn wasn’t shy about launching threes either. The Tigers fired up 31 but made only seven.