We won’t know for at least a couple of years how Jim McElwain’s second recruiting class at the University of Florida will stack up against some of the great classes brought in by former coaches, but this much we can count on – McElwain and his staff have begun to fill in the gaps in the depth chart with quality athletes. The importance of filling the holes in the depth chart can’t be overstated. All you have to do is look at Florida’s 14 games in 2015.
The Gators went 6-1 in the first half of the season but were exposed in the last half. Sure, the Gators improved to 10-1 before Florida State came to town but by Thanksgiving weekend, the Gators were already reeling and the blueprint for how to beat them had been established. If there had been sufficient depth, particularly on the offensive side of the ball, it’s highly unlikely the Gators would have finished the season on a 4-game losing streak.
As of 11 p.m. Tuesday, the Gators held the #4 position nationally in Scout.com’s team recruiting rankings. If the Gators score with letters of intent from three highly regarded recruits (WR Tyrie Cleveland, CB/S Kristian Fulton and OG John Simpson) today, they could possibly move up in the rankings. And if there is a de-commitment or two and the Gators oh-fer with Cleveland, Fulton and Simpson, they could slide back a notch or two. But whatever happens, this will be a solid class that goes a long way toward patching together a championship caliber roster.
TIME TO START MAKING A CASE FOR THE NCAA TOURNAMENT
The Gators (14-7, 5-3 SEC) got the attention of the NCAA Tournament Committee when they knocked off then #9 West Virginia at the O-Dome. Tonight they’ll have a chance to start building on their resume when dangerous Arkansas (11-10, 4-4 SEC) comes to town. Arkansas has rebounded from a 3-game losing streak in SEC play to win its last two games over #5 Texas A&M in Fayette Nam and a 75-68 over Texas Tech in the Big 12-SEC Challenge.
This is a pivotal game for both teams. Arkansas needs to finish the regular season no worse than 7-3 to have a chance for a decent postseason tournament and that means winning away from Bud Walton Arena, where the Razorbacks are 10-2. The Gators, who finally got a win over a top 25 RPI team (West Virginia), are 10-1 at home. They need to hold serve with their five remaining home games and figure a way to win two or three on the road the rest of the way to solidify their NCAA chances. The Gators have the #21 RPI in the nation with a strength of schedule that ranks #8 overall and #2 for non-conference games but nothing is more impressive to the selection committee than wins. A 20- or 21-win regular season would make the Gators a very attractive tournament team.
Key for the Gators will be neutralizing Arkansas’ big three of Dusty Hannahs (17.0 points per game, 45.5% on 3-pointers), 6-10 Moses Kingsley (16.5 points, 9.4 rebounds, 2.6 blocks per game) and Anthlon Bell (16.4 points, 46% on 3-pointers). Stopping the Razorbacks starts with shutting down Hannahs and Bell behind the 3-point line. The Gators will likely use a 3-man rotation of John Egbunu, Kevarrius Hayes and Schuyler Rimmer to wear down Kingsley, who is the Razorbacks’ only effective big man.
The win over West Virginia helped prep the Gators for Arkansas, which runs a similar full court press designed to trap and force turnovers in the backcourt. If the Gators can break the Arkansas press and hold the turnovers to a minimum, they should be able to get their running game going and score easily in transition. In the last five games, Florida is averaging 80.6 points per game.
It should be somewhat of an emotional game for Florida freshman KeVaughn Allen, a high school legend in Arkansas where he led North Little Rock to three straight state championships. Allen is averaging 11.9 points per game but he has averaged 18.4 points in Florida’s last five games while hitting better than 50% from the floor overall and from the 3-point line.
LAST MINUTE SEC RECRUITING NOTES
(Scout national ranking as of 11 p.m. Tuesday in parenthesis)
(6) Alabama: Offensive tackle Scott Lashley (6-7, 295, West Point, MS, 4 stars) committed to Alabama Tuesday afternoon. Lashley, at one time, was committed to Mississippi State. Also on Tuesday, Safety Josh Perry (6-3, 183, Amite, LA, 3 stars) de-committed from Alabama. It’s possible that Perry could wind up at LSU, Ole Miss or Mississippi State.
(29) Arkansas: The Razorbacks got a defensive end commitment from Jonathan Marshall (6-3, 250, Shepherd, TX, 3 stars) on Monday.
(16) Auburn: Auburn is hoping to close strong on the defensive side of the ball Wednesday. The Tigers are finalists for tackles Rashan Gary (6-4, 286, Paramus, NJ Catholic, 5 stars) and Derrick Brown (6-4, 322, Buford, GA Lanier, 5-stars). Also, Auburn is holding its breath that quarterback Woody Barrett (6-3, 220, Winter Garden, FL West Orange, 4 stars) will qualify academically.
(13) Georgia: The Bulldogs will be holding their collective breaths until 3 p.m. when DT Derrick Brown (6-4, 322, Buford, GA Lanier, 5 stars) decides between Auburn, Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi State.
(1) LSU: Wide receiver Da’Monte Coxie (6-3, 170, Reserve, LA East Saint John, 3 stars) de-committed from LSU Tuesday afternoon. Prior to committing to LSU last summer, Coxie had offers from Florida and Alabama but he only took one official visit and that was to Baton Rouge. This past weekend, LSU added a quarterback to the class when Lindsey Scott (6-0, 200, Zachary, LA, 3 stars) committed to the Tigers.
(45) Mississippi State: The Bulldogs are sweating the signed LOI by WR Jamal Couch (6-5, 243, Phenix City, AL Central). He was originally committed to Florida State and the Seminoles have continued to recruit him even after he committed to Mississippi State. Dan Mullen would be ecstatic if the Bulldogs can keep WR A.J. Brown (6-2, 218, Starkville, MS, 4 stars) at home.
