Thoughts of the Day: March 29, 2021

A few thoughts to jump start your Monday morning:

WHERE THE BASKETBALL ROSTER STANDS

This could be a critical week for Florida basketball coach Mike White, who is already looking at a rebuild of his roster after a week in which Tre Mann declared for the NBA Draft and Noah Locke, Ques Glover and Osayi Osifo all placed their names in the NCAA transfer portal. Additionally, second team All-SEC center Colin Castleton announced he will test the NBA Draft waters although he will not hire an agent.


Four players are gone for sure and Keyontae Johnson’s health makes it unlikely that he will return. Here is a breakdown of the roster as of Sunday night:


Declared for the NBA (2): Tre Mann (6-5, 192), Colin Castleton (6-11, 235)

Mann played himself into the top half of the NBA Draft and if he has a good NBA Combine and pre-draft workouts, he could easily be a lottery pick. The NBA is always on the lookout for a scorer that can create his own shots and Mann can do that. Castleton is going to go through the draft process but he won’t hire an agent. He will get some workouts and good evaluations that will tell him what he has to improve on to become a legitimate NBA prospect next year. Barring something totally unforeseeable, he will be back next year.


In the portal (3): Noah Locke (6-3, 203), Ques Glover (5-11, 182), Osayi Osifo (6 -7, 225) Locke is in the portal, which doesn’t ensure that he will be gone although his return is unlikely. Glover and Osifo need to go to a low major or a Division II team. They can’t compete with any consistency at the SEC or high major level.

One foot out the door? (1): Scottie Lewis (6-5, 189) The way Lewis began the season he was being projected late first or early second round for the NBA Draft but he regressed during the season. His final month was dreadful, to the point that he has totally played himself out of draft contention. He may declare and take his chances that he’ll get a G-League contract for a chance to develop. Or he may decide he needs a brand new place to play. There will be no shortage of suitors if he elects to transfer out. Right now, the odds he returns to UF next season seem no better than 50 percent.


Doubtful for health reasons (1): Keyontae Johnson (6-5, 240) Ever since he collapsed on the floor in Tallahassee, the information regarding the health of Keyontae Johnson has almost entirely come from his family. There has been nothing of late to indicate one way or the other what’s in store for Keyontae in the future, except to say that he continues to get excellent medical care and testing. All that being said, it’s hard to imagine that he will be cleared to play next season, so until there is some sort of announcement from his family to indicate otherwise, consider him highly improbable.


Staying for sure (4): Anthony Duruji (6-7, 220), Tyree Appleby (6-1, 170), Omar Payne (6-10, 230), Jason Jitoboh (6-11, 285)


Duruji and Appleby are returning starters and Payne has started off and on the past two seasons. With Castleton expected to return, White would have a good core of four veterans to work with. Jitoboh has had a few productive games and if he can get himself into good physical condition and stay healthy, he could be a contributor.


Probably staying (2): Samson Ruzhentsev (6-7, 192), Neils Lane (6-5, 205)

Both Ruzhentsev and Lane are expected to stay, but there hasn’t been anything concrete to indicate that they will be back. Ruzhentsev is a pure shooter who should get every opportunity to earn starter minutes with both Mann and Locke gone. Lane had a great game against Tennessee in January then hardly played the rest of the way. We don’t know if it was COVID or injury that kept him on the bench.


Signed (1): Kowacie Reeves (6-6, 180)

Reeves is an athletic scorer who gets to the rim and has a nice mid-range game. He extended his range as a senior to the point that he was respectable from the 3-point line. That has to improve for him to be effective at the next level.


Roster math: The NCAA allows 13 scholarship basketball players. Four are gone for sure and there is one signee. So, if no one else bolts, that leaves 10 scholarships to work with.


Until Castleton announces he’s not coming back or that he’s hired an agent, expect him to be back next year. Let’s assume that Ruzhentsev and Lane will see the departures as opportunity to compete for starting jobs and will stay. Subtract one for Keyontae since it’s almost unfathomable that he will be cleared medically to return next year. So, we’re at nine scholarship players.


Scottie Lewis is a wild card. There is much speculation that he will not be back, but a close examination of the UF roster should convince him there will be ample opportunity to become the star he was predicted to be when he came out of high school, the nation’s 7th-ranked recruit. My instincts tell me Lewis will either decide to enter the NBA Draft or seek a new destination. If he leaves, then UF is at eight scholarships.


Filling out the roster: There aren’t that many unsigned high school kids who are good enough to play in the Southeastern Conference so White might not be able to sign more than one or two kids. Because there is a limited pool of prep resources, that would mean looking for transfers. There are some good juco players still unsigned, but it’s hard to find jucos who can get in school due to the University of Florida’s academic requirements. If White tries to fill out his remaining scholarships with players from the NCAA transfer portal, does he go top heavy with graduate transfers or does he trust the NCAA to enact the legislation that will enable every athlete a one-time transfer without having to sit out a year? It has been recommended that the NCAA make this change, but as we all know, the NCAA marches to its own drummer.


Since transfers are not a way to build a healthy roster long term, White probably needs to save a couple of scholarships for high school kids in the next recruiting class. But even that has a couple of pitfalls due to COVID-19. The virus hasn’t been eradicated and because schools like Texas A&M missed an entire month of the past season, the NCAA is unlikely to stick with the same protocols for 2021-22. Changes in the protocols may make it necessary to have all 13 scholarships filled to make sure there are enough players to move forward if there are three or four positive tests on a team.


