The neck injury that will sideline right tackle Roderick Johnson indefinitely was just the kind of bad news the Florida Gators don’t need. The already thin offensive line is down to six scholarship linemen available to finish the last week of spring practice and there are only two scholarship tackles still upright and functional – David Sharpe and Kavaris Harkless.
The lack of offensive linemen is one of the reasons the Gators will go with some sort of offense vs. defense scrimmage format Saturday when the annual Orange and Blue Game is held in The Swamp, but there are greater concerns than a dog and pony show for the fans in April. The Gators have been trying to install a brand new offensive scheme and insufficient numbers create havoc for a coaching staff, which is trying to adapt the offense to the personnel it will have on hand. Yes, there will be reinforcements arriving in the fall, but that means valuable time will be taken up in August teaching the new guys what to do and how to do it and there won’t be a lot of time to cross train guys to play multiple positions to make up for a lack of depth.
Johnson has already undergone a surgical procedure that revealed some damage from a previous injury. At this point it is unknown what the doctors will recommend.
Head coach Jim McElwain said, “We’ll do, obviously, what’s in his best interest.”
Alabama: The offense scored six touchdowns when Bama scrimmaged Friday, three passing and three on the ground. Derrick Henry was the real standout with 11 carries for 112 yards and a touchdown. Running back Bo Scarbrough tore an ACL and has had surgery Monday.
Arkansas: Defensive end Anthony Brown has been suspended for unspecified reasons. Head coach Bret Bielema is allowing Brown and suspended wide receiver Kendrick Edwards to explore their transfer options.
Auburn: Redshirt freshman Dontavius Russell and juco transfer Maurice Swain are making a big impression at defensive tackle this spring ... Starters Carl Lawson (DE) and Alex Kozan (OG) were held out of Saturday’s scrimmage, which was dominated by the defense, which picked off three passes.
Georgia: Brice Ramsey is getting a real challenge from Faton Bauta for the starting quarterback job. Redshirt freshman Jacob Park, who was expected to be in the mix for the starting job, didn’t get any first team reps at Saturday’s scrimmage. Both Ramsey and Bauta were 17-28 passing Saturday while Park was 2-8.
LSU: The Tigers are taking a break before resuming practice on April 14. At their last scrimmage before the break, Anthony Jennings passed for 200 yards and four touchdowns to solidify his hold on the #1 quarterback job.
Mississippi State: The quarterbacks stole the show at Mississippi State’s first scrimmage. Dak Prescott completed 15-28 passes for 247 yards and a touchdown, plus ran 10 yards for another TD. Backup Nick Fitzgerald directed six scoring drives, five with the second team offense and once with the first team. He threw two touchdown passes.
Missouri: Maty Mauk completed less than 50% of his passes last season. Although he hasn’t used it as an excuse, Mauk suffered an injury to his acromioclavicular joint in his shoulder, which caused him to play the final six gamesof the season in excruciating pain. Mauk is healthy now and has even lost nine percent of his body fat in the offseason.
Ole Miss: Jeremy Liggins, who quarterbacked his high school team to 32 straight wins and back-to-back Mississippi 4A state championships, is battling for the starting left guard position. He’s so athletic that Hugh Freeze is thinking about playing him some at tight end and as a short yardage quarterback.
South Carolina: Brendan Nosovitch, a backup quarterback last year who was moved to tight end this spring, has elected to transfer out. The three quarterbacks who are competing for the starting job completed 10-22 passes for 121 yards and no touchdowns in Saturday’s scrimmage. Observers speculate that incoming freshman QB Lorenzo Nunez might get fast tracked when he arrives in August.
Texas A&M: Juco transfer Justin Evans is not only competing for a starting job in the secondary but he’s opening eyes with his play on special teams. He will be a gunner on the punt coverage team and will return punts when the Aggies force opponents to kick away.
Back in 2006 when the Florida Gators were making their first NCAA title run, Billy Donovan made the comment that the team that wins the national championship isn’t necessarily the best team in the country but the one that plays the best for three weeks and goes on a 6-game winning streak. As we saw Monday night, the team that had the best three weeks was Duke. Over the course of the season, it could be argued that Kentucky was a better basketball team but there is no arguing that Mike Kryzyzewski got his team to play to their strengths for three straight weeks which is why they won the big trophy by beating Wisconsin Monday night.
