GATORS GET SOME HELP IN RACE FOR DOUBLE BYE
A couple of weeks ago after the Florida Gators (17-9, 9-4 SEC) had laid a sizeable egg at Ole Miss (68-51 loss), only the most optimistic thought the Gators had a chance to earn a double bye at the SEC Tournament in March, much less stay off the NCAA Tournament bubble. What a difference two weeks and a three-game winning streak will do for you because the Gators find themselves in a three-way tie with LSU (18-8, 9-4 SEC) and 13th-ranked Auburn (22-4, 9-4 SEC) for second place in the Southeastern Conference and ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi has moved UF up to a #9 seed in the West Regional.
The double bye is so important because if the Gators can hold on to one of the top four spots heading into the conference tournament in Nashville, they wouldn’t have to play until the Friday night quarter-finals, meaning they would be facing a team that had already played one or two games. A fourth or better finish in the regular season would almost certainly put the Gators comfortably in the NCAA Tournament field, quite possibly as high as a #7 seed.
What has caused Florida’s fortunes to change so dramatically has been a combination of good shooting, good defense and a little help from some SEC brethren. The Gators have shot 50% or better in each of the last three games while averaging 78.3 points per game. With Noah “Radar” Locke hitting 14 of his last 22 three-pointers (63.6%), the Gators are stretching defenses and that has opened up the rest of the floor. In Florida’s 73-59 win over Arkansas Tuesday night, Locke went 3-4 from the three-point line. The Gators, meanwhile, shot 56.7% on their two-point shots. Locke was 6-8 on his three-balls against Vanderbilt (Gators scored 84, hit 53.1% of their two-point shots) and was 5-10 against Texas A&M (Gators scored 78, hit 60% of their two-pointers).
Contrast that to the loss at Ole Miss when Locke hit 2-6 on his threes and the Gators managed only 5-23 (21.7%) while hitting 13-32 (40.3% on twos).
Defensively, the Gators have given up an average of 62 per game in the last three while holding opponents to 40.4% overall shooting and 30.3% from the three-point line. This is one of Florida’s better defensive stretches of the season.
Finally, there is that matter of help from the brethren. LSU got whacked by Kentucky in Baton Rouge. Auburn went on the road to Georgia and lost its second straight game, both of which were played without stud freshman Isaac Okoro. For good measure, South Carolina, which was tied for fourth with the Gators heading into Wednesday night, lost to Mississippi State.
There are five regular season games remaining for every SEC team. The Gators simply have to stay one game ahead of South Carolina and Mississippi State to earn the double bye. To make the NCAA field, they probably need two wins of a last five that includes games at Kentucky, Tennessee and Georgia and homers with LSU and Kentucky. Three in the last five and one at the SEC Tournament could move UF up to a #7 seed.
SEC BASKETBALL Wednesday scores Mississippi State (17-9, 8-5 SEC) 79, South Carolina (16-10, 8-5 SEC) 76 Georgia (13-13, 3-10 SEC) 65, #13 Auburn (22-4, 9-4 SEC) 55 Texas A&M (13-12, 7-6 SEC) 74, Alabama (14-12, 6-7 SEC) 68 Saturday games FLORIDA (17-9, 9-4 SEC) at #10 Kentucky (21-5, 11-2 SEC), ESPN Tennessee (15-11, 7-6 SEC) at #13 Auburn (22-4, 9-4 SEC), CBS Missouri (13-13, 5-8 SEC) at Arkansas (16-10, 4-9 SEC), SEC Network Mississippi State (17-9, 8-5 SEC) at Texas A&M (13-12, 7-6 SEC), SEC Network Georgia (13-13, 3-10 SEC) at Vanderbilt (9-17, 1-12 SEC), SEC Network LSU (18-8, 9-4 SEC) at South Carolina (16-10, 8-5 SEC), ESPN2 Alabama (14-12, 6-7 SEC) at Ole Miss (13-13, 4-9 SEC), SEC Network
GATORS BEAT JU IN 10 ON ISAAC NUNEZ WALK-OFF SINGLE
Unbeaten and 2nd-ranked Florida (5-0) spotted Jacksonville a 3-0 first inning lead, then got shutout pitching the rest of the way for their first comeback win of the season. The Gators earned a 4-3 win over Jacksonville in 10 innings when freshman Isaac Nunez hit a walk-off single to right field, driving home Cal Greenfield.
Jacksonville scored three-unearned runs in the first inning off starter Jordan Butler, but the next five pitchers shut out the Dolphins while the Gators chipped away with single runs in the second, third and fifth innings. Jud Fabian’s second home run of the season tied the game at 3-3 in the fifth.
Ben Specht went 2-2/3 innings, the longest stint of any Gator pitcher, allowing no hits while striking out two. David Pogue bounced back from his disappointing start on Sunday to pitch the 10th, striking out two to get the win.
Next up for the Gators is their annual series with Miami in Coral Gables. The Gators have won the last five series with the Hurricanes.
LUGO PITCHES NO-HITTER AS UF RUN RULES JACKSONVILLE Natalie Lugo (5-1, 1.29 ERA) pitched the first complete game no-hitter of her career Wednesday evening as the 7th-ranked Gators (12-1) took an 8-0 run-rule win over Jacksonville at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium. Only a first inning hit batter and a fourth-inning walk prevented Lugo from a perfect game. She used 70 pitches and struck out nine.
