THE BILLY DONOVAN COURT: IT’S ABOUT TIME! There will be no shortage of former Gator basketball players at the O-Dome Saturday night when the University of Florida honors former coach Billy Donovan by naming the court at the arena “The Billy Donovan Court.” Al Horford and Brad Beal will head a cast of dozens of Gator greats who will come to share the moment with their former coach, who went 467-186 at Florida, winning two NCAA (2006-07) and six SEC championships during his 19 years on the job in Gainesville.
It’s only fitting that the court is named for Donovan, who proved that it’s entirely possible to win and win big at a school that had little in the way of basketball tradition prior to his arrival. When he came to UF, still in his early 30s and with just two years of head coaching experience at Marshall to his credit, Donovan was replacing Lon Kruger, who left in a huff after failing to land Daytona Beach Mainland’s Vince Carter (went to UNC). Kruger claimed that it was impossible to recruit the kind of players you need to win at a championship level at Florida.
Donovan, of course, proved Kruger wrong, making it to the NCAA championship game in 2000, his fourth year on the job. When Donovan led the Gators to back-to-back national titles it was the first time that had been done since Duke did it in 1990-91. Donovan had four straight Elite Eight teams from 2011-14, making the Final Four for the fourth time in his career in 2014.
So it’s about time Florida honors Donovan for his extraordinary accomplishments at halftime of Saturday night’s game between the Gators (15-9, 7-4 SEC) and Vanderbilt (9-15, 1-10 SEC). Perhaps his presence will inspire the Gators to play as well as they did Wednesday night when they played perhaps their best overall game of the season in knocking off Texas A&M, 78-61. The Gators are in a numbers crunch, needing a minimum of three wins – more than likely four or five counting the SEC Tournament – to earn a spot in the NCAA Tournament field.
SEC BASKETBALL 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
FAREWELL TO THE MAC TOUR BEGINS TONIGHT
Not a day goes by that Kevin O’Sullivan doesn’t drive by the brand new ball yard he will start calling home in 2021. He sees the resplendent new stadium on his way to McKethan Stadium every morning then drives by slowly on his way back in the evening. The new place is going to be one of the finest collegiate baseball facilities in the entire country but that’s next year. This year, Sully and the Gators have one last season in them at The Mac, one they hope will lead them back to Omaha for a eighth time in the last 13 seasons.
The Farewell to The Mac Tour begins tonight (6:30 p.m.) with a three-game set against Marshall. Junior righthander Tommy Mace will take the mound for the Gators tonight with junior Jack Leftwich slated to start the Saturday game (4 p.m.) and sophomore Nick Pogue getting the call Sunday (1 p.m.).
The Gators are coming off an uncharacteristic 34-26 season in 2019 in which the pitching, almost always the hallmark of an O’Sullivan-coached team, was wildly inconsistent. Last year’s pitching staff was young and lacked the veteran 1-2 punch on Friday-Saturday of years past, so it wasn’t uncommon for the Gators to put up more than enough runs to win a game only to see opponents score and score again.
“We just could not seem to stop the bleeding” is how O’Sullivan puts it.
The hope is that after a year in which the staff was beaten up, they’ll settle in and pitch well this season. O’Sullivan says he has a lot of moving parts, more lefties than he’s had the last couple of years, and some very talented freshmen (like Hunter Barco and Brandon Sproat) so he’ll spend the first month or so trying to figure things out. The rotation both on weekends and midweek early on might not be what we see once we get deep into the SEC portion of the schedule.
Whoever is pitching should get a boost from a potent lineup capable of scoring runs in bunches led by returning veteran left fielder Austin Landworthy (.283, 10 homers, 43 RBI in 2018) and third baseman Kirby McMullen, last year’s dependable pinch-hitter who has been Florida’s hottest hitter since fall ball and continuing through the spring. Sophomores Kendrick Calilao (first base), Cory Acton (second base), Jacob Young (right field) and Jud Fabian (center field) all had their moments hitting the ball last year and they should all hit for more power and high averages this year.
Gator baseball by the numbers: Since 2008, Florida has been to the College World Series seven times. Arkansas, FSU, LSU, North Carolina and TCU are tied for second with five trips … Only Louisville (470), Vanderbilt (464) and LSU (457) won more games than the Gators (455) during the decade of 2010-19 … Only FSU (10) and Louisville (9) had more 40-win seasons than the Gators (8) during the recently completed decade ... O’Sullivan’s 12-year record at UF is 531-255 with 12 NCAA appearances, seven trips to Omaha, five SEC championships and one NCAA title.
