A few thoughts to jump start your Thursday morning:
HUGE SERIES FOR GATOR BASEBALL BEGINS TONIGHT IN LEXINGTON
With three SEC series to go and the Gators (31-13, 13-8 SEC East) trailing East Division co-leaders Vanderbilt (32-9, 14-7 SEC East) and Tennessee (34-11, 14-7 SEC East) by a single game, there is no room for error. The Gators hit the road tonight for game one of a 3-game set with Kentucky (26-15, 10-11 SEC East) needing a sweep because both Vandy and the Vols probably won’t lose even one game in their matchups. Vanderbilt will be home against Alabama (28-15, 11-10 SEC West) while Tennessee will be at Missouri (12-29, 5-16 SEC East).
As of Wednesday night Kevin O’Sullivan had not announced his pitching rotation for the weekend but his options for starters are limited. He’s been going with Franco Aleman (1-2, 5.05 ERA) as his Friday night starter but Aleman was rocked for nine runs and 10 hits in five innings against Vanderbilt but the previous Friday against Auburn he held the Tigers to six hits in five shutout innings. It will be critical for O’Sullivan to get a good start out of Aleman to keep his bullpen options intact. Christian Scott (3-2, 2.47 ERA) has established himself as the long reliever and Jack Leftwich, who got saves both Saturday and Sunday against Vanderbilt, is the new closer.
Tommy Mace (5-0, 4.15 ERA) likely gets the Friday night call with Hunter Barco (7-2, 4.76 ERA) wrapping things up.
The Gators have won 11 of their last 13 games, going 8-2 in SEC play during that same stretch. While the pitching hasn’t been dominant, Florida’s bats have awakened during the hot streak. The Gators have launched 56 home runs with Jud Fabian tied for the SEC lead with 16. First baseman Kris Armstrong has homered in three of his last four games. Nathan Hickey leads the Gators with a .354 batting average and eight homers to go with a team-leading 45 RBI.
The first game will be telecast on the SEC Network (7 p.m.) with games two and three on SEC Network+.
NEW CBS MOCK DRAFT HAS TRE MANN GOING NO. 11 TO NEW ORLEANS
Gary Parrish of CBSSports.com, the nation’s best basketball writer and the most well connected with coaches both in the college and pro games, came out with his latest NBA mock draft Wednesday that confirms the upward mobility of Florida All-SEC guard Tre Mann. Considered a late first or early second round choice back in November, Mann continually elevated his draft stock by showing improvement almost on a game-to-game basis. In the final month of the season Mann showed almost unlimited range on his jumper and the ability to get into the lane off the bounce, which is why he’s now considered a lottery pick. Parrish has Mann going 11th to the New Orleans Pelicans. Kyle Boone of CBSSports.com also did a mock draft that has Mann going 13th to the Golden State Warriors.
In the Parrish mock draft, seven players from the SEC are chosen: Moses Moody, Arkansas (9), Keon Johnson, Tennessee (10), MANN, FLORIDA (11); Isaiah Jackson, Kentucky (12), Jaden Springer, Tennessee (13), Cameron Thomas, LSU (14) and Sharife Cooper, Auburn (15). In the Boone draft, eight SEC players are chosen: Johnson, Tennessee (9), Moody, Arkansas (11), Springer, Tennessee (12), MANN, FLORIDA (13), Thomas, LSU (14), Jackson, Kentucky (18), Cooper, Auburn (26) and Brandon Boston Jr. (Kentucky) 30.
In both these mock drafts, the SEC has more players chosen than any other conference. Wait a second, isn’t the SEC supposed to be so obsessed with football that everything else pales by comparison?
