Thoughts of the Day: March 11, 2020

WHO STEPS UP IF BLACKSHEAR CAN’T GO?

As of Tuesday afternoon, Mike White was unsure whether he’ll have Kerry Blackshear Jr. available Thursday afternoon when the Florida Gators (19-12, 11-7 SEC) open play in the Southeastern Conference Tournament in Nashville against the winner of the first round matchup of Georgia (15-16, 5-13 SEC) and Ole Miss (15-16, 6-12 SEC). “It’ll be a pain tolerance, flexibility-type factor,” White said of Blackshear and his sprained wrist.


This, obviously, is one of those assume the worst and hope for the best situations for the Gators. They hope Blackshear will be ready to play, even if for limited minutes, but they are preparing as if Blackshear won’t be able to go.


If he can’t go, then White is going to go with a center by committee approach of 6-10 freshman Omar Payne, 6-11 freshman Jason Jitoboh and 6-9 fourth-year junior Dontay Bassett. In Saturday’s 71-70 loss to Kentucky with Blackshear injured and on the bench for all but 12 minutes due to his injury, the three of them combined for 11points and four rebounds.

White certainly would like more production from them but there is nowhere else to turn if Blackshear can’t play.


“That’s what we have,” White said. “It’s going to be one of those three guys, two of those three guys, maybe all three of those guys getting opportunities on Thursday.”


Payne hasn’t had a good offensive game since Auburn back in January. Jitoboh’s best offensive game was six points against LSU a couple of weeks ago. Bassett hasn’t played much all season due to a couple of injuries, but he did score four against Kentucky on Saturday.


Since none of those guys has produced much recently, the Gators are going to have to lean more heavily on All-SEC first team Keyontae Johnson, whose three-game totals at last year’s SEC Tournament in Nashville were 41 points and 30 rebounds. Noah Locke, who is shooting 48.1% from the three-point line in SEC play, broke out of a recent shooting funk against Kentucky when he scored 14 points, and the last time he played in Nashville – albeit at Vanderbilt’s Memorial Gym – he hit 6-8 from the three-point line. Scottie Lewis is coming off a career-high 19-point game against Kentucky. Andrew Nembhard has scored a collective 15 points in the last three games although he does have 21 assists.


So someone is going to have to pick up the slack. The question is who?


SEC Awards: Johnson was selected first team All-SEC by the coaches while Blackshear made second team. Lewis was named to the All-Freshman team.

SEC BASKETBALL TOURNAMENT WEDNESDAY’S GAMES GAME ONE: #13 Georgia (15-16, 5-13 SEC) vs. #12 Ole Miss (15-16, 6-12 SEC) GAME TWO: #14 Vanderbilt (11-20, 3-15 SEC) vs. #11 Arkansas (19-12, 7-11 SEC) THURSDAY’S GAMES GAME THREE: #9 Alabama (16-15, 8-10 SEC) vs. #8 Tennessee (17-14, 9-9 SEC)

GAME FOUR: Georgia-Ole Miss winner vs. #5 FLORIDA (19-12, 11-7 SEC)

GAME FIVE: #10 Missouri (15-16, 7-11 SEC) vs. #7 Texas A&M (16-14, 10-8 SEC) GAME SIX: Vanderbilt-Arkansas winner vs. #6 South Carolina (18-13, 10-8 SEC)

FRIDAY’S GAMES GAME SEVEN: Game three winner vs. #1 Kentucky (25-6, 15-3 SEC) GAME EIGHT: Game four winner vs. #4 Mississippi State (20-11, 11-7 SEC)

GAME NINE: Game five winner vs. #2 Auburn (25-6, 12-6 SEC) GAME TEN: Game six winner vs. #3 LSU (21-10, 12-6 SEC)


FSU HANDS GATORS FIRST LOSS OF THE SEASON

The best start in Florida baseball history came to an end Tuesday night at McKethan Stadium when 15th-ranked Florida State (11-5) got three-hit pitching and 14 combined 14 strikeouts from lefties Antonio Velez and Parker Messick to handcuff the top-ranked Gators (16-1), 2-0, before a crowd of 5,276.


FSU got the only run it needed in the top of the first when Albert Reese’s blooper to left center fell between Austin Langworthy, Jud Fabian and Josh Rivera to drive in Tyler Martin. The Seminoles added an insurance run in the eighth on a sacrifice fly to left field.


The closest the Gators came to scoring was in the bottom of the first when Kirby McMullen’s home run bid to right field was hauled in on a leaping grab at the fence by Robby Martin. McMullen broke up Velez’s no-hit bid in the bottom of the fourth with a double down the left field line with one out but Velez struck out Jordan Butler and induced Jacob Young into an inning-ending ground out.


Young got an infield hit in the seventh to extend his hitting streak to 18 games. Kendrick Calilao had Florida’s other hit in the eighth.


Next up for the Gators is the first SEC weekend of the season against third-ranked Georgia (14-3).


OTHER UF SPORTS Florida’s 7th-ranked softball team improved to 22-4 with a 3-1 non-conference win over Pennsylvania of the Ivy League Tuesday afternoon. Two homers by Hannah Adams and one by Kendyl Lindamin provided all the offense. Elizabeth Hightower (4-0) gave up two hits and one run in four innings for the win. Natalie Lugo earned her fifth save of the year with three innings of two-hit relief. Next up for the Gators is 12th-ranked Florida State (17-6) tonight at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium (6 p.m.).


