WHITE STRUGGLES TO FIND ANSWERS FOR UF COLLAPSE
Mike White had the look and the sound of a coach who has almost run out of answers. He struggled to find the words to explain why the Gators (12-8, 4-3 SEC) could play with such intensity and focus in one half only to lose it in the second.
“It was one of the strangest games I’ve ever been a part of in terms of how each half was, both offensively and defensively,” White said after Florida dropped its third straight game, 78-71, to Mississippi State at the O-Dome. “In the first 20, as good as we’ve probably played offensively, downhill, transition, sprinting up and down the court.
“Second half, first five minutes of the second half, I had a pit in my stomach because our level of energy wasn’t even close to what it was in the first half. We’re jogging back in transition and getting dunked on. They’re scoring and we’re walking the ball up the court. We couldn’t get our guys to find that same rhythm in transition offense.”
It went from a first half when the Gators led by as many as 16 (36-20 at the 6:00 mark) and 10 at the break, to a final 10 minutes when Mississippi State grabbed the lead and the Gators struggled just to match baskets. The offense just fell off a cliff and a defense that hustled and swarmed in the first half stood around while Mississippi State got just about every shot it wanted.
There are days when shots won’t fall and hot shooting first halves can give way to second halves when it’s hard to find the ocean from the end of the pier. That’s basketball. In previous seasons, White always knew that when the shots wouldn’t fall defense could keep the Gators within striking distance. As he has seen in the last three losses, however, there is no consistency when it comes to defensive intensity and focus. Instead the team he could rely on to play hard at the defensive end in the early part of the season only plays in spurts.
“Our numbers aren’t very pretty and they’re getting uglier every day,” White said.
With 11 games remaining in the regular season, the Gators don’t have much time to pretty things up on the defensive end. White is well aware that this team is running out of time to play up to its potential and if they don’t find their mojo in a hurry, they will struggle to even make the NIT field.
The season is on the brink and that’s a very sobering thought.
SEC BASKETBALL Tuesday’s scores Mississippi State (13-7, 4-3 SEC) 78, FLORIDA (12-8, 4-3 SEC) 71 Texas A&M (10-9, 4-3 SEC) 63, Tennessee (12-8, 4-3 SEC) 58 Missouri (10-10, 2-5 SEC) 72, Georgia (11-9, 1-6 SEC) 62 Auburn (18-2, 5-2 SEC) 83, Ole Miss (10-10, 1-6 SEC) 82, 2 OT 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, 3-3 SEC), SEC Network
WANDERING WEDNESDAY MIND
(1) The decision of Kentucky freshman Khalil Whitney is truly bizarre as he says it’s his intention to transfer to another Division I school. Had Whitney elected to transfer after the fall semester (sometime in December) he would be eligible as soon as the fall semester of 2020 concluded. By transferring in January, he will have to sit until the 2021-22 season. Good luck on his part getting the NCAA to grant a waiver after he bailed in late January. Given his lack of productivity as a freshman and his unwillingness to devote himself to playing defense, good luck landing a job in the G-League or even in one of the overseas leagues. One last thought on Whitney: If he had no intention of playing defense then why did he sign with Kentucky where John Calipari is known to as a defense first coach?
(2) Alabama defensive back Nigel Knott has entered his medically disqualified priror to the 2019 season only to be medically cleared to play once the season began. Since he signed with Alabama in 2016 he will probably be able to transfer as a graduate, which means he will be immediately eligible to play if he finds a Division I school as a landing spot.
(3) Devin Cochran, who started the last nine games at left tackle (missed the first three due to an injury) for Vanderbilt in 2019, has transferred to Georgia Tech. He’s a grad transfer who will be immediately eligible.
(4) One of the reasons Bo Pelini left Youngstown State where he was head coach for LSU, where he will be Coach O’s defensive coordinator, is money. LSU gave him a three-year contract worth $2.3 million per year. He was making a base salary of $213,894 at Youngstown State, supplemented by $150,000 a month payments from his termination at Nebraska. The Nebraska payments came to an end recently.
(5) Ross Dellenger of Sports Illustrated makes a legitimate point in his interview with Ole Miss football coach Lane Kiffin, who is 44 years old and is now on his FIFTH head coaching job. Dellenger asks has anyone in football coaching history had more Division I and NFL HBC jobs in history at such an age? Kiffin has been the head coach in the NFL (Oakland Raiders), SEC (Tennessee), Pac-12 (Southern Cal) and Conference USA (Florida Atlantic) before landing the Ole Miss (SEC) gig.
