Thoughts of the Day: January 19, 2021

A few thoughts to jump start your Tuesday morning:

GATORS WON’T HAVE SCOTTIE LEWIS TONIGHT In his two-game absence for health-related issues, it’s been a mixed bag for the Mike White and the Florida Gators. In beating Ole Miss, 72-63, Noah Locke picked things up on the offensive end while Anthony Duruji complemented Colin Castleton’s eight blocked shots on the defensive end with strong rebounding and tough defense in the paint. In the loss to Mississippi State, Locke wasn’t feeling it with his shooting and with Duruji managing only 16 minutes due to foul issues, Castleton didn’t get a lot of help in the paint against MSU’s bigger, stronger front line.

Even though they split the two games, the Gators missed the defense as well as the offensive contributions of Lewis, who finds ways to contribute on both ends of the floor. With Lewis out for yet a third game tonight when 6th-ranked Tennessee comes to the O-Dome, White has to find a player or a combination of players who can compensate for what Lewis brings to the game.

The Gators typically shoot much better at home and it would figure they’ll have a decent outing tonight evem without Lewis in the lineup, but most home games aren’t against Tennessee. The Vols are one of the more fun teams to watch in the SEC and when it comes to defense, they might be the most sound team in the country. The Vols don’t give up cheap shots in the paint, close out on shooters on the perimeter and they are exceptional at limiting opponents to one shot and done.

Tyree Appleby, who scored 20 in the loss to Mississippi State, will have to pick up some of the offensive slack, but he has to have more help from Locke and Tre Mann, who combined to go 9-27 from the field. Locke (40.5%) and Mann (41.3%) are Florida’s best 3-point shooters and they will have to make shots for the Gators to be in the hunt for a win against Tennessee, which gives up just 30.3% from long distance.

Castleton (16 points, 7 rebounds, 6 blocked shots) has to get more help from Duruji if the Gators are to neutralize 6-9 John Fulkerson (11.9 points, 6.4 rebounds) who lit up the Gators for 22 last year. This is a very balanced Tennessee team but the key to beating the Vols is to keep Fulkerson from going off.

Joe Lunardi currently has the Gators on the 10-seed line on his latest NCAA brackets. For the Gators to make the NCAA Tournament they can’t afford to lose home games, so this is a critical contest tonight, particularly since Tennessee comes into this game ranked 4th in the NCAA Net Rankings. Florida is ranked 47th which means the Gators are slightly outside the comfort zone to make the NCAA Tournament. The Gators are 1-2 against top 50 teams (Quad 1) in the Net Rankings and 0-2 against teams ranked 51-100 (Quad 2). Tuesday SEC games

#6 Tennessee (10-1, 4-1 SEC) at FLORIDA (6-4, 3-3 SEC) South Carolina (3-3, 1-1 SEC) at #19 Missouri (8-2, 2-2 SEC) #18 Alabama (11-3, 6-0 SEC) at LSU (10-2, 5-1 SEC) Ole Miss (6-6, 1-4 SEC) at Mississippi State (9-5, 4-2 SEC) Wednesday SEC games Texas A&M (7-5, 2-4) at Vanderbilt (4-6, 0-4 SEC) Kentucky (4-8, 3-2 SEC) at Georgia (8-4, 1-4 SEC) Auburn (8-6, 2-4 SEC) at Arkansas (10-4, 2-4 SEC)

ASSOCIATED PRESS TOP 25 BASKETBALL POLL: (1) Gonzaga 14-0; (2) Baylor 12-0; (3) Villanova 8-1; (4) Iowa 12-2; (5) Texas 11-2; (6) Tennessee 10-1; (7) Michigan 11-1; (8) Houston 11-1; (9) Kansas 10-3; (10) Wisconsin 11-3; (11) Creighton 10-3; (12) Texas Tech 11-4; (13) Virginia 9-2; (14) West Virginia 9-4; (15) Ohio State 11-3; (16) Virginia Tech 11-2; (17) Minnesota 11-4; (18) Alabama 11-3; (19) Missouri 8-2; (20) Clemson 9-2; (21) Oregon 9-2; (22) Illinois 9-5; (23) UConn 7-1; (24) UCLA 11-2; (25) Saint Louis 7-1

