NSD IS WEDNESDAY: ANY SURPRISES IN STORE FOR UF? For the most part, Dan Mullen already knows what to expect on National Signing Day. Barring an upset of epic proportions, Mullen will get signed LOIs from wide receivers Justin Shorter, Xzavier Henderson and safety Avantae Williams. It’s not sure at this point whether or not wide receiver Leonard Manuel or safety/wide receiver Marc Britt will sign since both have some academic work to take care of, but they’re committed to Florida and it won’t be a surprise one way or the other. Tight end Damarcus Beckwith also seems destined to sign with UF.
The only potential surprises involve running backs Jahmyr Gibbs and Ashaad Clayton and center/guard Sedric Van Pran. The experts at the recruiting services seem to think Gibbs sticks with his Georgia Tech commitment and Van Pran will remain with Georgia. Clayton is committed to Colorado but he has been shopping for a new school.
Will Mullen be content with the addition of Lorenzo Lingard (Miami transfer already enrolled) and forego a high school running back? Or will he add Clayton to the class in the event he can’t flip Gibbs? As for Van Pran, it will be interesting to see what, if any, influence Josh Braun might have had. Braun was committed to Georgia but flipped to Florida (and enrolled early) after Sam Pittman left Athens to become the HBC at Arkansas.
A final question: Since Mullen can bring in 30 (five count back toward 2019), will he hold a scholarship or two for a graduate or other transfer in May?
A FLAWED WIN FOR SURE BUT IT BEATS THE ALTERNATIVE
Was Florida’s 61-56 win over Vanderbilt Saturday night in Nashville a game for the ages? Not even close. The Gators (13-8, 5-3 SEC) had multiple chances to blow the game wide open and found a way to give up most of an 18-point lead in the final minutes to make it white knuckles at the end, but UF prevailed to break a three-game losing streak.
This was the fourth straight game the Gators have had a nice lead only to blow it. At least in this one, they held on to win but this is an ongoing problem that if it isn’t solved soon is going to cost the Gators some games they should win going away. I’m not sure where the problem originates but there is something that causes the Gators to hit a wall when they have a good lead. It’s a mental thing, not physical.
To the Gators’ credit, they played the best defensive game they’ve played since the win over Auburn, holding Vanderbilt to 37.8% shooting overall and 27.3% from the three-point line. They forced 17 turnovers. Those are a serious improvement.
Offensively, Keyontae Johnson and Noah Locke carried the day. Johnson was the steady presence throughout the game (finished with 20 points, 7-11 shooting including 2-3 from three, seven rebounds and two steals) and Locke heated up late to finish with 17 points on 5-8 from the three-point line.
On the negative side, the Gators spent way too much time jacking up shots from the outside. It’s ridiculous that they were outscored 22-18 in the paint and outrebounded 37-28 by a Vandy team that has very little inside presence.
It was a flawed win, no doubt about it, but it certainly beat the alternative.
SEC BASKETBALL Saturday scores FLORIDA (13-8, 5-3 SEC) 61, Vanderbilt (8-13, 0-8 SEC) 56 #17 Auburn (19-2, 6-2 SEC) 75, #13 Kentucky (16-5, 6-2 SEC) 66 #22 LSU (17-4, 8-0 SEC) 73, Ole Miss (10-11, 1-7 SEC) 63 Georgia (12-9, 2-6 SEC) 63, Texas A&M (10-10, 4-4 SEC) 48
Mississippi State (14-7, 5-3 SEC) 86, Tennessee (12-9, 4-4 SEC) 73 South Carolina (13-8, 5-3 SEC) 76, Missouri (10-11, 2-6 SEC) 54 Arkansas (16-5, 4-4 SEC) 82, Alabama (12-9, 4-4 SEC) 78 Tuesday’s games #17 Auburn (19-2, 6-2, SEC) at Arkansas (16-5, 4-4 SEC), SEC Network Tennessee (12-9, 4-4 SEC) at Alabama (12-9, 4-4 SEC), ESPNU Mississippi State (14-7, 5-3 SEC) at #13 Kentucky (16-5, 6-2 SEC), ESPN Missouri (10-11, 2-6 SEC) at Texas A&M (10-10, 4-4 SEC), SEC Network Wednesday’s games
Georgia (12-9, 2-6 SEC) at FLORIDA (13-8, 5-3 SEC), ESPNU South Carolina (13-8, 5-3 SEC) at Ole Miss (10-11, 1-7 SEC), SEC Network #22 LSU (17-4, 8-0 SEC) at Vanderbilt (8-13, 0-8 SEC), SEC Network
(1) With 8:53 left in Super Bowl 54 Sunday evening, the San Francisco 49ers held a 20-10 lead over the Kansas City Chiefs, which means Patrick Mahomes had the 49ers right where he wanted them. In the final 8:53 Mahomes put on a clinic, hitting 9-12 for 130 yards and two touchdowns on consecutive scoring drives for a 24-20 lead. When the Chiefs got a defensive stop to take over on downs at the SF 42, it took only two plays for Damien Williams to seal the game with a 38-yard TD run. Kansas City’s 31-20 win over the 49ers not only sealed Mahomes as the future of the NFL but it also gave Andy Reid the only thing missing on his impressive coaching resume, a Super Bowl ring. Reid is one of the nicest and best respected coaches in any sport so for him to finally get the Super Bowl win is a crowning achievement. It’s not often the good guys win, but Reid is one of the really good guys. So is Mahomes.
