Thoughts of the Day: January 20, 2021

A few thoughts to jump start your Wednesday morning:

DID ANYBODY SEE THIS COMING?

Okay, admit it. No one will hold it against you if you come right out and admit that the moment you heard Colin Castleton was a starting lineup scratch you thought 6th-ranked Tennessee was going to make the Florida Gators regret they had ever taken up the game of basketball. If someone had told you the final score would be 75-49, you probably would have thought that sounded right as in Tennessee 75 and Florida 49.


But Florida 75, Tennessee 49?


Did you see that coming? Have you pinched yourself to make sure you weren’t dreaming? Are you asking yourself who were these guys who made a bad week even worse for creamsicle clad Vol fans everywhere?


And now that you’ve stopped giggling, are you wondering how in the heck did that happen? Don’t feel all alone. Everybody else is asking the same exact questions because even with Castleton and Scottie Lewis in the lineup, the Vols would be favored to beat the Gators ten times out of ten. Without them? No way. Or at least, that’s what everyone was thinking.


Only there was a way and it started with the best defense the Gators have played in the last couple of years combined with Mike White getting a contribution from every scholarship player available including Jason Jitoboh, who proved the brief sighting in Starkville back on Saturday wasn’t some kind of mirage. The Gators held Tennessee to 29.3% shooting overall and 3-18 from the 3-point line by playing a hair on fire scrambling style that forced the Vols into an uncharacteristic 18 turnovers that were converted into 27 Florida points. Coming into the Game, Tennessee ranked among the top five teams in the country in fewest turnovers.


The Gators harassed the Vols on the perimeter, forcing Tennessee’s four-man guard rotation into a rotten 8-37 from the field and 2-14 from the 3-point line. When the Vols tried to muscle the Gators inside, they were met up with the trio of Omar Payne (9 points, 9 rebounds, 5 blocked shots), Jitoboh (2 points, 3 rebounds, 1 block) and Osayi Osifo (4 points, 6 rebounds), all of whom played their best games of the season.


What happened in the paint was in startling contrast to the game against Mississippi State, which saw UF outrebounded by 21 and the Bulldogs scoring at will. Florida outscored Tennessee 42-22 in the paint and outrebounded the Vols 44-36.


On the offensive end, the Gators didn’t get too enamored with the 3-point shot, choosing instead to take the Vols off the bounce, something that wasn’t supposed to happen. Tyree Appleby (13 points, 4 rebounds, 7 assists, 3 steals) controlled the tempo from the point, enabling Tre Mann (12 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 block, 1 steal) and Noah Locke (14 points, 3 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal) to focus on scoring. When Appleby needed a breather, the Gators got 14 solid minutes from Ques Glover (10 points, 1 assist, 3 steals). Even freshman Neils Lane (6 points, 5 rebounds, 1 steal) gave solid minutes.


Tennessee apologists will try to tell you the Vols came out flat and simply played poorly, but the reason they had such a bad game was because Florida played its best game of the season in all phases, compensating with hustle, inspiration and an extraordinary defensive effort to make up for the lack of Castleton and Lewis in the lineup.


Castleton will be back Saturday when the Gators travel to Athens to face Georgia and it is anticipated that Lewis will also make the trip, but with or without them, it’s up to Mike White to get that kind of effort and those kind of contributions from everyone on his bench. If White can get his team to play to that level Saturday, then they have a very good chance to take down Georgia. If he can get them to play to that level every game the rest of the season, there isn’t a game on the schedule the Gators aren’t capable of winning.


For the moment you might be asking who were those guys? But if they can play like that with any consistency in upcoming games and the rest of the season, then this Florida team will be heading to Indianapolis to play in the NCAA Tournament. If you saw the loss to Mississippi State or the previous losses to Alabama and Kentucky, you probably were thinking no way this team makes the big dance. If they can play as they did against Tennessee the rest of the year, there is no way they don’t make it.

Tuesday SEC Scores FLORIDA (7-4, 4-3 SEC) 75, #6 Tennessee (10-2, 5-2 SEC) 49 #19 Missouri (9-2, 3-2 SEC) 81, South Carolina (3-4, 1-2 SEC) 70 #18 Alabama (12-3, 7-0 SEC) 105, LSU (10-3, 5-2 SEC) 75

Ole Miss (7-6, 2-4 SEC) 64, Mississippi State (9-6, 4-3 SEC) 46

Wednesday SEC Games

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)

Texas A&M (7-5, 2-4 SEC) at Vanderbilt (4-6, 0-4 SEC), postponed


OVER, UNDER, AROUND AND THROUGH THE SEC ALABAMA: Linebacker Josh McMillan announced that he’s heading to the NFL rather than return for a SEVENTH year of eligibility.

