Just call tonight’s Florida-Vanderbilt basketball game at the O-Dome “The Bracket Bowl” because it’s all about the NCAA Tournament. Currently, Jerry Palm of CBS Sports has the Gators as a #10 seed while Joe Lunardi of ESPN has UF as a #8. In the Palm bracketology, four SEC teams make the tournament – Kentucky and Texas A&M as #5 seeds, South Carolina as a #6 and the Gators as a #10. In Lunardi’s brackets, the SEC gets five teams in -- #4 Kentucky, #5 Texas A&M, #7 South Carolina, #8 Florida and Alabama as a play-in game in the first four.
Lunardi has Vanderbilt (16-11, 8-6 SEC) among his first four teams out along with St. Bonaventure, Tulsa and George Washington. LSU (16-11, 9-5 SEC) is listed among the next four out.
Florida’s path to the big dance is easier than Vandy’s. Two wins among the last four regular season games and a win in the SEC Tournament probably seals the deal for the Gators (17-10, 8-6 SEC). Vanderbilt has to win at least three of its last four and might need two wins in the SEC Tournament to clinch, but one thing is certain, whoever loses tonight’s game has a distinct disadvantage.
Key matchup: John Egbunu vs. Damian Jones. Vandy has the advantage of three 7-footers and that makes the Commodores better prepared to handle foul trouble. No doubt, Vandy will go straight at Egbunu which means UF’s help defense can’t be even a nanosecond too late. Florida’s best path to a win is to swarm Jones any time he touches the ball and make it difficult for him to do anything but kick the ball out.
Key matchup #2: Kasey Hill vs. Wade Baldwin IV. Baldwin torched the Gators for 24 points in Florida’s 60-59 loss back in January. Baldwin didn’t hurt UF from the 3-point line, but simply backed Florida’s guards into the paint where he either shot over them
The Gators will win if … : Florida has to keep Egbunu on the floor and can’t let Baldwin abuse them. It is imperative that the Gators get off to a good start shooting the ball from the foul line and the 3-point line. Dorian Finney-Smith, KeVaughn Allen and Devin Robinson have to hit shots.
DESIGNING FACILITIES WITH RECRUITS IN MIND
Facilities has become somewhat of a dirty word lately, particularly at the University of Florida where it seems no one can talk the reality of the situation without it evolving into some sort of mandate about athletic director Jeremy Foley. I’ve said before and I’ll say again, where Florida is with facilities is not all Foley’s fault. Mistakes have been made and he would be the first to admit he made a couple himself, but the situation is complicated. Still it should be discussed.
If you are in the facilities don’t matter crowd then take a long look at all the global architectural firm Populous, which has designed everything from Olympic stadiums to training facilities on American college campuses. It seems that any new athletic facility or renovation of an existing one on a college campus in the US has the fingerprints of Populous all over it and with good reason. Populous is so in demand is because all its facilities for college sports are designed with the recruit in mind.
First a little background: The company (Populous) has been employed in the past by Florida for renovation of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, but it is also the firm that handled the renovation of Kyle Field at Texas A&M, where an antiquated 84,000-seat stadium was razed over an 18-month period and transformed into a state of the art 102,000-seat arena that is the largest in the Southeastern Conference. Additionally, Populous expanded Bryant-Denny Stadium and Coleman Coliseum at Alabama. It was behind the design of the YUM! Center (for basketball) at Louisville and the renovation of the Sun Dome at USF. Populous designed McLane Stadium at Baylor, TCF Bank Stadium at Minnesota, the baseball stadium at South Carolina and the expansion designs for Tiger Stadium at LSU. On its website (populous.com), the company states “the recruiting path is always on our minds as we design stadiums, arenas and training facilities in collegiate conferences across the country. It begins once a recruit lands at the airport or arrives by vehicle on campus. From the first steps on campus, to the journey to the athletic facilities, to the actual experience inside … By excelling in first impressions, impact places and preparation spaces, these buildings can tell the story of a program, relive great moments and famous alumni as well as show the commitment of the school to future success. To great a great first impression, there must be intentional planning.”
