Thoughts of the Day: February 5, 2021

A few thoughts to jump start your Friday morning:

FIVE THINGS THAT HAVE ME THINKING 1. I hate two steps forward and one big step backward: The Gators took two very large steps forward when they won four games in a row, beating then 6th-ranked Tennessee and 11th-ranked West Virginia along the way. The team that won those four games is a team quite capable of beating 90-95% of the teams in Division I basketball. The team that lost to South Carolina Tuesday night took one huge step backward. That team is capable of going 0-8 the rest of the regular season.

So what is it going to be for Mike White and the Gators (10-5, 6-4 SEC) the rest of the way? Are they going to play with focus and purpose or are they going to go through these lapses when their collective brains stop functioning? Are they going to make good passes to find the best shot possible or is it going to be one pass and a shot goes up whether it’s a good shot or not? Are they going to protect the basketball or try to force passes that aren’t there and dribble through traffic when there is someone open to throw the ball to? Are they going to own the paint or will they get owned like they did in the first half of the West Virginia game and for long stretches against South Carolina?

They need to find answers to these questions and in a hurry because they hit the road to LSU (11-6, 6-4 SEC) on Saturday and to 11th-ranked Tennessee (12-4, 5-4 SEC) next Wednesday? Both those teams have hit some speed bumps lately and they have to see a game with Florida as an opportunity to right whatever has been going wrong. And, since the Gators beat both of them in Gainesville, you know they have made avoiding a regular season sweep a top priority.

We have seen what the Gators are capable of doing. The win over Tennessee was brilliant at both ends of the court. The win over West Virginia was a classic example of what happens when a team refuses to lose in a big game. That Florida team can go 2-0 in these next two contests. The team that lost to South Carolina can go 0-2.

One thing that needs to happen is for Scottie Lewis to get his game together. He’s played in three of Florida’s four SEC losses and in those three games he has scored a grand total of five points (one against South Carolina) and grabbed all of seven rebounds (three against South Carolina). When he is fully engaged, he gives the Gators someone who can get points in the paint, from the 3-point line and off his defense. When he doesn’t play well, it seems the entire team is dragged down.

2. The best there ever was … : I was asked by a friend to name my best that ever was for the following sports – college football, NFL football, college basketball, NBA basketball, Major League Baseball, PGA Golf and NASCAR. I told him since it’s all subjective, I would name a top five in all those sports and limit it only to those I actually saw play, whether in person or on television. So here goes:

College football: 1. Herschel Walker, Georgia; 2. Tim Tebow, Florida; 3. Roger Staubach, Navy; 4. Lee Roy Jordan, Alabama; 5. Hugh Green, Pittsburgh.

NFL: 1. Jim Brown; 2. Tom Brady; 3. Emmitt Smith; 4. Gayle Sayers; 5. Jerry Rice.

College basketball: 1. Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor, UCLA; 2. Pete Maravich, LSU; 3. David Thompson, North Carolina State; 4. Bill Walton, UCLA; 5. Michael Jordan, North Carolina.

NBA: 1. Michael Jordan; 2. Bill Russell; 3. Wilt Chamberlain; 4. Magic Johnson; 4. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Major League Baseball: 1. Henry Aaron; 2. Bob Gibson; 3. Sandy Koufax; 4. Willie Mays; 5. Johnny Bench.

PGA: 1. Jack Nicklaus; 2. Tiger Woods; 3. Arnold Palmer; 4. Lee Trevino; 5. Tom Watson.

NASCAR: 1. Richard Petty; 2. David Pearson; 3. Dale Earnhardt; 4. Jeff Gordon; 5. Bobby Allison

3. The SEC distributed $45.5 million to its 14 schools for the fiscal year that ended in August 2020: The best piece of news for every athletic department in the Southeastern Conference is the news that each team in the league is receiving a $45.5 million share of revenues, most of which was earned from television and bowl games since there was no NCAA Basketball Tournament revenue to share. Coming in a pandemic year, the fact the SEC increased its revenue sharing from the previous year is huge for the league.

That figure is less than the approximately $54 million distributed by the Big Ten, but significantly more than the $37.7 million distributed by the Big 12, the $32.2 million by the Pac-12 or the $31.8 million for the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Of the money distributed by the SEC, only $50 million (total) comes from the television football contract with CBS. In two years, the new contract with ESPN kicks in, guaranteeing $300 million per year. Since the SEC gets an equal share, it means every SEC athletic department will get a raise of nearly $17 million per year and that is substantial, particularly when the Big 12, Pac-12 and ACC are searching for money.

