With college basketball down to 16 teams and two weekends and anywhere from 11-15 games remaining in the NBA regular season, it’s time for the annual Billy Donovan to the NBA rumors to begin.
Writes ESPN.com’s Marc Stein: “There is a growing sense in NBA coaching circles that Florida's Billy Donovan will give renewed consideration to making a move to the pros after a rough (by his standards) season in Gainesville. Although there is no firm indication yet that the Orlando Magic will pursue Donovan again when they ramp up their coaching search in late April, it's a scenario that's bound to be talked about.”
Donovan has always left the door cracked for a shot at the NBA, which irks Florida fans but can you blame him for at least listening? The NBA will pay him just about any amount of money he wants and it’s all basketball. Among other things he wouldn’t have to worry about a McDonald’s All-American going to class and in the NBA he wouldn’t have to worry about knowing the nuances of a recruiting manual with a set of rules so impossible Washington bureaucrats must have thought them up.
The Cleveland Cavaliers made Donovan a serious offer last year, which he turned down and you can be sure that he will be on the short list at Chicago, Oklahoma City and Orlando if coaching changes are made at those places. Billy will listen just as he always has, but it’s likely he will say no once again because of two reasons:
1. He’s not really the type to leave after the first losing season in 17 years. He will have much better personnel next year and the good ship Gator should be righted and back to its winning ways.
2. If Kentucky runs the table and wins the NCAA championship and Billy were to leave for the NBA, there would be howls that John Calipari drove him out of the college game. I just don’t think Billy would leave under that circumstance.
By the time the final whistle blows this afternoon, the Florida Gators will have completed 1/3 of their allotted 15 practices this spring. That’s a scary thought when you consider a new system is being introduced on both sides of the ball, there are serious holes to be filled on the offensive line and at linebacker and quarterbacks are having to learn how to take snaps under center. Due to NCAA time and practice restrictions, there is no such thing as a leisurely pace nor is there any time for doing the same thing over and over again. As monumental the task of putting together a solid recruiting class with only a few weeks to make up the head start of months and years enjoyed by most of Florida’s rivals, this job is tougher for first year head coach Jim McElwain. He’s got to get his system implemented while at the same time evaluating personnel to determine a depth chart.
At this stage of the McElwain coaching era, the margin for error is very slim, both for coaches and for players, which is why he’s emphasizing the necessity of knowing and understanding assignments and the necessity of responding to coaching.
"In life you don't get a second chance," McElwain said after Friday’s practice. "You get one chance to do it right. There aren't any do-overs. So the importance of understanding do it right the first time; those are lessons that help carry you through other than just the game of football."
Elsewhere in the SEC:
Alabama: Center Ryan Kelly, who has two years of starting experience and is considered one of the top three centers in the country, sees leadership as his most critical contribution this spring as Alabama rebuilds an offensive line that returns only two starters. Kelly says, “To bring them up to the standard that we keep ourselves to as an offensive line here, I think that's going to be the biggest role that I play with them this year."
Auburn: Among the goals this spring is to develop some toughness which means more tackling and hitting. Despite the increased danger for more injuries, head coach Gus Malzahn says it’s necessary. "It's delicate, there's no doubt, but we've got a new defensive coordinator trying to establish his standards," Malzahn said. "We've got a lot of new guys on offense, so we're letting guys compete and we're being very physical and that's the way you can evaluate them. The bottom line is getting our edge back, so that's the most important thing."
Kentucky: Although new coordinator Shannon Dawson is from the same coaching tree (Hal Mumme/Mike Leach) as the departed Neal Brown, his offensive terminology is different so there is a spring practice learning curve. Dawson explained, "It's like if I told you to learn Spanish in two days. That'd be tough, right?"
LSU: After Saturday’s scrimmage, incumbent Anthony Jennings has an edge at quarterback over challenger Brandon Harris. After the first scrimmage, Harris held the edge. Surprising has been the play of early enrollee quarterback Justin McMillan.
Mississippi State: Filling the holes at linebacker is the biggest challenge for new defensive coordinator Manny Diaz, who has to replace Bernardrick McKinney and Matthew Wells, who will be playing in the NFL next year. Beniquez Brown, Richie Brown, Zach Jackson and redshirt freshman Gerri Green are the top candidates to man those spots.
Missouri: Tackle Harold Brantley, who had 54 tackles and five sacks last season, is poised to become the next great Missouri defensive lineman. Brantley also plays special teams – he had a 19-yard run on a fake punt in Mizzou’s Citrus bowl win over Minnesota – and is expected to have a role in short yardage packages on offense.
Ole Miss: The Rebels lost two All-Americans in their secondary but there are five experienced defensive backs so head coach Hugh Freeze expects no dropoff in productivity. Additionally, the Rebels have landed the top juco corner the last two years – Tee Shepherd, from the 2014 class who was injured last year, and Tony Bridges.
