Thoughts of the Day: January 28, 2020

WHITE EMPHASIZES BETTER REBOUNDING, DEFENSIVE ACCOUNTABILITY

Mike White only has to look at the Mississippi State starting lineup to know what an uphill battle the Gators (12-7, 4-2 SEC) face tonight when they face the Bulldogs (12-7, 3-3 SEC) at the O-Dome (7 p.m., ESPN2). The Bulldogs go 6-11, 6-10, 6-7, 6-6 and 6-2 in their starting lineup and they bring three 6-8s and a 7-footer off the bench. Based on size alone, it’s not difficult to understand why they lead the Southeastern Conference in rebounding differential (8.5 rebounds per game) and that is precisely White’s concern tonight.


“They’re extremely talented, top four in the SEC in both offensive and defensive efficiency, one of the best shot blocking teams in the country,” White said Monday prior to Florida’s practice at the O-Dome. “I think they’re second in all of college basketball in offensive rebounding.”


Rebounding – or lack of it – was one of the chief reasons the Gators failed to knock off Baylor at the O-Dome Saturday night. The Bears dominated the boards (37-26) and had a +5 margin on offensive rebounds. It was the second consecutive game in which the Gators had lost the rebounding battle by double figures (LSU beat UF 84-82 and outrebounded the Gators by 10). In both the LSU and Baylor games, a rebound here or there could have led to extra shots that could have altered the outcomes.


So how do the Gators reverse the trend on the backboards? White emphasizes the Gators have to do a better job of valuing each possession. He pointed to a handful of possessions in each half of the Baylor game in which UF slacked off either defensively or in boxing out on the boards.

“You can’t have average possessions and beat a high-level team,” White said. “You can’t compete for a championship if you have five or six possessions both offensively and defensively a half to where we don’t execute and we’re not as accountable as we need to be defensively and on the glass.”


Point guard Andrew Nembhard, whose last two games total 31 points and 18 assists, knows to win against Mississippi State the Gators can’t have empty possessions offensively and a lack of intensity on the defensive end.


Everybody, he says, has to become more accountable.


“I think it’s everybody on the team,” he said. “We just think we can get away with taking plays off sometimes and we just gotta all mature and understand that it’s a full 40 minutes for us to win and we gotta play the whole 40 minutes.”

SEC BASKETBALL Tuesday’s games Mississippi State (12-7, 3-3 SEC) at FLORIDA (12-7, 4-2 SEC), ESPN2

Texas A&M (9-9, 3-3 SEC) at Tennessee (12-7, 4-2 SEC), SEC Network Georgia (11-8, 1-5 SEC) at Missouri (9-10, 1-5 SEC), SEC Network #17 Auburn (17-2, 4-2 SEC) at Ole Miss (10-9, 1-5 SEC), ESPNU

Wednesday’s games Vanderbilt (8-11, 0-6 SEC) at #13 Kentucky (15-4, 5-1 SEC), SEC Network Alabama (12-7, 4-2 SEC) at #22 LSU (15-4, 6-0 SEC), ESPN2 South Carolina (11-8, 3-3 SEC) at Arkansas (15-4, 4-2 SEC), SEC Network


CRUNCHING NUMBERS With a little more than a week before National Signing Day, Dan Mullen has 10 players already in school, 11 who signed their National Letters of Intent back in December and two transfers (wide receiver Jordan Pouncey and running back Lorenzo Lingard) signed and enrolled. Committed are grad transfer wide receiver Justin Shorter, wide receivers Xzavier Henderson and Leonard Manuel and athlete Marc Britt.


Based on those numbers, that leaves a maximum of three the Gators can sign for the recruiting class of 2020, one of which almost certainly will be 4-star safety Avantae Williams of DeLand. There is a possibility that neither Manuel nor Britt will qualify due to test scores and one – or both – may not sign next Wednesday. That could open up two more scholarships.


SOME STUFF FOR TUESDAY (1) The on again/off again hire of Bo Pelini as the defensive coordinator at LSU is on again, this time for good. It was reported last week that Pelini would be Coach O’s new DC, but then Pelini reportedly denied it. Monday, Pelini officially took the job, which brings Pelini back to LSU, where he was the DC for the 2007 national championship team. In the years since, Pelini has been the head coach at Nebraska (fired even though he went 67-27 and won a minimum of nine games every single year) and Youngstown State. This is a Grade A hire for Coach O, who has not yet named his replacement for Joe Brady.


(2) Former Florida offensive line coach Joe Wickline, who played at UF for Charley Pell, is the new offensive line coach at Baylor where he’s being reunited with Larry Fedora, Baylor’s new offensive coordinator. Fedora and Wickline worked together at Middle Tennessee, Florida and Oklahoma State. This is a very solid hire for Dave Aranda.


(3) Former Gator safety Marquand Manuel has been hired to coach the secondary of the Philadelphia Eagles. Manuel played eight years in the NFL and has spent his entire coaching career in the league. He was the defensive coordinator for the Atlanta Falcons in 2017-18. Manuel has a Super Bowl ring from his time working for Pete Carroll with the Seattle Seahawks (2013) and was Dan Quinn’s DC when the Falcons lost to the Philadelphia Eagles in the 2018 Super Bowl.


