A few thoughts to jump start your Friday morning.
THE SURVIVOR SERIES HAS BEGUN
Okay, so Florida’s win over Albany Thursday was closer than anyone expected. It is a fact that the Gators didn’t bring either their A or B games to Amway Arena, but they won and that is all that is important. With a day off before they take on Pittsburgh in the third round, the Gators have to remember that Albany is so yesterday and Pitt is so tomorrow. They can’t do anything about how they played against Albany. All they can do is prepare for Pittsburgh. While Pitt was certainly impressive in its win against Colorado, that won’t matter Saturday which is the next one-game season. That’s the way it is from here on out. You win, you advance. You lose, you’re through. Even though it wasn’t anything close to the best the Gators have played this year, it was more evidence that this is a team that understands what it takes to win games. At this point of the season, the teams that survive are the ones that know how to grind out a win and if we’ve learned anything about the Gators this season it is the fact they aren’t afraid to roll up their sleeves and win the old fashioned way. They aren’t fancy, but they sure are effective.
A COUPLE OF MILESTONES
Patric Young, Scottie Wilbekin, Will Yeguete and Casey Prather are now tied with the one-man senior class of Walter Hodge for most victories in a four-year career at the University of Florida. A win over Pitt will be their 118th and if they get to the Final Four, it will mean these guys averaged 30 wins a season during their four-year careers. That’s pretty impressive. The win was #448 for Billy Donovan at Florida, which ties him with Dale Brown for second place on the all-time SEC coaches win list. It took Brown 25 years to record 448 wins. Donovan is in his 18th season. Adolph Rupp holds the SEC record with 876 wins in 42 years.
KASEY HILL COULD BE FLORIDA’S X-FACTOR
We’re starting to see the Kasey Hill everybody expected coming out of high school. He was brilliant Thursday against Albany, sparking the 20-8 run that allowed Florida to get some second half separation. Hill finished with 10 points, one rebound, two steals and a blocked shot and played an outstanding defensive game on Albany waterbug point guard D.J. Evans. The key for Hill has been learning to harness his speed. He has figured out when to turn on the jets and blow by everybody and how to stay under control when he gets a step in the half court game. If he can continue to give the Gators 12-15 quality minutes per game, he could be the X-factor that could get UF to the Final Four.
Time for a show of hands. How many of you have a bracket that looks anything like the one you started with? My big miss was Ohio State, which lost to Dayton. I had the Buckeyes penciled in to the Sweet 16. I knew I was in trouble with that one when Ohio State couldn’t buy a shot from the outside. I actually had North Dakota State knocking off Oklahoma. I thought the lack of size would finally catch up with Lon Kruger and the Sooners, and that turned out to be the case. My Friday bracket busters are #11 Tennessee knocking off #6 UMass and #14 Louisiana-Lafayette stunning Dougie McBuckets and Creighton. Lafayette’s Efrid Payton is the best player you’ve never heard of. Billy Donovan knows him, though. Payton started in the backcourt for Billy last summer at the FIBA 19-and-under World Championships in Prague.
SHADES OF JIMMY V!
Saint Louis came from 16 points down to an overtime win over North Carolina State using tactics that would have made the late Jimmy Valvano proud. The last time North Carolina State won the NCAA title was 1983 when Jimmy V kept sending opponents to the foul line, gambling that they would miss and the Wolfpack could score at the other end. In the final six minutes of regulation, Saint Louis sent the Wolfpack to the foul line 20 times where they missed 11 shots, which allowed the Billikins to close the gap and get the game into overtime, where they pulled off an improbable 83-80 win. Hats off to Saint Louis for stealing a game it should have lost. Thumbs down to North Carolina State coach Mark Gottfried. Losing games like this is why he got fired at Alabama a few years ago.
SPRING PRACTICE #2 FOR UF
The Gators will be in shorts again when they hit the practice field at 4:15 p.m., the second of nine Florida practices that will be open to the public. There will be no contact per NCAA rules (two days in shorts before contact practices allowed) so it will be difficult to gauge the progress of the offensive and defensive linemen, but it should be a good chance to watch the progress of the wide receivers and the secondary. Valdez Showers has moved to the slot where his combination of speed and elusiveness could make him the ideal fit in Kurt Roper’s offensive scheme. Watch the play of the safeties, especially. That’s a position that seriously underachieved last season.
SPRING FOOTBALL IN THE SEC
The emphasis at Auburn is to speed things up this spring. As fast as the Tigers played last year, Gus Malzahn thinks they can play at a much faster pace in 2014 largely because quarterback Nick Marshall knows the offense. He arrived at Auburn last August and spent 2013 learning on the fly … Terrence Magee and Kenny Hilliard are the feature running backs for LSU, but for how long? They could be the backups when freshmen Leonard Fournette and Darrell Williams arrive in August … Texas A&M is rebuilding its offensive line and might go with juco transfers at the tackles … Mississippi State’s defense is looking for improvement in the pass rush this spring … Vanderbilt had its first full contact practice Tuesday. Highlight was the play of the offensive line … Georgia coach Mark Richt has not dealt any punishment for four players arrested earlier in the week. Richt says he will handle it “in due time” and added “we don’t hide things.”
MERRIL HOGE AT IT AGAIN
It seems we can’t have an NFL Draft without Merril Hoge going off on someone. This year’s target is Johnny Manziel. Speaking to Chase Goodbread on NFL.com, Hoge said, “He [Manziel] has absolutely no instinct or feel for pocket awareness. He has an instinct to run. That’s a bad instinct if you’re going to have that in the National Football League. You have to play in the pocket with traffic around you and throw it. When traffic comes around him, he runs, and that’s dangerous in the National Football League. His skill set does not transition to the National Football League, and it is a big, big risk. In fact, I see bust written all over him, especially if he’s drafted in the first round.” Hoge might know more football than 95% of the people on the planet, but every year when he goes off on one of his tangents about a player who hasn’t had a chance to prove himself on the field, I find myself hoping that player makes it very big. I’m tired of Merril Hoge. I’d like to see him crawl under a rock somewhere. Thanks to him I’m pulling for Johnny Football to be a huge NFL success. Anything to shut up Merril Hoge.
MUSIC FOR TODAY
If I believed in reincarnation then I would have to believe that Derek Trucks is the reincarnation of Duane Allman. I’ve seen him in person twice and when I close my eyes, it was like listening to Duane on the slide guitar once again. If you get a chance to catch Derek with his very cool Tedeschi Trucks band that features the ever so cool vocals of his wife Susan Tedeschi, you will be suitably impressed. This is “Midnight in Harlem” from their 2011 album “Revelator.”