All season long, Duke’s strengths were defense, free throw shooting and its ability to protect the basketball. Monday night, the defense held the nation’s most efficient offensive team to 61 points and 41% shooting. Wisconsin achieved its goal of getting Jahlil Okafor in foul trouble but even with the size advantage couldn’t get the ball inside consistently. Duke’s guards overplayed their man and forced Wisconsin far out of its comfort range. Wisconsin had open shots, but they were typically taken a couple of feet farther from the basket than normal. Wisconsin was 7-21 from the 3-point line. In the second half when Okafor was on the bench, Duke’s guards consistently kept the Wisconsin guards from getting the ball to Frank Kaminsky around the rim where he could have done more damage. Wisconsin tried to post up Nigel Hayes and Sam Dekker, but couldn’t get the ball to them down low because of the tenacity of the Duke guards.
Duke attacked Wisconsin in the second half, got to the foul line and didn’t miss. Duke made more free throws (16) than Wisconsin attempted (10).
Duke’s three guards – Tyus Jones, Quinn Cook and Grayson Allen – turned the ball over exactly one time between them. The Blue Devils only had five turnovers the entire night and just two in the second half.
The NCAA Tournament is like a 3-week sprint to the finish line, unlike the NBA’s best-of-7 format, which pretty much eliminates the possibility of a Cinderella story or a story like the one we just saw with Duke. In best-of-7, the team with the most talent and quality depth wins 99% of the time. In the NCAA Tournament, it’s the team that can withstand the pressure of six sudden death evenings that wins it all.
In a best-of-7 series, there isn’t a team in the country that could have beaten Kentucky four times this year, but the Wildcats succumbed to the pressure Saturday night against Wisconsin and there wasn’t another game to bail them out. Monday night, when there was one final sudden death, winner take all game to be played, Duke stood tall and Coach K got his fifth NCAA title.
John Calipari told reporters he expects at least five Kentucky underclassmen to declare for the NBA Draft – Willie Cauley-Stein, Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew and Aaron Harrison and Trey Lyles. Others exploring their options are freshman guard Devin Booker and sophomore center Dakari Johnson.
Towns will be no worse than the second pick when the NBA drafts in June while Cauley-Stein and Lyles are expected to go in the first 20 picks. The Harrison Twins are second rounders by most projections but Calipari believes both will be chosen first round. Some mock drafts have Booker as a lottery pick while Johnson would be late first, early second by most projections.
Others who are on the move:
Justin Jackson, North Carolina: Staying. He would have been picked after #20 in the first round, but has lottery skills if he gets better as a sophomore.
Kevin Looney, UCLA: He’s heading to the NBA after one season. Expected to go first round.
Cam Payne, Murray State: He’s leaving after his sophomore season. You may not have heard of him, but the NBA scouts know him well. Payne averaged 20.2 points per game at Murray and is projected to go somewhere between picks 15-25 in the first round.
Domantas Sabonis, Gonzaga: He’s staying for his sophomore year. He would have been a late first rounder, but with a year in the weight room projects top 15 for next season.
Tyler Ulis, Kentucky: He stays for another year. Next year he gets full control of the UK offense and there will be no platooning.
For the most part, I don’t complain about officiating just like I rarely pin a loss on one singe play. Whether it’s football or basketball, I have generally been supportive of the men in stripes because they have a very tough job to do. But, after watching an entire 2014 football season and the just concluded basketball season, I’m convinced that somehow, someway, the NCAA better figure something out because too many games are being decided by incompetent officiating crews.
I cannot remember a football or basketball season when I’ve seen so many games decided by the whistles. In football every play can be reviewed in the booth but even with instant replay to help, far too many calls are allowed to stand when they should be overturned. In basketball, far too many decisive calls are made by out of position officials.
Someone recently told me that the problems would be solved with one more official on the field or court. One more official on the field or on the court is not the solution to the problem. The problem is finding competent officials who aren’t afraid to make the right call.
If the NCAA is truly concerned about the integrity of its games, then it needs to do something about the officiating very soon.
Do you think the officiating in both college football and basketball has gotten worse in the last year or are you satisfied that the men in stripes do a good job?
There are certain albums that I listen to repeatedly. Steely Dan’s 1977 album “Aja” is one of those collections of music that I just can’t seem to get enough of. It’s rock and roll fused with jazz and those typical Donald Fagen lyrics which are funky and go beyond my pay grade as far as understanding. I couldn’t pick one song for today, so I’m putting up the entire “Aja” album as today’s music. The album reached #3 on the US charts, went platinum and was ranked #145 on Rolling Stone Magazine’s Greatest Albums of All Time.