THREE KEYS TO UF KNOCKING OFF KENTUCKY AT RUPP SATURDAY
(1) Space the floor, make the extra pass and get Noah Locke clean looks at the basket. Locke is the hottest shooter in the SEC right now, having hit 14 of his last 22 three-point shots (63.6%), which has elevated him into a tie for seventh nationally at 44.5%. Locke is the leading three-point shooter in the SEC, hitting an astounding 52.6% of his shots (41-78) in SEC play. Locke has been on radar lock recently because the Gators have been doing such an outstanding job of spacing the floor and then making the extra pass. Since a passed ball moves faster than feet and proper spacing makes it next to impossible for opponents to disrupt the passing lanes, the Gators have to space, pass and get Noah his shots. If Noah is on radar lock, it will open up the game for his teammates and the Gators have an extraordinary chance to walk out of Rupp with a win the could erase all doubts about their NCAA chances.
(2) Keep Tyrese Maxey out of the lane. Maxey is a streaky outside shooter, who can heat up periodically, but that’s not where he’s going to beat you typically. Where Maxey makes his living is beating people off the dribble and getting into the lane where he has a rather lethal floater. Once he’s in the lane he forces bigs who rotate to either let him shoot that floater or foul him. Florida is probably going to start Scottie Lewis on Maxey one key to neutralizing him is keeping running defenders with fresh legs at him. Kentucky has other very good offensive options, but Maxey is the one guy who can jumpstart the team when things are going bad and if he gets it going from the perimeter light an opponent up for big numbers.
(3) Put the pressure on Nick Richards at both ends of the floor. After two disappointing seasons, Richards has matured into a franchise player as a junior and he’s doing it on both ends of the floor. The Gators desperately need Kerry Blackshear Jr. to score 12-15 points in this one and they need his ability to pass out of double teams so they have to put some defensive pressure on Richards. To do that they’ll need some straight line drives from Keyontae Johnson and for Andrew Nembhard to get into the lane where he can hit that little pull-up jumper or dump it down low. When Blackshear gets the ball down low he needs to get a shoulder in Richards’ chest when he goes up for a shot and force a foul. Richards has had some foul issues in all but one of the last eight games so it’s imperative the Gators put the pressure on him from multiple angles. Richards isn’t a great offensive rebounder but he has a nice baby hook and he’s a good finisher on alley-oops. He has to be pushed 5-7 feet away from the basket. He’s not a very good passer so the Gators need to get good enough defensive rotations that they can double him up down low when he gets an entry pass.
SEC BASKETBALL Saturday’s 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
MACE ON FRIDAY, LEFTWICH ON SATURDAY, TBD SUNDAY FOR UF Kevin O’Sullivan knows who he’ll send to the mound Friday and Saturday nights when the 2nd-ranked Florida Gators (5-0) take on top-ranked Miami (4-0) at Alex Rodriguez Park in Coral Gables. Tommy Mace (1-0, 3.00 ERA) gets the call Friday with Jack Leftwich (1-0, 0.00 ERA) getting the call Saturday night. Nick Pogue (1-0, 15.00 ERA), who was the starter last Sunday against Marshall, could get the start in the final game against Miami after a strong 10th inning in relief to pick up the win against Jacksonville Wednesday night. O’Sullivan is likely to pick his Sunday starter based on matchups he’s seen the first two games.
Through five games, the Gators are hitting .326 with an SEC-leading eight home runs. Third baseman Kirby McMullen leads the Gators with a .467 batting average. Center fielder Jud Fabian is hitting .429 with two homers and seven RBI.
A MIND IS A TERRIBLE THING TO BASTE: FRIDAY EDITION
(1) Duke’s 22-point blowout loss to unranked North Carolina State is just another sign of the weird times in college basketball this season. Normally, a season in which more than half the ranked teams have six or more losses would spell trouble for the power conferences, who routinely dominate the selections to the NCAA field. This year, however, there aren’t that many decent teams outside of the Power Five conferences so there will be a lot of teams with 9-12 losses chosen for the NCAA Tournament. Joe Lunardi has four SEC teams – Kentucky, LSU, Auburn and Florida – making the field but that could expand by one or two depending on how well Mississippi State and South Carolina finish. The ACC, traditionally billed as the best basketball conference in the country, has four in Lunardi’s brackets – Florida State, Duke, Louisville and Virginia – and it is slim pickings in the conference after those four. From what I have seen, the six best teams in the country are Baylor, Gonzaga, Kansas, San Diego State, Dayton and Florida State with Maryland and Kentucky the next two.
