Franz Beard's Thoughts of the Day; Jan. 25

A few thoughts to jump start your Monday morning...

When you look at the shooting stats of the last three games, you have to shake your head and wonder what might have been if the Florida Gators had shot like this all season. The Gators have hit 50.3% (83-165) of their shots from the field in wins over Ole Miss, Alabama and Auburn. From the 3-point line, UF has hit 48.3% (29-60). Even the abysmal free throw shooting that cost the Gators a win against Texas A&M in College Station is starting to come around. UF shot 20-24 (83.3%) against Auburn Saturday night, which improved the team percentage to 62.3 for the season. In the two games prior to Auburn, the Gators were a collective 41-64 but that would have been much better except that three players combined to go 9-25.

What the last three games prove is that when the Gators hit their shots, there isn’t a team on the schedule they can’t beat. The Gators are 13-6 right now and if they had simply hit a couple of shots and some free throws they could have beaten Miami (1-12 from the 3-point line), Michigan State (4-18 from the 3-point line, 10-18 from the foul line), Florida State (4-25 from the 3-point line, 19-29 from the foul line), and Texas A&M (27-61 from the field, 4-12 from the foul line). If the Gators had won those four games they would be 17-2 right now and considered a mortal lock for the NCAA Tournament.

The difference in the last three games has been a combination of spacing, shot selection and better ball movement. There are similarities in the Billy Donovan offense and the offense Mike White has installed but even subtle differences require adjustments. And, it also appears that White has figured how his roster fits in with what he wants to do, which also shows in the substitution patterns and the way he wants the offense run.

The Gators are still a work in progress, but White has this team starting to look and play like a team that could go places. A month ago this looked like an NIT team – at best. If they continue to play like they have the last three games, the NCAA Tournament is a very real possibility.

SEC FOOTBALL SCHEDULES 2016: WHO HAS THE TOUGHEST NOVEMBER?

1. MISSISSIPPI STATE

11/5 Texas A&M: 8-5; lost Music City Bowl

11/12 at Alabama: 14-1; won SEC and national championships

11/19 Arkansas: 8-5; won Liberty Bowl

11/26 at Ole Miss: 10-3; won Sugar Bowl

Assessment: The Dak-less Bulldogs have a murderer’s row for a November schedule. They’ve got a very good chance to hold serve at home against the Aggies and Arkansas. Winning on the road in Tuscaloosa and Oxford is a rather steep task. A 2-2 November would be quite an accomplishment.

2. SOUTH CAROLINA

11/5 Tennessee: 9-4; won Outback Bowl
11/12 at Florida: 10-4; won SEC East championship; lost Citrus Bowl
11/19 Western Carolina: 7-4 in Division IAA
11/26 at Clemson: 14-1; won ACC championship; lost in national championship game

Assessment: Will Muschamp’s first November in Columbia has the makings of a month to forget. Even the D1AA team on the schedule had a good year last year. A month that includes Tennessee and roadies at Florida and Clemson is not conducive to a good record. This looks like 1-3. Maybe.

3. ARKANSAS

11/5 Florida: 10-4; won SEC East championship; lost Citrus Bowl
11/12 LSU: 9-3; won Texas Bowl
11/19 at Mississippi State: 9-4; won Belk Bowl

11/26 at Missouri: 5-7
Assessment: Getting Florida and LSU at home is a plus but the first three games of November might be so brutal that the Hogs could actually lose on the road at Missouri on Thanksgiving weekend. A 2-2 record would bode well.

4. ALABAMA

11/5 at LSU: 9-3; won Texas Bowl
11/12 Mississippi State: 9-4; won Belk Bowl
11/19 Chattanooga: 9-4 in Division IAA

11/26 Auburn: 7-6; won Birmingham Bowl

Assessment: You can bet the ranch that preparation for LSU on November 5 began no more than two days after the national championship game. That game could not only decide unbeaten seasons, but the SEC and national championships.

5. LSU

11/5 Alabama: 14-1; won SEC and national championships
11/12 at Arkansas: 8-5; won Liberty Bowl
11/19 South Alabama: 5-7
11/24 at Texas A&M: 8-5; lost Music City Bowl

Assessment: How well the Tigers play in November will probably be tied to what happens on November 5. If LSU loses to Alabama the rest of November could be a real downer. If the Tigers win that game, they’ll run the table. A 3-1 November seems probable.

6. TEXAS A&M

11/5 at Mississippi State: 9-4; won Belk Bowl
11/12 Ole Miss: 10-3; won Sugar Bowl
11/19 Texas-San Antonio: 3-9
11/24 LSU: 9-3; won Texas Bowl

Assessment: By the time November rolls around, the Aggies will either be surprisingly good or in the tank. The schedule isn’t going to help things because the only sure win is against Texas-San Antonio. It looks like a 1-3 month.

