A few thoughts to jump start your Tuesday morning:
TIME TO START CRUNCHING TOURNAMENT NUMBERS Yes, it’s just February 2 and the Florida Gators (10-4, 6-3 SEC) have nine Southeastern Conference games remaining but it is not too early to start counting down the magic number that will get the Gators into the NCAA Tournament. In any normal year, a minimum of 20 wins would be required but there is nothing normal about this basketball season.
It only takes a look at the SEC standings to see the discrepancies. Of the 14 teams in the league, only eight – Florida, one of them – have played all nine of their scheduled SEC games. South Carolina, which comes to the O-Dome Wednesday night, has played only 10 games total, six in league play. The Gators have played a total of 14 games, third fewest in the league. Even if Florida makes it through the entire SEC schedule without a postponement or cancellation, there aren’t enough games for the Gators to win 20 in the regular season.
Because it has been such a strange season already and there are no guarantees that anyone in any league in the country is going to make it an entire month without the schedule being altered, this might be a season in which only a handful of teams get to the 20-win mark. In the SEC, the only team that seems to have a 20-win season on radar lock is Alabama.
As it stood on Monday, the Gators held down the 18th position in the NCAA Net Rankings, which would put them solidly on the five line of the tournament brackets if the Selection Committee was picking today. CBS Sports bracketologist Jerry Palm had the Gators a 5th seed in what he calls the Bankers Life Two Region, facing 12th seeded UAB in the opening round.
For the Gators to remain on the five line they’ll probably need to go 6-3 in February, a month in which they will play four games in the O-Dome and five on the road. A 6-3 mark would just about require holding serve at the O-Dome and stealing two of the five road games – LSU, 11th-ranked Tennessee, Arkansas, Auburn and Kentucky. A 5-4 should keep the Gators in the NCAA field, but that would seem to be the bare comfortable minimum.
A 2-0 record this week against South Carolina and on the road at LSU will likely reduce the Gators’ magic number to get into the tournament to three. South Carolina is coming to the O-Dome after losing to Vanderbilt. The Gators own an 83-79 win over LSU at the O-Dome back in January. LSU dropped a 76-71 decision to 13th-ranked Texas Tech in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge.
CASTLETON SEC PLAYER OF THE WEEK Colin Castleton was selected SEC Player of the Week after averaging 17 points, 6.0 rebounds and 3.0 blocks per game in the Gators’ wins over Vanderbilt and then 11th-ranked West Virginia. Castleton shot 70.6% from the field and 90.9% from the foul line in the two wins.
Against West Virginia Castleton finished with 21 points, seven rebounds and five blocked shots. He scored 15 points and blocked four shots in the second half, plus finished a perfect 9-9 from the foul line.
For the season, Castleton is averaging 13.4 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game while shooting 63.9% from the field.
Tuesday SEC games #11 Tennessee (12-3, 5-3 SEC) at Ole Miss (8-8, 3-6 SEC)
Georgia (10-6, 3-6 SEC) at Auburn (10-7, 4-5 SEC) Mississippi State (10-8, 4-5 SEC) at Arkansas (13-5, 5-4 SEC)
Wednesday SEC games South Carolina (4-6, 2-4 SEC) at FLORIDA (10-4, 6-3 SEC) LSU (11-5, 6-3 SEC) at #10 Alabama (14-4, 9-0 SEC) Kentucky (5-10, 4-4 SEC) at #18 Missouri (11-3, 4-3 SEC) Vanderbilt (5-8, 1-6 SEC) at Texas A&M (8-7, 2-6 SEC)
ASSOCIATED PRESS TOP 25: 1. Gonzaga 17-0; 2. Baylor 16-0; 3. Villanova 11-1; 4. Michigan 13-1; 5. Houston 15-1; 6. Texas 11-3; 7. Ohio State 14-4; 8. Iowa 12-4; 9. Oklahoma 11-4; 10. Alabama 14-4; 11. Tennessee 12-3; 12. Illinois 11-5; 13. Texas Tech 12-5; 14. Virginia 11-3; 15. Creighton 13-4; 16. Virginia Tech 13-3; 17. West Virginia 11-5; 18. Missouri 11-3; 19. Wisconsin 13-5; 20. Florida State 10-3; 21. UCLA 13-3; 22. FLORIDA 10-4; 23. Kansas 11-6. 24. Purdue 12-6; 25. Drake 16-0
COACHES TOP 25: 1. Gonzaga 17-0; 2. Baylor 16-0; 3. Villanova 11-1; 4. Michigan 13-1; 5. Houston 15-1; 6. Texas 11-3; 7. Alabama 14-4; 8. Iowa 12-4; 9. Ohio State 14-4; 10. Tennessee 12-3; 11. Texas Tech 12-5; 12. Creighton 13-4; 13. Illinois 11-5; 14. Oklahoma 11-4; 15. Virginia 11-3; 16. Virginia Tech 13-3; 17. Missouri 11-3; 18. West Virginia 11-5; 19. Florida State 10-3; 20. Wisconsin 13-5; 21. UCLA 13-3; 22. Kansas 11-6; 23. FLORIDA 10-4; 24. Oklahoma State 11-4; 25. Drake 16-0
SPRING IS CRITICAL FOR THESE FIVE GATORS Stewart Reese, OG/OT: The lack of summer conditioning was a killer for Reese, who should have played at somewhere around 340 but was several biscuits more than that. The weight forced him to play inside at guard and he was way too slow. He was a quality right tackle at Mississippi State back in 2019. He’s back for a second senior season.
Ethan White, C/OG: He was set to start at center when he hurt his knee and that set him way back. He played only four games and never was in great football shape when he came back from the injury.