When Populous designs a facility, it lists 10 critical areas: (1) Wow factor; (2) locker rooms; (3) player lounge; (4) strength and conditioning; (5) treatment and recovery; (6) team meeting rooms; (7) academic centers; (8) technology; (9) player tunnel; and (10) branding. Every Populous facility, whether it’s a reno job or a brand new building, works within the framework of these 10 critical areas.
There was a time when facilities weren’t at the top of any recruit’s list but those days have come and gone. Not only is it a matter of keeping up with the Joneses, but it’s a matter of having facilities that register a “wow factor” with recruits. There is an old saying that you only get one chance to make a first impression. Whether we like it or not, facilities have become that first impression.
SEC BASEBALL TOURNAMENT MAY HAVE A NEW HOME
After 30 years of holding the SEC Baseball Tournament Hoover Metropolitan Stadium, the conference is considering moving to another locale. The stadium at Hoover has gone three years without housing a minor league team with a Major League Baseball affiliate.
Bid information was sent to 12 cities, but reports are these four have emerged as the favorites: Memphis, Nashville, New Orleans and Orlando. Memphis, Nashville and Orlando all have AAA stadiums while the Orlando bid would go to the 9,500-seat Champion Stadium on the Disney complex where the Atlanta Braves conduct spring training.
If you are one to occasionally wager a dollar or two, put your money on Orlando because the Disney/ESPN connection and the SEC Network. Ajc.
SEC PRE-SPRING FOOTBALL UPDATES
Alabama: Nick and Terry Saban donated $100,000 to help build a Habitat for Humanity house in Tuscaloosa. The Alabama football coaches wives will help landscape and help with the interior.
Spring practice begins: March 13; Spring football game: April 18
Arkansas: Former Arkansas DB coach Clay Jennings, who accepted a position on Charlie Strong’s staff at Texas last week, owes Arkansas $100,000 to terminate his contract … New Arkansas running backs coach Reggie Mitchell will be paid $310,000, making him the fifth highest paid assistant on Bret Bielema’s staff.
Spring practice begins: March 15; Spring football game: April 25
Auburn: Former Auburn WR Duke Williams, who has NFL talent but a kindergartner’s judgment, will have a chance to strut his stuff at the combine. Mel Kiper’s advice is “be thankful you’re there and maximize it.”
Spring practice begins: March 10; Spring football game: April 18
FLORIDA: Mr. College Football, Tony Barnhart, predicts the first day of SEC Media Days in July on his gridironnow.com website. Speaking about Florida, Barnhart says Jim McElwain will “be upbeat and funny, but he also knows he probably doesn’t have enough talent to win 10 again because of all the personnel losses on defense.”
Spring practice begins: March 16; Spring football game: April 11
Georgia: Nick Chubb has started running again in his attempt to be back 100% when the season begins in September. Chubb suffered a torn PCL along with damage to other ligaments and cartilage in game six against Tennessee last year. At the time of his injury, Chubb had run for 747 yards and 7 touchdowns (8.12 per carry).
Spring practice begins: March 17; Spring football game: April 16
Kentucky: Kentucky will hire Steve Clinkscale off the Cincinnati staff to replace secondary coach Derrick Ansley, who left for Alabama. Ansley was the co-defensive coordinator at Kentucky and it is unclear whether Clinkscale will step into that role as well ... In other news, Kentucky OLB/DE Jason Hatcher has been dismissed from the team after police found a pound of marijuana in his car and on his body. Hatcher was charged with two felonies.
Spring practice begins: March 7; Spring football game: None
LSU: Les Miles says LSU will emphasize the passing game during spring practice … Corner Kevin Tolliver, who had shoulder surgery, will miss spring practice but will be completely healed and ready to go in August … LSU is awaiting word from the NCAA about another year of eligibility for tight end Dillon Gordon. Miles says it’s a “50-50” proposition.
Spring practice begins: March 7; Spring football game: April 18
Mississippi State: Mississippi State hired veteran high school coach Brad Peterson as its new director of player personnel.
Spring practice begins: March 18; Spring football game: April 18
Missouri: When politics, government and college sports meet at a crossroads, it’s usually college sports that get screwed. In Missouri, a state senator is threatening to file a complaint that would begin an investigation into former coach Gary Pinkel’s involvement in a threatened team boycott from last fall. How dumb. Pinkel is no longer the coach and the whole Missouri boycott turned out to be a major embarrassment to the university. The state senator needs to bite his tongue rather than bring more embarrassment to the school.
