As of Sunday night, bracketologists Joe Lunardi (ESPN) and Jerry Palm (CBS) have the Florida Gators (18-13, 9-9 SEC) on their first four out lists for the upcoming NCAA Basketball Tournament. Lundardi has the Gators on the outside looking in along with Tulsa, Gonzaga and Michigan. Palm has the Gators joining Michigan, George Washington and Wichita State in his first four out.
Both Lundardi and Palm are usually fairly accurate when it comes to picking the 68 teams that will make it into the NCAA field so it’s obvious they both give the Gators plenty of credit for playing a very tough schedule (Gators have the #11 national strength of schedule and #5 non-conference strength of schedule). Even though Florida was only 1-6 vs. top 25 RPI teams and 2-9 against the top 50 only four of the losses were by double figures and there wasn’t a single loss of 20 or more points. The Gators own wins over RPI #10 West Virginia and RPI #32 St. Joseph’s, teams that will definitely be playing when March Madness tips off. It is entirely possible that both Lunardi and Palm have taken into account that had the Gators shot free throws better, they could easily be 24-7 or 25-6 right now.
So, how many wins do the Gators need at this week’s Southeastern Conference Tournament to make up for all the woulda, coulda and shouldas on the schedule? The Gators open up Thursday (noon start) with an Arkansas team that they’ve already beaten once (87-73 in Gainesville). The Razorbacks come into the tournament having won four of their last five while the Gators have won only one of the last five. Beating a 16-15 Arkansas team probably isn’t good enough to get the Gators into the NCAA Tournament but a win over #1 seed Texas A&M on day two could. Three wins would get the Gators to the SEC finals and that would make the NCAA Tournament a no-brainer.
In Florida’s favor to make it in with two wins at the SEC Tournament is the loss differential. This year, there won’t be a single team in the NCAA field with fewer than four losses and it’s entirely possible there won’t be anyone with fewer than five. The difference between five losses and a 13-14 loss team isn’t that great, unlike last year when there was an undefeated team, two 2-loss teams, three 3-loss teams, three 4-loss teams and two 5-loss teams.
According to Lunardi’s current model, the SEC will get four teams – Texas A&M, Kentucky, South Carolina and Vanderbilt. Palm has the same four in with Vandy making it as one of the last four teams in.
Prediction: While I think the Gators will beat Arkansas, I think it’s going to be a real struggle. I can’t see UF knocking off Texas A&M after watching the Aggies win their last six games.
UF SPRING SPORTS
Baseball: The #1-ranked Gators (12-1) swept Dartmouth to cap off a perfect 5-0 week. The highlight of the weekend was Logan Shore’s Friday night performance when he allowed only one hit, walked none and struck out 8 over seven innings and Buddy Reed’s walk-off home run in the bottom of the 12th for a 4-3 win on Saturday. Through 13 games freshman Deacon Liput is hitting .419 with 6 doubles, 3 triples and 12 RBI. Peter Alonso is hitting .357 with 1 homer and 16 RBI and JJ Schwarz is hitting. 325 with 3 homers and 14 RBI. Shore is 3-0 this season with a 0.43 ERA.
Softball: The #1-ranked Gators extended their record to 22-0 with five weekend wins in the Aquafina Classic in Gainesville. The Gators outscored FIU, South Alabama, Illinois State and FAMU, 37-2, with Delanie Gourley pitching a 1-hitter and Aleshia Ocasio and Kelly Barnhill each pitching shutouts. Through 22 games, freshman Amanda Lorenz is hitting .483 with 1 homer and 18 RBI while Janell Wheaton is hitting .444 with 5 homers and 26 RBI. The Gators have outscored opponents 153-13 and have a 0.63 ERA. Florida is hitting .367 as a team while opponents are hitting .148.
Gymnastics: After a couple of subpar weeks, Bridget Sloan came back in a big way, scoring two 9.950s and a perfect 10 on the beam as the #2 Gators smacked #23 Kentucky, 197.525-196.650, in the final SEC dual meet of the season. Sloan, who fell off the beam in each of the last two meets, scored her second 10 of the season and won the all-around title with a 39.650 to edge out Alex McMurtry, who scored a 39.625. Sloan’s perfect score was the seventh 10 of her Florida career. The Gators will play host to #11 North Carolina for a non-conference meet on Friday. It will be Senior Night for Bridget Sloan and Bridgette Caquatto.
Lacrosse: The #3 Gators (7-0) took out Niagara, 19-3, Friday night in Gainesville then hit the road for a 7-6 Sunday win over #10 Stony Brook. Next up for the Gators is #14 Boston College in Gainesville on Friday.
Women’s Golf: The 8th-ranked Gators ran away with the team title at the 44th annual Sun Trust Invitational, their fourth team championship in their last five events. The Gators finished the tournament at +22, which was good for an 11-shot win over #21 Florida State.
Women’s tennis: The Gators, who dropped all the way down to #15 in the rankings after road losses at Cal and Stanford last weekend, bounced back with a couple of SEC wins, 7-0 over Arkansas and 6-1 over Missouri.
Men’s tennis: The 30th-ranked Gators split two SEC matches over the weekend, knocking off #32 LSU, 4-3, in Baton Rouge, then dropping a 4-3 match to #8 Texas A&M Sunday afternoon.
PEYTON CALLS IT QUITS
Today Peyton Manning will do what we’ve known he was going to do since the minute the clock struck 0 at the Super Bowl. He’s going to hang up his spikes and call it a career. If you go by sheer numbers – 71,940 passing yards and 539 touchdown passes – Peyton will go down as one of the best that has ever played the game. But do the numbers alone make him one of the five best? I think you can justify top ten, but top five?
The best QB I’ve ever seen college or pro is Roger Staubach. My top five would include Johnny Unitas, Tom Brady, Joe Montana and Brett Favre.
