CAN THE GATORS TAKE A #1 SCALP SATURDAY NIGHT? In the entire basketball history of the University of Florida, the Gators have never hosted a #1 team at the O-Dome not named Kentucky. Florida’s record against the top-ranked team in the Associated Press poll is dismal – just 2-16 – which means the Gators (12-6) will have to put together their best game of the season Saturday night (8 p.m., ESPN) when #1 Baylor (16-1) comes to town as part of the SEC-Big 12 Challenge.
Baylor, which has won 15 straight games after dropping a 67-64 decision to Washington in the second game of the season, makes its living on the defensive end of the floor. In their 67-55 win on the road at #3 Kansas, Baylor forced the Jayhawks into 14 turnovers and held them to a miserable 26.7% from the three-point line.
For the season, the Bears are giving up only 58.5 points per game, 5th-best in the country. Only Villanova, an 87-78 loser to the Bears, has broken the 70-point barrier. Opponents are shooting just 38% overall from the field and 31.5% from the 3-point line. Baylor forces 15.2 turnovers per game.
This is a formidable but beatable opponent but to win this game, the Gators have to (a) protect the basketball, (b) make some shots from the perimeter and (c) get a strong rebounding game from the front line of Kerry Blackshear Jr., Omar Payne and Keyontae Johnson. Baylor isn’t a particularly great offensive team – averaging only 72.7 points per game while shooting 42.8% from the field overall and 34.6% from the three-point line – so UF cannot afford to give the Bears cheap baskets off turnovers. If Florida keeps the Bears from getting second chance points on offensive rebounds and limits easy buckets in the paint, the Gators should have a chance to spring the upset.
Gator notes: Since the Long Beach State game, Noah Locke has hit 22-42 from the three-point line (52.38%). For the season he’s hitting 42.5% from the three-point line (45-106) … Freshman Scottie Lewis leads the team in both steals (23) and blocked shots (26) … Four Gators are averaging in double figures – Blackshear (14.8), Johnson (12.7), Andrew Nembhard (11.0) and Locke (10.5) … Nembhard leads the team in assists at 6.1 per game, which ranks second in the SEC … Blackshear leads the team in rebounding at 8.7 which ranks third in the SEC … The Gators are holding opponents to 29.5% from the three-point line.
SEC BASKETBALL Saturday’s games #1 Baylor (16-1) at FLORIDA (12-6), ESPN
Missouri (9-9) at West Virginia (15-3), ESPN Iowa State (9-9) at #16 Auburn (16-2), ESPNU LSU (14-4) at Texas (12-6), ESPN Mississippi State (12-6) at Oklahoma (12-6), ESPN2 Tennessee (12-6) at #3 Kansas (15-3), ESPN Oklahoma State (9-9) at Texas A&M (9-8), ESPNU
TCU (13-5) at Arkansas (14-4), ESPN2 #15 Kentucky (14-4) at #18 Texas Tech (12-6), ESPN Kansas State (8-10) at Alabama (11-7), ESPN2 Ole Miss (9-9, 0-5 SEC) at Georgia (11-7, 1-4 SEC), SEC Network Vanderbilt (8-10, 0-5 SEC) at South Carolina (10-8, 2-3 SEC), SEC Network
GATOR BASEBALL OPENS AT #10 IN USA TODAY POLL
Florida will open the season #10 in the USA Today preseason poll. Previously, the Gators have been ranked #4 by both D1Baseball and Baseball America and #13 by Perfect Game. The Gators open their season February 14 against Marshall at McKeithan Stadium.
USA Today Top 25 Preseason 1. Vanderbilt; 2. Louisville; 3. Texas Tech; 4. Georgia; 5. Arkansas; 6. Mississippi State; 7. Miami; 8. UCLA; 9. Auburn; 10. FLORIDA; 11. Michigan; 12. LSU; 13. Arizona State; 14. Florida State; 15. Stanford; 16. North Carolina; 17. Oklahoma State; 18. North Carolina State; 19. East Carolina; 20. Duke; 21. Texas A&M; 22. Georgia Tech; 23. Ole Miss; 24. Wake Forest; 25. Oregon State.
A MIND IS A TERRIBLE THING TO BASTE: FRIDAY EDITION
(1) The NFL reports there were 10 more concussions in 2019 than there were in 2018. Even with the small increase in concussions that is still fewer than the average from 2015-17 when the league averaged 266.3 concussions per year. I appreciate that the NFL is working so diligently to reduce concussions and I appreciate also that rules have been changed to eliminate these helmet-to-helmet and helmet first collisions, but I think it’s time to go steps further. If the technology is there to make energy absorbing equipment that is lightweight, quite thin and capable of stopping bullets at point blank range, why can’t football demand that this same technology be applied to its equipment? Instead of helmets with this hard plastic shell, coat them with soft foam and some sort of Kevlar-like material underneath that absorbs shock. Make shoulder pads that are more shock absorbing and thigh and knee pads that distribute the impact. I definitely think it’s time for the NFL and the NCAA to tell the people who make the equipment, either you come up with better equipment that helps reduce injuries or we’ll find new people to make our equipment.
