Thoughts of the Day: March 9, 2020

A VERY WINNABLE GAME LOST

One hand doesn’t have enough fingers to point out all the reasons the Gators blew an 18-point lead and lost 71-70 to Kentucky Saturday afternoon at the O-Dome. The obvious reasons have something to do with Kerry Blackshear Jr.’s prolonged absence after he left the game for good with a sprained wrist with 18:12 left in the game and with a zebra crew that swallowed its whistles in the last 8:18 when they looked the other way at numerous collisions instigated by Kentucky. There are people doing hard time in Raiford for less than what the zebras let Kentucky get away with.


We could argue until the cows come home about Mike White. He didn’t coach a perfect game and he was quick to take responsibility for mistakes he made in the post game press conference but as Scottie Lewis said: “Coach White told us exactly what they [Kentucky] were going to do and they continuously did it … Coach White put us in position to do certain things [offensively] and it was up to us to go out there and do them.”


In other words, a coach can call all the right plays and tell a team what it’s supposed to do but at some point the team has to execute.


In the last 12 minutes of the game, Kentucky executed on both ends and Florida didn’t. If the Gators had executed, nobody would be talking about the missed calls today. If the Gators had executed, they would have won the game, with or without Blackshear.


The fact is, the Gators should have beaten Kentucky twice this season.


“With or without KJ (Blackshear), they’re a beatable team,” Lewis said.


And he’s right. Kentucky is beatable and Florida is a team capable of beating just about anybody in the country, but something has to give here. At some point, these guys have to figure out that the game lasts 40 minutes and if you don’t play as hard as you can and continue to execute on both ends of the floor for 40 minutes, you end up with losses like the one Saturday. Or the one two weeks ago in Lexington. Or the one in Knoxville. Or the one at UConn. Or the one vs. Utah State. Or the one at LSU.


Those six losses – all of them by a handful of points – were games the Gators could have and should have won if they hadn’t had lapses at one end of the court or the other, sometimes for prolonged periods of time. Win those six games and the Gators are 25-6 instead of 19-12. Win those six and the Gators are SEC champs and most likely sitting on the four line or better with the bracketologists. If frogs had wings they wouldn’t bump their butts every time they jump.

Instead, the Gators are a fifth seed in the SEC Tournament and might need two wins in Nashville to avoid the dreaded eight/nine line in the NCAA Tournament.


We’ll be talking about what might have been for a long time.

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)


GATORS ARE LAST UNBEATEN STANDING IN COLLEGE BASEBALL Thanks to Nathan Hickey’s tie-breaking solo homer with two outs in the bottom of the eighth Sunday afternoon, the #1-ranked Gators (16-0) got a 2-1 win over South Florida to remain the last unbeaten team in college baseball. Hickey lined the first pitch he saw from USF reliever Orion Kerkering over the right field wall for his fourth homer in as many games.

After two games of battering USF pitchers for 24 runs, the Gators ran into problems with Sunday starter Carson Ragsdale, who threw what Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan said was the best breaking ball UF has seen this year. Ragsdale went four innings, striking out 10 but it was his wild pitch in the bottom of the fourth that scored Jacob Young with the first run of the game.


Florida, meanwhile, got a strong performance from starter Hunter Barco, who gave up only two hits and one run in six innings. In lowering his ERA to 1.40, Barco walked two and struck out seven. Barco was relieved by Christian Scott, who pitched two hitless innings to earn the win. Ben Specht pitched a scoreless ninth to pick up his third save of the season.


Jacob Young extended his hitting streak to 17 games (two last season, 15 this season).


Next up for the Gators is 11th-ranked Florida State (10-5), which dropped two out of three to Duke in the ACC season opening weekend. The Gators have beaten FSU 11 straight games dating back to 2016.


OTHER UF SPORTS: Saturday, Trinity Thomas earned her fourth perfect 10 of the season, this one on floor exercise, as the 2nd-ranked Gators remained unbeaten with a 198.10-196.225 bashing on the road of 25th-ranked Penn State. It was a day of perfection for the Gators as Rachel Goway (balance beam) and Sierra Alexander (vault) also scored 10s. Thomas is the first gymnast this season to have 10s in three different events. She also won the all-around title for the seventh consecutive meet at 39.525 … The 8th-ranked Gators opened the SEC portion of their softball season with a sweep of Auburn. Freshman Rylee Trlicek had a pair of bookend shutouts (6-0 on Friday, 11-0 on Sunday). Katie Chronister picked up the Saturday win in relief as the Gators nipped Auburn, 2-1 in 11 innings. Next up for the Gators is Pennsylvania Tuesday afternoon with 12th-ranked FSU coming to town Wednesday … Florida’s 5th-ranked lacrosse team (5-2) tuned up for Tuesday’s match with Navy by knocking off High Point, 17-10, Saturday afternoon … Florida’s 9th-ranked women’s golf team won the VyStar Gators Invitational by 18 strokes over runner-up Virginia Tech … The women’s tennis team dropped to 5-4 on the season with home losses to LSU and Texas A&M … The 6th-ranked men’s tennis team (15-3) beat LSU in Baton Rouge on Friday but fell to 12th-ranked Texas A&M in College Station on Sunday.


