A 180-DEGREE TURNAROUND
When Mike White analyzes the video of Florida’s 71-55 win over Ole Miss at the O-Dome he will fill a pad with things that went wrong and things that need serious improvement. There is no such thing as a perfect game and this was about as far from perfect as you can get. Ole Miss was playing without two starters, one of whom was Brein Tyree, the SEC’s leading scorer, so in some respects it is a flawed win. But no matter who the Gators were playing and whether they were at full strength or missing critical pieces, the Florida team that took the floor was filled with energy, prepared to give more than enough effort and the focus was there. That is exactly what Mike White needed to see.
Contrast that to the lack of effort, energy and focus, not to mention a complete abandonment of anything that resembled defense in last Saturday’s 91-75 loss to Missouri in Columbia. Missouri, too, wasn’t at full strength, but the Tigers made up for the absence of their 6-11 center (Jeremiah Tilmon) with effort and energy at both ends of the floor while the Gators played as if they were paralyzed and unable to flaunt their superior talent. Superior talent was crushed by maximum sustained effort that night.
Tuesday night’s game was a 180-degree turnaround from that game at Mizzou and White saw it coming at Monday’s practice. That was followed up by a fully-focused Tuesday morning shoot-around.
As a believer that you play like you practice, White had a clue the Gators were going to play hard and play well. At Mizzou he felt impending disaster. Tuesday he felt his team was ready to play well.
“Guys chomping at the bit this morning at shoot-around, focused and holding each other accountable,” White said. “It was loud in the gym … yesterday was very good and we were in here and got after it and had a very good practice.”
The carryover from the shoot-around was most visible with the defensive effort the Gators showed in the game’s first few minutes. Florida jumped out to a 14-4 lead because Ole Miss was pressured into more turnovers (three) than it had shots from the field (two) in the game’s first four minutes.
It was 17-6 when Ole Miss went on an 16-2 run in which the roles completely reversed. That Ole Miss team that seemed teetering on the verge of a blowout loss started playing like Missouri and the Gators, for nearly six minutes, transformed into that same team that Missouri blew out.
And just like that, the energy and focus returned. In the final 8:22 of the first half, the Gators went from down 22-19 to a 40-28 lead at the break. The Gators hit nine straight shots, a streak that was broken only at the horn to end the half when Kerry Blackshear Jr. threw up a contested three-ball.
When the Gators returned to the court to start the second half, the energy and momentum were still there. From a defensive standpoint, Florida held Ole Miss to 29.17% shooting overall (7-29) in the second half and just 12.5% on three pointers (1-8). Offensively, the Gators weren’t as hot as they were in the first half when they hit 18-29 from the field, but the way they were playing defense, Ole Miss wasn’t capable of mounting a serious comeback.
As we saw Tuesday night, when the Gators play with great intensity, particularly on the defensive end of the floor, good things happen. This game was a step in the right direction but can the Gators get on a roll and play up to their potential? Florida is four games into an 18-game SEC schedule and there is a matchup looming with 2nd-ranked Baylor in the SEC-Big 12 Challenge coming up but there isn’t a game remaining that the Gators aren’t capable of winning. Capable of winning and actually doing it are two different things. Winning will start with good practice habits that create the energy and focus White will need to see the rest of the way.
When the Gators play tough defense, hit some shots and play with energy and focus, there isn’t a team in the country they can’t beat. When they play like they did in Columbia, there isn’t a team in the country they can’t lose to.
We’ll have to wait and see if UF can grow out of its schizophrenic ways. It will start with some consistency of effort and energy on the practice floor.
SEC SCORES/SCHEDULE Tuesday’s scores FLORIDA (11-5, 3-1 SEC) 71, Ole Miss (9-7, 0-3 SEC) 55 LSU (12-4, 4-0 SEC) 89, Texas A&M (9-7, 2-2 SEC) 85, OT Mississippi State (10-6, 1-3 SEC) 72, Missouri (9-7, 1-3 SEC) 45 Wednesday’s games #10 Kentucky (12-3, 3-0 SEC) at South Carolina (8-7, 0-2 SEC), SEC Network Tennessee (10-5, 2-1 SEC) at Georgia (10-5, 0-2 SEC), ESPNU Vanderbilt (8-7, 0-2 SEC) at Arkansas (13-2, 2-1 SEC), SEC Network #4 Auburn (15-0, 3-0 SEC) at Alabama (8-7, 1-2 SEC)
THINKING OUT LOUD ON A WEDNESDAY
(1) The euphoria Coach O must have been feeling when he woke up Tuesday morning was greeted by a brick wall called reality. Not only does Coach O have to replace a record-setting Heisman Trophy winner in Joe Burrow, who put together the greatest season of any quarterback in college football history, but reports have it that he’ll have to replace the assistant coach who was the mastermind in transforming the LSU offense from archaic to Star Wars. If the reports are true that Joe Brady has departed for the offensive coordinator job with the NFL Carolina Panthers, then the monumental task facing Coach O will be to find someone with a similar mind and background as Brady. A name that you might hear in the next day or two is New Orleans Saints wide receivers coach Ronald Curry. Curry is a former collegiate QB (at North Carolina), who played in the NFL and was part of the Saints staff with Brady, learning the intricacies of Sean Payton’s offense that is designed to maximize the talents of Drew Brees.
