Thoughts of the Day: January 8, 2020

ANOTHER STEP IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION The kids are starting to figure things out.

Playing on the road in Columbia Tuesday night, the Gators (11-4, 2-0 SEC) got Mike White his 200th career victory when they took down South Carolina (8-6, 0-1 SEC) 81-68 despite Kerry Blackshear Jr. playing only 20 minutes due to foul trouble. Blackshear picked up two fouls in only two minutes on the floor in the first half which forced Florida’s youngsters to compensate with a very strong performance.

With Blackshear out of the game in the first half, freshman center Omar Payne picked up the rebounding and defensive slack with eight boards and a blocked shot. Freshman Scottie Lewis played 16 minutes in the first half, delivering nine points, three rebounds and a steal while forcing Gamecocks star K.J. Lawson into a poor shooting night. Sophomores Keyontae Johnson (10 points, three rebounds) and Andrew Nembhard (nine points, six assists, one blocked shot and two steals) also stepped it up as the Gators surged to a 40-37 lead at the half.

Blackshear was able to contribute 11 points and five rebounds in the second half but his contributions were overshadowed by Nembhard, who finished with 21 points, three rebounds, 10 assists, one block and three steals; Johnson, who finished with 19 points, eight rebounds and two steals; and Lewis, who had 15 points, nine rebounds, one assist, one block and one steal.

The Gators showed plenty of toughness in the final 6:45 when the Gamecocks tried to press without much success. Leading 64-60, the Gators went on a 17-8 tear with Nembhard scoring seven including a dagger of a three-pointer with 2:04 remaining that stretched Florida’s lead to 77-68.

The Gators put together a solid shooting night, hitting 28-60 from the field overall (46.7%) and 6-16 (37.5%) from the three-point line. The Gators were a very solid 19-25 from the foul line and they commanded the backboards with a 42-30 margin. Florida held South Carolina to 38.3% from the field overall (23-60) and just 4-15 (28.57%) from the 3-point line.

This was an excellent win for the Gators, who proved they can win even when Blackshear has to sit long stretches because of foul trouble. White did a good job of keeping the Gamecocks off balance by constantly switching defenses and Nembhard was in total control of running the offense. This was probably Nembhard’s best game for understanding when he needs to score while still keeping his teammates involved offensively. Johnson continues to be the glue that holds the team together and the offense is starting to catch up to his lock down defense for Scottie Lewis.

Next up for the Gators is a road trip to Missouri (8-6, 0-2 SEC), which dropped a 69-59 decision to Tennessee

FOOTBALL PERSONNEL MATTERS Jovens Janvier (6-3, 350, Miami, FL Miami Christian), a longtime offensive line commitment for the Gators, announced he is de-committing on Tuesday. A three-star recruit, Janvier didn’t fax in an LOI during the early signing period. With his de-commitment, the Gators now have 24 in the 2020 recruiting class (21 signed, three hard commits) which leaves six slots available (25 that count toward 2020, five that count back on the 2019 class).

SEC BASKETBALL Tuesday’s scores FLORIDA (11-4. 2-0 SEC) 81, South Carolina (8-6, 0-1 SEC) 68 Tennessee (9-5, 1-1 SEC) 69, Missouri (8-6, 0-2 SEC) 59 Texas A&M (7-6, 1-1 SEC) 57, Ole Miss (9-5, 0-1 SEC) 47 #14 Kentucky (11-3, 2-0 SEC) 78, Georgia (10-4, 0-1 SEC) 69 Wednesday’s games Vanderbilt (8-5, 0-0 SEC) at #5 Auburn (13-0, 1-0 SEC), SEC Network Mississippi State (9-4, 0-1 SEC) at Alabama (7-6, 0-1 SEC), SEC Network Arkansas (12-1, 1-0 SEC) at LSU (9-4, 1-0 SEC), ESPNU


(1) Is Mississippi State heading for a panic hire? Billy Napier has said no and Joe Judge has elected to become head coach of the New York Giants rather than take the job in Starkville. Having gone at least 0-2 in finding a new head coach – who knows if they offered anyone else – they’re in danger of a Tennessee-like situation. The Vols panicked in 2009 and hired Lane Kiffin after more qualified coaches had turned them down. In 2010, at least seven coaches turned them down before Derek Dooley got the job. Three years later, Butch Jones was at best the sixth choice. Before current UT coach Jeremy Pruitt got the job, the Vols tried to hire at least four others and the athletic director was fired. It’s worth mentioning what happened at Tennessee because it seems that when one or two coaches say no, a negative momentum begins to grow like a tidal wave.