7. OLE MISS

11/5 Georgia Southern: 9-4; won Go Daddy Bowl
11/12 at Texas A&M: 8-5; lost Music City Bowl
11/19 at Vanderbilt: 4-8
11/26 Mississippi State: 9-4; won Belk Bowl
Assessment: That November 19 game at Vandy is the ultimate trap game because it comes after a tough roadie against the Aggies and the week before the Egg Bowl. Vandy’s defense is nasty and the game’s in Nashville. Still, Hugh Freeze has it going at Ole Miss, so 4-0 is the prediction.

8. VANDERBILT

11/5 at Auburn: 7-6; won Birmingham Bowl
11/12 at Missouri: 5-7

11/19 Ole Miss: 10-3; won Sugar Bowl
11/26 Tennessee: 9-4; won Outback Bowl
Assessment: For a team that might need some November wins to get a break even record and a bowl game, this is not good. The most winnable game is Missouri and that will be on the road. An 0-4 is in the cards.

9. KENTUCKY

11/5 Georgia: 10-3; won Gator Bowl
11/12 at Tennessee: 9-4; won Outback Bowl
11/19 Austin Peay: 0-11 in Division IAA
11/26 at Louisville: 8-5; won Music City Bowl

Assessment: By the time November arrives, Mark Stoops may need to win three games to assure employment in 2017. The only one he can count on is Austin Peay, which didn’t win a game in D1AA.

10. AUBURN

11/5 Vanderbilt: 4-8
11/12 at Georgia: 10-3; won Gator Bowl
11/19 Alabama A&M: 3-8 in Division IAA
11/26 at Alabama: 14-1; won SEC and national championships

Assessment: You wonder about Auburn, particularly since Kevin Steele is the DC. He got fired by Nick Saban as DC after the 2007 season at Alabama and by Dabo Swinney at Clemson after the 2011 blowout loss to West Virginia. Last year he turned LSU’s defense ordinary. If Auburn’s defense is ordinary then this will be a 1-3 month. 

11. FLORIDA

11/5 at Arkansas: 8-5; won Liberty Bowl                
11/12 South Carolina: 3-9
11/19 Presbyterian: 2-9 in Division IAA

11/26: at Florida State: 10-3; lost Peach Bowl

Assessment: Two very tough games on the road sandwich two games the Gators should be able to win even if they’re comatose. On paper you figure 2-2, but if Jim McElwain’s second year offense is improved, then 3-1 is entirely possible.

12. MISSOURI

11/5 at South Carolina: 3-9
11/12 Vanderbilt: 4-8

11/19 at Tennessee: 9-4; won Outback Bowl
11/26: Arkansas: 8-5; won Liberty Bowl

Assessment: Missouri isn’t going to be very good, but the Tigers could go 2-2 in November since they start out the month with South Carolina and Vandy at home. Emphasis on the word COULD. More likely is 1-3.

13. GEORGIA

11/5 at Kentucky: 5-7
11/12 Auburn: 7-6; won Birmingham Bowl
11/19 Louisiana-Lafayette: 4-8
11/26 Georgia Tech: 4-8

Assessment: The only way Georgia doesn’t go 4-0 in November is if Auburn turns out to be better than expected. The other three games are not only winnable but at Sanford Stadium.

14. TENNESSEE

11/5 at South Carolina: 3-9
11/12 Tennessee Tech: 4-7 in Division IAA
11/19 Kentucky: 5-7
11/26 at Vanderbilt: 4-8

Assessment: Does it get any easier than this? If the Vols have the SEC East lead heading into November then there isn’t much in the way of a 4-0 month except Vanderbilt and that depends on Vandy figuring out it’s legal to have an offensive unit that scores more than two TDs a game. This looks like a 4-0.  

SEC BASKETBALL POWER RANKINGS

1. Texas A&M (17-2, 7-0 SEC; 8 RPI): Even without Tyler Davis (ankle) the Aggies had no problems with Mizzou. They’ve got Arkansas on the road and then they’ll play host to national power Iowa State as part of the SEC-Big 12 challenge on Saturday. This is the league’s best team. The Aggies get it done at both ends of the floor and they’re only getting better with each game.
2. Kentucky (15-4, 5-2 SEC, 16 RPI): Much is being made of the Wildcats last two wins (Arkansas and Vanderbilt) but this is still a team that has a lot of things to figure out. The perimeter defense (Arkansas and Vandy were a combined 7-27 from the 3-point line) showed vast improvement but the Wildcats still have no consistent inside game. The Wildcats play host to Mizzou then travel to Kansas on Saturday for the SEC-Big 12 Challenge.
3. South Carolina (17-2, 4-2 SEC, 31 RPI): Reality is starting to set in for the Gamecocks, who overachieved their way into the top 25. They’ve lost two of their last four and need to find some consistency on the offensive end if they’re going to right the ship moving forward. There are two very winnable games (Mississippi State and Alabama) and both are in Columbia so the Gamecocks have a chance to work out some of the kinks this week.