South Carolina: After a season in which the Gamecocks registered 14 sacks, #119 in the nation, the spring emphasis is on finding a pass rush. The Gamecocks hope they’ve got a stud coming off the edge in juco transfer Marquavius Lewis, a 6-3, 270-pounder who has been turning heads this spring.
Tennessee: The Vols start spring practice on Tuesday with six returning defensive backs who have a combined 95 starts. If there is a real question it is at nickel where Justin Coleman has to be replaced. Juco transfer Justin Martin could fit in nicely at that position but he won’t arrive until August, leaving most of the spring reps to sophomore Rashaan Golden and juniors Malik Foreman and Devaun Swafford.
Texas A &M: The Aggies have switched to the Vector MouthGuard this spring. It transmits data regarding the force of impacts, which helps monitor concussions. Texas A&M will also use the mouthpiece during the season.
Vanderbilt: Spring practice ended Saturday with the annual Black and Gold Game. It should come as no surprise that the Vandy defense dominated the offense. Four quarterbacks played, throwing a combined five interceptions.
Okay, who among us had Sweet 16 brackets that included Wichita State, Dayton, North Carolina State and UCLA? I certainly didn’t. My brackets were busted back on Thursday when I picked several upsets, just the wrong ones.
Here are my first weekend observations:
Biggest surprise: Watching North Carolina State beat LSU and Villanova, I have to wonder how is it these guys lost 13 games this year.
Underrated team: Maybe Michigan State didn’t deserve a top four seed but the Spartans are certainly better than a #7.
Worst coached team: There aren’t five teams in the tournament with more talent than LSU, yet the Tigers blew a 16-point lead against North Carolina State by missing their last 12 shots from the field and their last six free throws.
Best coached team: No team understands its limitations better than Wisconsin. The Badgers play hard at both ends of the floor, follow the game plan with the discipline of a surgeon and just don’t beat themselves.
For real: No one should be the least bit surprised if the Zags win the South Region. They have the size and depth to counter Jahlil Okafor inside, excellent shooters and guards Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr. will not turn the ball over.
Fearless: Wichita State quite often plays with four guards surrounding a 6-7 center. The Shockers create so much havoc with the other team’s guards that it takes the big guys out of the game. The Wichita guards have no fear when they go into the paint.
Best perimeter shooters: Notre Dame starts a 6-10 center and surrounds him with four 6-5 guards. The Irish get away with it because (a) all four guards can knock down the three and (b) they might be the best team remaining at finding the open man.
Best game: For pure entertainment value, you couldn’t beat North Carolina’s 87-78 win over Arkansas followed closely by Wichita State’s 81-76 win over Indiana.
1. Murry Bartow, East Tennessee State
2. Howard Moore, Illinois-Chicago
3. Jerome Allen, Penn
4. Dale Layer, Liberty
5. Steve Aggers, Loyola Marymount
6. David Carter, Nevada
7. Chuck Driesell, The Citadel?
8. Lenox Forrester, Southern Illinois-Edwardsville
9. Oliver Purnell, DePaul
10. Milan Brown, Holy Cross
11. Anthony Grant, Alabama
12. Paul Hewitt, George Mason
13. Bill Grier, San Diego
14. Alan Major, Charlotte
15. Tom Pecora, Fordham
16. Rick Ray, Mississippi State
17. Steve Shields, Arkansas-Little Rock
18. Dave Bezold, Northern Kentucky
19. Geno Ford, Bradley
Rumblings: Former Pitt and UCLA coach Ben Howland has emerged as a very serious candidate to take over at Mississippi State, which fired Rick Ray after three seasons. There are also reports that Howland has been targeted by DePaul but that job is likely to go to former DePaul star Tyrone Corbin… Former Auburn head coach and Kentucky assistant Tony Barbee is the leading candidate to replace David Carter at Nevada … Illinois-Chicago will hire Indiana assistant Steve McClain to replace Howard Moore … Although there are a lot of media people who favor former Bama manager now Murray State coach Steve Prohm as the ideal successor to Anthony Grant, the expectation is that Alabama has Indiana coach Tom Crean and Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall higher on the list … Wichita State coach Steve Forbes is expected to take over at East Tennessee State … Michigan assistant Jeff Meyer could be the next head coach at Liberty … With Jay Larranaga taking his name out of consideration at George Mason, the door could be open for Anthony Grant.
Per CBSSports.com’s Gregg Doyel, following Indiana’s 81-76 loss to Wichita State, head coach Tom Crean walked over to Kipp Kissinger, one of the officials who called the game, and said, “You suck!” I can’t disagree. Kissinger is just flat out bad but then again so are guys like Jamie Luckie, Bert Smith, Mike Stuart and Joe Lindsay.
Even if he stays this year, do you think Billy Donovan will eventually test the waters of the NBA?
The Grateful Dead made blues legend Robert Johnson’s classic “Walkin’ Blues” a staple of their live concerts. It made its way on to six of their live albums including this version from their “Dick’s Picks, Vol. 17: Live at Boston Garden” album that was recorded in 1991.