(2) So who does Mississippi State go after? Louisiana Tech coach Skip Holtz says he’s not interested, but it seems highly unlikely that Mississippi State was all that interested in him. It’s nice posturing on Holtz’s part but Mississippi State can do much better. Gene Chizik was interviewed but he removed his name from consideration, perhaps because he knew he wouldn’t be offered. Bill Clark (UAB) is still available. He’s gone to back-to-back bowl games at UAB, which is nothing short of a hem of the garment miracle. Mark Hudspeth (Austin Peay) has Mississippi State ties, but he let things spiral out of control at Louisiana-Lafayette and was the guy who was fired before Napier was hired. One of the hot rumors as of late Tuesday night was Alabama offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian agreeing to be the new HBC. If true, that would mean seven of the 12 head coaches are from the Nick Saban coaching tree.

(3) There was a whole lot of activity at Georgia Tuesday but none of it involved Jake Fromm (State Farm) announcing whether he will return in 2020 or declare for the NFL. Left guard Solomon Kindley became the third starter on the O-line to announce he’ll enter the draft, a move that could certainly contribute to Fromm electing to bolt. Also, former four-star defensive back Otis Reese entered his name in the NCAA transfer portal. He was rated the #87 player in the 2018 recruiting class. Finally, running back Zach Evans, the top-ranked running back in the 2020 recruiting class, has been released from his LOI and his financial aid agreement so he can sign a scholarship with any SEC school and won’t have to sit out a year.

(4) Now that Matt Rhule has departed Baylor for the NFL (Carolina Panthers), here are three names that are likely on AD Mack Rhoades’ short list: Billy Napier (Louisiana-Lafayette), Blake Anderson (Arkansas State) and Larry Fedora (formerly of Southern Miss and North Carolina). Napier is coming off an 11-win season and Louisiana-Lafayette while Anderson is a Baylor alum who has taken Arkansas State to six consecutive bowl games. Fedora is a former Baylor assistant who grew up in Texas. He might offer stability and an easiest transition. Whoever gets the Baylor job will inherit a team poised to make a run at the Big 12 championship next year. Money won’t be an object since the Panthers are paying Rhule’s $6 million buyout.

(5) West Virginia basketball coach Bob Huggins was fined $10,000 by the Big 12 for calling zebras Doug Sirmons, Keith Kimble and Chance Moore “three blind mice” after the Mountaineers lost to Kansas, 60-53, in Lawrence. WVU shot eight fewer free throws in the game. I didn’t see the game, but Huggy probably has a point. I haven’t seen many games in person or on TV this year where I thought the officiating was high quality.

(6) Gus Malzahn’s remake of his offensive staff continues as offensive line coach J.B. Grimes “stepped down” to pursue other coaching opportunities. That seems like a nice way of saying he was asked to leave. Whoever Malzahn hires will have his work cut out for him because Auburn loses four senior starters. Grimes wasn’t the only one departing Auburn. Punter Arryn Sipos, an Australian who averaged 43.8 per kick in 2019, is departing for the NFL. Sipos came to Auburn from ProKick Australia, the same organization that sent Florida freshman punter Jeremy Crashaw.

(7) SEC football transfers: Tennessee punter Joe Doyle, a Ray Guy Award finalist, has entered his name in the NCAA transfer portal … Devin Cochran, Vanderbilt’s starting left tackle who has 32 career starts on the O-line, is departing as a graduate transfer … Arkansas backup quarterback Daulton Hyatt is transferring to DII West Alabama. He has two seasons of eligibility remaining … South Carolina backup QB Dakereon Joyner ended speculation that he’ll transfer out.


From Grace Raynor of The Athletic on Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence, who has never lost a college football game and hasn’t lost since the state semifinal his senior year at Cartersville, Georgia:

“Losses have been rarities for Lawrence, the big-armed star and talent-blessed future pro prospect who showed off his mobility in the national semifinal win against the Buckeyes. Since he was 14 years old and in the ninth grade, he has suffered three defeats overall and just the two as a starter, including the fateful finish against Blessed Trinity.”

From Clemson’s media day, Trevor Lawrence discussing his distaste for losing football games: “When I came to [Clemson], it was something where I was like, ‘I don’t want to lose anymore.’ Me and Coach (Dabo) Swinney have had talks: It’s not in the rulebook that you have to lose.”

RANDOM THOUGHTS: Former Gator quarterback Luke Del Rio has taken a job as a quality control coach for the Washington Redskins. Del Rio’s dad, former Jacksonville Jaguars HBC Jack Del Rio, will be the Redskins defensive coordinator for new head coach Ron Rivera … Anthony Davis rejected a four-year, $146 million contract to remain with the Los Angeles Lakers. He will be eligible for a max contract of five years, $202 million ... UNC basketball coach Roy Williams says the 2019-20 version of the Tar Heels is the “least gifted” team he’s coached. Carolina is 8-6 so far with five losses in the last seven games ... Oakland Raiders running back Josh Jacobs, who probably wins the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, bought his dad a house. As a child growing up in Tulsa, Jacobs and his siblings sometimes lived with their dad in a car … The Carolina Panthers signed Matt Rhule to a seven-year deal worth $60 million. Who is the last former college head coach who succeeded in the NFL?

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