A few thoughts to jump start your Monday morning:
JUST IN CASE THE GATORS CAN PLAY BASKETBALL AGAIN …
The Florida Gators (10-5, 6-4 SEC) are scheduled to play Arkansas (16-5, 8-4 SEC) in Fayette Nam Tuesday night. Emphasis on scheduled. Due to Covid-19 issues first with UF and then with Texas A&M, the Gators haven’t played a game since they lost to South Carolina at the O-Dome back on February 3. While the Gators had their season put on hold, the Arkansas Razorbacks have begun to sizzle, winning their last three games including roadies at Kentucky and 10th-ranked Missouri.
Due to the inactivity, the Gators are three full games behind SEC leader Alabama not only in the standings but in the games-played category. Alabama will win the SEC but who finishes second, third and fourth for first round byes at the SEC Tournament remains to be decided.
Without a clearcut directive from the SEC on how games will be made up – or even if they will be made up – the Gators cannot afford another loss or postponement to earn one of the remaining three first round byes. Currently, UF, Arkansas and LSU (13-6, 8-4 SEC) all have four losses in league play but the Gators have played two fewer games than the other two. Since the regular season ends on March 2, it’s likely the SEC will use March 6 for a makeup game to break ties for SEC Tournament (starts March 10) seeding, but what happens if are more than three teams tied in the loss column and the Gators are still a couple games behind in the games-played category?
Meanwhile, Florida will be facing a very hot team that has vaulted into 23rd in the NCAA Net Rankings and 25th at Kenpom.com. Arkansas head coach Eric Musselman goes 10 deep and is not oblivious to surrounding 6-7 Justin Smith with four guards but even when they go small, they hit the boards very hard. If there is a real Achilles heel for the Gators it is consistency with their rebounding. The Gators were outrebounded by eight by South Carolina and that included 13 offensive rebounds. That’s about how many offensive rebounds the Razorbacks get every game.
The Gators lead the SEC both in shooting (47.4%) and in 3-point percentage (37.5%). The last time UF came off an extended break it was December 30 against Vanderbilt in Nashville, a game the Gators hit 61.8% overall and 41.2% from the 3-point line. It will take that kind of shooting from Tre Mann, Noah Locke and Tyree Appleby plus help in the middle by Colin Castleton for UF to stay with the Razorbacks, who push the ball up the court every chance they get. Florida should be able to score but will they come off this break with a measure of defensive intensity?
That will go a long way toward determining the outcome Tuesday night.
Tuesday SEC games FLORIDA (10-5, 6-4 SEC) at Arkansas (16-5, 8-4 SEC) #10 Missouri (13-5, 6-5 SEC) at Georgia (12-8, 5-8 SEC) South Carolina (5-9, 3-7 SEC) at #16 Tennessee (14-5, 7-5 SEC) Mississippi State (11-11, 5-8 SEC) at Auburn (11-11, 5-8 SEC)
Wednesday SEC games Kentucky (6-13, 5-7 SEC) at Vanderbilt (6-10, 2-8 SEC) #11 Alabama (17-5, 12-1 SEC) at Texas A&M (8-7, 2-6 SEC) LSU (13-6, 8-4 SEC) at Ole Miss (12-8, 7-6 SEC)
NCAA NET RANKINGS FOR SEC TEAMS: 9. Alabama; 12. Tennessee; 23. Arkansas; 27. LSU; 28. FLORIDA; 36. Missouri; 55. Ole Miss; 65. Auburn; 76. Kentucky; 93. Mississippi State; 99. Georgia; 111. South Carolina; 125. Vanderbilt; 138. Texas A&M
KENPOM.COM NATIONAL RANKINGS FOR SEC TEAMS: 8. Alabama; 16. Tennessee; 25. Arkansas; 27. LSU; 28. FLORIDA; 42. Missouri; 51. Ole Miss; 61. Auburn; 62. Kentucky; 78. Mississippi State; 83. South Carolina; 94. Georgia; 113. Vanderbilt; 131. Texas A&M
THREE SEC TEAMS IN NCAA BRACKET REVEAL: In sort of a takeaway from the College Football Playoff weekly show, the NCAA did its first basketball bracket reveal Sunday. Here are the top 16 seeded teams: 1. Gonzaga; 2. Baylor; 3. Michigan; 4. Ohio State; 5. Illinois; 6. Villanova; 7. Alabama; 8. Houston; 9. Virginia; 10. West Virginia; 11. Tennessee; 12. Oklahoma; 13. Iowa; 14. Texas Tech; 15. Texas; 16. Missouri.