COACHES TOP 25 BASKETBALL POLL: (1) Gonzaga 14-0; (2) Baylor 12-0; (3) Villanova 8-1; (4) Iowa 12-2; (5) Texas 11-2; (6) Tennessee 10-1; (7) Michigan 11-1; (8) Houston 11-1; (9) Kansas 10-3; (10) Wisconsin 11-3; (11) Creighton 10-3; (12) Virginia 9-2; (13) Texas Tech 11-4; (14) Virginia Tech 11-2; (15) West Virginia 9-4; (16) Alabama 11-3; (17) Minnesota 11-4; (18) Ohio State 11-3; (19) Missouri 8-2; (20) UCLA 11-2; (21) Oregon 9-2; (22) Clemson 9-2; (23) Colorado 11-3; (24) Illinois 9-5; (25) Florida State 7-2

GATOR BASEBALL EARNS ANOTHER PRESEASON NO. 1 RANKING joined Perfect Game and Collegiate Baseball in selecting the Gators as nation’s preseason No. 1 team. The Gators were ranked No. 1 in the nation with a 16-1 record when the 2020 season was cancelled due to the Covid-19 outbreak. With eight of nine position starters returning as well as the entire weekend rotation and closer, the Gators have the nation’s most experienced team returning for the first season ever in the new Florida Ballpark at McKethan Field.

D1BASEBALL.COM TOP 25 PRESEASON POLL: (1) FLORIDA; (2) UCLA; (3) Texas Tech; (4) Vanderbilt; (5) Louisville; (6) Ole Miss; (7) Mississippi State; (8) Arkansas; (9) Texas; (10) TCU; (11) UC-Santa Barbara; (12) LSU; (13) North Carolina State; (14) West Virginia; (15) Georgia Tech; (16) Virginia; (17) Wake Forest; (18) South Carolina; (19) Tennessee; (20) Oklahoma State; (21) Miami; (22) Arizona; (23) Auburn; (24) Florida State; (25) East Carolina

TENNESSEE HAS DUG ITSELF A VERY DEEP HOLE Jeremy Pruitt has been fired at Tennessee. This isn’t your ordinary pink slipping, but with cause, which means there will be no $12.3 million buyout and old coaching buddies won’t return your phone calls for at least a couple of years. Bet the farm that even St. Nick’s Home for Wayward Coaches won’t have one of those $35,000-a-year analyst jobs waiting to help scrub up a badly tarnished image.

Memo to Jeremy Pruitt: If – and a big if here – you ever get a head coaching job in Division I again, make darn sure that (a) upon dismissal your contract gets paid in full (See Gus Malzahn; see Will Muschamp; see Tom Herman) no matter the circumstances and (b) you make sure you get fired for losing football games not for a whole passel of Level I and Level II recruiting violations that will have the NCAA jamming an electron microscope up your rectum without so much a drop of Vaseline.

Jeremy Pruitt’s career has just done a full gainer with a half twist nosedive into the coaching equivalent of an overflowing septic tank. If he hasn’t saved his money (he’s been paid more than $11 million dollars by the University of Tennessee the last three years), then he might be fortunate to land a job teaching driver’s education at some high school somewhere. Although Pruitt’s dismissal papers don’t come right out and say he cheated, the verbiage makes it abundantly clear that he’s a moron if he didn’t know what was going on right under his nose. He will be lucky to get something less than a three-year show cause.

Also getting the exit, although under slightly less dubious circumstances is athletic director Phil Fulmer, AKA Phattus Maximus. He is being forcibly retired because he (a) is perceived to have had a hand in the ousting of previous athletic director John Currie; (b) hired Pruitt in the first place; and (c) when things were going badly in the 2020 season he gave Pruitt a raise and a contract extension. At least Fulmer will be allowed to stay on the job until a new athletic director is hired.