Spring practice begins: March 10; Spring football game: April 18
Ole Miss: LaQuon Treadwell, predicted by many to be the first wide receiver taken in the 2016 NFL Draft, will not run the 40 at the NFL Combine but will instead run at the Ole Miss Pro Day on March 28.
Spring practice begins: March 3; Spring football game: April 11
South Carolina: Will Muschamp has booted two experienced defensive players off the team – corner Al Harris Jr., who made All-SEC freshman last year, and defensive end David Johnson, who was part of the regular D-line rotation.
Spring practice begins: March 17; Spring football game: April 11
Tennessee: The recent Title IX lawsuit, when piled on to all the turmoil of the past few years in the UT athletic department (three football coaches since Phil Fulmer was fired, running off Cuonzo Martin then hiring a basketball coach with NCAA issues) has folks believing heads are going to roll, perhaps at the top with AD Dave Hart and chancellor Jimmy Cheek.
Spring practice begins: March 24; Spring football game: April 25
Texas A&M: There is a lot of pressure on new O-line coach Jim Turner to improve the pass blocking schemes. The Aggies gave up 2.85 sacks per game in 2015, tied for 107th place nationally in sacks allowed.
Spring practice begins: March 2; Spring football game: None
Vanderbilt: The belief in Nashville is that Vandy’s defense is so good that the offense only has to be average for the Commodores to win six games and get to a bowl. Improving the offense begins with fixing the passing game where QB Kyle Shurmur averaged a dismal 4.9 yards per pass attempt last year.
Spring practice began: February 16; Spring football game: March 21
DON’T EXPECT TIGER WOODS BACK ANYTIME SOON
It is being reported by Robert Lusetich, who is as close to Tiger Woods as anyone, that there is “no foreseeable return” to competitive golf for the one-time superstar. Lusetich says he has been told that Tiger’s back condition has gotten worse, not better with time and rehab. Lusetich tweeted out, “Not to say career’s over, but no imminent return.”
Tiger’s agent, Leigh Steinberg, issued a statement that said, “Tiger continues to work on his rehabilitation and we will have an accurate update at the appropriate time.”
Translation: He’s not coming back anytime soon.
What’s the difference between the power conferences and everybody else? Consider this thought: The Texas athletic budget ($179 million) is larger than the combined athletic budgets of all the schools in the Mountain West Conference. Last year San Diego State of the MWC pulled in $850,000 from TV revenues. Every team in the SEC collected a cool $32-plus million.
Back when the Big 12 had 12 teams and a conference championship game, it played in five BCS title games and won two. Since then, it’s a double donut.
LSU’s fleeting chances of getting into the NCAA Tournament field will take a serious hit if Keith Hornsby is done for the season. Hornsby, the son of musician Bruce Hornsby, is LSU’s top outside shooter. He missed the first seven games of the season with a hernia injury that he has apparently aggravated.
Boston College will fork out $200 million for new facilities including an indoor practice facility. Considering winter can last from November until April in Boston, this is a necessity if the Eagles are going to be competitive in the ACC in football.
Eighth-grade QB Harrison Bailey has his first scholarship offer. It’s from Miami and Mark Richt. Bailey, by the way, is already 6-3 and 195 pounds. When I was growing up, the coaches would have been arguing if he’s a better fit for offensive tackle or defensive end.
Former BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall says the school can’t remain independent in football for long. BYU would love to join either the Pac-12 or the Big 12 but there is a problem. The school will not participate in any athletic event on a Sunday. That doesn’t hurt football, but it hurts all the other sports and it seriously hinders BYU’s chances to join a power five program.
QUESTION OF THE DAY
Do you agree with Tony Barnhart that the Gators don’t have the defensive personnel to win 10 games in 2016?
MUSIC FOR TODAY
Today’s music is a terrific live concert by Mark Knopfler at the BBC studios in London back in 1996. I’ve got his most recent album “Tracker” and I can tell you he just gets better with age.