Thoughts of the day: March 17, 2014

A few thoughts to jump start your St. Patrick’s Day Monday morning.


When you watch the replay of those last 14 seconds of Sunday’s Southeastern Conference Tournament championship game it is almost impossible to think anything other than the Florida Gators are indeed a team of destiny. Kentucky had all the momentum, the basketball and whistle-happy zebras who had been sending the Wildcats to the foul line with regularity in the second half. The last thing anyone expected was for James Young to slip to the floor and lose the ball while trying to drive to the rack. Who could argue those who call that a lucky break? But, who could argue that perhaps this was divine intervention? When you have an appointment with destiny, sometimes it takes some unexpected help to make sure you arrive on time. This Florida team has had so many great escapes this season and while some say that luck has to run out at some point, it’s just as easy to point to all those close games and realize that this is a team that knows and understands how to win close games and simply won’t be denied.


The Gators will open NCAA play in Orlando Thursday (4:10 p.m., Amway Arena) with the winner of the Tuesday play-in game between Albany (18-14) and Mount St. Mary’s (16-16). Albany finished fourth in the America East Conference while Mount St. Mary’s tied for fourth in the Northeast Conference. Florida’s second round game will be against the winner of #8 Colorado and #9 Pittsburgh. Also in the Florida bracket are #2 seed Kansas, a team the Gators have already beaten and a team that might be without Joel Embiid (bad back) in the tournament; #3 Syracuse, which has lost five of its last seven games since starting the season 25-0; and #4 UCLA, which surprisingly won the Pac-12 Conference Tournament. Also in the South Regional are #5 VCU, coached by former Billy Donovan assistant Shaka Smart, and Stephen F. Austin, which owns the nation’s second longest winning streak at 28 games. VCU and SFA play Friday in San Diego.


The NFL scouts and coaches will descend on Gainesville this morning for Florida’s annual Pro Day. It will be a very important morning for both Loucheiz Purifoy and Marcus Roberson, whose 40-yard dash times were a disappointing 4.61 at the combine in Indianapolis last month. Both need better 40 times and to show good coverage skills for the scouts. Jaylen Watkins, who ran a 4.41 at the combine, would be wise to let his combine time stand and simply show the scouts what he can do in coverage. It will also be interesting to see how far Dominique Easley has come in his rehab from a torn ACL. Jon Halapio and Jon Harrison probably can’t do much to enhance their draft status, but Ronald Powell, Trey Burton and Solomon Patton could all help themselves.


Amanda Butler’s Gators won’t know until tonight if they’re in the NCAA women’s field of 64. The Gators finished the season 19-12 with six of those losses by six or fewer points. Florida finished fifth in the SEC, which is one of the top three leagues in the country so the Gators should earn an invitation to the NCAA Tournament. That would be quite an accomplishment since injuries and a late season suspension forced Butler not only to play short-handed but with a very small starting five, only one player taller than 6-0.


While Dick Vitale was whining about Kentucky as a #8 seed, John Calipari is probably looking in the mirror, giggling and wondering where to pinch himself. The Wildcats have a chance to make an early statement in the Midwest Regional in St. Louis where they are a #8 seed. Kentucky will face Kansas State Friday in St. Louis, a game the Wildcats should have very little trouble winning. There is no way K-State is going to cope with Kentucky’s size. That should set up a Sunday showdown with Wichita State, the only undefeated team remaining in the country. Wichita State really doesn’t have the size to handle Kentucky, but it has great guards who will have to not only shoot well, but take out the Harrison Twins and James Young. Should Kentucky get past those first two games, its Sweet 16 game in the Midwest would likely be Louisville, a team the Wildcats have already beaten.


Although there were five teams ranked in the top 25 in both of last week’s AP and ESPN/Coaches polls (#5 Louisville, #12 Cincinnati; #19 Memphis; #21 UConn; and #23 SMU), the American Athletic Conference got little or no respect from the NCAA Tournament Committee. Louisville, last year’s national champion and as hot as any team in the country – tied for the regular season title and then won the conference tournament – got a #4 seed in the Midwest Regional while Cincinnati (#5 seed), UConn (#7) and Memphis (#8) were all sent to the East Regional. SMU didn’t get in and will go to the NIT.


I’m not buying the explanation of Tournament Committee chair Ron Wellman (athletic director at Wake Forest) that Louisville got a four seed because of its overall body of work and its conference. That didn’t seem to hurt Wichita State of the Missouri Valley Conference, which certainly isn’t on par with the American Athletic Conference. Wichita State deserved its #1 seed for going 34-0, but take a look at their schedule. Of their 34 wins, 29 came against teams that weren’t ranked in the top 100 RPI. Virginia also got a #1 but Virginia’s out of conference schedule was also weak and the Cavaliers lost by 35 to Tennessee of the SEC, which will face Xavier in a play-in game Tuesday in Dayton. Louisville has won 12 of its last 13 games and won the national championship last year. The Cardinals should have gotten more respect. Maybe they didn’t deserve a #1 but at the worst, they should have been a two.


Florida’s #1-ranked softball team (28-2, 4-2 SEC), scored seven runs in the first inning and cruised to a 10-2 win over LSU to take the weekend series. Delanie Gourley allowed five hits and struck out seven to improve to 11-0 in the game that was shortened to five innings because of the eight-run rule. Kelsey Stewart led off the game with a home run over the center field fence and later in the first, Lauren Haeger hit a 2-run homer, her 10th of the season. Taylor Schwartz completed the first inning onslaught with a grand slam. ELSEWHERE IN UF SPORTS: The 3rd-ranked Florida women’s tennis team (12-3, 4-1 SEC) lost a 4-2 match to #12 Georgia in Athens … The men’s tennis team (7-6, 2-2 SEC) dropped a 4-3 match to 16th-ranked Georgia in Gainesville … The men’s golf team finished 40 shots off the pace and in 14th place in the Chris Schenkel Invitational in Statesboro, GA, won by host Georgia Southern at 14-under par … The women’s golf team had a strong finish to move up two spots to eighth place at the Sun Trust Invitational. Florida finished 26 shots off the pace set by tournament winner Arizona … The baseball team saw its seven-game winning streak come to an end at the hands of Arkansas, 9-3, Sunday. Florida (13-7, 2-1 SEC) won the weekend series. Next up for the Gators is Florida State at McKethan Stadium Tuesday night.


When I got in my car to drive back to Gainesville after writing about the SEC Tournament championship game, the first thing I heard was “Don’t Worry Baby” by the Beach Boys. If there is one constant about this Florida team, it is don’t worry, everything will work out all right. This team doesn’t always do it the conventional way, but everything does work out all right.

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Franz Beard
Back in January of 1969, the late, great Jack Hairston, then the sports editor of the Jacksonville Journal, called me on the phone one night and asked me if I wanted to work for him. I said yes. The entire interview took 30 seconds. It's my experience that whenever the interview lasts 30 seconds or less, I get the job. In the 48 years that I've been writing and getting paid for it, I've covered Super Bowls, World Series, NCAA basketball championships, BCS championship games, heavyweight title fights and what seems like thousands of college football, baseball and basketball games. I'm a columnist and special assignments editor for Gator Country once again, writing about the only team that ever mattered to me, the Florida Gators.