ONE OF THE GREATEST MYSTERIES OF THE 21ST CENTURY
What will go down as one of the greatest mysteries of the 21st century is the case of Jamie Newman, quarterback, formerly of Wake Forest Gump and Georgia, who went undrafted last weekend. How is it that last August Mel Kiper Jr. had this guy ranked as the No. 4 quarterback, trailing only Trevor Lawrence, Justin Fields and Trey Lance? How is it that CBS Sports had Newman ranked third, trailing only Lawrence and Fields? David Pollack of ESPN called Newman a No. 1 draft pick. Athlon’s preseason football magazine had Newman as its SEC quarterback.
Connor O’Gara of Saturday Down South points out that back on August 20 Sports Betting AG posted these 2020 Heisman Trophy odds: Trevor Lawrence 2/1; Spencer Rattler 9/1; Myles Brennan 14/1; D'Eriq King 14/1; Sam Ehlinger 14/1; Jamie Newman 16/1; Mac Jones 16/1; Chuba Hubbard 20/1; Ian Book 20/1; Sam Howell 20/1; Bo Nix 25/1; Kyle Trask 25/1; Travis Etienne 25/1.
You probably noticed two prominent names missing on that list. No Devonta Smith, who won the Heisman while leading Alabama to the national championship, and no Justin Fields, who finished seventh in the voting while leading Ohio State to the national championship. Trevor Lawrence didn’t win it but at least was a finalist. Spencer Rattler spent half the season awful before the lights went on. Myles Brennan had a season-ending injury in game three but wouldn’t have won even healthy. D’Eriq King was good but not good enough. Sam Ehlinger lost too many important games. Jamie Newman didn’t play. Mac Jones was first team All-America and a Heisman finalist. Chuba Hubbard had a brilliant 2019, an average 2020. Ian Book was good not great. Sam Howell will have a shot at winning it this year. Bo Nix? Surely you jest. Kyle Trask was a second-team All-America and a Heisman finalist. Travis Etienne was outstanding but Najee Harris was better and fifth in the Heisman voting.
That Newman wasn’t sitting on the podium as a Heisman finalist is understandable since he didn’t play in 2020, opting out in August before ever playing a game for Georgia. The excuse was COVID-19, but folks who saw Georgia practices seem to think Newman’s big adios had something to do with getting shown up regularly by household names Stetson Bennett IV and D’Wan Mathis.
Opting out didn’t help Newman with the NFL Draft since NFL scouts never had a chance to see him going against the better competition of the SEC after his transfer from Wake Forest Gump. But that does not explain why through seven full rounds that included supplemental picks nobody was willing to choose him. Ja’Marr Chase of LSU opted out. He was picked in the first round. So were Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons and Oregon tackle Penei Sewell. There were other players who opted out of 2020 who were selected although not in the first round. So why not Newman?
A friend of mine suggested character issues might be the case. I’m not buying that because NFL teams will find a way to get an axe murderer who saw an apparition of Jesus on the wall of his death row cell on the field if they think he can help them win a game. Low Wunderlich scores was his next suggestion. Vince Young, lest we forget, made a six (50 is perfect) and not only was he the third player taken overall in the 2006 Draft but he ended up making the Pro Bowl twice.
Maybe, just maybe, Jamie Newman is really an over-hyped marginal talent that so-called “experts” were duped into believing he was the greatest thing since Jim McElwain had white teeth. I’m of the theory that there is a faction in the media that desperately wants some quarterback to validate Kirby Smart as a great coach by ending Georgia’s 40-year national championship vacuum. Last year when Newman transferred in from Wake Forest Gump it was assumed he would be the missing link. This year, many of those same experts are claiming JT Daniels is the answer. He’s only played four games but he’s being declared the best QB in the Southeastern Conference. If he leads the Poodles to a national championship, they will, for once, be right and they’ll be telling Nick Saban to move over, Kirby is the new sheriff in town.
Do you see that happening? For the life of me, I can’t.
OVER, UNDER, AROUND AND THROUGH THE SEC
Alabama: Jaden Shackleford and Josh Primo have until June 19 to withdraw their names from the NBA Draft. Both are testing the waters and neither one is anywhere close to first round material. Nate Oates believes both will be back next season.