BIG WEEKEND FOR UF SPORTS Gymnastics: Thanks to a brilliant 49.65 finish on the balance beam, the No. 1 Gators edged No. 2 LSU in Baton Rouge, 198.15-198.05. Trinity Thomas had a night to remember, scoring a perfect 10 on the floor as part of a 39.90 all-around score that is the fifth best in NCAA history. Next up for the Gators is 15th-ranked Kentucky at the O-Dome Friday night. Softball: The Gators opened their season with a doubleheader win over South Florida in Tampa, taking the first game 6-3 and a run-rule second game, 15-0. Charla Echols was the hitting star, going 6-6 in the two games with three singles, a double, a triple, a home run and six RBI. Katie Chronister got the game one win in relief with 3-1/3 innings of hitless relief. In game two, Elizabeth Hightower gave up one hit and struck out seven in four innings with Rylee Trlicek pitching a spotless fifth. The Gators make their home debut Wednesday night against Jacksonville.
Lacrosse: The 8th-ranked Gators opened their season with a 14-7 win over Louisville. The Gators will face No. 1 North Carolina in Chapel Hill on Saturday.
Men’s Golf: Ricky Castillo’s 6-under par final round led the Gators to the championship in the VyStar Invitational.
OVER, UNDER, AROUND AND THROUGH THE SEC (FOOTBALL) Alabama: Speaking on the Rich Eisen Show, Nick Saban questioned what will happen when the playoff expands from four to eight or more teams: “Way back when we decided to have two teams, pick the best two teams and let the play in a championship game, and everybody wanted to expand to four teams, it was my comment then that if we expand to four teams and have a playoff, everything is going to be about the playoff. All the media interest, everything is going to be about the Playoff. The shows they do all year, the shows like who gets into the NCAA Basketball Tournament, that’s what it’s going to be. All the other bowl games and teams that had good seasons, but didn’t quite get there, the interest in what they do in the offseason is going to be diminished. And that is exactly what’s happened.”
Arkansas: Spring football practice begins March 16.
Auburn: Spring football practice will begin on March 16 with the spring game slated for April 10.
Georgia: Wide receiver Demitris Robinson faces felony charges for stealing a parking boot on an East Campus Parking Deck ... Defensive tackle Julian Rochster will return for 2021, his sixth season with the football program.
Kentucky: Jemal Singleton, who was slated to be the running backs coach after leaving the Cincinnati Bengals, has departed for the Philadelphia Eagles where he will coach running backs and serve as assistant head coach.
LSU: A quarterback controversy is looming when spring football practice begins. Myles Brennan, who missed the last seven games due to an injury, is healthy and ready to go. He threw for 11 touchdown passes in three games. He will compete in the spring with T.J. Finley, who threw for 941 yards and five touchdowns in five starts, and Max Johnson, who got two starts and finished the year with 1,069 passing yards and eight touchdowns.
Mississippi State: Director of football recruiting Mike Villagrana is leaving to be the general manager on Charles Huff’s new staff at Marshall.
Missouri: Steven Benson, a cornerback from NAIA Culver-Stockton, has transferred to Mizzou.
Ole Miss: Former Ole Miss quarterback Jim Weatherly, who went on to fame and fortune as a song writer, passed away last week. Weatherly wrote such hit songs as Midnight Train to Georgia; Love Never Broke Anyone’s Heart; You’re the Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me; Neither One of Us Wants to Be the First to Say Good-Bye; and I Still Love You.
South Carolina: Running back MarShawn Lloyd, who missed his freshman year in 2020 with an injury, might be able to participate in spring practice.