NOW THE FUN BEGINS FOR COLLEGE BASKETBALL

What I love most about college basketball once we get to conference tournament week is the impending sense of desperation at all levels. For a full third of the teams in Division I, it’s the last week of the season unless they win the conference tournament. For teams that won the regular season championship in the bottom feeder leagues, it’s that kick in the gut feeling that if you don’t win the tournament, your season is over. For teams that are sitting on the bubble, it’s prayers that the favorites in the mid-major leagues win their tournaments because if they don’t the NCAA might add a bid to what was going to be a one- or two-bid league. And, for teams that know they’re going to get in, there is that feeling that if you don’t do well at the conference tournament, you’re going to get an unfavorable seed and first round destination. It’s the desperation that creates the tension and drama, and the reason why I’ll be glued to my TV all week.


There is a ripple effect of San Diego State’s loss to Utah State in the Mountain West Conference championship game. First, there is the possibility that the loss cost some mid-major league it’s second bid since most of the its second bid or doomed some bubble team to the NIT. Second, San Diego State might have lost a number one seed. In the NET rankings, San Diego State is still fourth, which would mean a number one seed, but Baylor and some others could bump the Aztecs down a line at their conference tournaments. Utah State winning its league also makes Florida’s loss to the Aggies look a little better for the tournament selection committee.


I’m still trying to figure out how Duke (#6, 11-5 against quadrants one and two) and Louisville (#8, 10-7 against quadrants one and two) gets a higher NET ranking than Florida State (#10, 14-5 against quadrants one and two). FSU won the ACC regular season championship outright and should have beaten Duke at Cameron if the Blue Devils hadn’t gotten a little zebra magic late in the game. This is what John Calipari was talking about post game Florida when he said, “This team loses three of four (Duke did that) and your NET score stays the same. How does that work?”


Liberty (30-4) punched its ticket to the big dance by clobbering Lipscomb in the finals of the Atlantic Sun Conference. Bradley (23-11) is a surprise winner of the Missouri Valley Conference, which means regular season champ Northern Iowa (23-6, #48 NET ranking) has to sweat. Winthrop (24-10) won the Big South Tournament.


The West Coast Conference is going to get three teams in. Gonzaga (29-2, #2 NET ranking) figures to be a #1 seed in the West. BYU (24-7, #8 NET ranking) and Saint Mary’s (24-7, #31 NET) play tonight in the WCC semifinal. Regardless of the outcome, both teams will be in the NCAA Tournament.


Based on what I’ve seen and not the NET rankings, I would give one seeds to Kansas, Gonzaga, Dayton and Florida State. On my two line I would have Baylor, Kentucky, San Diego State and Villanova. My three line would have Creighton, Louisville, Maryland and Michigan State. My four line would have Duke, BYU, Virginia and Auburn.


My five teams nobody in their right mind wants to play: East Tennessee State, Utah State, Butler, UCLA and Houston.


GOOD QUOTES FOR MONDAY

Kentucky coach John Calipari on the national disrespect for Southeastern Conference basketball:

“Can I tell you what bothers me? In other leagues, what do they call it? Parity. Oh my gosh. Road wins in this league are ridiculous. I mean, and I’m hearing all this, in our league, go play Mississippi State. Have fun. Go play Texas A&M and the job Buzz [Williams] is doing. You still have Auburn, you still have LSU, you still have Florida. I mean, we should be getting six and seven teams in [the NCAA Tournament].”


From Andrew Baggerly of The Athletic, Barry Bonds dealing with his pariah status with Major League Baseball: “I feel like a ghost. A ghost in a big empty house just rattling around. A death sentence. That’s what they’ve given me. My hear, it’s broken. It’s really broken.”


RANDOM THOUGHTS: There are reports the Dallas Cowboys will offer quarterback Dak Prescott a new contract worth $33 million a season with a total of $105 million in guaranteed money … The XFL had a major officiating blunder Saturday when officials ruled game over after the Houston Roughnecks QB took a knee. Unfortunately, there were two seconds remaining, time enough for Seattle to have a miracle finish. The XFL admitted the blunder afterwards. Of course, that does nothing to help the Seattle Dragons, who didn’t get a shot at tying the game … Former NFL exec Michael Lombardi, now of The Athletic, thinks Tom Brady to the San Francisco 49ers makes perfect sense. If I wagered on such things, I’d put money on Brady staying right where he is in New England.

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