GATORS WILL FACE GEORGIA MINUS THE FANS Crowd noise won’t be a factor when the Gators (19-12) face Georgia (16-16) in the second round of the Southeastern Conference Basketball Tournament in Nashville today. After allowing fans to be present for the two first round games, the SEC followed the lead of the NCAA and prohibited fans for the remaining four days of the tournament at Bridgestone Arena.
Win or lose today, the Gators go into the game (3 p.m., SEC Network) fairly certain they’ll be part of the NCAA Tournament field that will be announced Sunday evening, but they can certainly enhance their seeding with a couple of wins in Nashville. If they get past Georgia today, they will face Mississippi State (20-11) on Friday afternoon. Currently, the Gators are listed as a nine seed, facing eight seed Saint Mary’s in Cleveland in the latest brackets of ESPN’s Joe Lunardi. If UF could get to Saturday’s semifinals, it’s entirely possible they could move up to the seven or possibly even the six line, which is far more advantageous. The eight-nine winner advances to face the #1 seed in the bracket barring a miracle win by a 16 seed.
But, first things first. The Gators need to beat Georgia for a third time and that’s not an easy thing to do. In both wins over Georgia earlier in the season, the Gators had to rally from enormous deficits – 22 points at the O-Dome and 13 down in Athens. In both those games, the Gators had second team All-SEC center Kerry Blackshear Jr., whose status is questionable due to a sprained wrist.
With or without Blackshear, however, the Gators need to turn up the defensive intensity the way they did in Athens a couple of weeks ago when they held Georgia to 54 points. In that game, Scottie Lewis locked down defensively on Anthony Edwards, holding Georgia’s SEC Freshman of the Year to 3-10 shooting from the field and 1-4 from the three-point line. In addition to needing a big effort once again on Edwards, the Gators are going to need a solid effort on Georgia’s 6-9 Rayshaun Hammonds, who came up big in the win over Ole Miss Wednesday night, going off for 22 points, 11 rebounds and four assists.
SEC BASKETBALL TOURNAMENT Wednesday’s scores Georgia (16-16) 81, Ole Miss (15-17) 63 Arkansas (20-12) 86, Vanderbilt (11-21) 73 Thursday’s games Alabama (16-15) vs. Tennessee (17-14), 1 p.m. Georgia (16-16) vs. FLORIDA (19-12), 3 p.m.
Missouri (15-16) vs. Texas A&M (16-14), 7 p.m. Arkansas (20-12) vs. South Carolina (18-13), 9 p.m.
GATORS WHACK FSU BEHIND ECHOLS, LINDAMIN
Charla Echols and Kendyl Lindamin each hit two-run homers as the 7th-ranked Gators (23-4) took an impressive 5-2 softball win over 12th-ranked Florida State (17-7) Wednesday evening at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium. Trailing 1-0 in the bottom of the third, Lindamin singled to right field and Echols followed with her eighth homer of the season to center field to give the Gators a 2-1 lead. After FSU tied the game in the top of the fifth, Hannah Adams doubled to left field and Lindamin followed with her seventh homer of the season to right center. The Gators added an insurance run in the bottom of the sixth when Cheyenne Lindsey drove in E.C. Taylor with a single.
Katie Chronister (3-0) got the win in relief for the Gators while Natalie Lugo picked up her NCAA-leading sixth save of the season with two hitless innings.
The Gators will play host to 24th-ranked Baylor for three non-conference games this weekend.
Other UF sports: Grace Stark, who ranks second nationally in the 60 meter hurdles and who holds the world under-20 record, was named SEC Women’s Freshman of the Year ... Florida’s women’s golf team moved up to 7th in the Golfweek team rankings while the Florida men’s team moved up to 19th … The men’s tennis team dropped down to 9th in the Oracle/ITA rankings while the Women fell to 46th … The lacrosse team (5-2) dropped from 5th to 7th in the Inside Lacrosse poll.
LOMAS BROWN HALL OF FAME: IT’S ABOUT TIME!
Although it should have been done years ago, former Gator offensive tackle Lomas Brown was finally elected to the College Football Hall of Fame, Class of 2020. A first team All-America at left tackle in 1984 when he was the anchor of The Great Wall of Florida, arguably one of the two or three best offensive lines in the history of the Southeastern Conference, Brown won the coveted Jacobs Blocking Trophy as the best lineman in the SEC. He went on to a 7-time Pro Bowl career in the NFL, earning a Super Bowl ring with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2002.
Others selected to the 2020 class were: Eric Dickerson, RB, SMU; Steve McNair, QB, Alcorn State; Glenn Dorsey, DT, LSU; E.J. Junior, DE, Alabama; David Pollack, DE, Georgia; Eric Crouch, QB, Nebraska; Keith Byars, RB, Ohio State; Jumbo Elliott, OT, Michigan; Cade McNown, QB, UCLA; Leslie O’Neal, DT, Oklahoma State; Anthony Poindexter, DB, Virginia; Bob Stein, DE, Minnesota; Michael Westbrook, WR, Colorado; Elmo Wright, WR, Houston; Dick Sheridan, coach; and Andy Talley, coach.
THINKING OUT LOUD ABOUT PLAYING IN EMPTY ARENAS
From here on out, the college basketball season will conclude in near empty arenas due to the outbreak of the corona virus. From a purely basketball standpoint, the effect might be rather substantial.
One reason the SEC, for example, holds its tournament nearly every year in Nashville is because of the proximity to Kentucky. Kentucky fans fill the arena and give the Wildcats a substantial advantage. Will Kentucky have that same advantage Friday night playing in a cavernous arena without the Big Blue Nation roaring at every dribble?