4. FLORIDA (13-6, 5-2 SEC; 19 RPI): If the Gators had shot the ball anywhere close to what they’ve shown the last three games they would be nationally ranked. Two things are going on: (1) the Gators are moving the ball better and therefore getting better shots and (2) when the Gators shoot with confidence they not only make shots but play better on the defensive end of the floor. This is a challenging week for the Gators with a roadie to Vandy and a home game with national power West Virginia in the SEC-Big 12 Challenge.
5. LSU (12-7, 5-2 SEC; 91 RPI): Whatever he’s done to get in Johnny Jones’ doghouse Tim Quarterman needs to make amends for because he’s the difference maker for this LSU team. The Tigers have dominating inside presence in Ben Simmons and Craig Victor and the league’s best 3-point shooter in Keith Hornsby. They need Quarterman to make it all work for everybody. When he’s at the point and playing well, this is a matchup nightmare of a team. The Tigers host Georgia and then #1 Oklahoma in the SEC-Big 12 Challenge on Saturday.

6. Georgia (11-6, 4-3 SEC; 63 RPI): The biggest issue for Georgia is depth. Beyond the starting five there’s only one consistent contributor. Sophomore Yante Maten (16.3 points/7.9 rebounds) is Georgia’s only inside presence. If Maten and point guard J.J. Frazier (15.7 points, 4.9 assists) are off, the Bulldogs are in deepest and darkest. With games at LSU and at Baylor (SEC-Big 12 challenge), the Bulldogs will be fortunate if they can break even this week.

7. Tennessee (10-9, 3-4 SEC; 84 RPI): This is the SEC’s most fun team to watch. The Vols are one of the smallest teams in the SEC but they swarm defensively and if Kevin Punter Jr. (23.3 points per game) goes off (36 against South Carolina Saturday), they can make life miserable for any team in the league. The Vols have two winnable games this week – at Alabama and at TCU in the SEC-Big 12 Challenge.
8. Vanderbilt (11-8, 3-4 SEC; 61 RPI): Shut down the perimeter as Kentucky did on Saturday and Vanderbilt can’t win. It doesn’t help that Riley LaChance has been in a funk the last couple of games (1-14 from the field and 1-10 from the 3-point line). The Commodores host the Gators Tuesday night then travel to Texas in the SEC-Big 12 Challenge.

9. Ole Miss (12-7, 2-5 SEC; 107 RPI): The Rebels are without three starters and until they get Stefan Moody (hamstring), Sebastian Saiz (surgery for detached retina) and Martavious Newby (eye) back, the Rebels are in trouble. All three missed the loss to Mississippi State and are considered day-to-day. The Rebels are at home against Auburn and then on the road to Kansas State as part of the SEC-Big 12 challenge this week.

10. Auburn (9-9, 3-4 SEC; 83 RPI): Last week started out just fine for the Tigers with a win in Tuscaloosa but the trip to Gainesville was a nightmare

11. Arkansas (9-10, 3-4 SEC; 117 RPI): The Hogs have lost three in a row largely because there is no inside help for Moses Kingsley. When opponents neutralize Kingsley the Razorbacks better hit 50% or better on 3-balls or else they aren’t going to win.  With the Aggies and Texas A&M (SEC-Big 12 Challenge) coming to town this week, there is hope in Fayette Nam that Arkansas can turn things around.  

12. Alabama (10-8, 1-5 SEC; 71 RPI): Alabama is good enough to scare the bejabbers out of everybody on the schedule, but not good enough to finish things out. Three straight losses have dimmed optimism. A week with Tennessee and South Carolina on the schedule isn’t helping things.

13. Mississippi State (8-10, 1-5 SEC; 188 RPI): The Bulldogs got an SEC win. Okay, so it was against an Ole Miss team minus three injured starters but a win is a win. The Bulldogs travel to South Carolina Tuesday and Saturday they battle it out for last place with Mizzou on the road.

14. Missouri (8-10, 1-5 SEC; 162 RPI): The Tigers have lost four in a row. Barring a miracle of New Testament proportions it will be five after the game with Kentucky Wednesday. The Tigers host Mississippi State in the battle for last place on Sunday.

RANDOM THOUGHTS

Cam Newton was spectacular Sunday while leading the Carolina Panthers to a 49-15 win over the Arizona Cardinals to secure a trip to the Super Bowl. There is no question he’s this season’s MVP.

Because of the injuries and the way his body is starting to deteriorate, it’s hard to imagine Peyton Manning playing beyond this season so it’s good to see him get one last chance to win a Super Bowl.

From what I’ve seen this season the Carolina Panthers have the two best players in the NFL for 2015 in Cam Newton and Luke Kuchely.

There are no more unbeaten basketball teams in Division I after Temple knocked off SMU Sunday. Because they are banned from playing in the postseason for NCAA violations, SMU was hoping to run the table.

QUESTION OF THE DAY

When you look back on his time at Florida, do you think Cam Newton could have kept Florida among the nation’s elite teams if he had stayed, or do you think the best thing that could have happened to him was that year in junior college?

MUSIC FOR TODAY

Two of the great guitarists in any musical genre are Larry Carlton and Lee Ritenour, who collaborated for an album in 1995. In addition to outstanding solo careers, they’ve both played long stints with the super jazz band FourPlay.  If you ever see either one of these guys playing anywhere close to where you are, they are well worth the price of admission. Today’s music is “Larry and Lee” from 1995.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MFLbeHAwA8k


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