Best guess scenario: White signs one high school kid, brings in three transfers and leaves one scholarship open just in case.


ABYSMAL WEEKEND FOR UF BASEBALL

Starting with a 9-8 loss in 14 innings Friday night, it was a disaster of a road trip to South Carolina (16-6, 4-2) for the Gators (16-8, 3-3 SEC), who lost to the Gamecocks, 4-1, Saturday and 8-5 on Sunday. Not only did the Gamecocks rough up all three Florida weekend starters – Tommy Mace (4-1), Jack Leftwich (4-1) and Hunter Barco (3-2) – but their pitchers struck out 45 UF hitters.


Nathan Hickey, Sterlin Thompson and Kirby McMullen homered for the Gators in the series while South Carolina hitters left the yard six times.


Next up for the Gators is a Tuesday night non-conference game with Mercer of the Southern Conference and a weekend SEC series with 4th-ranked Ole Miss (20-4, 6-0 SEC) at the Florida Ballpark.


OTHER UF SPORTS Men’s swimming: The Gators finished third with 367 points at the NCAA Championships in Greensboro, North Carolina. It was the highest finish for the Gators since 2017. The Gators finished with three individual titles and two second place finishes.

Softball: The 5th-ranked Gators (24-3, 8-1 SEC) got a 3-run double and a 2-run homer from Cheyenne Lindsey Sunday as they smacked 13th-ranked LSU (18-11, 4-5 SEC), 9-3, to complete a weekend sweep of the Tigers. Behind a 3-hit, complete game shutout by Elizabeth Hightower and a 3-run homer by Julia Cottrill, the Gators beat LSU, 5-0, Friday night. Saturday, the Gators got 2-run homers by Kendyll Lindaman and Jaimie Hoover plus 3-2/3 innings of shutout relief from Natalie Lugo (6-1) to score a 7-4 win. Hightower (12-1) went the distance Sunday.


The Gators will travel to Jacksonville Wednesday for a non-conference game, then travel to Athens to face 18th-ranked Georgia (22-5, 3-3 SEC) next weekend.

Lacrosse: The 11th-ranked Gators (7-2, 4-0 AAC) beat Cincinnati, 20-5, on Friday and 19-4 Sunday to remain at the top of the American Athletic Conference standings. The Gators will play host to AAC foe East Carolina Thursday and Saturday at Donald Dizney Stadium.

Women’s tennis: The 22nd-ranked Gators (9-6, 7-3 SEC) finished off 36th-ranked Mississippi State, 4-1, Saturday, for their fourth straight win. Next up for the Gators are SEC matches with Kentucky (13-4, 5-4 SEC) on Thursday and Vanderbilt (12-5, 4-5 SEC) on Saturday at the Ring Tennis Complex.


ARKANSAS SEC’S LAST TEAM STANDING

Arkansas (25-6) took out 15th-seeded Oral Roberts (18-11) Saturday to advance to the South Region championship game against No. 1 seed Baylor (25-2). The 3rd-seeded Razorbacks are the last SEC team standing in the NCAA Tournament after 2nd-seeded Alabama (26-7) was shocked by 11th-seeded UCLA (21-9), 88-78, in overtime in the Midwest Regional Sweet 16.


Arkansas had to rally from 12 points down in the second half and survived a last second 3-point shot by the nation’s leading scorer Max Abmas, who 25-footer at the buzzer just missed being a game-winner. The Hogs and Baylor will play tonight (9:57 p.m., CBS) for the South title.


Alabama has only itself to blame for losing to UCLA. The Crimson Tide, which trailed by 11 at the half, could have won the game in regulation with any kind of consistency at the foul line. Alabama went 11-25 for the game and was 1-4 in the final 36 seconds of regulation. UCLA scored only 25 points in the second half but scored 23 in overtime.

Other than Gonzaga (29-0) continuing its quest to become the first team to finish a season undefeated since Indiana did it in 1976, the highlight of the weekend was the Pac-12 advancing three teams to the Elite Eight. Oregon State (20-12), which only made the big dance by scoring a surprising Pac-12 Tournament championship, got to the championship game of the Midwest Region with a dominating 71-58 win over Loyola of Chicago (26-5). The 12th-seeded Beavers will face No. 2 Houston (27-3) tonight (7:15 p.m., CBS) for a shot at the Final Four. UCLA will face No. 1 seed Michigan (23-4) Tuesday night in the East Region championship game. Southern Cal (25-7), the 6th-seeded team in the West, blew the doors off 7th-seeded Oregon (21-7), 82-68, for the right to face Gonzaga. The Zags shot 59.6 percent and had 23 assists on 34 made baskets in their 83-65 win over Creighton (22-9).


ONE FINAL PITHY COMMENT: Last week Draymond Green of the Golden State Warriors proclaimed himself the greatest defensive player in the history of the NBA, which caused Shannon Sharpe to respond with this comment: “He should be thrown in jail. They should put a case on his butt for saying that out loud. Draymond Green is not even a top 20 defender all time. He is crazy, crazy.” I rarely agree with Shannon Sharpe, but he’s right about this. Green may be a very good defender, but better than Bill Russell or Bobby Jones or K.C. Jones or Dennis Rodman? I don’t think so, and I can think of another 30 or 40 that I would say are better.

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