A few thoughts to jump start your Monday morning:
SNATCHING DEFEAT FROM THE JAWS OF VICTORY
Let’s start with the obvious. In losing to Oral Roberts, 81-78, in the second round of the NCAA South Regional in Indianapolis Sunday evening, the Gators assisted on 12 baskets while turning the basketball over 20 times. That recipe for disaster was compounded by 19 personal fouls that gave ORU 23 free throws. Two of the fouls were on made 3-pointers that gave the Golden Eagles a pair of 4-point plays.
It’s next to impossible to win games with a negative-eight assist-to-turnover ratio. Oral Roberts converted the 20 turnovers into 23 points and the Golden Eagles hit 19-23 from the foul line. Florida managed 13 points off ORU turnovers and ORU’s 12 personal fouls resulted in Florida getting to the line nine times (made seven). It doesn’t take a mathematical genius to figure out that Florida’s miscues and fouls gave Oral Roberts a 22-point cushion.
The Gators hit 55.2 percent of their shots and the 7-22 from the 3-point line is a bit deceptive since three of those misses came in the final 21 seconds when the Gators were desperate to score. Yet, somehow the Gators found a way to lose a game they had no business losing.
How did they do it?
Let’s start with Tre Mann, who led the Gators with 19 points. He hit 8-16 shots from the field and was a respectable 3-8 from the 3-point line. He didn’t score again after putting up eight of Florida’s first 10 points in the second half. Mann hit back-to-back 3-pointers in the first two minutes of the second half. He hit a jumper at the 17:14 mark that gave the Gators a 52-43 lead, his last points of the game. Mann didn’t disappear on his own. He’s a scorer who wants the ball and who is relentless in attacking. Why then, as hot as he was, didn’t the Gators make more of an effort to get the ball to him so he could continue to stick daggers in ORU’s heart?
ORU didn’t have anyone who could handle Colin Castleton, who scored 14 points, pulled down 10 rebounds and blocked 10 shots. His numbers could have been much better if the guards had done a better job penetrating and giving him the ball in good scoring position.
Then there is the coaching blunder of coaching blunders. Following a pair of free throws by Max Abmas with 3:19 remaining in the game that cut Florida’s lead to 76-75, the ball somehow got in the hands of Osayi Osifo. Almost on cue from the moment he touched the basketball, Oral Roberts defenders swarmed and fouled him. Also, almost on cue, Osifo, who was a 50 percent free throw shooter on a mere 16 attempts all year, bricked the front end of a one-and-one. ORU rebounded and down at the other end, Kevin Obamor scored on a layup with 2:56 to go in the game to give the Golden Eagles a 77-76 lead.
You can’t blame Osifo for the Gators losing by three points, but it’s fair to ask why was he in the game in the first place at this critical juncture? His 16 minutes of playing time produced all of two points, three rebounds, three personal fouls and three turnovers. It’s obvious the ORU coaching staff knew what a liability he was because the foul that sent Osifo to the line was part of a plan and no accident. That foul was as good as another UF turnover.
Why wasn’t Anthony Duruji in the game instead of Osifo? He’s a far better defender and rebounder (8 points, 5 rebounds in 22 minutes) and he turned the ball over just once. He’s not very good at the foul line either, but he’s hit some free throws this season when games were on the line.
We could go on and on when it comes to assessing the blame for Sunday’s loss. We could point out that Scottie Lewis followed up his outstanding game against Virginia Tech by scoring no points and pulling down one more rebound than a dead man against ORU. He looked like a future NBA player Friday. He looked like a total liability in every phase of the game Sunday.
This is a game the Gators should have never lost but we could say that about at least seven of Florida’s 10 losses this year. The difference in the Gators finishing the season at 15-10 and being in the Sweet 16 with something like a 21-4 record has everything to do with turnovers, a lack of discipline on both the offensive and defensive ends and unexplained droughts, some of them collective by the whole team (Gators were ahead 67-56 with 9:48 to go Sunday and were outscored 25-11 the rest of the way) and some of them by individuals.
It’s the kind of ending that begs Mike White to do a thorough evaluation of where the Florida program is and where it’s heading. While the Gators can play brilliantly one game, they play like they took lessons by mail order and the mail was late far too often. That has to change and change soon because 140 miles to the west Leonard Hamilton keeps bringing in the kind of players that have the Seminoles competing for the ACC championship and eventually will get them to the Final Four.
HOOPS DU JOUR
The Fighting Sister Jeans are the real deal: The single most impressive thing in Loyola’s 71-58 Midwest Regional second round win over No. 1 seed and nationally 2nd-ranked Illinois was the way the Ramblers handled adversity. Illinois kept applying the pressure and threatening to come back on Loyola in the second half, but every time the Illini were on the verge of taking the game over, Cameron Krutwick made a play. If you were looking at Krutwick and Illini All-American center Kofi Cockburn pregame you probably though Cockburn was going to destroy Krutwick. Cockburn looks like an All-American. Krutwick looks like a bar bouncer. Yet, it was Krutwick who made all the important plays at both ends of the court, finishing the game with 19 points, 12 rebounds, five assists and four steals to lead Loyola into the Sweet 16 where the Ramblers will face Oregon State, which has wins over Tennessee and Oklahoma State in its first two games. The Ramblers get their inspiration from 101-year-old Sister Jean, who brought the luck that got them to the Final Four in 2018. If you’re the type who’s prone to wager a couple of bucks, don’t bet against Loyola making it to another Final Four.
