A few thoughts to jump start your Sunday morning.
PITT WAS LEFT DAZED AND CONFUSED
When the Florida Gators play defense the way they did Saturday against Pittsburgh, there isn’t a team in the country they can’t beat. That wasn’t a bad Pittsburgh team the Gators manhandled Saturday at Amway Arena in Orlando but the Panthers were left dazed and confused by Florida and its constant pressure. The Gators overplayed the wings and doubled down in the post. The result was 10 steals and 16 Florida points off turnovers. What doesn’t show in the box score is the 14 times the Gators forced Pitt to fire up a panic shot with five seconds or less on the shot clock. In the paint, Patric Young was a man. He blocked four shots and took away the inside game. Out on the perimeter, Casey Prather and Michael Frazier took turns rendering Lamar Patterson, Pitt’s best player, useless. Patterson came into the game averaging 17.4 points. He got eight on 3-11 shooting with only two in the second half.
MOVING CLOSER TO GREATNESS
Way back in November, Patric Young started talking about chasing greatness. It was obvious he believed in this Florida team, but not a lot of other people did. With the national media, it has taken the better part of the season for them to wake up to the fact that this Florida team seems to be on a collision course with real greatness. Part of the reason the recognition has been slow coming probably has something to do with the fact the Gators don’t have a Kemba Walker or a Russdiculous superstar to latch onto. With the Gators, the superstar is a team that is the sum of all its versatile parts. As we saw in the two games in Orlando, you can’t take one guy out and beat the Gators. Dorian Finney-Smith and Kasey Hill came off the bench to spark the Gators against Albany. Against Pitt on Saturday, Scottie Wilbekin dominated with 21 points and the defense simply smothered the Panthers. The combination of defense and a team so selfless that anyone can step up and be THE man is why you have to like the way the Gators are on a march that could take them to a national championship.
Florida’s senior class of Scottie Wilbekin, Patric Young, Casey Prather and Will Yeguete now holds the record for most wins by a senior class at Florida. Saturday’s win over Pitt made it 118 wins in four years. Two wins in Memphis at the South Regional will mean this group averaged 30 wins for four years … The win over Pitt was Florida’s 28th straight, the longest streak in Florida history and the third longest in SEC history. If the Gators run the table the rest of the way, they will tie Kentucky (1954-55) for the longest streak in league history … Billy Donovan got his 449th win at Florida Saturday, moving him past Dale Brown into second place all-time in SEC history. Overall, Donovan is 484-188.
MAYBE THE SEC WASN’T SO BAD AFTER ALL
Among the conferences that got two or more teams into the NCAA Tournament, the SEC is the only one without a loss. The SEC is 5-0 with Florida already in the Sweet 16 and both Tennessee and Kentucky one win away from making it three SEC teams in the final 16. When you see what some of these teams from higher rated conferences have done in the first weekend you have to think that maybe the SEC wasn’t so bad after all although Missouri and Arkansas have only themselves to blame for not making the 68-team field. The next best record is the American Athletic Conference at 5-1. That’s a league that the NCAA Tournament Committee seriously disrespected as well. Some of the other conferences: ACC (5-3); Big Ten (5-3); Big 12 (4-4); Pac-12 (3-3); Atlantic 10 (3-5), Mountain West (2-1) and Big East (2-3).
IN THE SOUTH BRACKET
The South Region suddenly doesn’t look nearly as formidable as it did back on Wednesday. Florida’s path to the Final Four seems a little less difficult with the Syracuse loss to Dayton and the fact that #2 seed Kansas will be facing a tougher than expected Stanford team without 7-footer Joel Embiid. Even if Kansas does survive today’s game with Stanford, there are no guarantees that Embiid will be available next week and even if he is, he hasn’t played in three weeks so you have to wonder how effective he can be. The Gators will face the winner of today’s UCLA-Stephen F. Austin game in Memphis next Thursday. On paper, UCLA has all the advantages, but no one should be shocked if SFA pulls off the upset. These guys have won 29 in a row for good reason.
WILL KENTUCKY END WICHITA STATE’S PERFECT SEASON?
This is Kentucky’s chance to redeem a second straight season when performance has failed to match the expectations but a win over unbeaten Wichita State (35-0) in the Midwest Regional in St. Louis today would at least temporarily heal those fractured egos in the Bluegrass State. With Duke out of the tournament, Dick Vitale desperately needs Kentucky to win this game. There aren’t enough towels at Dixie Linen Service to mop up the Vitale drool if the Wildcats spring the upset. Of course, if the Wildcats lose, he will start hyping Tom Izzo and Michigan State. The two keys to today’s UK-Wichita State game: (1) If Kentucky is without Andrew Harrison (elbow injury), the Wildcats will be in serious trouble against the three-headed guard monster that is Fred VanVleet, Ron Baker and Tekele Cotton; and (2) if the zebras forget that over the back is a foul, then Kentucky could pose some serious problems for a much smaller Wichita State team. Right now, I’m taking Wichita State.
GOOD NEWS ON THE O-LINE
We’re only three days into spring practice and there has been only one full contact practice, but the news so far is good with the offensive line. Max Garcia is adjusting well to the switch to center and on the outside, D.J. Humphries is finally somewhere between 290-300 pounds and Trenton Brown is noticeably slimmer. Garcia has the strength and mobility to handle center. His shotgun snaps have been on the money so that’s one area that shouldn’t be a concern. Humphries has played two seasons at less than 285 pounds, so the added size should benefit him in the running game. At 6-8 and perhaps a biscuit or two under 355, Brown is an absolute mountain. The questions for him are can he handle the speed rushers off the edge and is he in good enough shape to handle an up tempo attack?
FLORIDA SPORTS RECAP
Florida’s #1-ranked softball team (30-3, 5-3 SEC) rebounded from Friday night’s loss to take a 7-1 decision over #9 Alabama behind the 5-hit pitching of Hannah Rogers (13-2) and a grand slam by Bailey Castro. Florida goes for the series clincher at 1 p.m. today … Shannon Gilroy scored four goals and Sam Darcangelo and Nora Berry two each as the #4 women’s lacrosse team (10-2, 2-0 American Lacrosse Conference) knocked off #20 Ohio State, 10-9, in Columbus … Texas A&M evened its weekend baseball series with the Gators (15-8, 3-2 SEC) with a 5-4 win, snapping a string of five straight Florida wins in games decided by a single run … The women’s swimming team finished sixth at the NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships in Minneapolis. It was a big day for the Southeastern Conference as Georgia won the national title with Texas A&M fourth, Florida sixth and Tennessee seventh … Florida’s gymnasts finished second at the Southeastern Conference Championships in Birmingham. Alabama won the meet with a 197.875 while Florida finished at 197.70. Kytra Hunter won the balance beam and floor exercise titles while Bridget Sloan won the all-around with a 39.70.
MUSIC FOR TODAY
I’ve always considered Steve Winwood as one of the real musical geniuses of my generation. He joined the Spencer Davis Group when he was 14 and before he had graduated high school wrote “Gimme Some Loving.” After working with the bands Traffic and Blind Faith, Winwood had a nice run in the 1980s starting with his album “Arc of a Diver” that came out in 1980. This is “While You See a Chance” which made it up to #7 on the Billboard charts that year.