(4) Auburn reports athletic department revenues of $152.4 million in 2019 with a net profit of $13.2 million. It’s the most revenue in school history (more than $5 million more than 2018) and the most profitable year ever.


(5) New York Giants HBC Joe Judge, who played his college football at Mississippi State, is putting a rather Southeastern Conference stamp on his first coaching staff. In addition to hiring former SEC head coaches Bret Bielema (Arkansas; defensive line) and Derek Dooley (Tennessee; offensive staff), Judge has hired Burton Burns (formerly Alabama running backs coach) and Kevin Sherrer (former Tennessee linebackers coach). It’s thought Judge will add Freddie Kitchens (former Alabama QB) to coach tight ends.


(6) Ken Pomeroy, whose analytics are the best in all of college basketball reports that LSU’s combined margin of victory – 15 points – is the lowest for a six-game winning streak since 1997. LSU, off to a 6-0 start in SEC play, has four-point wins over Texas A&M and Ole Miss on the current run with the others two or fewer.


(7) Former Stanford quarterback KJ Costello visited Mississippi State over the weekend and is now expected to declare he’ll spend his grad transfer year playing for Mike Leach in Starkville. If Costello goes ahead and announces MSU as his transfer destination, the top quarterbacks still on the grad transfer market are Anthony Brown (Boston College), Chase Brice (Clemson) and Peyton Ramsey (Indiana). Ramsey threw for 2,454 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2019 in seven starts.


(8) Just in case someone thinks I forgot the Super Bowl will be played Sunday, I have not. I will actually watch the game from start to finish as I do every year. It’s the regular season that I find boring. I start watching the NFL once we get past the wild card weekend of the playoffs. And, just to prove that I actually know who’s playing – it’s the Kansas City Chiefs, going for their first Super Bowl since 1969, and the San Francisco 49ers, who have won five but none since 1994.


GOOD QUOTES FOR TUESDAY

Dan Wetzel of Yahoo Sports on Kobe Bryant placing family first, which is why he lived in Huntington Beach and flew to Lakers practices and games in a helicopter to maximize time with his wife and kids: Billionaire Mark Cuban often says there is one thing his money can’t buy6y: time. Well, Kobe gave it a shot. By flying over the traffic, he found a way to embrace his dual passions: playing all-out for the Lakers while being the suburban dad of his dreams. Suddenly he could get to the Lakers training facility in 15 minutes flat. He could perform his legendary workload and still act like a work-at-home dad.”


Stewart Mandel of The Athletic on giving a C grade to Missouri hiring Eli Drinkwitz as its head coach even though Drinkwitz has only one year of head coaching experience and that in the Sun Belt Conference: “Mizzou made the classic mistake of getting sucked in by a one-year wonder. Drinkwitz, 36, went 12-1 in his first year as a head coach, but he took over a ready-made Appalachian State program that won 40 games in its four previous seasons under Scott Satterfield. We have no idea if he can build a program. Before that he oversaw above-average offenses at Boise State and NC State. And for that, Mizzou gave him a six-year contract worth $4 million annually – the same salary LSU’s Ed Orgeron made during his team’s national title run last season.”


Dane Brugler of The Athletic on Van Jefferson’s outstanding week at the Senior Bowl:

“As the son of a former NFL receiver and current NFL receivers coach, Jefferson learned the art of route running at a young age, sharpening those skills throughout high school and college. And it was that refinement that created a buzz during practices, relying on pace, tempo and timing mid-pattern to tie defensive backs in knots. Scouts knew he held a master’s degree in route running coming in, but seeing his effectiveness versus talented corners during practice amplified his strengths. It felt like Jefferson was going to be squeezed out of the first two days of the draft because of the vast depth at receiver in this class. But talking to scouts at the end of the week, the words ‘third round’ were mentioned, as opposed to a month ago when it was ‘fourth or fifth’ round.”


Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated on when Major League Baseball will decide to expand by two teams, one for each league: “Owners want two expansion teams in part because scheduling is far easier with 16-team leagues. But [MLB commissioner Rob] Manfred says baseball will not expand until the [Oakland] Athletics and [Tampa Bay] Rays secure plans for new ballparts – somewhere.”


RANDOM THOUGHTS: Rocky Long, who retired as the head coach at San Diego State after leading the Aztecs to a 10-3 season in 2019 and an 81-38 record in nine seasons as the HBC, has resurfaced, this time as the defensive coordinator at New Mexico where he will work for Bobby Gonzales. Long was the HBC at New Mexico from 1999-2008, compiling a 65-69 record … The Cleveland Browns have hired 32-year-old Andrew Berry as general manager and executive vice president of football operations … Kobe Bryant’s daughter Gianna dreamed of one day playing college basketball for UConn. When UConn played Team USA in a Monday night exhibition game, the Huskies placed a #2 UConn jersey and flowers on their bench to honor the 13-year-old Gianna, who died in the helicopter crash with Kobe.

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