If you grew up in the fifties or sixties, then you might remember the character from the Li’l Abner comic strip Joe Btfsplk. Wherever he went, Joe had a dark cloud hanging over his head. He was a jinx and whomever he encountered suffered some sort of misfortune. Billy Donovan must be wondering if Joe Btfsplk has been hanging around his University of Florida basketball team because it seems that whatever can go wrong does go wrong. A 12-12 record with seven conference games to go would be an ugrade at a lot of places. At Florida, after all that Donovan has achieved in his previous 18 years on the job, it’s a disaster.
For the second time this season, the Gators lost to Ole Miss in the final seconds Thursday night. They lost, 72-71, in Oxford in January and lost to the Rebels in Gainesville, 62-61, Thursday night. Of Florida’s 12 losses, three have been by one point, two have been by two points, one by four points, two by six points and one by seven. That’s nine games the Gators could have won if they had hit a couple of free throws or if a 3-pointer or two had gone down. If the Gators were merely 5-4 in those games, they would be 17-8 right now and their string of season with at least 20 wins (16 in a row) would be intact as well as their string of five straight appearances in the NCAA Tournament.
The Gators could still make a postseason tournament, but simply making the NIT is going to take a minor miracle. Winning the SEC Tournament – what it would take for this team to make the NCAA – would take a miracle of feeding the 5,000 proportions.
It has to be frustrating for Donovan, who is on everybody’s short list as the best college basketball coach in the country. He must wonder if this team is snakebit. He’s had to deal with injuries – Michael Frazier’s high ankle sprain is the latest – and suspensions that have left him playing with as few as six scholarship players on some occasions. It seems he just can’t catch a break with these guys.
Last year’s team had to deal with injuries and suspensions also, but last year’s team had the four seniors – Scottie Wilbekin, Patric Young, Casey Prather and Will Yeguete – to lead the way. When those guys showed up at the practice gym or in the arena on game day, you never worried if they had left their game someplace else. They showed up to play and provided extraordinary examples in both word and deed, something that this team just doesn’t have. There are some very good players like Frazier and Dorian Finney-Smith and some players with marvelous potential, but there isn’t a true leader in the bunch, at least not one who has stepped up and taken over the team yet.
Donovan has an outstanding recruiting class coming in and next season he will also have beastly John Egbunu, all 6-11 and 266 pounds of him, to man the middle. There will be more talent from top to bottom on the roster than there has been in years, but someone among that bunch better take a leadership course and figure out that a team without leaders is like a boat without a sail or a rudder, just drifting wherever the waves and currents take it.
1. Nick Saban, Alabama: Most fans would be absolutely thrilled if their team was 23-4 the last two years. Not Alabama’s. Winning those back-to-back national championships (2011-12) only made Bama fans feel entitled, like it was the 1970s all over again and Bear Bryant was pacing the sidelines. Bama fans thought they should have won three in a row in 2013 and they’re absolutely in shock at the way Alabama handled them in the semifinals in the Sugar Bowl, preventing a fourth national championship since 2009. Fueling the discontent is another recruiting class that ranks among the top two, the seventh straight year that’s happened. When you have Steve Spurrier jabbing that Nick’s the greatest recruiter in the history of college football and Matt Hayes of Sporting News asking if maybe Alabama has underachieved given all its recruiting success, it gets under the skin of Bama fans. Now Saban might seem oblivious to this but he DOES pay attention to what the fans are thinking. Let Alabama go a third straight year without a national championship and Nick might start feeling the heat from his own fans.
2. Mark Richt, Georgia: In 14 years at Georgia, Richt has won more games (136) than either Vince Dooley (103) or Wally Butts (101) won in their first 14 years in Athens. That’s a nice record and the fact he’s average almost 10 wins a year shows remarkable consistency. So why aren’t Georgia fans gloating that they’ve got the best coach in the country? Well, during the 14 years he’s been at Georgia, Alabama has won three national titles, Florida and LSU have both won two and Auburn has won one and made it to a national championship game. Georgia hasn’t sniffed a national championship game even though the Bulldogs load up with talent every year and churn out guys who make it big in the NFL. To make matters worse, Georgia has had the horses but has finished second to Missouri in the SEC East the last couple of seasons. Georgia fans are starting to feel about Richt the same way Ohio State fans felt about Earle Bruce, whose nickname was “Old 9-3 Earle.” Richt is one of the nice guys in the game and from a personal standpoint, you’d be hard pressed to find too many people who don’t like him. From a football standpoint, you might be hard pressed to find many Georgia fans who are enamored with him.
3. Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M: When they had Johnny Football, the Aggies simply flipped on the offensive switches and outscored people. Without Johnny Football, the offense had games when it played lights out and others when it sputtered. It really helps to have a defense when the offense sputters. So out with the old defensive coordinator and in with John Chavis, who has built top flight defenses at both Tennessee and LSU. History says Chavis will do wonders with all that talent that A&M has been stockpiling, but what if being the defensive coordinator for Kevin Sumlin is like being an offensive coordinator for Will Muschamp? Muschamp brought in three offensive coordinators with great reputations and their reputations went into the toilet in their collective four years at Florida. What is A&M becomes the anti-Florida, a place where DEFENSIVE coordinators go to die? If there is more bad defense in College Station, the big money (the joke in the southwest is only God has more money than the Longhorns and the Aggies) boosters are going to start getting restless. They’ve seen diminishing returns the last three years (11 wins, 9 wins, 8 wins).
4. Les Miles, LSU: It has been three years since the last time LSU made it to the national championship game (2011) and seven seasons since the last national championship. In that Nick Saban won a national championship at LSU back in 2003 and has won three at Alabama since 2009, Tiger fans are getting a bit restless. The Tigers are 28-11 in the last three seasons and 103-29 since Les Miles became the head coach in 2005. As gaudy as that record is, it would probably be a lot better if LSU hadn’t sent more early entries to the NFL than perhaps any school in the country over the last 10 years. Losing players early entry to the NFL might work as a great excuse elsewhere, but LSU continually replaces one NFL bound player with one who will be going there himself in a matter of a couple of years, rendering the excuse useless. The Tigers will be as talented as ever at the skill positions, in the secondary and along the defensive line in 2015, but there is a glaring weakness at quarterback. Had LSU gotten decent quarterback play in 2014 they darn sure wouldn’t have lost five games. If the quarterback play doesn’t improve dramatically and LSU has another four or five loss season in 2015, Les will indeed feel the heat.
5. Derek Mason, Vanderbilt: James Franklin spoiled Vandy fans and made them believe. Two straight 9-win seasons at a school like Vandy will do that. It only took Derek Mason to bring Vandy back to those thrilling days of yesteryear when the Commodores did their part to hold up the rest of the SEC East by taking their rightful place at the bottom. The Dores were 3-9 in Mason’s first year and 0-8 against the SEC. Among their nine losses was a 30-point blowout to Temple. You can understand losing by 30 to an SEC school, but Temple? The Commodores averaged just 6.0 yards per pass play and 3.42 per run as they went from a team that averaged 30 points per game in 2013 under Franklin to one that averaged 17.2 in 2014. If the Commodores aren’t at least competitive this year, then it might take an act of God – or at least some patient members of the Board of Trustees – to get him a third year.
1. Bob Stoops, Oklahoma: How could a coach who is 168-44 in his career be feeling the heat? Well, if he isn’t, then take a look at all the staff upheaval. Oklahoma fans are not accustomed to 5-loss seasons and the future does not look bright.
2. Al Golden, Miami: He’s 28-22 in four years, is coming off a 6-7 season and just pulled in a mediocre – at best – recruiting class. Throw in the fact that Donna Shalayla retires in June and Golden no longer has his protector. Anything less than nine wins and he’s a goner.
3. Mike MacIntyre, Colorado: MacIntyre is actually a very good football coach although you wouldn’t know it by his 2-year record at Colorado (6-18, 1-17 in the Pac-12). This is not an easy place to coach and it only highlights what a great job Bill McCartney did from 1982-94 when he won a national championship (1990) and went 93-55-5. If MacIntyre doesn’t win this year, there’s a really good chance he’s a goner.
4. Mike London, Virginia: He’s been on the job five years and produced only one winning season. The Cadavers went 5-7 last season, blowing a chance to get to a bowl when they lost to a below average Virginia Tech team on the last game of the season. What has saved London so far has been a massive buyout clause. The buyout becomes very manageable this year. It’s a win or else season.
5. Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia: Now that Oliver Luck has moved from the West Virginia AD chair to an executive position with the NCAA, Holgorsen no longer has his protector in place but he does have a rather nifty buyout that has kept him in place. After this season, however, the buyout drops to a manageable $6 million. If he doesn’t win at least eight or nine games this year, the boosters will ante up whatever it takes to buy him out.
Watching the Gators play basketball this season, what has caused you the most frustration?
Considering the Florida basketball team dropped to 12-12 with its third 1-point loss this season and its second 1-pointer to Ole Miss, it seems “Games People Play” by the Alan Parsons project is the appropriate song for today. Just listen to the opening line – “Where do we go from here.” Billy must be wondering the exact same thing.