So let the hiring process begin. Only problem is, Tennessee is such a mess now that it may require scraping the bottom of the barrel to find replacements. The athletic department is bleeding so much red ink that the new AD will need the skills of a circus juggler to get the books anywhere close to balanced. Based on Tennessee’s admission that it has found numerous Level I and Level II violations, the new head coach will inherit a program destined to spend years wearing the pink jump suits and rubber sole shoes that are standard issue in the NCAA jail house. Since the bulk of the violations appear to be recruiting-related, reduced scholarships for multiple years isn’t out of the question.

All things considered it seems likely that newly-appointed interim head coach Kevin Steele – he of the 9-36 record as Baylor’s head coach way back when – will get to test drive this Yugo for the next year. Steele isn’t going anywhere and Tennessee will save a bunch of money by paying him what amounts to SEC minimum wage. He got a two-year deal worth $450,000 a season a week ago. Figure he’ll get a bump up to something like $2 million while the school sweats out punishment that is unlikely to be meted out in several months if not a couple of years. It would be hard to find anyone decent to coach the Vols without first knowing how long before the NCAA grants parole.

So, for all practical purposes, you can eliminate the following names from the coaching search in Knoxville – Billy Napier (Louisiana), Jamey Chadwell (Coastal Carolina), and Hugh Freeze (Liberty). There is some talk that Bill O’Brien is the right guy for the job since he lifted Penn State out of its NCAA but would he be better served to take over a Tennessee program with the wheels falling off or spending a couple of years getting life pumped back into his career while serving as the offensive coordinator at St. Nick’s?

Someone might be desperate enough to take the Tennessee job. As P.T. Barnum used to say, “There’s a sucker born every minute.” Tennessee ought to know. In every one of the four previous head coach searches since 2009, the new head ball coach at UT has been at least the seventh choice in every one of those exercises in futility.

DUMB STATEMENT OF THE DAY Jeremy Pruitt got fired at Tennessee for multiple recruiting violations on his watch that school chancellor Donde Plowman called “significant” at the press conference when all the reasons for pink slipping Pruitt were given. At that same press conference, soon to be retired athletic director Phattus Maximus was asked to list some of Pruitt’s accomplishments.

“Certainly the recruiting has been good,” Fulmer replied.

Let’s see, the school chancellor is announcing that the head football coach and eight other staffers are no longer gainfully employed because of recruiting violations and the athletic director who hired Pruitt says the recruiting has been good?

Just calling that statement dumb is an insult to anyone who has ever made a dumb statement.

OVER, UNDER, AROUND AND THROUGH IN THE SEC ALABAMA: Former Jacksonville Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone has emerged as the most likely to become the new O-line coach.

AUBURN: The new wide receivers coach is Cornelius Williams, who spent the last six seasons coaching the wide receivers at Troy.

LSU: Just when it seemed Coach O was about to hire New Orleans Saints assistant Ryan Nielson as the defensive coordinator, a report surfaced that the language of Nielson’s contract with the Saints might prevent him leaving for a college job. It might be as simple as a buyout, but it’s also possible Nielson will be prevented from leaving.

MISSOURI: Blaze Alldredge, an All-Conference USA linebacker at Rice, will be a grad transfer at Mizzou next season. In 2020, Alldrege was in on 102 tackles including 21.5 for loss, six sacks and two interceptions.

TENNESSEE: On the same day the Vols fired their head coach, former left tackle Wanya Morris announced he’s transferring to Oklahoma.

VANDERBILT: It’s always big news when they do something about facilities at Vandy. They’re renovating the locker rooms now. The renovations are needed even if they won’t cause four-star high school kids to come get their brains beaten out on a regular basis while playing for the Commodores.

ONE FINAL PITHY THOUGHT: Since Phil Fulmer was fired after the 2008 season, Tennessee has hired four football coaches. Of the four, Lane Kiffin (2009) is the only one who left on his own accord and that was after one season. Kiffin, it should be noted, was not Tennessee’s first choice. Nor were Derek Dooley (2010), Butch Jones (2013) and Pruitt (2018). With each new hire, it was supposed to bring on a return to the glory days, but each subsequent firing makes one thing perfectly clear – something is dreadfully wrong in Knoxville and it may take the better part of a decade plus a great coach to right a sinking ship.

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