Arkansas: Basketball coach Eric Musselman is losing assistant David Patrick to Porter Moser and Oklahoma. Musselman wasted no time in finding a replacement for Patrick, hiring Gus Argenal from Cal State-Fullerton. Argenal worked for Musselman previously at Nevada.
Auburn: Speaking on the Paul Finebaum Show, Auburn football coach Bryan Harsin said quarterback Bo Nix has “battled through, now three different offenses and he’s willing to learn.” Yes, but can he remember not to fumble and to throw the ball to his own teammates?
Georgia: Georgia basketball got a commitment from juco All-American Dalen Ridgnal (6-6, 180, Kansas City, MO/Arkansas City, KS Cowley College). Ridgnal averaged 21.1 points and 12.8 rebounds last season.
Kentucky: John Calipari came up big in the transfer portal Wednesday when former Iowa shooting guard C.J. Fredrick signed with Kentucky. Fredrick (6-3, 195), who played high school basketball at Covington Catholic, hit 46.6 percent of his 3-pointers in two seasons at Iowa. He is the third transfer for UK, joining Grady, a 2,000-point scorer at Davidson, and Oscar Tschiebwe, a rebounding rim protector from West Virginia. Cal still has four open scholarships to fill.
LSU: The LSU quarterback room is minus one after TJ Finley (6-6, 240, FR) announced he’s transferring Wednesday. Finley started five games, throwing five TDPs and five INTs … Another LSU basketball player has gone the transfer route. Josh Gray (6-11, 255) is leaving after spending one year in Baton Rouge. It’s a rather big loss for the Tigers, who will be vertically challenged next season if they can’t add some size in the transfer portal.
Mississippi State: John Janovsky, who was on the staff in 2019 as the director of scouting and analytics, has returned to Mississippi State, this time as director of basketball operations. He was the director of basketball ops for South Florida last season.
Missouri: Small forward Ronnie DeGray III (6-7, 220, FR) transferred in from UMass. DeGray averaged 8.7 points and 4.6 rebounds per game last season.
Ole Miss: Defensive back Deane Leonard, a native of Alberta, Canada, was selected in the second round of the Canadian Football League draft. Leonard has one year of eligibility remaining at Ole Miss.
South Carolina: Keyshawn Bryant and Jermaine Couisnard have been testing the NBA waters but both are telling HBC Frank Martin they are planning to return to school.
Tennessee: Former Mississippi State wide receiver JaVonta Payton is transferring to Tennessee. In two seasons at MSU, Payton caught 28 passes for 372 yards and one touchdown.
Texas A&M: At the Houston Touchdown Club, Aggie HBC Jimbo Fisher answered a question about when Nick Saban retires: “We’re going to beat his ass when he’s there. Don’t worry.” You shouldn’t make Nick mad, Jimbo.
Vanderbilt: Vanderbilt will allow full capacity for its final four baseball games of the season.
ONE FINAL PITHY THOUGHT: In case you missed it last week, Cal State Northridge put its entire basketball coaching staff on administrative paid leave while it investigates “potential rules violations.” Potential? The head coach is Mark Gottfried, a notorious cheater who learned the nuances of rules breaking from Jim Harrick, the same guy who was fired at UCLA and Georgia for inventing new ways to circumvent the rulebook. After years of rumors that he was cheating at Alabama, Gottfried “resigned” in midseason 2009, allegedly one step ahead of the jailer. North Carolina State, where Gottfried coached from 2011-17, is waiting to go to trial before the independent committee that hears NCAA violations cases. Forget all this innocent until proven guilty rhetoric. There is plenty enough evidence from the Federal basketball corruption case to prove Gottfried okayed payment of $40,000 to guard Dennis Smith. The guy is as dirty as they come. The folks at Northridge should be ashamed of themselves for hiring him in the first place. They’re going to get lit up by the NCAA and for what? A coach who brought them three consecutive losing seasons.