Tennessee: Former UT kicker Brett Cimaglia is transferring to Georgia Tech. At Tennessee, Cimaglia was 88-89 on extra points and 46-62 on field goals ... Former Auburn wide receivers coach Kodi Burns has joined the Tennessee staff.
Texas A&M: Defensive lineman Jeremiah Martin, a 4-star recruit in 2018, is transferring to Washington.
Vanderbilt: Placekicker Joseph Bulovas, who was 22-29 on field goals and 134-142 on extra points in 2018-19 at Alabama, is transferring to Vandy ... Jeff LePak, who was an offensive analyst at Syracuse, has joined the staff as a special teams analyst.
GYPSIES IN THE PALACE: The ultimate football gypsy was Jim Niblack, who traipsed the globe coaching football, most of the time with his buddy Perry Moss. Among his whistlestops were Santa Fe High School, Gainesville High School, Jacksonville Sharks (WFL), Jacksonville Express (WFL), Kentucky, University of Florida, Buffalo Bills, Detroit (Arena), Sacramento (Canadian Football League), Orlando Renegades (USFL), Orlando Thunder (World League of American Football), Amsterdam Admirals (NFL Europe), Rhein Fire (NFL Europe), Orlando Predators (Arena) and perhaps two or three places I can no longer recall. In honor of Niblack, here is today’s football gypsy and runner-up.
Gypsy King: Ron Zook is no longer helping out his former assistant and old buddy Mike Locksley as an analyst. Now Zooker is the full-time special teams coordinator at Maryland. Zooker has been the head coach at Florida (2002-04) and Illinois (2005-11), but he has also been an assistant at Murray State, Cincinnati, Kansas, Tennessee, Virginia Tech, Ohio State, Florida, Pittsburgh Steelers, Kansas City Chiefs, New Orleans Saints, Green Bay Packers, Salt Lake Stallions (Alliance of American Football) and now Maryland.
Runner-up: Jay Valai may have set a record for most coaching jobs in a one-month period. It started out with Texas, where he coached corners, but when Tom Herman was fired along with the whole staff following the bowl game, Valai became the corners coach for Dana Holgorsen at Houston. Before he could even get new curtains for his office in Houston, the Philadelphia Eagles came calling and he departed for the NFL. Over the weekend he became the new corners coach for Nick Saban at Alabama. His first coaching assignment was quality control for Kirby Smart at Georgia for 2016-17 followed by a year with Andy Reid and the Kansas City Chiefs in 2018. He worked for Chris Ash at Rutgers in 2019 coaching corners before heading to Texas.
Honorable mention: Drew Hughes isn’t a football coach, but he has worked in recruiting and personnel at the collegiate level with plenty of stops along the way. He got hired this weekend as a personnel guy by Urban Meyer and the Jacksonville Jaguars. He worked for Nick Saban at Alabama (2007-11), UCF (2012), North Carolina State (2013), Florida for Will Muschamp and Jim McElwain (2014-17), Tennessee (2018-19), South Carolina for Muschamp again (2020), Texas (2021) and now Jacksonville almost before he had a new set of keys cut for the executive toilet in Austin.
ONE FINAL PITHY THOUGHT: When Mike and Maurkice Pouncey announced their retirement from the NFL last week – appropriate that identical twins so close in mannerisms, speech and size that you can’t tell them apart unless you know that Mike has this scar on his face – it brought back memories of the day they committed to Urban Meyer and the Gators back in 2006. I’ll go into all the details another time, but the deciding factor was what happened in Tallahassee earlier in the day. The twins were seriously considering committing to the Gators, but they had been considered mortal locks for FSU for almost two years. In Tallahassee, they hoped to have their doubts erased but when they were ushered into Bobby Bowden’s office, he couldn’t remember their names. Now, you might expect that Bowden couldn’t tell them apart. Very few people could, but their names? On their way back home to Lakeland, they decided to make an impromptu stop in Gainesville to visit Urban. Urban stopped what he was doing, made the time for them, and after a couple of hours, they committed to UF, a move they’ve never once regretted but one that set FSU back five years.