(2) Will the departure of Brady affect the decision of Houston grad transfer QB D’Eriq King? King, who has a strong enough arm to make all the throws and electric feet, was thought to be teetering on the verge of enrolling at LSU but if Brady isn’t there, King just might turn his focus to Oklahoma where Lincoln Riley has produced two Heisman Trophy winners (Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray) and a Heisman runner-up (Jalen Hurts) in the last three years, all of whom were transfers.
(3) There are reports Wednesday morning that Missouri State, a D1AA team in the same league with the North Dakota State dynasty (five straight national championships), is about to hire former Baylor coach Art Briles as its head ball coach. This is probably a good landing spot for Briles, who has an image to rebuild after the debacle at Baylor. Apparently Missouri State isn’t swayed by public opinion the way Tennessee was two years ago when there were on campus demonstrations that forced out Greg Schiano even before he could formally take the job. Further evidence that the Missouri State admin is more concerned with rebuilding its football program than its public image is the runner-up for the HBC job was Bobby Petrino.
(4) Pete Thamel of Yahoo Sports is reporting that Baylor is on the verge of hiring Justin Fuente away from Virginia Tech. Fuente has been revamping his VaTech staff, so this would be a rather curious move on his part, especially since he’s returning 21 starters for 2020. If Fuente elects to move it’s likely because he constantly feels the shadow of Frank Beamer. As Lou Holtz once said when asked if he would like to succeed Woody Hayes at Ohio State, “I would never follow a legend but I wouldn’t mind being the guy who follows the guy who followed the legend.” If Fuente elects to leave for Baylor, who would Virginia Tech go after? Probably the two prominent names you will hear if Fuente leaves are Louisiana-Lafayette HBC Billy Napier and Arkansas State HBC Blake Anderson. Both Napier and Anderson have interviewed for the Baylor job.
(5) If you require further proof that there are no dominant teams in college basketball, at least at this point in the season, then take a look at what happened to 3rd-ranked Duke Tuesday night. The Dookies were ambushed on the road at Clemson, that same Clemson team that lost to the same South Carolina and Miami teams the Gators blew out. Check out the AP and Coaches polls and you’ll see teams with four and five losses up and down the charts and we’re just reaching the halfway point of January. It will be mid- to late February before we start seeing dominant teams emerge. We don’t have teams like last year’s national champ Virginia or Villanova of 2018 or North Carolina of 2016 that were filled with experienced upperclassmen. At some point, some of these younger teams – Florida is a good example – are going to figure things out and begin to fulfill their potential on the court but until then there will be a lot of very talented teams on a roller coaster ride of good to great one day and poor to disastrous the next.
GOOD QUOTE FOR WEDNESDAY
From Nicole Auerbach of The Athletic, Mississippi State president Mark Keenum on if and when the College Football Playoff expands from four to eight or more teams: “We have time. We have six years left on our current contract (with ESPN). We have time to be forthright and diligent in how (we make changes) and if we want to make changes. And, do we want to make changes? We’re very pleased with the current system we have in place. Are there ideas we’d want to tweak, change or expand? How could it strengthen college football? Can we have a better experience for our fans or student-athletes? These are things we have to give real serious thought to. Conversations have been ongoing and will continue to be ongoing on how we can possibly improve our College Football Playoff system.”
RANDOM THOUGHTS: As if it wasn’t bad enough that the Houston Astros fired their GM and manager because of a sign stealing scandal that has rocked Major League Baseball, the Boston Red Sox have fired manager Alex Cora for his active participation in sign stealing … UNC-Wilmington fired basketball coach C.B. McGrath on Monday. Since taking over after Kevin Keatts departed for North Carolina State, McGrath was a combined 21-44 his first two seasons and 5-14 at the time of his firing … Citing health reasons, Carolina Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly has announced his retirement from pro football. He is 28 years old.