Thoughts of the Day: February 26, 2020

GATORS HAVE TO AVOID EMPTY POSSESSIONS VS. LSU

Empty possessions. That’s what happens when you either turn the ball over or you throw up a prayer at the end of the shot clock. It’s what happened to the Gators (17-10, 9-5 SEC) last Saturday evening at Rupp Arena, a 65-59 loss to then 10th-ranked Kentucky. When the game got away from the Gators in the second half, it had everything to do with about a half dozen empty possessions that allowed Kentucky to take charge of the game.


The turnovers hurt, but the thing that Mike White remembers – perhaps more than the turnovers – are the bad shots, or, as he called them Tuesday afternoon “my shot.” Leading up to the Kentucky game, it had been all about making the extra pass to find the open shooter.

“We had a good four- or five-game stretch where we were really sharing it, really moving it,” White said.


Getting back to moving the ball to create good, open shots has to be a priority tonight when LSU (19-8, 10-4 SEC) comes to the O-Dome (9 p.m., ESPN2) for a game that not only keeps both teams’ dwindling SEC hopes alive but will factor in NCAA Tournament seeding. Because LSU already owns an 84-82 win over the Gators in Baton Rouge last month, it’s probably more critical for the Gators to score a win since it would guarantee a winning SEC record. With 19 wins including 10 in league play already, LSU is pretty much assured of playing in the NCAA Tournament. The Gators have work to do.


“We’ve got to do a better job against LSU moving the ball and taking the best shot they give us regardless of who that person is on our team, and we’ve got to be okay with that,” White said.


It would help if the Gators played with the kind of defensive intensity they showed against Kentucky. With the exception of a few possessions when Kentucky scored in transition, the Gators played good enough defense to win the game. Kerry Blackshear Jr. and Keyontae Johnson were extraordinary on the defensive end against UK, limiting Nick Richards and E.J. Montgomery to a combined 15 points and eight rebounds while combining for 37 (19 for Johnson and 18 for Blackshear) points and 15 rebounds. The Gators need that kind of production from those two, plus they need a bounce-back game from Andrew Nembhard (4 points on 1-6 shooting) and Noah Locke (0 points on 0-7 shooting).


It’s a winnable game but the Gators can’t have empty possessions and bad shots if they want to have a statement game that will read well on their NCAA resume.


“Our guys know the big picture,” White said. “They know it. I told them yesterday, for probably the third or fourth time, our spectrum is we potentially make a big run in the NCAA Tournament or we could potentially not go to the NCAA Tournament. That’s where we are.”

SEC BASKETBALL Tuesday’s scores

#8 Kentucky (23-5, 13-2 SEC) 69, Texas A&M (14-13, 8-7 SEC) 60 #15 Auburn (24-4, 11-4 SEC) 67, Ole Miss (13-15, 4-11 SEC) 58 Mississippi State (18-10, 9-6 SEC) 80, Alabama (15-13, 7-8 SEC), 73

Wednesday’s games LSU (19-8, 10-4 SEC) at FLORIDA (17-10, 9-5 SEC), ESPN2 Georgia (14-13, 4-10 SEC) at South Carolina (16-11, 8-6 SEC), SEC Network Tennessee (15-12, 7-7 SEC) at Arkansas (17-10, 5-9 SEC), SEC Network Missouri (13-14, 5-9 SEC) at Vanderbilt (9-18, 1-13 SEC), ESPNU


WEDNESDAY RAMBLING ABOUT THE SOUTHEASTERN CONFERENCE

(1) After he said all the required nice things about the departed Scott Cochran, the war officially commenced for Nick Saban. Georgia fans may think they have succeeded at firing a shot across Saban’s bow, one that will take them to a promised land that has eluded them for 14,300 days, but the only thing Kirby Smart has done is to raise the temp in the Saban boiler by to China Syndrome levels. If you need proof then know that Saban wouldn’t allow Cochran to speak to the Alabama players after he told Saban he was leaving for Georgia. Cochran was shown the exit and basically told don’t let the door smack you in the butt on your way to the parking lot.


Some might think it was a tad on the petty side for Saban to deny Cochran a chance to say good-bye to the Alabama players, particularly since Cochran has been such a big part of the Alabama program the last 13 years. But, in Nick-think Kirby Smart has declared war and you don’t make nice with people with whom you are fighting a war. So, now that Alabama and Georgia are in a war, the next move is totally up to Nick Saban. It will start by finding a strength and conditioning coach who he thinks can one-up Kirby. This guy has to be a fire-breather because that was what Cochran was. Three names that might fit the bill both for their work in the strength field and also because of their personalities are Matt Balis, formerly the S/C director at Mississippi State under Dan Mullen, now S/C at Notre Dame; Oklahoma S/C director Bennie Wylie and former Stanford S/C director Shannon Turley. Balis is from the Mickey Marotti strength and conditioning coaching tree. When Turley was at Stanford it was rare the Cardinal suffered debilitating ankle and knee injuries. Wylie’s linemen are typically as strong as you’ll find anywhere in college football. Money will not be an object.


