A few thoughts to jump start your Monday morning.
THE BUCK STOPS WITH MUSCHAMP
In an interview with USAToday, Florida football coach Will Muschamp took the Harry Truman approach and said the buck stops with him. Last season’s 4-8 record was Florida’s first losing season since 1979 and while it was a season racked with injuries that included his two best players – nose tackle Dominique Easley and quarterback Jeff Driskel – Muschamp wouldn’t use injuries for an excuse. “It’s not acceptable to go 4-8 at Florida regardless of the circumstances,” Muschamp told USAToday’s Dan Wolken. “There were some things that occurred within our team that were hard to overcome, and we didn’t do a good enough job of managing that. And that’s my fault, nobody else’s. I need to do a better job.”
There were greater problems last season than just injuries, but Muschamp again wouldn’t make excuses. “The worst thing you can do in my opinion is create the band-aid mentality of that’s the reason, it’s OK,” Muschamp said. “To me that creates relief syndrome of (believing) everything’s fine when it’s not fine.”
To Muschamp’s credit, he has taken major steps toward making improvements such as bringing in a new offensive coordinator (Kurt Roper) and line coach (Mike Summers). While the changes are welcome, the scrutiny will be greater than ever before. The last four years – three under Muschamp – have produced a 30-21 record. At a place like Mississippi State, they name streets after you for doing something like that. At Florida, winning 60% of your games is not acceptable to a fan base that got used to averaging 10 wins a season under Steve Spurrier and 11 a year under Urban Meyer.
CALL THIS THE FAMILIAR FOUR
There is an air of familiarity to this year’s Final Four for the Gators, who face UConn Saturday in the first of the two NCAA Tournament semifinal games in Arlington, Texas at Jerry’s World. UConn is the last team to beat the Gators back on December 2, 65-64 on a Shabazz Napier buzzer-beater. The only other team to beat the Gators this season is Wisconsin, which faces Kentucky, who the Gators have beaten three times already this season, in the second semifinal. It must be noted that Scottie Wilbekin missed the last five minutes of the UConn game with a sprained ankle and neither Kasey Hill (sprained ankle) or Chris Walker (wasn’t eligible yet) played in the game. Wisconsin was the second game of the season and the Gators played without Wilbekin and Dorian Finney-Smith, who were both suspended, and Chris Walker. Florida is at full strength for the games in Arlington. Early Las Vegas betting has Florida a 6.5-point favorite to beat UConn and Kentucky a 2-point favorite to beat Wisconsin. Current betting lines have Florida a 1/1 favorite to win the national championship with Kentucky at 2/1, Wisconsin at 3/1 and UConn at 7/1.
THE SEC IS 11-1 IN THE TOURNAMENT THIS YEAR
ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi spent plenty of time on Twitter Sunday fending off SEC fans who were adamant that getting Florida and Kentucky to the Final Four and an SEC aggregate of 11-1 in this year’s NCAA Tournament is proof positive the league deserved more than three bids. “Still irrelevant” is how Lunardi responded to one fan who said getting Florida and Kentucky to the Final Four is proof the league wasn’t that weak. I think there were at least three other teams below Florida, Kentucky and Tennessee that were capable of playing in the NCAA but they blew it with lousy finishes in the regular season and the SEC Tournament. I think the bottom half of the SEC needs to get serious about basketball. Until the bottom feeders start playing representative schedules and winning non-conference games against teams ranked in the top 150 RPI the league is going to get the bare minimum teams in the tournament.
SEC IN NCAA TOURNAMENT PLAY SINCE 2000
Since 2000, Florida has the best record in the Southeastern Conference in NCAA Tournament play with a 34-10 record (including this year) that includes two national championships, three championship game appearances, four Final Fours, seven Elite Eights and seven Sweet 16s. Kentucky is right behind the Gators with a 32-11 record, one national championship, one national championship game appearance, three Final Fours, six Elite Eights and eight Sweet 16s. During the same period, the SEC has a combined one Final Four appearance, five Elite Eights and 15 Sweet 16s. NCAA Tournament records are: Alabama 5-6, Arkansas 1-3, Auburn 3-2, Georgia 1-3, LSU 7-5, Mississippi State 3-5, Missouri 9-8, Ole Miss 4-4, South Carolina 0-1, Tennessee 12-9, Texas A&M 5-5 and Vanderbilt 4-5.
BREAK OUT THE BROOMS
The talk all spring about Kevin O’Sullivan’s Florida baseball team is that you better get the Gators early because once the kids start figuring things out, they’re going to be extremely tough to beat. The Gators (19-9, 6-3 SEC) might be coming of age at just the right time because this was a very productive week starting with that win over #1 Florida State back on Tuesday. The Gators rode that wave into the weekend where they swept #4-ranked LSU, taking the third and final game of the series, 11-7, Sunday before a crowd of 4,012 at McKethan Stadium. The Gators are making the plays in the field, cutting down on the errors and they’re starting to hit with men on base. Throw in the good pitching from a lot of live, young arms and this is a team that could make some serious waves the rest of the way. The Gators have a team ERA of 2.89 and that team batting average of .262 is on the rise. This is a fun team to watch.
ELSEWHERE IN FLORIDA SPORTS
Florida’s women’s tennis team is now 190-1 all time against SEC teams at home following the Gators’ (15-4, 7-2 SEC) 4-0 shutout of LSU at the Ring Tennis Complex Sunday … The 4th-ranked Florida lacrosse team (12-2, 3-0 American Lacrosse Conference) got four goals each from Mollie Stevens and Shannon Gilroy and three from Devon Schneider to help the Gators to a 13-9 win over #11 Penn State at Donald R. Dizney Stadium … The softball team (31-7, 5-7 SEC) continued its recent struggles, dropping a doubleheader to Tennessee in Knoxville, 5-2, in the first game and 7-6 in the second. Florida gave up five runs late in the first game … Men’s tennis (10-7, 5-3 SEC) shut out LSU, 4-0, in Baton Rouge … The 16th-ranked women’s golf team concluded the regular season this weekend with a ninth-place finish at the Bryan National Collegiate Tournament in Greensboro, North Carolina. It was their ninth consecutive finish in the top ten in a tournament.
Marquette whiffed on VCU’s Shaka Smart and there were rumors that the next target on the list was Tennessee’s Cuonzo Martin. Apparently there was nothing to that rumor and the probable choice is Duke assistant Steve Wojciechowski. Having lost Chris Collins last year to Northwestern and Wojo probably leaving, this is the biggest shakeup in years for Coach K’s staff … Now that UNLV coach Dave Rice has said no to USF, New Mexico coach Craig Neal has become the target of the day. Neal might bolt because New Mexico isn’t going to give him a raise from his $750,000 salary and USF is offering $1.2 million. If Neal says no, USF is going to find it more and more challenging to find a top tier coach willing to take that job … Former Gator assistant Mike Montgomery is expected to announce his retirement as the coach at California … Dayton coach Archie Miller, who played collegiately at North Carolina State, is expected to emerge as a leading candidate at Wake Forest.
MUSIC FOR TODAY
Leading off Texas Week is the late, great blues guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan, who died much, much too early in a helicopter crash in Wisconsin. His first album was “Texas Flood” which was released in 1983. The album included “Pride and Joy” and “Love Struck Baby” which both hit the mainstream Billboard charts. My favorite track on the album is the title track, “Texas Flood.” This is the long version of “Texas Flood,” which was written by the late, great Larry Davis back in 1958 and became a blues standard.