(6) Keep a close eye on what happens with Miami quarterback Jarren Williams, who has entered his name in the NCAA transfer portal. Williams has hired attorney Thomas Mars, the same guy who represented Justin Fields (Georgia to Ohio State) and Tate Martell (Ohio State to Miami) and got them immediate eligibility. Williams threw for 2,197 yards and 19 TDs as a redshirt freshman in 2019 while playing behind an O-line that allowed 51 sacks (128th out of 130 teams nationally) and despite an offensive philosophy that at times was borderline bizarre. A couple of places I could see him transferring to: (1) Baylor, where Charlie Brewer has had multiple concussions and probably needs to give up football for future health considerations; and (2) Tennessee, where he could be coached by Jim Chaney and would represent an upgrade from Jarrett Guarantano.
(7) With a week to go before National Signing Day we probably won’t see much of a dip with Georgia. This year. Next year? That could be quite the different story since Kirby Smart lost probably his top three recruiters in Sam Pittman (now Arkansas HBC), Scott Fountain (now special teams coordinator at Arkansas) and James Coley (now tight ends coach at Texas A&M). Pittman was the reason Georgia has landed so many outstanding O-linemen and there is a chance Georgia couls lose commits Broderick Jones and Sedrick Van Pran in this recruiting cycle. Fountain recruited Jacksonville and down through Central Florida while Coley opened the pipeline to South Florida.
GOOD QUOTES FOR WEDNESDAY Seth Davis of The Athletic on how Kobe Bryant’s decision to bypass college and go straight to the NBA changed the game from the grassroots level all the way to the NBA: “In the years that followed, may of the top high school players tried to be like Kobe and go straight to the NBA. When it became apparent just how good he was, every NBA team went hunting for the next one. His decision to bypass Nike and sign a huge contract with Adidas ignited a sneaker war in grassroots basketball that still simmers to this day. For the players who weren’t quite good enough to go straight to the league out of high school, the next best thing was to leave college after a year or two. The surge of defections was so intense that in 2006 the NBA mandated an age minimum of 19 years, the so-called ‘one-and-done’ rule. The purpose of the rule wasn’t to keep future Kobe Bryants from entering the league, but rather to discourage the players who wanted to be like Kobe but weren’t nearly good enough.”
David Lombardi of The Athletic, Richard Sherman talks about his decision to sign with Kyle Shanahan and the San Francisco 49ers for an incentive-based contract rather than take a contract with more guaranteed money with the Detroit Lions back in 2018: “That’s what I appreciate about Kyle. His culture and the way he did things was very similar to how we did things in Seattle and what I was accustomed to. That made a huge difference. Hey I can get this $20 million guaranteed and be in Detroit and lose football games. Or I can go to a place where I’m very comfortable with the scheme, coach and culture and I’m very comfortable with the things they do and I really believe we can win.”
Ross Dellenger of Sports Illustrated on Lane Kiffin and what he has learned as an assistant working for Pete Carroll (Southern Cal) and Nick Saban (Alabama): “His time as head coach at USC taught him plenty, but Kiffin says he learned the most as an assistant for seven years under Pete Carroll and three with Saban, something he describes as getting two degrees in football, one from Harvard and one from Yale. When he’s faced with a decision, he often asks himself what both Carroll and Saban would do. Many times, the answers to those questions are not the same. ‘You can’t get two more different coaches,’ he says. They do share a similarity, Kiffin points out: They each failed early in their careers. Saban won more than seven games once in five years at Michigan State and lasted just two years in the NFL. Carroll was fired by both the Jets and Patriots.”
RANDOM THOUGHTS: Here’s a little factoid that you may or may not know. Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes is the son of former Major League Baseball pitcher Pat Mahomes (42-39 career record) … With the Boston Red Sox contemplating trading outfielder Mookie Betts, Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated points out that of players 5-9 or shorter, only Mel Ott (242 home runs) had more home runs than Betts (139) and that only eight outfielders 5-9 or shorter had 139 homers in their entire careers ... The Associated Press is reporting that the Houston Astros are nearing a deal to hire Dusty Baker as its manager … A Pennsylvania judge rejected a request by former Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky to have his 30-60 year child molestation sentence reduced ... Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw says he’s not seeing any remorse from the Houston Astros over their sign-stealing scandal. The Dodgers lost to the Astros in the 2017 World Series when the Astros were using electronic surveillance to steal signs from opponents.