To put things in further perspective, according to USA Today research, Missouri had the smallest athletic department budget in the Southeastern Conference at $106,610,244 for 2019-20 yet it ranks 37th nationally. Missouri’s budget pales in comparison to SEC brethren Texas A&M ($212,748,022; 2nd nationally), Georgia ($174,042,482; 5th nationally); Alabama ($164,090,889; 7th nationally), Florida (159,706,937; 9th nationally) and LSU ($157, 787,782; 10th nationally).

Ten of the top 20 college athletic budgets belong in the SEC, six in the Big Ten, and two each in the Big 12 and ACC. Texas ($223,879,781; 1st nationally) has the biggest budget in the Big 12. Ohio State ($210,548,329; 3rd nationally) has the largest in the Big Ten. Florida State ($152,757,883) has the largest in the ACC and Washington ($133,792,677; 23rd nationally) has the largest in the Pac-12.

The biggest Group of Five budget for 2019-20 belonged to UConn ($80,900,404l 52nd nationally), but that figure expects to drop considerably after a season with no football and an upcoming season as an independent. The next highest Group of Five budget belonged to Houston ($75,049,955; 53rd nationally).

In the state of Florida, UCF had a budget of $69,121,887 (55th nationally) while South Florida checked in at $55,045,769 (61st nationally); Florida International at $37,018,133 (85th nationally); and Florida Atlantic at $36,297,004 (87th nationally).

4. I wonder how the NCAA will fill out all its brackets for March Madness: Just in the last 24 or so hours, 2nd-ranked and undefeated Baylor (17-0) has had to postpone its next two basketball games because of Covid-19. In the ACC, Louisville has postponed upcoming games with Syracuse and Virginia. Florida State won’t play again until February 13. Up in the Big Ten, 4th-ranked Michigan hasn’t played since January 22 and won’t play again until February 11. In the SEC, Saturday’s game between Texas A&M and Arkansas has been postponed with no makeup date set.

We’re just five days into February, so we have no idea how many games will be postponed or cancelled nor do we know if there is a team or multiple teams out there that will call off the rest of the season. So far, no one has ventured forth with a plan to make up postponed games, either.

Once we hit March, conference tournaments begin when schools have to play three and four consecutive days. I have yet to see a conference offer up a tournament schedule that puts a day or two between each game. Considering limited attendance in arenas, I wonder why play the conference tournaments anyway? At least the NCAA Tournament is stretched over three consecutive weekends. With each game – none of which is played on consecutive days – the tournament field is halved but what happens if we get to the Elite Eight and three teams have to put things on hold because of the virus? What happens if one of the Final Four teams has to go into quarantine?

I know the NCAA wants to stay positive about the tournament but conference tournaments begin in a month and Selection Sunday is in six weeks. I think the NCAA needs to announce ASAP contingency plans for filling out the brackets and for dealing with teams that have to go into quarantine. It would be great if the tournament goes off without a glitch, but given what I am seeing so far, I just can’t believe that’s possible.

5. I hate picking against a team from the state of Florida in the Super Bowl but …: The more I watch Patrick Mahomes, the more I see him redefining the quarterback position in the NFL over the next decade. Now, Tom Brady is indeed the greatest quarterback of all time in the No Fun League and he’s got the Super Bowl rings to prove it. He will be on pro football’s biggest stage for the tenth time in his career on Sunday and I do expect he will have a phenomenal game, but I look at that 25-year-old kid on the other sideline and I ask myself how can you pick against him?

Tampa Bay is playing at home and with a chance to offer long-suffering Bucs fans with medicine to soothe their tortured souls in the form of the second championship in the franchise’s history. I want him to play well. I expect him to play well. I expect the Bucs to play well.

But, I also expect the Kansas City Chiefs to play well and I expect Patrick Mahomes to play better than Tom Brady. In watching the Chiefs march to their second consecutive Super Bowl I’ve watched Mahomes make throws no other quarterback can make with stunning accuracy. He reminds me in some respects of Hall of Fame shortstop Ozzie Smith, who could make throws on the move that no other shortstop could dream of making. When Mahomes is on the move, he makes throws from all angles, much the way Ozzie made them. And, I’m reminded when he attempts and completes these throws that nobody else in pro football even tries that Patrick’s dad spent ten years in the Major Leagues. So maybe it all comes about naturally.

Now add wide receiver Tyreek Hill and tight end Travis Kelce to the equation. I just don’t believe the Bucs have the players on defense to neutralize them.

So, reluctantly, I am picking against the Bucs. I don’t hate the Bucs. I don’t hate Tom Brady. I just think Patrick Mahomes will be the difference maker Sunday and the Chiefs will win their second consecutive Super Bowl, becoming the first team since New England 2004-05 to go back-to-back.

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