Lugo got all the run support she needed in the first inning when Kendyl Lindaman jacked a two-run homer, her second of the season, and Charla Echols followed with a solo shot, her fifth. Echols went 2-3, raising her batting average to .513.
Next up for the Gators is their annual trip to the West Coast where their five-game schedule in the Mary Nutter Classic in Palm Springs will includes matchups with #2 UCLA, #6 Arizona, 20 Arizona State and #24 Northwestern.
THINKING OUT LOUD ON THURSDAY
(1) With the NCAA suddenly getting serious about the Big Ten (and ACC endorsed) proposal to allow athletes in all sports a one-time transfer without penalty, old friend Larry Vettel emailed with this common sense suggestion: “One thing that needs to be added ... a limit to how many transfers any school can accept in any given school year. I'd set it at four for football and two for all other sports. That way a dozen football players can't follow their coach to his new school.” Limiting the number any one school could accept as transfers wouldn’t eliminate bunches of players electing to leave one school at any given time but it would certainly eliminate the prospect of a coach leaving and dragging with him his entire offensive line or backfield.
(2) Former Michigan coach John Beilein “resigned” as coach of the Cleveland Cadavers Wednesday and will take a new assignment with the team. Sorry if I don’t buy the “resignation” explanation. If he resigned he walked away from four years of guaranteed $5 million a year money. Even if Beilein hated coaching a bad team with lousy players, he’s not that stupid. The Cadavers saved a little face, assigned him to a new position in the organization and will spend the next couple of months negotiating the final terms of the buyout.
(3) Former NFL quarterback Steve Bartkowski told Drew Davison of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that he advised Joe Burrow to go an Eli Manning or John Elway to avoid being drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals. Manning told the San Diego Chargers that if they drafted him in 2004 he would refuse to play for them. The Chargers drafted him but had a deal in place to trade Manning to the New York Giants. After being drafted by the Baltimore (now Indianapolis) Colts, Elway threatened to pursue a Major League Baseball career, forcing the Colts to trade him to the Denver Broncos. Burrow is from Athens, Ohio, a couple of hours east of Cincinnati so there is added pressure on the Bengals to do whatever it takes to draft and sign him.
(4) Dane Brugler of The Athletic has come out with his ranking of NFL draft eligible pass rushers. It’s no surprise that Ohio State’s Chase Young gets the top ranking. He’s followed by A.J. Epenesa (Iowa); K’Lavon Chaisson (LSU); Yetur Gross-Matos (Penn State); Terrell Lewis (Alabama); Jonathan Greenard (Florida); Josh Uche (Michigan); Bradlee Anae (Utah); Curtis Weaver (Boise State) and Khalid Kareem (Notre Dame). Regarding Greenard, Brugler wrote, “Overall, Greenard is a menacing ball hunter, and although that relentless style works against him at times, he surprises blockers with his initial quickness and length, projecting him as an immediate pass-rush contributor in the NFL.”
(5) These college basketball coaches shouldn’t be thinking about building that dream home in the community where they currently reside: (1) Shaka Smart, Texas; (2) Josh Pastner, Georgia Tech; (3) Brad Brownell, Clemson; (4) Danny Manning, Wake Forest; (5) Chris Collins, Northwestern; (6) Allen Edwards, Wyoming; (7) Brian Gregory, USF; (8) Dave Leitao, DePaul; (9) Archie Miller, Indiana; (10) Richard Pitino, Minnesota.
GOOD QUOTES FOR THURSDAY Dan Wetzel of Yahoo Sports on the dilemma faced by Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred, who has had to deal with one cheating scandal with the Houston Astros (2017 World Series champs) and will soon have to deal with one with the Boston Red Sox (2018 World Series champs):
“Stripping Houston of the World Series is simple, but not easy. There’s a good chance (and Manfred may know this better than anyone) that the pending investigation of the Boston Red Sox will come to a similar conclusion on cheating, meaning that championship would likely have to be vacated as well.
“And then there are concerns about what cause should a punishment. Organizes sign stealing? OK but what about a single player stealing signs? Or what if a Game 7, game-winning home run is hit by someone who later tests positive for PEDs?”
From Twitter, former Georgia and Miami head coach Mark Richt expresses opposition to the proposed one-time transfer rule that could be adopted by the NCAA as early as this spring: “I know, I have an idea. You recruit and develop players and when I think they’re good enough I will poach them from your roster! Welcome to what the new normal will look like in college football!”
RANDOM THOUGHTS: At $601,000, Florida’s Billy Gonzales is the second highest paid receivers coach in college football. The highest is South Carolina’s Bryan McClendon ($1 million), who kept his salary even though he was demoted as offensive coordinator … Former Auburn offensive lineman Greg Robinson, who started 22 games the last two years for the Cleveland Browns, was arrested for possession of a significant amount of marijuana with intent to distribute at a Mexico-US border checkpoint … To make room for Clemson on its 2021 schedule, Georgia will pay San Jose State the full $1.8 million guarantee to cancel its trip to Athens … Former Arizona head coach and Oklahoma defensive coordinator Mike Stoops is reportedly about to join Mark Stoops staff at Kentucky where he will share duties coaching the secondary with Steve Clinkscale … LSU is paying new passing game coordinator Scott Linehan $800,000 … When North Carolina State buried 6th-ranked Duke Wednesday night, it marked the first time in his coaching career that a Coach K ranked team had lost by 20 or more points to an unranked team.