On to the NCAA Tournament, where Dayton figures to be the top seed in the East with first and second round games played in Cleveland, a mere hop, skip and a jump from Dayton. Out west, Gonzaga will be the top seed with the first two rounds in Spokane. Spokane Arena is four minutes from the Gonzaga campus. So kiss those home court advantages good-bye for Dayton and the Zags. Florida State, which is on everybody’s two line, will almost certainly play its first round game in Tampa, so another home court advantage negated.
Now, let’s go beyond home court advantages. If there are not going to be huge fan bases, then why play in these enormous arenas? The semifinals and championship game are scheduled for Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, capacity 75,000. It’s almost certain the NCAA will switch to either nearby Georgia State Arena or Alexander Coliseum at Georgia Tech.
And how about travel? Should teams be required to criss-cross the country to events that are thousands of miles away when there are smaller arenas within driving distance or a short flight away? Should, for example, the NCAA decide to go into a full emergency mode and put the region back in regional? By that, I mean, as best as possible, put southern teams in the South, eastern teams in the East, midwestern teams in the Midwest and western teams in the West?
Finally, the economic impact is going to be huge. Now I know that this figures to be a short term impact compared to the possibility of spreading the virus to thousands upon thousands of people, but when people descend upon these venues in droves, it indeed adds a huge shot of dollars into the local economies.
I’m sure there will be folks who think the conferences and the NCAA have over-reacted, that these decisions will create more fear than there is already out there, but why take the chance? It’s better to take drastic actions now than regret it later.
MORE THINKING OUT LOUD ON THURSDAY (1) I keep reading all these predictions about where Tom Brady is going to be playing football next year. My opinion hasn’t changed. I think he’s going to finish his career in the same place he started. I don’t think he’s willing to have his legacy tainted by going someplace where he’s dealing with a new coach, new owner and unrealistic expectations. As long as Bill Belichick is the coach and Robert Kraft is the owner, the Patriots will have a team capable of making it to the Super Bowl.
(2) Since I’m on the subject of quarterbacks, Joe Burrow and Tua Tagovailoa are going to be the first two QBs taken in the NFL Draft in April. From what I saw the last couple of years on TV and then at the Combine, there is no question in my mind that the next best QB on the board is Justin Herbert of Oregon. I’m not enamored with Utah State’s Jordan Love. Yes, he’s got all this raw ability but I’ve never seen him make consistently good decisions. I wouldn’t be surprised to see New England take Georgia’s Jake Fromm in the second round.
(3) I keep hearing all this talk how Georgia landed a psychological blow on Alabama by hiring Scott Cochran. I think that was Kirby Smart’s intent when he hired Cochran, but I’m not so sure it’s going to have that much of an effect on Alabama. Yes, Cochran was a fine strength and conditioning coach and someone Nick Saban trusted, but it’s not like this is the first time Saban has had to replace one of his assistants. I seriously doubt Nick was completely caught offguard when Cochran bolted. After all, Cochran had been begging for an on the field coaching job for quite some time and Nick resisted, so he knew Cochran was shopping. About the only psychological impact I can see this having on Saban is for Nick to declare war on Kirby Smart and implement plans to kneecap his former assistant.
(4) Here is where SEC basketball coaches rank nationally in salary: (1) John Calipari, Kentucky $8,158,000; (4) Rick Barnes, Tennessee $4,700,000; (12) Buzz Williams, Texas A&M $3,843,182; (13) Bruce Pearl, Auburn $3,840,366; (23) Tom Crean, Georgia $3,200,000; (27) Frank Martin, South Carolina $3,050,000; (31) Cuonzo Martin, Missouri $2,900,000; (33) Kermit Davis, Ole Miss $2,850,000; (34) MIKE WHITE, FLORIDA $2,814,000; (41) Ben Howland, Mississippi State $2,555,000; (42) Will Wade, LSU $2,501,500; (45) Eric Musselman, Arkansas $2,500,000; (46) Nate Oats, Alabama $2,462,000.
GOOD QUOTES FOR THURSDAY
From Dana O’Neill of The Athletic, NCAA president Mark Emmert on the difficult choice of allowing the NCAA men’s and women’s basketball tournaments to go on without the presence of fans: “Making sure these men and women have a chance to compete in a championship, this is an opportunity of a lifetime for them and many of them will only get one crack at this. If we can do the games without fans, it’s hardly ideal, but it’s way better than not having these championships.”
From Gene Sapakoff of The Post and Courier (Charleston, SC), Clemson coach Dabo Swinney on his policy of trying to eliminate cuss words from the vocabulary of coaches and players:
“We really try to set a good example and our players try. Occasionally, you know, you just call them out. You say, ‘Hey, we don’t need that.’ Just to make them think about it. Just try to articulate yourself a little bit better without some of that if we can. To make them better men.”
RANDOM THOUGHTS: Tiger Woods has been elected to the World Golf Hall of Fame’s 2021 class. The age requirement for the Hall is 45. Tiger will be 45 on December 30, 2020 … I’ll be interested to see how Corona Virus affects the crowds for The Players Championship over at Ponte Vedra Beach this week. Nineteen of the world’s top 20 players will be teeing off in the first round today. Even though he hasn’t been playing well to start the season, I’ll go with Brooks Koepka as my favorite to win it … With Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz testing positive for corona virus, the NBA has suspended its season indefinitely. I have to wonder if Major League Baseball is considering moving back its season a month.