SO LONG HUBERT MIZELL
One of my great memories growing up in the state of Florida was the Sunday sports sections after Gator football games. There was no shortage of writing talent in the state in those days. I lived to read the commentary of “Just the Facts” Jack Hairston and Hubert Mizell of the Jacksonville Journal, Bill Kastelz of the Florida Times-Union, Tom McEwen of the Tampa Tribune, John Crittendon of the Miami News and Ed Pope of the Miami Herald. Of that very talented group, only Ed Pope survives. The latest to go to that great newsroom in the sky is Hubert Mizell, who died on Friday. Hubert was a pro’s pro, who was given his start in the business by Jack Hairston. He covered World Series, Super Bowls, NCAA basketball championships, BCS football championships, The Masters, US and British Opens and anything else that was worth writing about in a career that saw him graduate to the Associated Press and St. Petersburg Times, where he crafted an award-winning career with delightfully written pieces that were both humorous and insightful.
My most memorable Hubert moment. In 1972, the year the Miami Dolphins became the only team in NFL history to record an undefeated season, George Wilson, the Dolphins’ coach before Don Shula, remarked on a radio show that “Any Joe Doakes could coach that team.” After the Dolphins scored another win on their way to running the table, when Shula began to walk away from his post game press conference, Hubert said, “Say hi to Mrs. Doakes and all the little Doaksies.” That was Hubert, always with something funny to say at just the right moment.
One of the things that bothers me these days and times is the dearth of good sports writing. I see sports departments run by people who have never written about sports and know absolutely zilch about the games their people cover. I see veteran sports writers with style sacrificed for some 23-year-old whose complete knowledge of football comes from Play Station. I see kids who know nothing writing as if they are lecturing us. The owner of one of the major fan site networks tells his people that he doesn’t want to see anything more than 500-600 words.
These are sad, sad times for the sports writing profession. Guys like Jack, Hubert, Tom McEwen, Crittenden, Ed Pope and Furman Bisher are gone and there is no one out there to take their place.
ESPN.COM RATES COLLEGE FOOTBALL COACHING JOBS
The top 25:
2. Ohio State
4. Southern Cal
5. Florida State
11. Notre Dame
14. Texas A&M
17. Michigan State
19. Penn State
Other SEC and state of Florida schools: (26) Ole Miss; (31) South Carolina; (36) Mississippi State; (40) Missouri; (44) UCF; (56) Kentucky; (60) South Florida; (72) Vanderbilt; (105) Florida Atlantic; (119) Florida International
ANOTHER ONE BITES THE DUST AT ILLINOIS
Two months after interim coach Bill Cubit was given a two-year contract and named head ball coach at Illinois, new athletic director Josh Wittman fired him. This was Wittman’s very first day on the job and only five days before the Illini were scheduled to start spring practice. Cubit, a former University of Florida assistant coach under Galen Hall, became the interim coach when Tim Beckman was fired prior to the 2015 season. Cubit directed the Illini to a 5-7 record and had the interim title removed.
When Wittman fired Cubit he said it was for the “stability” of the program but reality says he sees the chance to hire Lovie Smith, a coach with far better name recognition. The former coach of the Chicago Bears and Tampa Bay Bucs is reportedly already in the bag and ready to be named new coach of the Illini on Monday.
There are some pretty decent basketball coaches who are ready to be hired, too, but surprisingly, Wittman says Illinois hoops coach John Groce has the program heading in the right direction. Okay, that’s a stretch. Illinois has posted a worse record in each of Groce’s four years and hasn’t taken the Illini to the NCAA Tournament since year one when he won 23 games with players he inherited from fired Bruce Weber. This year Groce has directed the Illini to a 13-17 regular season that includes a 5-12 record in the Big Ten.
If I had a vote for SEC basketball superlatives, my first team All-SEC would be Tyler Ulis and Jamal Murray of Kentucky, Jalen Jones and Alex Caruso of Texas A&M and Ben Simmons of LSU. My second team would be Michael Carrera of South Carolina, Dorian Finney-Smith of Florida, Wade Baldwin IV of Vanderbilt, Retin Obasohan of Alabama and Stefan Moody of Ole Miss. My SEC Player of the Year would be Tyler Ulis. My Freshman of the Year would be Simmons. My Defensive Player of the Year would be Caruso. My Coach of the Year would be Frank Martin of South Carolina.
Brad Stevens, coach of the Boston Celtics, couldn’t find a single minute for David Lee from January 10 until February 10. The Celtics released the former Gator, who is averaging 11.3 points and 9.0 rebounds coming off the bench for the Dallas Mavericks. Sunday, Lee showed he’s still got what it takes to be effective in the league with 18 points (7-9 from the floor, 4-4 from the line), 12 rebounds 3 assists and 4 blocked shots against the Denver Nuggets.
Thin-skinned Jim Harbaugh just can’t help being a complete and total jerk. He had to know that he would get plenty of criticism for holding a week of Michigan’s spring practice at IMG Academy in Bradenton. When Tennessee’s Butch Jones joined a bunch of coaches on Twitter who said they would love to attend Michigan’s open practices and maybe all go to lunch, Harbaugh responded with this tweet directed at Jones: “Suggestion to my Rocky Top colleague, rather than lunch in Florida you might spend your time and focus attending your present team.”
QUESTION OF THE DAY
Now that he’s officially calling it a career, where does Peyton Manning rate among your 10 best ever in the NFL?
MUSIC FOR TODAY
One of the albums I enjoy most in my collection is Lee Ritenour’s “Six String Theory,” a collection of songs he performs with other guitar greats such as Keb Mo, Joe Bonamassa, Robert Cray, George Benson, B.B. King, John Scofield and Taj Mahal.