(2) There is big trouble at Arizona State where former ASU football player Bart Wear is accused of harassing the wives of three women married to people in the athletic department including basketball coach Bobby Hurley. As bad as that is, former senior associate athletic director David Cohen has filed a suit, claiming he was fired because he complained that the department was moving slowly to act on claims that his wife had been fondled by Mr. Wear while on her way to the bathroom at a basketball game. There were other incidents and they were reported to athletic director Ray Anderson in March of 2019 but the university is just getting around to admitting it was “slow” in acting on the claims. This is the kind of thing that, if true, will be the end of Anderson’s career and could do serious and lasting damage to the ASU athletic department, which can’t be in great shape when you consider how badly the Pac-12 is lagging behind the Big Ten, SEC and Big 12 in money.
(3) Steve Sarkisian has withdrawn his name from consideration to be the next head coach at Colorado. Sark is probably going to get a rather hefty raise to stay at Alabama and with another year of rehabbing at St. Nick’s Rehab Center for Former Head Coaches, he’s going to be in line for a head coaching job in a better conference than the Pac-12. Colorado, meanwhile, could turn to former Wisconsin HBC Bret Bielema but if he says no, a panic hire might be in the works. They have two huge problems at Colorado: (a) they’re swimming in red ink and (b) because it’s in the Pac-12 and not in a state that produces enough talent to compete at a high level, recruiting is going to be very, very difficult.
(4) Since we’re on the subject of St. Nick’s, analyst Butch Jones has been promoted to special assistant to the head coach, which prompted some on Twitter to suggest that he will be in charge of getting coffee and lunch for Nick Saban. There is no telling what his specific duties will be but one thing for certain, he’ll get his monthly buyout check from Tennessee, which is more than $200,000 and will continue for one more year.
GOOD QUOTES FOR FRIDAY Max Olson of The Athletic explains why nobody should be panicking about the proposed one-time transfer proposal, largely because there are more players in the transfer portal than there are players who have found a new home, and many of the players who find a new home are actually taking a step down: “Let’s focus on the current transfer portal cycle, which began on Aug. 1. More than 1,100 FBS football players have gone into the portal since then. Around 750 of them are scholarship players, and 550 are still listed as active in the portals as of Wednesday afternoon. And only one-=third of the players in the portal are grad transfers.
“Right now, the numbers for the 2019-20 cycle are pretty much right on pace with what we saw in Year 1. We’re bound to see even more players test out the transfer market if the one-time exemption gets approved. Those players need to understand the odds their facing when they make that choice.
“The transfer portal database for 2019-20 lists 170 scholarship players who have matriculated to their new schools … If you look at where those 170 players previously attended school and where they landed, more than 60 percent (107) ended up having to move down a level in the process, whether they ended up at a Group of 5 program or found an opportunity at an FCS or Division II school. And again, we’re only talking about the players who have already enrolled at new schools and are not even looking at the ones who enroll at junior colleges. There are hundreds more still looking for a place to go who’ll eventually figure out they’re moving down a level, too.”
From Joon Lee of ESPN, former Boston Red Sox slugger David Ortiz takes issue with former Houston Astros (now Oakland A’s) pitcher Mike Fiers, who was the whistleblower for the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal: “I’m mad at the guy, the pitcher who came out talking about it. And let me tell you why. Oh, and after you make your money, after you get your ring, you decide to talk about it? Why don’t you talk about it during the season when it was going on? Why didn’t you say I don’t want to be no part of it? So you look like you’re a snitch. Why you gotta talk about it after? That’s my problem. Why nobody said anything about it while it was going on?”
RANDOM THOUGHTS: Former Gator tight end Jordan Reed, who missed all of 2019 after suffering his seventh documented concussion since he started playing college football, has been released by the Washington Redskins. It is being reported that someone close to Reed says he wants to continue playing football. If whoever that is really is a friend, he will talk Reed out of ever strapping on another helmet … Pitt football and basketball have been placed on three years probation by the NCAA. Former basketball coach Kevin Stallings – who stupidly left Vanderbilt for Pitt – got a three-year show-cause order … The 12-team Basketball Africa League will begin play in about three weeks with teams from Dakar, Senegal; Bamako, Mali; Sale, Morocco; Yaounde, Cameroon; Maputo, Mozambique; Vakinankaratra, Madagascar; Algiers, Algiera; Kigali, Rwanda; Luana, Angola; Port Harcourt, Nigeria; Monastir, Tunisia; and Giza, Egypt. Each team can have four foreign players but at least eight on the roster have to be local players … Arkansas track All-American Josh Oglesby, hinted on social media that he’s going to play football for the Razorbacks. He was a running in high school. His dad played football at TCU … Georgia’s assistant director of player development Fernando Velasco announced he’s leaving the program … Spring football practice begins at South Carolina next Wednesday.