(2) Auburn defensive coordinator Kevin Steele will be paid $2.5 million per year as part of the new three-year contract he signed Wednesday. That makes Steele the highest paid assistant coach in the country followed by Brent Venables (Clemson DC, $2.2 million), Mike Elko (Texas A&M DC, $2.1 million) and Todd Grantham (Florida DC, $1.81 million). The highest paid offensive coordinator in the country is Alabama’s Steve Sarkisian, who pulls down a paltry $1.55 million.
(3) I always liked Ruffin McNeill, who was Mike Leach’s DC at Texas Tech and the HBC at East Carolina before he went to Oklahoma as the outside linebackers and assistant head coach. Ruffin was always one of the most straight up guys you could talk to and wouldn’t dodge even the tough questions. Well, I have an even better reason to like him now. He’s stepping aside from coaching for awhile to go home to North Carolina to care for his 85-year-old father. This is someone who has his priorities in all the right places. He’s to be commended.
(4) Boise State, which is a member of the Mountain West Conference, is suing the MWC over its new TV contract with Fox Sports and CBS that raises the yearly payout to each school in the league to somewhere around $3.9 million. Boise State has been working under a contract with the league that already pays it $1.8 million per season more than every other team in the league. That sweetheart arrangement was the bribe the MWC paid to keep Boise State from jumping leagues back in 2012. Under the new deal, Boise will be paid $5.7 million per year, which is still more than the other schools. Boise, however, thinks it deserves more, believing Fox wouldn’t have entered into the contract with the league if not for Boise State’s strong national profile.
(5) The first fallout from Miami signing Houston graduate transfer quarterback D’Eriq King is Jarren Williams placing his name in the NCAA transfer portal. Whenever there is a graduate transfer quarterback and veterans who have been starters – Williams and N’Kosi Perry at Miami – there are consequences. This isn’t like a situation at Arkansas where Feleipe Franks will start over kids who haven’t been established starters. Here’s the issue for Miami. By bringing in King, there is a very good chance the Hurricanes trade one year of outstanding quarterback play in exchange for being in worse shape than they were pre-King at the position in 2021.
(6) Some SEC news and notes: Texas A&M has hired Tyler Santucci from Wake Forest to coach linebackers. He worked under Aggie DC Mike Elko at Wake Forest (2014-15) and Notre Dame (2017) … Ole Miss has hired Marquis Watson from D1AA Bryant University to coach the defensive line … Missouri corner Christian Holmes has entered his name in the NCAA transfer portal. Holmes, who will be a grad transfer, started 12 games for Missouri the past two years and played in all 12 games in 2019 … A 16-year-old who was driving 90 miles an hour when he crashed into a car driven by former Auburn radio play-by-play Rod Bramblett, has been charged with two counts of reckless manslaughter. Bramblett and wife Paula were killed in the crash … Adam Schefter of ESPN reports that the Cincinnati Bengals have no intention of trading away the #1 pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, which they will use to select LSU Heisman Trophy quarterback Joe Burrow.
GOOD QUOTES FOR FRIDAY
From Andy Staples of The Athletic on LSU’s recruiting and how combined with Joe Burrow and Joe Brady gave the Tigers the talent they needed to win a national championship: “Though recruiting along the lines of scrimmage had slipped in the late stages of the Les Miles era, LSU still brought in talent suited for the top half of the SEC West. LSU ranked No.3 in the nation in the 247Sports talent composite the year Orgeron took over. Anything inside the top 12 or so is probably good enough to compete for a national title with great coaching and a great quarterback, but a team needs to be near that level to have a chance. That’s where Iowa (No. 42 in the talent index in 2019), Virginia Tech (No. 29) or Oklahoma State (No. 39) would run into problems. They might get that lightning-in-a-bottle quarterback and might have the perfect combination of offensive skill and coordinator brainpower, but the more traditional title contender would still be better at most positions on the field.”
Matt Fortuna of The Athletic talking with Duke coach David Cutcliffe about retiring New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning, who he coached at Ole Miss: “Eli’s a great physical specimen, but he may be the most mentally tough person I’ve ever known. He’s physically tough – don’t think for a second he’s not. But he is extremely mentally tough. And with that said, maybe that can explain quite a long ride in New York.”
Pat Forde of Sports Illustrate on the hypocrisy of Kansas after this latest black-eye, the end of game brawl instigated by Silvio De Sousa Tuesday night: “Kansas claimed to be victimized by Adidas, then signed a massive new contract with the shoe and apparel company. Kansas was hit with an NCAA Notice of Allegations that included major charges, and responded defiantly. Kansas stated a season-opening fan extravaganza in Allen Fieldhouse that included Snoop Dogg firing off a counterfeit money cannon and exotic dancers on stripper poles, what for all the world looked like an orchestrated middle finger aimed at the NCAA (Self and athletic director Jeff Long did get around to apologizing).”
RANDOM THOUGHTS: In his first NBA game ever, Zion Williamson scored 22 points for the New Orleans Pelicans. He hit three three-pointers, which is more than he ever had in a game at Duke … Doug Goodwin, who has been Auburn’s director of high school relations and head of the walk-on program since 2014, has left for a job on Lane Kiffin’s staff at Ole Miss. He is expected to be an analyst at Ole Miss … The NBA announced its starters for the All-Star Game Thursday. Somehow I missed out on that thrilling bit of tid.