Justin Shorter, WR: There was only one football and Kyle Trask had as his main targets Kyle Pitts, Kadarius Toney and Trevon Grimes, who will all be playing for pay in the fall. Shorter had a fairly good season after transferring in from Penn State, finishing with 23 catches for 246 yards and three touchdowns. He needs to establish himself as a go-to guy in the spring.
Gervon Dexton, DT/DE: So much was expected of him. Too much, in fact. There were far too many snaps that he played like the true freshman that he was in 2020. The talent is there. He needs a great spring, an outstanding offseason conditioning program and have that carry over to the fall.
Derek Wingo, LB: He played in nine games and was in on all of three tackles. Much more was expected. There is no question he’s got talent and athleticism. He needs a very good spring to nail down a spot in the rotation.
PAUL FINEBAUM SAID IT …
Speaking on WJOX Monday, Paul Finebaum talked about how Nick Saban goes about constantly replacing his assistant coaches:
“He has such a farm system, to say the least. He walks into that room whether it’s real or imagined, all these former head coaches sitting in their kindergarten desks waiting to be called into the big room. He never has to call up a search firm and say ‘Hey can you find me an offensive line coach.’ They’re already waiting there or he knows where they are.”
Finebaum also had this to say about Tennessee hiring Josh Heupel from UCF:
“The NCAA issue is what kept Hugh Freeze getting this job. He would have been a fantastic hire. I think the fan base today would have been screaming their lungs out ‘Rocky Top.’ Fans around the SEC would not have been happy to see it because they know what he’s capable of it. We used to joke about this with every Alabama hire back in the day, how does your fan base sleep at night knowing that you have so-and-so as your head coach. I think Georgia fans and Florida fans and Bama fans, fans have all like had about a 12-hour sleep on Wednesday night after seeing Josh Heupel as the new coach.”
OVER, UNDER, AROUND AND THROUGH THE SEC ALABAMA: Although he didn’t play in the Senior Bowl due to an ankle injury suffered in practice, quarterback Mac Jones had such a good week that his draft stock is on the rise.
ARKANSAS: With D-line coach Derrick LeBlanc looking to return to the NFL, Sam Pittman is planning to hire Jermial Ashley from Tulsa.
AUBURN: Defensive back Traivon Leonard, who opted out for 2020, has elected to return to school in order to play in 2021.
LSU: Wofford defensive coordinator Sam Siefkes is joining the staff as an analyst.
MISSISSIPPI STATE: Defensive lineman Brandon Cunningham, who played in nine games in 2020, has placed his name in the transfer portal.
OLE MISS: Athletic department revenue for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2020 was $6,675,347 in the red.
SOUTH CAROLINA: Former Gator All-American Mike Peterson is the lone holdover on Shane Beamer’s coaching staff.
TEXAS A&M: Defensive tackle Jeremiah Martin, a former 4-star recruit, has placed his name in the transfer portal.
FOOTBALL, BASKETBALL AND BASEBALL STUFF Heading into Sunday’s Super Bowl, Tom House, Tom Brady’s personal quarterback coach, says he has not seen any decrease in arm strength of his client, who wants to play until he’s 45. House says, “There’s no reason you can’t do at 45 what you did at 25 if you’re willing to pay the price and Tom is obviously willing to pay the price.”
Former Gator Demarcus Robinson, who caught 45 passes for 466 yards and two touchdowns for the Kansas City Chiefs in 2020, is on the Covid-19 reserve list. He doesn’t have Covid symptoms so if he continues to test negative he will be able to play in the Super Bowl on Sunday.
Quarterback Deshaun Watson has demanded to be traded from the Houston Texans. New Houston general manager says he’s not trading Watson. Bet the farm that Watson will be traded because there are (a) several teams that need a new quarterback and (b) Houston will trade if the price is right.
Sports Illustrated lists the following players on its all-too-early Heisman Trophy watch list for 2021: Spencer Rattler, QB, Oklahoma; Sam Howell, QB, North Carolina; D.J. Uiagalelei, QB, Clemson; D’Eriq King, QB, Miami; Breece Hall, RB, Iowa State; Derek Stingley Jr., CB, LSU
The Athletic reports that former New York Mets manager and current Los Angeles Angels pitching coach Mickey Callaway send lewd photos and unsolicited text messages to at least five women. Callaway says any relationship he had with these women was consensual.
Boston College has only four scholarship players available for tonight’s basketball game with 20th-ranked Florida State.
After a week in which Oklahoma scored three wins over then top ten-ranked teams, the Sooners went on the road to Texas Tech and lost, 57-52.
It’s a bad year for some of college basketball’s bluest of blue bloods. Duke dropped to 7-6 on the season Monday by losing to Miami, 77-75, in Coral Gables. The way things are going, the Blue Devils might need to win the ACC Tournament to make the NCAA Tournament field. Kentucky is 5-10 and will almost certainly have to win the SEC Tournament to get in. Kansas is struggling at 11-6 but probably gets in with five more regular season wins. Michigan State is 8-6 and sitting 13th in the 14-team Big Ten. The Spartans will have to win the Big Ten Tournament to make the field. North Carolina is 11-5 and should make the tournament but the Tar Heels struggle at times.
ONE FINAL PITHY THOUGHT: The Detroit Lions traded quarterback Matt Stafford to the Los Angeles Rams for quarterback Jared Goff. Stafford leaves a wasteland where the front office is brain dead for Los Angeles where he’s expected to lead the team to a Super Bowl. He’s played in three playoff games in his career, all losses. Maybe all he needs is a change of scenery to win big football games, but I doubt it. Goff had the Rams in the Super Bowl in 2018 when he came within a whisker of winning a ring. He has to be thinking he’s been sentenced to the NFL’s equivalent of purgatory about now. This is not a win-win trade, but a lose-lose for both quarterbacks and both teams.