Will This Be Last Home Game For O-Fours?

It’s raining hard in north Florida today which means golf is totally out of the question and that means my planned commune with nature (I’m an into the river and deep in the woods kind of golfer) will have to wait for sunnier days. That leaves a day for contemplation so here are some thoughts to share about the Florida Gators.

It will be Senior Day at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center Sunday, the last rodeo at home for Lee Humphrey and Chris Richard. Should we also make this Junior Day? Could this also be the last time we’ll see the Oh-Fours playing in the O-Dome?

All season long, it’s been speculated that Joakim Noah, Al Horford, Corey Brewer and Taurean Green would bolt for the NBA after this season but Florida’s recent mini-slump has fans and NBA scouts alike wondering if it’s such a great idea for at least three of Florida’s Fab Four. Al Horford has certainly played himself into a top five pick the last several games. Horford is a warrior who plays tough defense, scores in the low post and can run the floor. The fact that he’s 6-10, 250 and can put the ball on the floor to lead the break hasn’t been lost on the NBA scouts who are at every Florida game. He’s a top five lock.

The bigger questions are with Noah, Brewer and Green. If you had asked the question about will they move on three weeks ago, the answer would have been a profound yes. Now? It might be wise for two or possibly even three of them to stay in school one more year.

There are questions about Noah’s health since he seems winded and spends a lot of time on the bench recently. There is no question that when he’s full of energy, Noah brings some dimensions to the game that you don’t expect to see in a seven-footer (I know they list him at 6-11 but if you saw him eye to eye with Greg Oden when Ohio State came to town back in December you know he’s over seven feet). He can dribble, he can pass and he can certainly run the floor. When he’s on his game, he is the eraser in the middle, a shot blocker that can take a team completely out of its offense.

Defensively, everybody knows Noah can play when he’s physically okay. It’s the offense that has people worried. He isn’t finishing around the basket and in each of the last four games he’s had a dunk attempt blocked by a smaller player. Those are huge concerns. He worked hard on his jump shot in the offseason but we haven’t seen much of it this year so that’s still a questionable aspect of his game. Noah does take more physical abuse on the court than any big man in the country, but scouts are concerned that he spends too much time begging for a call that the zebras have decided he’s not going to get this year.

If Noah leaves after this season, he will still be a top 10 pick. He’ll go that high based on what he did in last year’s NCAA Tournament alone. But with Greg Oden of Ohio State, Kevin Durant of Texas and Brandan Wright of North Carolina likely to do the one and done thing and bolt to the NBA after their freshman seasons, Noah is not the number one pick overall pick that he would have been last year. He will NOT hurt his draft status if he comes back for his senior year. In fact, he could probably move back up to the top pick overall if he stays and plays a consistent season that is similar to the way he played in Florida’s run to the national championship last year.

Brewer’s problems can be described in one word — turnover. The scouts love his speed, athletic ability and the fact he can flat out elevate. What concerns them is that he tries to play too fast and that makes him susceptible to turning the ball over. Brewer played under control the last 11 games of last season. He needs to put together a 10-game stretch where he shows all his skills and reduces the turnovers by a wide margin otherwise he would be wise to return.

The plusses for Brewer are his speed, leaping ability, and his open court defense. His game is much better suited for the NBA than it is for college but even in the pros, you have to take care of the basketball. He has not shown the consistency on his jump shot that the scouts would have liked to see this year. With his ability to slash to the rim and elevate, he should be getting to the foul line for 8-10 points a game, also. He could help his draft stock in the tournaments but if Florida doesn’t snap out of its slump, he won’t have a chance to showcase what he can do and that might mean he needs to stay another year.

If you had asked the scouts about Taurean Green after the Alabama game, they would have told you he’s played himself into a first round pick. If you ask them today they’ll tell you the same questions they had coming into the season are still there. The last five games haven’t been kind to Green’s chances of moving onward and upward in the NBA draft.

What they like about Green is that when he’s on his game, he will take and make tough shots and he will be in total command of the offense. He’s an underrated defender, too. However, in the recent five-game mini-slump, Green hasn’t hit his jump shot, has turned the ball over way too much and his defense has not been consistent. He’s another one that needs a long, successful run in the tournament to get back in the good graces of the scouts.

The guess here is that two of the four come back next season. Which two? I think Green is coming back and one other will do the same. Now if three of the four come back and you throw in Florida’s recruiting class (Nick Calathes, Chandler Parsons, Alex Tyus, Adam Allen and possibly Patrick Patterson) to go with Walter Hodge, Dan Werner, Marreese Speights and Brandon Powell, you have the makings of a team that can go wire to wire as best in the country next year.

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Patterson, the 6-9 shot rejector from Huntington, West Virginia, will be in town for the Kentucky game Sunday along with his parents. This is an unofficial visit (official was the weekend of the UCF football game) but it has significance because it’s the last chance for Patterson to be on campus for a game. A rowdy full house at the O-Dome could play a big role in the final decision.

Calathes, Parsons and Allen will be at the game, too, and there is an unconfirmed report that Tyus will be in Gainesville, too. There’s nothing like having the entire recruiting class on hand to try to reel in that one last piece of the puzzle. If Florida gets Patterson, there is no question the Gators will have the number one recruiting class in the nation.

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Another big question for Senior Day is how much trouble is there up ahead for the loser of the game? If the Gators lose, will this be a sign of a season that peaked far too early? If Kentucky loses, will this be a sign that Tubby Smith is going to say see ya’ to Big Blue Nation and go to the NBA?

This is a game the Florida Gators need to win and they need to win it by getting back to basics. That means playing tough defense on the perimeter and forcing Kentucky to take challenged twos instead of open threes. That’s the formula that worked in Lexington when Kentucky was one for its first 20 three-point shots (finished the game at 3-22). If the Gators clamp down on defense on the perimeter, it should result in the sixth straight win over Kentucky.

There is no question that Smith is in deepest and darkest, not only with Kentucky fans but the administration, too. Everybody likes Tubby and everybody knows he can coach. What they don’t like is the fact that the really good players in the country aren’t even thinking about Kentucky anymore.

Kentucky needs to beat Florida to really have a shot at landing Patrick Patterson but the Wildcats chances of landing the 6-9 big guy took a hit last Sunday night when point guard Jai Lucas (son of former NBA great John Lucas) was shown the love in College Park. Not only did Jai get the first class treatment from his dad’s alma mater, but Maryland fans let it be known that they think of Jai as a home boy. Word is that Jai has all but committed to Coach Gary Williams. If Lucas doesn’t go to Kentucky, it’s doubtful that Patterson will.

That will leave Kentucky with a class of 7-footer Mike Williams of Arlington (VA) Bishop O’Connell and 6-7 A.J. Stewart of Jacksonville’s Arlington Country Day. Those aren’t the kind of players that take your program over the top.

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With North Carolina losing to Georgia Tech Thursday night, that puts Florida in a position to pretty much sew up a number one seed this weekend although one or two wins in the SEC Tournament would be added breathing room. Figure with 28 regular season wins (a win over Kentucky and two SEC tourney wins gets the Gators there), Florida is a lock to be in New Orleans in the first round of the NCAA Tournament and in the San Antonio Region. If Florida gets to 29 regular season wins the number one seed of the whole tournament is not out of the question although UCLA seems destined for that spot.

Figure the SEC is a lock to get four other teams in the tournament: Vanderbilt, Kentucky, Tennessee and Alabama. Anyone else will have to run the tournament table to get in the big dance.

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.