WILL MULLEN HAVE A SIGNING DAY SURPRISE?
If Dan Mullen gets signatures on Letters of Intent from wide receivers Xzavier Henderson (6-4, 180, Miami, FL Columbus) and Penn State transfer Justin Shorter (6-4, 230), safety Avantae Williams (5-11, 175, DeLand, FL) and tight end Damarcus Beckwith (6-4, 215, Florence, AL), he will probably walk away from National Signing Day knowing he’s filled the holes in the Florida roster, enough so that he’ll have a real SEC roster top to bottom to work with next year. This, no matter what happens with safety/wide receiver Marc Britt (6-2, 190, Miami, FL Miami Christian) and wide receiver Leonard Manuel (6-4, 210, Fort Lauderdale, FL Stranahan), both of whom have academic work to do.
Surprises really aren’t expected. Stud running back Jahmyr Gibbs (5-10, 190, Dalton, GA) let it be known he will stick with his Georgia Tech commitment Tuesday. Defensive end Princely Umanmielen (6-4, 260, Manor, TX) is a possibility for UF but Auburn seems a more likely destination. The longest of long shots is running back Zach Evans (6-0, 200, Houston, TX North Shore), who can’t sign another LOI (signed one with Georgia but was released) and will just have to enroll in school somewhere. The wildest possible surprise scenario would be for a double flipper – center/guard Sedric Van Pran (6-4, 310, New Orleans, LA Warren Easton/Georgia commitment) and running back Ashaad Clayton (6-0, 200, New Orleans, LA Warren Easton/Colorado commitment). If Mullen pulled that off, there would be back flips in the hallways of the football complex. It seems far-fetched, but don’t forget these guys were high school teammates of current Gator Chester Kimbrough.
One last question: Does Mullen hold a scholarship or two for May after some players graduate and can transfer without having to sit out?
CAN THE GATORS TURN IN ANOTHER STRONG DEFENSIVE EFFORT?
After three straight sup-par defensive efforts, Mike White is hoping the Gators (13-8, 5-3 SEC) have regained their defensive edge. Their 61-56 win over Vanderbilt in Nashville Saturday night was Florida’s best defensive effort since they held 11th-ranked Auburn to 47 points. The big question for White is can he get a repeat performance tonight when Georgia (12-9, 2-6 SEC) comes to the O-Dome (7 p.m., ESPNU)?
Much of the attention – deservedly so – will be focused on Georgia’s Anthony Edwards (19.3 points, 5.2 rebounds per game), arguably the nation’s top freshman and quite possibly the #1 choice in the June NBA Draft. White says Edwards is a tremendous straight line driver who can also “make a contested 22-footer look like a HORSE shot for other guys.”
As good as Edwards is, White knows the Gators can’t let the other guys have their way.
“They’ve got other good players,” White said Tuesday afternoon. “Rayshaun Hammonds (6-9, 235; 12.5 points, 7.6 rebounds per game) is terrific, one of the more talented guys in our league, in my opinion. (Tyree) Crump has been really good against us at times in his career, as has Jordan Harris. They play a lot of guys and I think they get good contributions off the bench as well.”
In the Vanderbilt game, the Gators played hard on the defensive end for 40 full minutes with few lapses in effort. Vanderbilt did come back from an 18-point second half deficit to make a game of it at the end, but much of that had to do with fatigue at the end of the game.
Florida’s formula for winning is quite simple: Force Georgia into a tough shooting night on one end of the court and hit a few shots at the other. If the Gators can make some shots, this game is entirely winnable.
SEC BASKETBALL Tuesday’s scores
#11 Auburn (20-2, 7-2 SEC) 79, Arkansas (16-6, 4-5 SEC) 76, OT
Tennessee (13-9, 5-4 SEC) 69, Alabama (12-10, 4-5 SEC) 68
#15 Kentucky (17-5, 7-2 SEC) 80, Mississippi State (13-9, 5-4 SEC) 72 Texas A&M (11-10, 5-4 SEC) 68, Missouri (10-12, 2-7 SEC) 56
Tonight’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 #18 LSU (17-4, 8-0 SEC) at Vanderbilt (8-13, 0-8 SEC), SEC Network
A WANDERING WEDNESDAY MIND
(1) Just a couple of weeks after receiving a $4.3 million retention bonus, Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio stepped down. Dantonio led Michigan State to three consecutive top six finishes (2013-2015) only to hit tougher times the last four years (27-24 record). With Dantonio leaving, there will be a ripple effect as Michigan State is expected to turn first to Pat Narduzzi (Pitt HBC) or Luke Fickell (Cincinnati HBC). Narduzzi was Dantonio’s defensive coordinator back when Michigan State was on a roll. A couple of other candidates, per Adam Rittenberg of ESPN, are Central Michigan HBC Jim McElwain and Alabama analyst and former Tennessee head coach Butch Jones. Bill Bender of Sporting News lists these five as likely candidates at MSU: Fickell, Narduzzi, Matt Campbell (Iowa State), Lance Leipold (Buffalo) and Robert Saleh (San Francisco 49ers DC).
