Thoughts of the Day: January 22, 2021

A few thoughts to jump start your Friday morning:

CUT THE HEAD OFF THE SNAKE That’s how the late, great Al McGuire defined his defensive philosophy. Identify the player that makes the other team go, then design a defensive strategy to neutralize and take him out of the game.

In the case of the Florida Gators Saturday afternoon when they travel to Athens to face a Georgia team that has won its last two, the snake is tiny point guard Sahvir Wheeler, a 5-10 blur who makes the Bulldogs go. He scores 14.2 points per game but what he does best is use his quickness to get into the lane where he turns lethal as a passer. Wheeler averages an SEC-best 7.4 assists per game.

When Wheeler is penetrating, the Bulldogs get high percentage shots. They aren’t going to beat many people from the 3-point line (32.3%) but they rely on getting good shots in the paint, which is why they rank third in the league in overall shooting percentage (46.2%). They are also third in the league in offensive rebounds (13.2 per game) so they clean up a lot of shots around the rim even though they’re one of the smaller teams in the SEC.

On the inside, the Gators have to be particularly aware of 6-8 Toumani Camara, Georgia’s tallest player and most effective inside scorer at 13.3 per game. In Georgia’s 63-62 win over Kentucky Wednesday night, Camara and his backup, 6-6 Andrew Garcia, combined for 22 points and 14 rebounds. Wheeler had 10 points and seven assists.

The Gators are coming off their best defensive game of the season against 6th-ranked Tennessee, which was held to 29.8% overall shooting and a miserable 3-18 from the 3-point line. The Gators forced 18 turnovers and completely controlled the paint with 6-10 Omar Payne (9 points, 9 rebounds, 5 blocked shots), 6-8 Osayi Osifo (4 points, 6 rebounds) and Jason Jitoboh (2 points, 3 rebounds, 1 blocked shot, 1 steal). The Gators will be bolstered by the return of 6-11 Colin Castleton, who ranks second in the SEC at 2.3 blocked shots per game and has 14 in the last two games he played. Scottie Lewis, who also defends at a very high level, is expected to be back after missing the last two games due to health protocols.

Although it’s not quite the midway point of the SEC schedule, this qualifies as a must win for the Gators since Georgia is a tier two team in the NCAA net rankings (No. 99) while the Gators are in the top tier at No. 28. It’s a very winnable game but only if Florida shows up defensively, neutralizes Wheeler and controls the action in the paint.

Saturday’s SEC games FLORIDA (7-4, 4-3 SEC) at Georgia (9-4, 2-4 SEC) #19 Missouri (9-2, 3-2 SEC) at #6 Tennessee (10-2, 4-2 SEC) #18 Alabama (12-3, 7-0 SEC) at Mississippi State (9-6, 4-3 SEC)

LSU (10-3, 5-2 SEC) at Kentucky (4-9, 3-3 SEC)

Texas A&M (7-5, 2-4 SEC) at Ole Miss (7-6, 2-4 SEC) Arkansas (11-4, 3-4 SEC) at Vanderbilt (4-6, 0-4 SEC) Auburn (8-7, 2-5 SEC) at South Carolina (3-4, 1-2 SEC)

OVER, UNDER, AROUND AND THROUGH THE SEC ALABAMA: It’s finally official. Bill O’Brien, formerly the head coach at Penn State and with the NFL Houston Texans, will be the offensive coordinator … Defensive back Eddie Smith is transferring to Illinois ... Tight end Miller Forristall has hired an agent and will enter the NFL Draft.

AUBURN: Bert Watts is leaving Memphis to coach linebackers and coordinate special teams for Bryan Harsin ... Offensive lineman Kamaar Bell has put his name in the transfer portal ... Apparently defensive back Christian Tuitt has withdrawn his name from the transfer portal.

GEORGIA: New athletic director Josh Brooks pledged $100,000 of his own money to support need-based scholarships at the university.

KENTUCKY: Mark Stoops confirmed that defensive back Kelvin Joseph will not be returning. Joseph had four interceptions and was in on 25 tackles in 2020.

LSU: Early enrollees Deion Smith (WR) and Garrett Nussmeier (QB) will be limited in their participation on pre-spring practice drills. Smith has an issue with his ankle and Nussmeier has an injury to his hand.

MISSOURI: Former Arizona Cardinals head coach Steve Wilks will be the new defensive coordinator for Mizzou.

OLE MISS: The Rebels have 18 early enrollees including 15 from the early signing period.

SOUTH CAROLINA: Derrick Moore, who spent 2021 on the Georgia Tech support staff, has taken the Executive Director of Player Development position with the Gamecocks.

TENNESSEE: The carnage in Knoxville is staggering. Twelve have already transferred out, five have their names in the transfer portal, three have declared for the NFL, two are not on the roster (one academics, one has opted out) and eight seniors who have yet to announce if they’re staying or if they are going. All this before the NCAA barber comes in to slice and dice the scholarships for the recruiting violations.

VANDERBILT: Former running backs coach Tim Horton has taken a job as special teams coordinator/running backs coach at Air Force.

FURTHER PROOF THAT IT’S TIME TO LEAVE THE NCAA ONCE AND FOR ALL Notre Dame got a one-year probation from the NCAA Thursday along with a show cause for assistant coach Todd Lyght. This is the third school that has been nailed for a violation while recruiting linebacker Sav’ell Smalls of Seattle (WA) Garfield. Florida and Texas A&M got a year each from the NCAA with head coaches Dan Mullen and Jimbo Fisher getting show cause penalties.