(2) Barrett Sallee of CBSSports.com went through all the recruiting rankings from high school of the starters for both the 49ers and the Chiefs to determine that the Chiefs starters held a 2.64-2.43 advantage in the star rankings. A couple of interesting observations. Jimmy Garoppolo was a 2-star recruit (went to Eastern Illinois) out of high school while Patrick Mahomes was a 3-star recruit. The Chiefs had only three starters who were 5-star recruits out of high school – wide receiver Sammy Watkins, corner Kendall Fuller and defensive tackle Chris Jones (signed with Dan Mullen at Mississippi State) and two 4-stars (DT Derrick Nnadi and S Tyrann Mathieu). The 49ers had only one 4-star recruit on offense (RT Mike McGlinchey) but had one 5-star on defense (DE Arik Armstead) and four who were 4-stars (DTs DeForest Buckner and Sheldon Day, LBs Kwon Alexander and Fred Warner). It should be noted that Nick Bosa (49ers DE) was a 5-star out of high school but listed as a second teamer on the depth chart.
(3) A few years ago while he was still living among the civilized here in Gainesville, old friend Larry Vettel and I talked at length about the need to reform the transfer rules in the NCAA. We both liked the implementation of the graduate transfer rule, particularly since it gave the Gators All-American corner Ryan Smith, a vital piece of Florida’s defensive puzzle in the 2006 run to the national championship. Larry suggested that the NCAA give a one-year exemption so that any player in any sport could transfer one time without having to sit out. I thought that was a great idea although I would limit it to kids who choose to leave after their true freshman or redshirt freshman years. As the years have passed since that conversation, I’ve found myself trending more and more to Larry’s version, which would allow a one-time exemption. Some might say that creates a level of free agency, but I think it would eliminate the hypocrisy of the current system where kids who can afford good lawyers get immediate eligibility when they put their names in the transfer portal. The NCAA is scheduled to take up a Big Ten proposal that would grant the one-year exemption. If it’s passed it will go into effect in 2021.
(4) The more I watch college basketball this season, the more I’m convinced one of the traditional powers like Duke, Kentucky or Kansas won’t win the national championship. Baylor is easily the best team I’ve seen all year. The Bears are 19-1 and only one team has scored 70 on them all season. After Baylor, the three best teams I’ve seen are Gonzaga, Dayton and San Diego State. When healthy, the Zags can score on anybody. Dayton has the best player in the country in Obi Toppin. Having seen San Diego State come from 10 down at the half to beat Utah State 80-66 Saturday night, I believe the Aztecs (23-0) are Final Four capable.
(5) The Oklahoma City Thunder have won seven of their last eight games to move to 30-20 on the season and seventh place in the NBA Western Conference playoff standings. Without a doubt, this is the best coaching job Billy Donovan has done in his five NBA seasons. Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Paul George are all playing somewhere else, leaving Donovan with a roster that has one established star in Chris Paul and a lot of moving parts that fit well together. Over the next seven drafts the Thunder have 13 first round picks and six second rounders. They’ll have three first rounders in the 2020 Draft, two first rounders in 2021 and two more in each of the 2022, 2023 and 2024 drafts. This should tell you exactly why Billy Donovan isn’t going to be returning to college basketball. If the Thunder make good draft decisions, Donovan should have a loaded roster that can compete for NBA championships for several years into the future.
GOOD QUOTES FOR MONDAY
From Nicole Auerbach of The Athletic on a Big Ten proposal to the NCAA that would allow every athlete in every sport to transfer one time without having to sit out a year (currently only football, men’s and women’s basketball, baseball and hockey require sitting a year): “The current transfer ecosystem is confusing both to athletes and coaches due to the lack of transparency surrounding the waiver process, and it’s also taxing on both NCAA staff and school compliance departments … Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel told CBS Sports that changing the rule would streamline the process; if 65 percent of immediately eligibility waiver requests are being granted, he said, why not just make it 100 percent and eliminate the need for the waiver process at all?”
Pat Forde of Sports Illustrated on how government informant Marty Blazer, a key figure in the college basketball corruption trials, might have a big say in the NCAA punishing basketball programs/coaches implicated as well as some football programs: “Blazer’s information could also spill over to college football. In the 2019 trial of (Christian) Dawkins and (Merle) Code, Blazer testified that he paid football players from seven different schools in violation of NCAA rules. Blazer testified that he made payments of anywhere from hundreds to several thousands of dollars to players at Alabama, Michigan, North Carolina, Northwestern, Notre Dame and Pittsburgh … Although the payments to football players that Blazer alleged on the witness stand would predate the NCAA’s four-year statute of limitations, one expert on enforcement cases told Sports Illustrated that the NCAA has the latitude to waive that statute if it has proof of the egregious violations.”
RANDOM THOUGHTS: I don’t know about you, but I found Demi Lovato’s rendition of the National Anthem absolutely inspiring. She made it all about the song instead of trying to draw all the attention to herself. Wow! What a voice … Would someone tell me if the Super Bowl halftime show was any good? I’ve made it a habit of skipping halftime. It’s always 15 minutes of my life I can’t ever get back … During a fight for a loose ball Saturday night, Houston guard DeJon Jarreau bit Cincinnati’s Keith Williams. Kelvin Sampson denied it Saturday night but says he saw more video on Sunday, convincing him he was wrong. Uh-huh. Kelvin Sampson never met a rule he couldn’t break. Sorry if I don’t accept his explanation … The best Super Bowl commercial was the one for Jeep Gladiator with Bill Murray that was a takeoff on his role in the movie “Groundhog Day.”