(55) Missouri: The Tigers picked up a Tuesday commitment from wide receiver Dimetrious Mason (6-0, 180, Loganville, GA Grayson). Over the weekend, the Tigers got a commitment from LB Cale Garrett (6-2, 220, Kearney, MO, 2 stars).
(3) Ole Miss: The Rebels could seize the #1 ranking if they can land DE Jeffery Simmons (6-4, 270, Macon, MS Noxubee County, 5 stars), S Deontay Anderson (6-1, 202, Manvel, TX, 4 stars), CB Shyheim Carter (6-0, 183, Kentwood, LA, 4 stars) and WR A.J. Brown (6-2, 218, Starkville, MS, 4 stars) Wednesday.
(30) South Carolina: South Carolina may pull off a major National Signing Day coup if DE Stephon Taylor (6-6, 275, New Orleans, LA McDonough 35) calls it for the Gamecocks over Florida State, LSU and Texas. For the longest time, Texas was thought to be the team to beat.
(22) Tennessee: Expectations in Knoxville are that S Nigel Warrior (6-0, 184, Suwannee, GA Peachtree Ridge, 5 stars) will make the call for UT. Alabama, Georgia and LSU all want him, but the Vols probably have the inside track since his dad is former UT All-American Dale Carter. The Vols have worked G/T Landon Dickerson (6-5, 293, Hudson, NC South Caldwell, 4 stars) very hard, but most experts think he will choose either Alabama or Florida State instead.
(33) Texas A&M: The big question in College Station will be can the Aggies somehow land a quarterback in this class? There are only two QBs on scholarship and one (Trevor Knight) is a graduate transfer with only one year of eligibility.
(67) Vanderbilt: The Commodores are hoping RB Jamauri Wakefield (6-1, 210, Jacksonville, FL Providence) can be that speed back they need to upgrade the offense.
GATOR GYMNASTS SWEEP SEC HONORS
For the fourth straight week, Bridget Sloan was selected as SEC Gymnast of the Week, after she captured the all-around title and scored a perfect 10 on the balance beam in #1 Florida’s win over then #5 Alabama at the O-Dome. Sloan has won the all-around in all four of Florida’s meets this year. For the second straight week, Alex McMurtry, who scored a 10 on the uneven parallel bars, won SEC Specialist of the Week and Alicia Boren was named Freshman of the Week for the second time this season. The Gators will travel to Athens this weekend to take on #11 Georgia.
CHRISTINAKI FRESHMAN OF THE WEEK
Eleanna Christinaki, who provided the difference-making points in wins over Arkansas and #12 Kentucky, was named SEC Freshman of the Week for the third time this season. Only Sha Brooks has won SEC Freshman of the Week more times (4) than Christinaki in Florida women’s basketball history. Against Arkansas, Christinaki led the Gators with 16 points and it was her driving layup with 17 seconds remaining in overtime that put UF ahead for good. Christinaki scored the final 5 points of the game including a steal, layup and free throw with four seconds to go to seal the win.
GATOR GOLFERS SCORE WIN AT SEA BEST INVITATIONAL
Freshman Sam Horsfield’s 7-under par 203 was good enough for the individual title as #12 Florida scored an impressive 23-stroke win to take the team title at the Sea Best Invitational at Ponte Vedra Beach. With Horsfield shooting a final round of 70 and Alejandro Tosti scoring a 73 (-4, 206 for the tournament for a second place tie), the Gators went 3-over Tuesday to finish the tournament at -14. It was Florida’s second tournament title of the spring season.
Send out a prayer tonight for ESPN sideline reporter Holly Rowe, whose cancer has returned. Rowe had a tumor removed from her chest back in May and upon discovery of yet another tumor, had surgery on Tuesday. Holly is one of the real professionals on the ESPN staff.
Tennessee (11-11, 4-5 SEC) rallied from 21 points down to score an 84-77 upset win over #20 Kentucky (16-6, 6-3 SEC) in Knoxville Wednesday night. Armani Moore, who plays power forward for the Vols at 6-4, 217, dominated Kentucky’s taller bigs, scoring 18 points while grabbing 13 rebounds to go with 4 assists and 2 steals. In Athens, Georgia (12-8, 5-4 SEC) put four players in double figures to score a 69-56 upset win over #25 South Carolina (19-3, 6-3 SEC). With an 80-68 win over Auburn (9-12, 3-6 SEC), LSU (14-8, 7-2 SEC) moved into second place in the SEC, a half game behind #8 Texas A&M (18-3, 7-1 SEC), which travels to Vanderbilt (12-9, 4-4 SEC) Thursday night.
Former Georgia QB Jacob Park, a former US Army All-American, will sign with Iowa State Wednesday morning.
Former Heisman Trophy QB Johnny Manziel’s days with the Cleveland Browns are numbered. It’s being reported the Browns will sever their ties with Manziel, who hasn’t developed as a player and whose off the field antics have been a constant source of embarrassment. While Cleveland wants nothing more to do with Manziel, apparently the Dallas Cowboys are willing to take a chance on the former Texas A&M star.
QUESTION OF THE DAY
With the Super Bowl just four days away, who is your early pick for MVP? My heart says Peyton Manning but my head says Carolina wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr.
MUSIC FOR TODAY
I bought Al Green’s album “Still in Love with You” back in 1971 because of one song – “Love and Happiness.” From the first time I heard it, I couldn’t get it out of my head so I bought the entire album it was on and wasn’t the least bit disappointed. Rolling Stone ranked “Love and Happiness” at #98 on its list of the 500 greatest songs of all time. The album ranked #285 on the list of 500 greatest albums.