The 8th-ranked Florida lacrosse team improved to 6-2 Tuesday afternoon with a 17-9 win over 19th-ranked Navy at Donald Dizney Stadium. Kassidy Bresnahan, Shannon Kavanaugh and Brianna Harris led the Gators with five goals apiece. The Gators travel to Providence, Rhode Island Saturday to face Brown.


WASTING AWAY ON WEDNESDAY

(1) The Southeastern Conference led all of Division I in football attendance in 2019 with an average of 72,723 per game, a dip of 1.7% from the previous year. That was the lowest average per game attendance for the SEC since 2000. Next up was the Big Ten, which averaged 65,065, a dip of 0.5% and its lowest average since 1993. Of the power conferences, only the Big 12 showed an increase, 0.1% to 57,467 per game. My theory for declining attendance has everything to do with big screen televisions and fluctuating game times set by television. I know too many former season ticket holders at UF who tell me they watch the game in air-conditioned comfort in their recliner on a 70-inch screen, don’t have to stand in line to pee, don’t have to pay $5 for a skinny weenie and they can drink Coca-Cola instead of Pepsi.


(2) Prior to the NBA Season, Street and Smith magazine and nearly every other publication predicted the Oklahoma City Thunder to finish last in the Northwest Division. With 18 regular season games left, the Thunder are 40-24 and just a game out of fourth place in the race for eight Western Conference playoff spots. All this with a patchwork of a roster. Imagine what Billy Donovan is going to do in the next couple of years with all those first round draft picks he picked up for trading Russell Westbrook to Houston and Paul George to the LA Clippers.


(3) Georgia’s Anthony Edwards, who will probably be the first player selected in the NBA Draft in June, didn’t make either the Associated Press or Coaches All-SEC first teams. More surprising, John Calipari was selected SEC Coach of the Year. Cal did a terrific job at Kentucky, but how can you pick a coach with that roster as the Coach of the Year over Buzz Williams of Texas A&M? Buzz won ten SEC games with the least talented roster in the entire league. Since we’re on the subject of coaches of the year, Sporting News selected Dayton’s Anthony Grant as its national coach of the year.


(4) Gonzaga (31-2) looked the part of a number one seed in taking down Saint Mary’s (26-8) in the final of the West Coast Conference. Figure they’ll get the top seed in the West Regional and play what is essentially a home game in Spokane to start the tournament. The Zags might have the nation’s best front line in Filip Petrusev, Killian Tillie and Corey Kispert. As of Tuesday night, Saint Mary’s was a #8 and paired against #9 Florida in the East, opening in Cleveland.


GOOD QUOTES FOR WEDNESDAY Andy Staples of The Athletic on how Dan Mullen has embraced the higher expectations for Florida football rather than try to hide from them: “Mullen has seen the beast at its worst. He has been cussed and jinxed by the people wearing his colors. That’s why, like (Kirby) Smart in Athens, Mullen understands exactly what he and his team must do to be considered a success. Smart, who inherited a program in a better place than Mullen did, is expected to win a national title. Mullen? At this point he just needs to win the SEC and/or make the Playoff. Never mind that a completely different SEC program that happens to be on Florida’s schedule every year (LSU) just won the national title and that Alabama has made the Playoff five of six years. These are the expectations. Mullen could choose to fight them as predecessor Jim McElwain did. Or he can embrace them. Mullen has chosen the second option.”


On the Dan Patrick Show, Basketball Hall of Famer Charles Barkley, who has an ongoing verbal feud with Draymond Green of the Golden State Warriors, offers this latest shot: “I like Draymond. He’s a good player. But you know what he is? He’s like the guy in the boy band who’s the least important member and he thinks the crowd is like cheering for him. He doesn’t realize he’s standing next to Justin Timberlake.”

Mark Bradley of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on the overall lack of respect in the Atlantic Coast Conference for Florida State even though the Seminoles won the league regular season championship and are ranked fourth nationally in the latest Associated Press poll: “Nobody who works in any other league would believe it’s possible to remain undefeated in the conference that trumpets itself to the heavens. But consider Florida State, which finished first over the ACC regular season and was clearly the class of the Tiffany League. No Seminole made first team all-conference though two Duke players did; 18-loss Carolina had as many players on the three all-league teams as did 26-win FSU. To be fair, Leonard Hamilton was voted coach of the year not that there was any real competition. Factoid: The Ham, as he was known in his younger days as a Kentucky assistant, is fifth among ACC coaches in victories. The top four – Kryzyzewski, D. Smith, R. Williams, G. Williams – are in the Naismith Hall of Fame.”


RANDOM THOUGHTS: UCF athletic director Danny White, brother of Florida basketball coach Mike White, signed a new 5-year contract with a base salary of $1,081,500 guaranteed to increase by 5% every year … Kentucky wide receivers coach Michael Smith has resigned … Ohio State has four assistant coaches making more than $1 million per year: Defensive coordinator Kerry Coombs $1.4 million; offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson $1.2 million; and co-defensive coordinator Greg Mattison and D-line coach Larry Johnson $1.13 million each … Punching their tickets to the NCAA Tournament were Hofstra (26-8, Colonial Athletic Association), Robert Morris (20-14, Northeast Conference), Northern Kentucky (23-9, Horizon League) and North Dakota State (25-8, Summit League).

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