A few thoughts to jump start your Wednesday morning.
ARE YOU STARTING TO BELIEVE?
Are you starting to get the feeling that this Florida basketball team really does have the seed of greatness growing? A merely good team wouldn’t have survived Tuesday night in Knoxville but the Gators out-toughed the Vols and found a way to win even though they only shot 36.2% for the game and gave up 62.5% from the field in the first half. Good teams would have folded. Great teams adjust and that’s what the Gators did at the half, turning up the defensive heat to hold the Vols to 29.2% from the field in the final 20 minutes. This is a Florida team that lacks a marquee star but the Gators have chemistry, cohesiveness and the kind of toughness you won’t see many places. ESPN’s Seth Greenberg calls the Gators the perfect fit of role players and that’s probably a good way to describe them. It’s also one reason they’re so hard to defend. You can’t take out one player and stop them because they are truly the sum of all their parts. They are 22-2, winners of their last 16, and they haven’t even played their best basketball yet. Billy Donovan has the Gators on course to peak in March when tournament play begins. This is not a good team. It’s a great team. Believe it.
STAT OF THE YEAR
Gator Country’s astute columnist David Parker came up with the stat of the year. In his first three full recruiting cycles as Florida’s head football coach, Will Muschamp has flipped 21 kids who were committed elsewhere including 11 – that’s not a typo – in the recently concluded class of 2014 including such noteworthy players as Jalen Tabor (Arizona), Thomas Holley (Penn State), Treon Harris (Florida State), Ryan Sosa (Florida State), C.J. Worton (Florida State) and Brandon Powell (Miami). Over the past three years the schools that have lost players to “The Flipper” are: Florida State (5), Miami (2), Penn State (2), Ole Miss (2), Notre Dame, Ohio State, Clemson, Auburn, South Carolina, Louisville, Vanderbilt, Arizona, Texas Tech and South Florida.
GYMNASTICS, SOFTBALL, MEN’S SWIMMING RANKED #1
After starting the season with an impressive 6-0 weekend in Tampa, Tim Walton’s Florida softball team ascended to the #1 national ranking, joining Florida’s gymnastics and men’s swimming teams at the top. Potentially, it could be a spring to remember for the Gators. The gymnastics team is a heavy favorite to repeat as national champ. Men’s basketball is ranked #3 and has a chance to win a third national championship since 2006. Men’s indoor track is ranked #2 and will have a shot to win both the indoor and outdoor championships. Women’s indoor track is ranked #4 and should be ranked top five when the outdoor season begins. The Gators have won the last two men’s outdoor titles. Men’s swimming is #1 and should finish no worse than third while women’s swimming is #8 but capable of making a national title run. Women’s tennis is ranked #2 and is always in the final four. A national title would be the seventh in school history in the sport. Florida baseball starts its season this weekend ranked #15 while women’s lacrosse is #8 as the season gets under way. Florida’s women’s golf team is ranked #14.
TRIPLE-DOUBLE FOR JOAKIM NOAH
Former Gator Joakim Noah notched the fourth triple-double of his career Tuesday night when he scored 19 points to go with 16 rebounds and 11 assists to lead the Chicago Bulls to a 100-85 win over the Atlanta Hawks. It has been a difficult season for Noah, who has battled injuries throughout the season. He’s getting healthy now and it’s showing with increased productivity and selection to play in the NBA All-Star Game … It was also a good night for former Gators Bradley Beal (career-high 37 for Washington) and Nick Calathes (18 points, seven rebounds and six assists for Memphis).
DO RECRUITING RANKINGS MATTER?
Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema says recruiting “ratings and stuff don’t mean anything.” To support that assertion, Bielema points to the fact that when he was the head coach at Wisconsin his recruiting classes never cracked the top 10 but he still went to the Rose Bowl three times. Yes, but that was the Big Ten, which hasn’t produced a national champion since 2002 and gets embarrassed when it plays SEC teams. You can get away with average recruiting in the Big Ten. You can’t do that in the SEC. The SEC has won seven of the last eight national titles because its teams typically win the recruiting battles. While it’s true that what you did in high school doesn’t matter once you get on campus, in the SEC those exceptional high school athletes get the best coaching and that translates into championships. So, do the rankings matter? You can argue that there isn’t a tremendous amount of difference between the #1 and #12 classes but the further down you go, the more the gap is noticeable. Bielema’s recruiting class for 2014, by the way, was a consensus #30, which was the 11th best class in the SEC.
SEC COACHING SHUFFLES
Former Florida assistants Billy Gonzales and John Hevesy have been promoted to co-offensive coordinators for Dan Mullen at Mississippi State. Former Utah quarterback Brian Johnson has also joined the MSU staff … Alabama safeties coach Greg Brown has joined Bobby Petrino’s staff at Louisville where he will coach safeties and hold the title of recruiting coordinator … With Brown’s departure it is expected that Bama director of personnel Kevin Steele, who was the defensive coordinator at Florida State a few years back, will elevate into a full time coaching position with the Tide … Former LSU defensive coordinator Bradley Dale Peveto could be coming back to the Tigers as special teams coordinator. Peveto left LSU to become head coach at Northwestern State and has since landed on Mike Stoops’ staff at Kentucky. Also under consideration are former Mississippi State and Texas defensive coordinator Manny Diaz (now DC at Louisiana Tech) and former Miami (Ohio) head coach Mike Haywood … Former Rutgers defensive coordinator Robb Smith has been hired as defensive corordinator/secondary coach at Arkansas.
SHOOTING THE MESSENGER
The worst academic scandal that the NCAA has ever had to deal with was at Minnesota 15 years ago. It cost Clem Haskins his job and any chance he had to coach college basketball ever again. As bad as the scandal was at Minnesota, “It pales in comparison to this” according to Ohio U professor David Ridpath, an outspoken NCAA reformer, says, “Pales in comparison to this.” Mary Willingham, formerly an academic advisor at North Carolina, blew the whistle on the athletic department, claiming that some athletes she screened between 2005-12 were “functionally illiterate.” UNC has attacked her research and a former provost and basketball coach Roy Williams have criticized her. She has received death threats as well. So far, the NCAA has not taken up the case. If it does, don’t expect much. Remember Lisa Bensel-Meyers’ claims about Tennessee a few years back? Or the FSU scandal? Both schools got wrist slaps.
SIGNING DAY BACKLASH
Rashaan Evans is a five-star linebacker from Auburn, Alabama. On National Signing Day, Evans turned his back on the home town school for Alabama. Since then, he says that Auburn fans have been ripping him to shreds on the social media sites but apparently it doesn’t end there. Evans told Rivals.com that “Someone actually put out an article about my family’s business telling all Auburn fans not to go there. We are going to eventually start losing money. People are telling restaurants in the town not to serve us.” I don’t doubt Evans for a nanosecond. There is no rivalry in college sports filled with more hatred than Alabama-Auburn. It’s unfortunate, but this rivalry is filled with fans on both sides as crazy as Harvey Updike (poisoned the oak trees at Toomer’s Corner). To call them idiots would be insulting every idiot you’ve ever known.
MUSIC FOR TODAY
I love Paul Thorn’s fusion of blues, southern rock and roll, soul and gospel music which combines into addictive music and some of the most creative lyrics going. The son of a Pentecostal minister from Tupelo, Mississippi, Thorn and his band have maintained their bar band roots – they do know how to connect with a crowd — while playing to growing masses. This is “Mission Temple Fireworks Stand” from their album by the same name from 2002 that also features a song that I believe should be dedicated to recruitniks: “Everybody Looks Good at the Starting Line.”