(2) Vanderbilt athletic director Malcolm Turner has resigned. The interim AD is Candice Storey Lee, who becomes the first African-American female in charge of an SEC athletic department. The Turner resignation was quite a surprise since he had stood up for football coach Derek Mason, who so many in the fan base wanted gone after last year’s 3-9 record.
(3) Sean Tuohy Jr. has been named athletic director-football operations at Liberty University. His dad is the all-time assist leader for Ole Miss basketball. He’s also known as SJ, and Michael Oher’s brother. You might remember him as the little brother in the movie “The Blind Side.” SJ played college basketball at Loyola (MD).
(4) Golf is at a crossroads. Either it starts lengthening courses to deal with increased distance due to high tech equipment and golf balls or else do something about equipment, specifically golf balls. The USGA and R & A announced Tuesday they have completed a joint study into the equipment and will consider the possibility of limiting distance through changes to equipment and golf balls. Applauding the study was Jack Nicklaus, who said, “The simplest solution is change the frigging golf ball.”
GOOD QUOTES FOR WEDNESDAY
Dana O’Neill of The Athletic on why Bruce Pearl has proven to be the perfect fit for Auburn basketball, which he took to the Final Four last year and has the Tigers ranked 11thnationally this year:
“Before Pearl, Auburn’s history began and ended in the early 1980s with Charles Barkley, the basketball season little more than a placeholder between football season and spring football season. The Tigers went seven years without a winning record, 19 without an SEC title and 15 without an NCAA Tournament bid. Pearl took the job because nobody else wanted it, and Auburn took Pearl because nobody else wanted him, a perfect marriage of the misplaced.”
Pat Forde of Sports Illustrated on the decline in three-point shooting this year, which coincides with the line being moved back 17 inches: “When the rules committee moved the three-point arc back nearly 17 inches to the international distance of 22 feet, 1-3/4 inches, a decrease in long-range accuracy was to be expected this season. That is exactly what has happened. Through games played Jan. 26, Division I players were making an all-time-low 33.59% of their three-pointers. That’s a drop of 0.95% from 2018-19, the largest the sport has seen year over year in at least 26 years … The most recent significant drop in three-point accuracy was 12 years ago when it fell from 35.23 to 34.4%. That’s the last time the line was moved back (by a foot then) and it resulted in a significant reduction in threes attempted (from 19.1 per game to 18.3) … Although three-point accuracy is down this season, volume three-point shooting remains in vogue – teams are hoisting 21.89 threes per game, second highest in history to last year’s 22.43. Do the match: We’re seeing more missed jump shots than ever before.”
Dan Wetzel of Yahoo Sports on the abrupt resignation of Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio and why there was so much wrong with the way Dantonio chose to depart:
“If he wanted to set the program up for the future, he should have announced last October or November he was stepping down at season’s end. Then State would have had plenty of time and a fair shot to attract the very best replacement possible. The new guy could have salvaged the recruiting class and started trying to re-establish momentum that doesn’t come easily in East Lansing … Instead, Dantonio remained defiant that much of anything was wrong. He bristled at suggestions he should retire or that he couldn’t rebuild. He extended the malaise that hung over everything. In the process, he stuck around long enough to pick up a $4.3 million retention bonus by being employed by the school on Jan. 15.”
RANDOM THOUGHTS: Isaiah Joe, the best player and scorer (16 points per game) at Arkansas (16-6, 4-5 SEC), is out indefinitely after arthroscopic surgery on his knee. His loss is going to make it difficult for the Razorbacks to get off the NCAA Tournament bubble … For those of you in need of a football fix, the XFL season kicks off Saturday. The league will play a 10-game schedule with four of the eight teams making the playoffs. The Tampa Bay Vipers will open their season Sunday on the road against the New York Guardians. Former Georgia QB Aaron Murray is the Tampa Bay QB. Bobby Stoops is coaching the Dallas Renegades … The New York Knicks fired team president Steve Mills. Ownership wants to hire the president of the Toronto Ruptures Masai Ujiri. Let’s see, the Ruptures won the NBA championship last year and they have the third best record in the league this year even without Kawhi Leonard and they are a well-run organization. So why would Ujiri choose to leave an organization committed to winning championships for a train wreck like the Knicks? … The Jacksonville Jaguars will play two home games in London’s Wembley Stadium in 2020. Games in London generate twice as much money as a home game in Jacksonville … UNLV running back Darran Williams, age 22, suffered a heart attack during an offseason conditioning workout. Doctors discovered Williams had an enlarged heart and placed him in a medically induced coma. Williams obviously will retire from football but UNLV will honor his scholarship.