ARKANSAS: Linebacker Hayden Henry became the ninth senior to announce he will return for 2021.

KENTUCKY: Asked on Kentucky Sports Radio if he was shocked that Tennessee fired HBC Jeremy Pruitt, UK head coach Mark Stoops replied, “Does it surprise me? Not one bit.”

LSU: Coach O’s search for a defensive coordinator is starting to seem like a Tennessee search for a head football coach. The Tigers thought they had their guy in Ryan Nielson, but he was given a new contract by the New Orleans Saints, so he’s staying in the NFL. Nielson is at least the fourth coach LSU has tried to hire to replace Bo Pelini.

MISSISSIPPI STATE: Wide receiver Osirus Mitchell, who caught 47 passes for 505 yards and four TDs in 2020, will move on to the NFL … Former running back Lee Witherspoon is transferring to UAB.

OLE MISS: Tight ends coach Joe Jon Finley is leaving Ole Miss to become the special teams coordinator at Oklahoma.

SOUTH CAROLINA: Former starting QB Ryan Hilinski is transferring to Northwestern.

VANDERBILT: Baltimore Ravens secondary coach Jesse Minter will be the defensive coordinator at Vanderbilt.


PAT FORDE SAID IT …

In Sports Illustrated, Forde talks about how Tennessee’s program has sunk to even lower depths since a 2017 fan revolt prevented the hiring of Greg Schiano. Following the Schiano debacle, athletic director Phil Fulmer was hired. Fulmer crowed that the football program was back with the hiring of Jeremy Pruitt. Three years later, Pruitt has been canned with cause and Fulmer is being forced to retire.


Good job, Vols. Good effort. You got your program back – whatever that means – and it’s a bigger dumpster fire than ever. You’ve surpassed even Auburn as the Dysfunction Capital of the Southeastern Conference. Maybe leave the radio guy’s opinions out of the coaching search this time. Maybe get an athletic director who knows how to do the job, instead of a comfort hire whose only qualification was being a beloved former coach.


“Tennessee emerges from its revolutionary phase in sorrier shape than when it entered. Pruitt’s .457 winning percentage is the second lowest in the past 114 years at the school among coaches who lasted more than one season. And now there is an NCAA scandal afoot.”


DAN PATRICK SAID IT

On his nationally syndicated radio show Tuesday, Dan Patrick took the accusations of cheating at Tennessee to a new level and kept stirring the pot about potential violations at Georgia as well.


“I was told there are a few things going on there and I asked my source, ‘How did they get these assistant head coaches on recruiting violations?’ And he said, ‘Well, they put money into McDonald’s bags and gave them to the recruits when they came on campus. Some of the campus visits were not organized or there were not above board, but they were handing out cash … so you literally had bag men and they put the cash in McDonald’s bags and handed them to the recruits.’


“My source said they were so in-your-face with it … they weren’t even trying to hide it and that’s where my source said, ‘Tennessee got sloppy, Georgia got sloppy, but there’s been no word on the NCAA looking at Georgia. But Tennessee, they got sloppy and they were handing out cash in McDonald’s bags.”


Of course, there were denials at Tennessee. Georgia issued its denials a week ago when Patrick accused Georgia of playing fast and soft with the NCAA recruiting rules.


REST IN PEACE DON SUTTON

If the late Florida baseball coach Dave Fuller could have had a do over, he would have signed Don Sutton to a scholarship. Sutton grew up wanting to be a Gator but Fuller wasn’t interested. Three years later, Sutton was pitching in the Major Leagues, where he won 324 games over a Hall of Fame career in which he incredibly won only 20 or more games once. Sutton finished his career ranked 7th in Major League Baseball history in strikeouts, 9th in shutouts and 14th in wins. Sutton died Monday at the age of 75.


ONE FINAL PITHY THOUGHT: Tell me you aren’t naïve enough to believe that University of Tennessee chancellor Donde Plowman’s feigned outrage over having to fire football coach Jeremy Pruitt was actually about cheating. It wasn’t. Yes, there was cheating and most likely on a wider scale than we even know at this moment since the NCAA only recently sent its investigators to Knoxville. When it comes to college football, where there is smoke there is a dumpster fire and there has been plenty of smoke the last couple of years in Knoxville. Cheating in this case was simply the convenient vehicle the University of Tennessee needed to (a) fire Pruitt and (b) do it without having to pay him a buyout in excess of $12 million. They can talk all they want to about the Vol standard and integrity, but if there were any real integrity in Knoxville they would have told the truth when they fired Pruitt – that he wasn’t winning enough football games and they don’t think he’s capable of consistently winning games in the future.

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