You can also bet the farm that September 19 has been circled on the calendar of every Alabama coach, staffer and player. That is when Georgia comes to Tuscaloosa. If you’re the type that wagers on such things, put your money on Nick Saban and Alabama. War has been declared. Nick Saban isn’t going to lose this one.


(2) So why would Kirby Smart provoke Nick Saban by hiring the one guy who’s been with him at Alabama since day one? And, why would Kirby offer a guy who never played college football or who has held down an on-the-field coaching position the job of special teams coordinator? Kirby is banking on Cochran being a thorn in Saban’s side on the recruiting trail, figuring if he can lure one or two difference-maker types to Athens instead of Tuscaloosa that it could put the Poodles over the top. This is a gamble any way you look at it. First off, why put something as important as special teams in the hands of someone who’s never coached them? Secondly, Cochran’s never recruited off campus. Who’s to say he can do it now?


(3) One of the larger sets of hands on any NFL quarterback belonged to Brett Favre, measuring 10-3/8th inches from pinky to thumb. Bigger hands would seem to mean fewer fumbles. Alas, Favre fumbled 166 times more than any NFL quarterback in history. This is only important because of the uproar over the hand size of Heisman Trophy QB Joe Burrow of LSU. Burrow’s hands might not be monstrous but they didn’t prevent him from completing 76.3% of his passes for 5,671 yards and 60 touchdowns.


(4) If there is any justice in the voting for SEC basketball coach of the year it will go to Texas A&M’s Buzz Williams. The Aggies have the worst talent in the league and they’re 8-7 in SEC play.


(5) As of Tuesday night, Joe Lunardi still had only four SEC teams making the NCAA Tournament. He’s got Kentucky as a four in the South, Auburn as a four in the Midwest, LSU as an eight in the West, and FLORIDA as a nine in the East.


(6) There are 10 SEC teams ranked in the D1Baseball.com Top 25 poll: 1. FLORIDA; 2. Vanderbilt; 4. Georgia; 6. Arkansas; 8. Mississippi State; 11. LSU; 15. Ole Miss; 18. Texas A&M; 20. Auburn; and 24. Tennessee.


(7) In the USA Today/NFCA Coaches softball poll there are nine ranked SEC teams: 4. LSU; 6. FLORIDA; 8. Alabama; 12. Kentucky; 14. Georgia; 16. South Carolina; 20. Tennessee; 21. Missouri; and 22. Arkansas.


GOOD QUOTES FOR WEDNESDAY From Twitter, Heisman Trophy QB Joe Burrow went full sarcastic about the uproar regarding his hands, which measure 9 inches from pinky to thumb: “Considering retirement after I was informed the football will be dropping out of my tiny hands. Please keep me in your thoughts.”


ESPN’s Adam Rittenberg and Tom VanHaaren on one of the biggest reasons why Florida State football has sunk to its current levels: “Since 2016, Florida State has allowed 152 sacks, tied for sixth-most in the FBS and more than all but two Power. 5 teams (Louisville and Syracuse). FSU ranks in the top 15 (really bottom 15) in sack fumbles (18), percentage of plays for zero or negative yards (36.2) and other key categories during the same span. Coaches say any improvement under (Mike) Norvell starts with the offensive line.”

From Terez Paylor of Yahoo Sports, Jalen Hurts at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis on why he thinks he can play quarterback in the league and handle any offense thrown his way: “The reality is, I’ve had six different coaches in four years and all six coaches – whether it be position coach or [the offensive coordinator] – have had different approaches to how they’ve taught whatever it is they’re teaching, so that shows the ability to adjust. I’m able to adjust to any type of coaching style, offense or whatever we’re running, whether it’s a lot of play-action under center or taking shots from certain ways or running this a certain way or reading this a certain way. So the ability to adjust is there for me.”


RANDOM THOUGHTS: Ohio State has given Ryan Day a $1.5 million raise to $6 million and a three-year extension to his contract … Cattrell Wallace, a 3-star linebacker who signed with Arkansas back in December, has been arrested and charged with sexually assaulting a 12-year-old … Further proof of how wacky the college basketball season has been. Duke went down in double-overtime to ACC bottom feeder Wake Forest Gump Tuesday night. That puts Florida State in the driver’s seat to win the ACC regular season championship … The Oklahoma City Thunder knocked off the Chicago Bulls Tuesday night to move 14 games over .500. Since their 6-11 start, Billy Donovan has gotten his OKC team to go 30-11.

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