A MIND IS A TERRIBLE THING TO BASTE: FRIDAY EDITION
(1) I would really like to ignore Mel Tucker, but after reading the outstanding piece by Dennis Dodd of CBSSports.com on Tucker and the sad state of affairs in the Pac-12, I don’t think I’m capable of biting my tongue. Tucker might be the nicest guy in the world for all I know, but, as Dodd pointed out, he did say back in October, “There is no transfer portal in the real world.” Right, Mel. So, what did you just do? You sold out to the highest bidder and walked out – one week after National Signing Day – on all those kids you preached loyalty to. While I don’t wish whoever replaces Tucker at Colorado ill will, I do hope every single one of those players is granted a release and is free to transfer wherever he wants. I also hope not a one of them is stupid enough to follow Tucker to Michigan State. As for Michigan State, I find it hard to believe the school couldn’t do better than a coach who went 5-7 in his one year on the job and that was with a record-setting quarterback (Stephen Montez) and a guaranteed first round wide receiver (Laviska Shenault Jr.), who is a legitimate game-breaker. The offense at Colorado took a step back under Tucker and so did the defense, surprising since Tucker is a defensive coach.
(2) The more I think about it, the more I believe that every kid in every NCAA-sponsored sport should have the right to transfer once without having to sit out. If coaches can transfer whenever they feel like it, then players should at least be able to transfer one time without being penalized. Right now, other than graduate transfers who are free to go wherever, players in football, men’s and women’s basketball, baseball and hockey. If it’s an NCAA scholarship sport, then the players should have the right to transfer at least one time.
(3) South Carolina basketball has received its Notice of Allegations from the NCAA, confirmed by athletic director Ray Tanner. South Carolina has been charged with a Level I violation based on an allegation that former assistant coach Lamont Evans took $5,865 in bribes from convicted agent wannabe Christian Dawkins to help build a relationship between Dawkins and former Gamecock guard P.J. Dawkins. Evans, who left South Carolina for Oklahoma State after the 2017 season, has also been convicted and sentenced to three months in Club Fed. Oklahoma State has also received a Notice of Allegations from Evans time on that staff. I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if LSU receives its Notice of Allegations sometime in the next week or so.
(4) What a bozo. Houston Astros owner Jim Crane had the audacity to state, “Our opinion is this didn’t impact the game” when asked if the Astros sign-stealing scheme gave them an unfair advantage in 2017. So, if it didn’t impact the game, then why did the Astros fire their GM and manager and why is Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred punishing the team?
GOOD QUOTES FOR FRIDAY
Stewart Mandel of The Athletic on the financial disparity between the Pac-12 and Big Ten, which played strongly into Mel Tucker leaving Colorado to become the head ball coach at Michigan State:
“Meanwhile the Pac-12 still has four years left on an outdated set of TV deals that now lag far behind the SEC and Big Ten. Per Jon Wilner of the Mercury New, Colorado will collect $33 million in league revenue this year -- $22 million less than Michigan State gets from the Big Ten. Last year Colorado ran a $3.4 million budget deficit. Michigan State finished $8 million in the black in the last reported year. To be clear, conference money is only one contributor to an athletic department’s finances, along with ticket sales, merchandising and donations. Colorado’s total athletic department revenue in 2017-18 was $89, per USA Today. Even if you gave the Buffs a Big Ten payout, they’d still massively trail Michigan State’s $145 million take.”
Pat Forde of Sports Illustrated on the college basketball corruption scandal and the schools that are in trouble with the NCAA: “South Carolina is at least the sixth school to be formally charged by the NCAA in relation to the federal investigation. NC State, Kansas, Oklahoma State, USC and TCU all have acknowledged receiving NOAs. Creighton will neither confirm nor deny receiving a notice. Other schools known to be under investigation include Auburn, Louisville, Arizona, LSU and Alabama.”
RANDOM THOUGHTS: Colorado was paying Mel Tucker $2.4 million to be the head ball coach. Georgia and Alabama spend more on recruiting than Colorado paid Tucker … If you want to know why UCLA hasn’t fired Chip Kelly after two underwhelming seasons, then you simply have to do a little bit of math. To buy out Kelly would cost $9 million. The UCLA athletic department is facing a $19 million deficit for the fiscal year, in part because they still owe Jim Mora Jr. $6 million from buying out his contract and $3.6 million to former basketball coach Steve Alford … Tiger Woods shot an opening round 2-under, 69 at the Genesis Open in Los Angeles Thursday. He’s going for his 83rd PGA Tour win and is five shots behind first round leader Matt Kuchar … Just a reminder: It’s been 14,288 days since Georgia’s last national championship in football.