The Pac-12 hasn’t lost a game: By virtue of wins over No. 5 Tennessee and No. 4 Oklahoma State, Oregon State has advanced to the Sweet 16 where it will face Loyola. The Beavers are part of a rather surprising run by the Pac-12, which has a chance to advance four more teams into the Sweet 16 today. Not counting Oregon’s walkover win over VCU, sent home because of COVID-19, the Pac-12 is now 6-0 in the tournament, by far the best record of any conference. Today, 6th-seeded Southern Cal faces 3rd-seed Kansas and 7th-seeded Oregon faces 2nd-seeded Iowa in the West while 5th-seeded Colorado faces 4th-seeded FSU and 11th-seeded UCLA faces 14th-seeded Abilene Christian in the East. I can see at least three of those teams advancing.
The Zags and Baylor look like the two best teams: In winning their opening round matchup against Norfolk State Saturday night, Gonzaga had 27 assists on 34 made baskets. The Zags turned the ball over only 11 times. When you have 16 more assists than turnovers, you are (a) the most unselfish team in America and (b) not going to lose games. Next up is 8th-seeded Oklahoma today … As for Baylor, the Bears put on a defensive clinic in whipping Wisconsin 79-63 in the South Regional. If you want to watch the best defender in the country, take a look at Mark Vital, who plays power forward at 6-4, 250.
The SEC is 3-3: Florida’s loss to Oral Roberts dropped the Southeastern Conference to 3-3. Arkansas beat Texas Tech Sunday night in the South Regional to make it to the Sweet 16 where the 3rd-seeded Hogs will face off with 2nd-seeded Houston. Today in the West Regional, 8th-seeded LSU will take on top seeded Michigan and 2nd-seeded Alabama will play 10th-seeded Maryland.
GATORS SWEEP AGGIES IN SEC OPENER
With their opening weekend sweep of Texas A&M, the 5th-ranked Gators (16-5, 3-0 SEC) are the only unbeaten team in the SEC East Division. The Gators were impressive, taking out the Aggies 13-4 Thursday night, 3-1 Friday evening and then 8-4 on Saturday afternoon.
Thursday, Tommy Mace gave up six hits and only two earned runs in seven innings while raising his record to 4-0. The Gators got home runs from Jud Fabian (7) and Nathan Hickey (4) while Mac Guscette led the 16-hit attack with three singles and a double. Hickey also had a single and a double while Fabian had a double to go with his homer and three RBI.
Friday was all about Jack Leftwich, who gave up three hits and struck out six in seven innings to improve to 4-0. Christian Scott got the save with two scoreless innings. Guscette and fellow freshman Sterlin Thompson each had an RBI.
Hunter Barco gave up nine hits and struck out nine in six innings Saturday to improve to 3-1. Fabian launched his eighth homer while Kirby McMullen hit his fifth homer and drove in three runs. Guscette had a run-scoring single, finishing the weekend 7-12 with three RBI.
The Gators are off until next weekend when they travel to Columbia to face South Carolina (12-6, 1-2 SEC) in a three-game series.
OTHER UF SPRING SPORTS
Gymnastics: Don’t read too much in the No. 1 ranked Gators taking third at the Southeastern Conference Gymnastics Championships in Huntsville, Alabama. The Gators, who will be a top seed at NCAA Regional the first week in April, already won the SEC championship during the regular season. Finishing third in Huntsville was to be expected when head coach Jenny Rowland pulled Trinity Thomas from everything but the uneven bars to rest an injured ankle ahead of the more important regionals.
Men’s Tennis: The 2nd-ranked Gators won their 11th straight match Sunday afternoon when they blanked Florida State, 7-0, at the Ring Tennis Center on the UF campus. The Gators, who are 14-1 overall and 8-0 in SEC play, get back to the SEC next weekend when they host Arkansas on Friday.
Softball: The 5th-ranked Gators (21-2, 5-1 SEC) swept Mississippi State (15-11, 0-6 SEC) in Starkville over the weekend by a combined score of 19-0. The Gators took the Friday night game, 1-0, then obliterated the Bulldogs 10-0 and 8-0 in their next two. Elizabeth Hightower pitched a 6-hitter on Friday and a 2-hitter on Sunday to improve to 10-0 while lowering her ERA to 0.71. Natalie Lugo got the Saturday win with two innings of relief help from Hightower. Kinsey Goelz hit a home run for the only run in the Friday night win. Hannah Adams hit her fourth homer over the weekend and Kendyll Lindaman hit her third. The Gators will travel to UCF Wednesday and will be home next weekend to face LSU (17-8, 3-2 SEC).
Lacrosse: The 11th-ranked Gators (5-2, 2-0 AAC) opened the American Athletic Conference portion of the schedule over the weekend by knocking off Temple 15-9 on Friday and 14-7 on Sunday. The Gators will host AAC foe Cincinnati for two matches next weekend.
Women’s swimming: The Gators finished 17th at the NCAA championships in Greensboro, North Carolina.
Women’s golf: The 22nd-ranked Gators finished 9th in the Liz Murphey Invitational in Athens, Georgia.
ONE FINAL PITHY THOUGHT: For the past four months we have endured a constant barrage from the broadcast media, telling us how great basketball is in the Big Ten. The Big Ten got nine teams in the NCAA Tournament with two No. 1 seeds (Illinois and Michigan) and two No. 2s (Iowa and Ohio State). Illinois and Ohio State are already gone, Michigan might not make it out of the West and Iowa plays in the same regional as the Zags. The Big Ten’s 6-5 record leaves us to ask the question was the league vastly overrated or just picked the NCAA Tournament for so many of its teams to collectively play poorly?