A few thoughts to jump start your Saturday morning.
JUST ANOTHER DAY AT THE OFFICE
You already know the talking heads are going to be hyping Florida’s 12:15 game with Pittsburgh as the ultimate bracket buster even before you turn on the television. Florida (33-2) didn’t exactly wear out Albany Thursday while Pittsburgh took no prisoners in destroying Colorado, which means there will be plenty of speculation that the pressure of a 27-game winning streak and the #1 ranking and top seed in the NCAA Tournament is getting to the Gators. While anything is possible, it’s improbable that the Gators will leave their game back at the team hotel. Billy Donovan is as good as it gets at getting a team to eliminate the distractions and focus on what has to be done. Pitt is a very physical team that will try to push and shove the Gators out of their comfort zone. The three keys for the Gators will be (1) stop point guard James Robinson from penetrating; (2) force Lamar Patterson to take tough twos instead of uncontested threes; and (3) take the ball straight at Talib Zanna and get him into early foul trouble. If the Gators can do those three things then this will be just another day at the office and they will be making reservations for Memphis next week.
There aren’t too many college football teams that can lose cornerbacks of the caliber of Marcus Roberson and Loucheiz Purifoy without a serious dropoff the next season, but Florida might be as strong at the position as any team in the country in 2014 with sophomore Vernon Hargreaves III and freshman Jalen Tabor, backed up by another freshman in Duke Dawson. Those three are so good that Nick Washington is probably going to be able to play safety where his ball hawking skills will fit in nicely. Although this is going to be a very young Florida secondary, the talent is there for this to be a very productive unit that will only get better as the season progresses.
THE YEAR OF THE SENIOR
Remember back in November when the basketball season started? This was supposed to be the year of the freshman. Nearly every preseason magazine or prognosticator had either Andrew Wiggins (Kansas), Jabari Parker (Duke) or Julius Randle (Kentucky) as the national player of the year with Kentucky the consensus #1-pick to cut down the nets at the Final Four. The year of the freshman has turned into the year of the senior. The best player in the country is Doug McDermott, a senior from Creighton. The best team in the country is Florida, which features four senior starters including Scottie Wilbekin, who was the SEC player of the year, not Randle. Friday afternoon we saw 14th-seed Mercer knock off Duke in the Midwest Regional. Duke had Jabari Parker. Mercer had five senior starters. Maybe you don’t become an instant bazillionaire by staying four years, but you do have a really good chance to be a champion. As we see with so many NBA stars, the money will come and go. That championship lasts forever.
FLORIDA SPORTS UPDATE
The Gators got their baseball weekend off to a good start with a 5-3, 11-inning win over Texas A&M. The Gators (15-7, 3-1 SEC) got bases loaded singles from Braden Mattson and Justin Shafer in the top of the 11th loaded the bases in the top of the 11th to break a 3-3 deadlock and Aaron Rhodes pitched a 1-2-3 bottom of the 11th to preserve the win … Florida’s #1-ranked softball team (29-3, 4-3 SEC) rallied in the bottom of the seventh but came up short, dropping a 4-2 decision to 9th-ranked Alabama at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium … The 16th-ranked men’s tennis team (8-6, 3-2 SEC) took out Auburn, 4-0 at the Ring Tennis Complex … The 5th-ranked women’s tennis team (13-3, 5-1 SEC) shut out Auburn, 4-0, on the road … After two days at the NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships, Florida is in seventh place with 155 points. Georgia has a commanding lead (369 points) over second place Stanford (297) and third place California (285).
DOWN GOES DUKE AND OTHER NCAA THOUGHTS
Okay, how many of you had Mercer beating Duke in the Midwest Regional? As much as I thought Mercer was actually good enough to spring the upset, I didn’t think it would happen. Then again, I never thought I would see a Duke team as reliant on shooting 3-pointers as this one (Duke launched 37 threes and only 25 twos). I don’t think many people shed a tear that Coach K lost to a #14 or higher seed for the second time in three years … Tennessee (23-12) won its second game in three days with a dominating win over #6-seed UMass. The Vols had to get into the tournament via the play-in route, but they certainly looked like they belong. If Tennessee can get past Mercer Sunday, the Vols will advance to the Sweet 16. Where are all those “Fire Cuonzo, hire Bruce Pearl” folks now? … Maybe folks should take #12-seed Stephen F. Austin a bit more seriously. The Lumberjacks won their 29th straight game by rallying from 10 points down in the second half to beat #5-seed VCU in overtime, 77-75, in the South Regional in San Diego. Stephen F. Austin will face UCLA in the third round, setting up a potential meeting with Florida should the Gators get past Pittsburgh today … The SEC is the only conference with at least two teams in the tournament that is unbeaten so far. Florida, Kentucky and Tennessee are a combined 4-0. Can you imagine the egg on the face of the NCAA Tournament selection committee if the SEC winds up with three teams in the Sweet 16? It could happen … If you have Iowa State making the Final Four, your bracket is probably as good as busted. Georges Niang, who is a rock solid inside presence and 16.5 point scorer, broke his foot against North Carolina Central and is lost for the rest of the tournament … Kansas struggled for much of the game with Eastern Kentucky, which played only two players taller than 6-5.
REALLY BAD ZEBRAS
Without question, the worst officiated game of the tournament so far was Gonzaga’s 85-77 win over Oklahoma State. There were 61 fouls called and 78 free throws. Tim Nestor, Wally Rutecki and Mike Eades nearly set the game back 10 years with their inconsistent whistles. What complicated matters was the three of them were constantly making calls when they were out of position. There is absolutely no reason why these guys should be allowed to call games in the NCAA Tournament. I’ve seen better officiating at the YMCA.
COUNTDOWN TO FIRING (AND HIRING) DAY
Florida assistant head coach John Pelphrey’s name keeps surfacing as a candidate to take over at USF, which fired Stan Heath a week ago. Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy’s name also is being heard … Jeff Bzdelic “resigned” at Wake Forest. Okay, that’s how it goes down officially but there is no doubt he was allowed the gentleman’s way out. The coach at the top of the list is former Florida assistant and VCU head coach Shaka Smart. It would be a bit of a shock if Shaka leaves a great situation at VCU for a job that will always be #4 in the state of North Carolina … Virginia Tech made a smart hire in Buzz Williams, who will inject instant energy into the program. There is plenty of talent in the state of Virginia and he’ll land his share. The front runner to replace Williams is former Pitt and UCLA coach Ben Howland … Don’t be surprised if Oklahoma State cans Travis Ford. He’s never finished higher than third in the Big 12 and there are issues within the program … Boston College’s top target is Providence’s Ed Cooley. Cooley is a Providence alum who will have an easier time winning in the diluted Big East than he will in the ever stronger ACC … Gary Parrish of CBS Sports is reporting that Florida Atlantic’s top target is Ohio State assistant Dave Dickerson, who spent five years as Tulane’s head coach.
MUSIC FOR TODAY
If they ever give an award out for the best 3-man blues band ever, it will go to Billy Gibbons, Dusty Hill and Frank Beard, better known as ZZ Top. I started listening to them in 1973 when I first heard “LaGrange” on the radio. I saw them do a concert at the Big Sombrero (old Tampa Stadium) in June of 1973 with Blue Oyster Cult and again in 1974 at the Greensboro Coliseum. They never disappoint. This is a very cool live video of “LaGrange.”