And for what? The NCAA, in its infinite wisdom, is flexing its muscles over what amounts to a parking ticket. In recruit-speak that is impermissible contact with a recruit. No improper benefits like a McDonald’s bag full of money like Tennessee was reportedly handing out. No cars or $100 an hour jobs for which no work was required.

Nope. Impermissible contact and get this, all with the same recruit who ended up signing with the crosstown University of Washington. Maybe I read too many spy novels by Tom Clancy and Vince Flynn but this reeks of a setup.

This show of force by the NCAA comes at a time when the organization can’t figure out how to deal with a dozen or so coaches tied into a college basketball scandal played out in federal court that resulted in people going to jail. This came complete with wiretaps and other evidence that implicates some of the game’s top coaches and blueblood programs to cheating in which large amounts of money change hands.

At LSU, for example, Will Wade was caught on wiretap bragging about the amount of money he’s already offered a recruit and indicating a willingness to spend more if necessary. Three years later, Wade is still coaching and the NCAA still hasn’t served LSU with a Notice of Allegations, apparently because they are still investigating. Bill Self at Kansas got caught dead to rights but rather than face the NCAA Committee on Infractions Self and Kansas are going to take their case to the Independent Accountability Resolution Process. This is a trial before people who have no active connection to any school under the NCAA umbrella. Accused coaches and schools say they’ll get a fairer hearing that way.

Arizona and coach Sean Miller have been served a Notice of Allegations. They, like Kansas and Self, say they’ll fight it to the bitter end. There’s a ton of indisputable evidence that Miller not only knew exactly what his assistant coach Emmanuel “Book” Richardson was doing but essentially gave his blessings.

The basketball issues are serious stuff and yet the NCAA drags its feet while at the same time acting like Barney Fife throwing Otis Campbell into jail for three football coaches who had an impermissible contact with a recruit.

Now, does cheating take place in football? Absolutely, and a good bit of it is far more serious than a coach talking to some kid on his high school campus. The problem is the NCAA gets caught up in all these misdemeanor cases without ever baring its teeth and going after the schools and coaches who engage in serious cheating. The NCAA rule book is so complex and large that I’ve had more than a few college football coaches tell me that it’s next to impossible to know what’s a violation and what is permissible. It has spurned a cottage industry of compliance lawyers. The bigger the school and the more visible the football and basketball programs, the larger the staff of lawyers and paralegals handling compliance.

There is a simple solution to all this and it’s one rumored to be in the works. The Power Five football schools need to do a Martin Luther, march to the cathedral that is NCAA headquarters in Indianapolis and nail to the door a notice they can no longer be a part of the organization. Once they’ve done that they need to offer the 65 schools that make up the Group of Five an opportunity to walk away with them.

Instead of a certifiable idiot like Mark Emmert running the show, the breakaway schools need to elect their own commissioner – Greg Sankey has already proven he’s the right man for the job by the way he handled the 2020 football season in the Southeastern Conference – and write their own rules. Instead of volumes filled with ticky-tacky rules, write a rule book that can fit into a coach’s hip pocket that comes complete with swift, serious punishment for those who insist on breaking the law.

NCAA president Mark Emmert claims this is a terrible idea. The terrible idea is for the football playing schools continuing to allow Emmert and his band of bureaucratic minions stand in the way of the kind of reformation that is long overdue.

There is nothing to be gained by staying in the NCAA. Time to move on.

A FEW OTHER THOUGHTS Danny White, the younger brother of University of Florida basketball coach Mike White, is the new athletic director at the smoldering landfill fire that is known as the University of Tennessee. Job number one will be to decide whether interim coach Kevin Steele needs to continue in that role through the 2021 season or if there is a sucker out there willing to take on a football program that is going to be wearing the pink jump suit and rubber sole shoes that are standard issue for the NCAA jail house.

The Pac-12 has filed for divorce with commissioner Larry Scott. Final papers are set to be signed with the split official as of June 30. The irreconcilable differences in this particular separation have everything to do with the rotten television contracts and bowl agreements negotiated by Scott that (a) keep the league’s schools off national television at decent hours and (b) the lack of revenue from those contracts. The Big Ten shells out $55 million to its schools every year while SEC schools get $45 million now although that number will increase by $20 million a year per school once the contract with CBS comes to an end. Pac-12 schools get $32 million.

There is a 50% chance of snow Sunday when the Tampa Bay Bucs travel to Green Bay for the NFC championship game. The Packers are a 3-point home favorite.

New Detroit Lions football coach Dan Campbell bears a strong resemblance to The Dude from the movie “The Big Lebowski.” The name plate of his new office in Detroit reads “Head Coach/The Dude.”

TWO LAST PITHY THOUGHTS: In case you didn’t notice, neither Kentucky, Duke or North Carolina was mentioned in this week’s Associated Press Top 25 Poll. This is the first time that has happened since 1961. Of the three, North Carolina has the best record at 9-5 while Duke is 5-4 and Kentucky an unheard of 4-9, the worst record since the pre-Adolph Rupp 1920s. North Carolina, which beat Wake Forest Gump earlier in the week, has a 1-game winning streak. Duke is working on a 2-game losing streak (Virginia Tech and Pitt whacked the Blue Devils) and Kentucky has lost three in a row, the most recent 63-62 to Georgia. I’m enjoying this … Dan Patrick says Tennessee coaches handed recruits McDonald’s bags stuffed with cash. I wonder if they told the recruits “We love to see you smile” when they handed them the bags?

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