A few thoughts to jump start your Monday morning.
IMPORTANT WEEK FOR FLORIDA FOOTBALL
It is only the second week of spring football, but it’s a critical time for the Gators. By the time Saturday gets here, the Gators will be at the halfway point of spring football, so substantial progress has to be made. By all accounts, the first three practices were highly productive from a teaching standpoint on both sides of the football, so the first order of business this week will be to sustain the momentum. There is a ton of catching up to do because of those 15 December practices the Gators missed because they didn’t go to a bowl game and then you add in a new offensive scheme being taught and implemented by Kurt Roper. It’s not just the players who have a learning curve. The entire offensive staff is learning on the fly as well.
KEEP AN EYE ON THESE GUYS
Three guys to watch this week are sophomore wide receiver Chris Thompson, redshirt freshman running back Adam Lane and redshirt freshman safety Marcell Harris. Thompson seems to have found a home in the slot and he’s catching everything thrown his way. He might be a mismatch problem because he’s probably going to be a lot quicker than the nickel or safeties that try to cover him. Lane has shown a tremendous ability to change direction once he hits the hole. He’s built so low to the ground that he’s going to bowl over a lot of linebackers. Harris has the size, strength and speed to be a fearsome hitter in the middle of the field. If he can continue to improve his coverage skills, he will be on the field plenty.
THE ROAD TO DALLAS
The road to Dallas goes through Memphis, where #1 seed Florida (34-2) will be a strong favorite to advance to the Final Four, particularly after the last two days when #2 Kansas and #3 Syracuse went down to #10 Stanford and #11 Dayton respectively. As expected, Florida will face #4 seed UCLA Thursday at 9:45 but that is a matchup that favors the Gators. Although UCLA has some size and puts a lot of points (average 81.7 per game) on the board, the Bruins did lose to Missouri, struggled to beat Alabama and got hosed by Duke during the regular season. The Bruins have had their problems with teams that pressure the ball 94 feet and with guards who get in their face on the perimeter. As long as the Gators finish around the rim and avoid extensive foul trouble on the inside, this game should get the Gators within three games of a national championship.
WHAT WE LEARNED IN ORLANDO
If you have watched the Gators all year, you already knew these things but the way the Gators played in Orlando really highlighted them: (1) Scottie Wilbekin remains the most underrated player in the nation. There isn’t a player in the country who does more for his team. Against Pitt on Saturday, Scottie completely took over the game and scored 21 points. If he weren’t so unselfish and more concerned with affecting the win-loss column, he could probably score a lot more. (2) You can’t measure Patric Young’s defense by blocked shots. Yes, he got four against Pittsburgh, but what was impressive was the way he shut down the lane. Pitt couldn’t get the ball inside because Patric had perfect position probably 90% of the time. (3) Will Yeguete doesn’t have to score a point to be a vital cog in Florida’s success. Did you see him steal the ball from Lamar Patterson, save it from going out of bounds and all in one motion make the behind the back pass to Casey Prather for a dunk? You can categorize Yeguete simply as a basketball player. Just put him on the floor and he’ll find the place and what he needs to do to be effective. (4) When the Gators are fully focused on defense, they are as good or better than any team in the country. When the Gators play defense, they break the other team’s will to win by taking away what they want to do.
SEC STAYS PERFECT; THREE ADVANCE TO SWEET 16
Considering the grief the Southeastern Conference basketball has gotten throughout the year, isn’t it funny that the league has three teams in the Sweet 16, same as the Big Ten and Pac-12? The SEC is 7-0 in the NCAA Tournament so far and has advanced Florida, Kentucky and Tennessee to the Sweet 16. Only Virginia saved the ACC from getting blanked while the Big 12 only has two that advanced past the first weekend. Here are the conference standings for leagues which had at least two teams in the field of 68: SEC (7-0); Pac-12 (7-3); Big Ten (6-3); Big 12 (6-4); ACC (6-5); American Athletic (5-2); Atlantic 10 (3-5); Mountan West (2-1); Big East (2-4); West Coast Conference (1-2).
GATOR WOMEN SPRING THE UPSET
Down nine in the second half (41-32), 11th-seeded Florida (20-12) rallied past 6th-seeded Dayton, outscoring the Flyers 14-4 in the final three minutes of the game to advance to the second round of the NCAA Women’s Tournament in State College, Pennsylvania. All five Florida starters scored in double figures led by Cassie Peoples with 21 and Kayla Lewis, who recorded a double-double with 11 points and 11 rebounds. The Gators will face #3 seed Penn State Tuesday night with the winner advancing to the Sweet 16 in the Stanford Region. The SEC went 7-1 on the opening weekend of the women’s tournament.
ELSEWHERE IN FLORIDA SPORTS
Texas A&M pushed across a run in the bottom of the 11th inning to beat the Gators (15-9, 3-3 SEC), 4-3, and take the weekend series. The Gators will face Florida State in Jacksonville Tuesday night … The softball team dropped its series to Alabama. The Gators (30-4, 5-4 SEC) gave up three runs in the top of the first and never recovered … Florida’s #5-ranked women’s tennis team (13-4, 5-2 SEC) ended a five-match SEC road swing Sunday, falling 4-3 to Alabama … The 16th-ranked men’s tennis (9-6, 4-2 SEC) swept Alabama, 4-0, Sunday at the Ring Tennis Complex.
USF’S FOCUS ON PELPHREY, MASIELLO
Apparently, USF’s search for a coach to replace fired Stan Heath has narrowed down to Florida assistant John Pelphrey and Manhattan head coach Steve Masiello. They both share a common link to Rick Pitino. Pelphrey played for Pitino at Kentucky when Billy Donovan was working his way up from graduate assistant to assistant coach and Masiello is a former Louisville assistant under Pitino, who was also Pitino’s ball boy when he coached the New York Knicks. With Pelphrey’s extensive knowledge of the recruiting base in the state of Florida which is ripe with talent for the next three years, he would seem to be the ideal fit for this job.
Now that Kentucky has ended Wichita State’s dream season, we’ll have to listen to five days of Dickie Drool. Dickie Drool is what Dick Vitale does when he talks about John Calipari and Kentucky’s freshmen (or Mike Kryzyzewski and Jabari Parker or Bill Self and Andrew Wiggins). If Kentucky manages to beat Louisville Friday night in the Sweet 16 in Indianapolis, it’s going to be unbearable listening to Vitale rave about Kentucky.
MUSIC FOR TODAY
This will be Memphis Week since the Gators are heading to Memphis for the NCAA Tournament South Region where they face UCLA Thursday night. During my family’s three-year exile to Mississippi in the 1960s, I got exposed to Memphis soul music and never outgrew it. Booker T and the MGs were pioneers, one of the first integrated bands to gain recognition. Booker T Jones on the organ with Steve “Guitar” Cropper and Donald “Duck” Dunn on the bass became the house band for Stax Records. They played with everybody from Wilson Pickett to Otis Redding to Sam and Dave to B.B. King and Al Green. This is the old Booker T and the MGs classic “Time Is Tight.” This is a video of the last live performance in the US by Donald “Duck” Dunn, who died in May of 2013. If you go to Memphis for the game this week, do yourself a favor and go to The Stax Museum.