Consider Florida’s 68-61 win over Arkansas on day two of the Southeastern Conference Basketball Tournament in Nashville the first of two necessary steps to make the NCAA Tournament. The second – and now most important – step is to knock off #1 seed Texas A&M (24-7) today at 1 p.m. A Florida win over the Aggies coupled with Vanderbilt’s loss to Tennessee on Wednesday should be the ticket for the Gators (19-13) to return to the NCAA Tournament after a one-year hiatus.
This is a better A&M team than the one the Gators almost beat (71-68 loss) in College Station back on January 12. Since then, the Aggies have endured a stretch when they lost five out of six games, righted the ship and won six straight games including wins over Kentucky and Vanderbilt. What’s made the difference is the Aggies’ willingness to share the basketball. When they get all five of their starters involved in the offense it takes a serious defensive effort to derail them.
If you go back to January 12, it was more about what Florida didn’t do back on than what the Aggies did. The Aggies caught a real break from the zebras by getting to the foul line 30 times. Meanwhile, the Gators missed 8 of their 12 free throws and there was no shortage of wide open shots that clanged off the iron. Think about it for a moment: If the Gators simply hit 8-12 from the foul line – which isn’t a great percentage – or a couple of layups or the combination of a 3-pointer and one more free throw they win the game and perhaps Florida’s season takes a totally different path.
To beat the Aggies this time, it’s the same formula. Florida has to hit open shots and make free throws. Other than Alex Caruso, one of the better defenders in the entire country, the Aggies are a fairly average defensive team so there are going to be open shots to be had and the Gators can score the basketball in the paint.
It’s encouraging that John Egbunu played through the pain of a torn thumb ligament to score 8 points and 9 rebounds against Arkansas. He will need to duplicate those numbers going head to head against the Aggies’ big freshman Tyler Davis (11.2 points, 6.0 rebounds). Also, the Gators will have to get better production out of KeVaughn Allen, who hung a donut on the Aggies and Devin Robinson, who scored only 5. The two of them were a combined 1-8 from the 3-point line.
Three keys to a Florida win:
1. The Gators have to get a minimum of a combined 30 points from John Egbunu, KeVaughn Allen and Devin Robinson.
2. The Gators will have to figure a way to shut down the Aggies’ dynamic scoring duo of forwards Jalen Jones (26 against UF in January) and Danuel House (22).
3. The Gators will have to get to the foul line (only 12 times in January while the Aggies got to the line 30 times) and when they get there, do a better job than they did in January and Thursday afternoon against Arkansas (18-30).
Prediction: Everything points to the Aggies winning this game but gut feeling is the Gators find a way.
SEC TOURNAMENT UPDATE
FLORIDA (19-13) 68, Arkansas (16-16) 61
Tennessee (15-18) 67, Vanderbilt (19-13) 65
Alabama (18-13) 81, Ole Miss (20-12) 73
Georgia (18-12) 79, Mississippi State (14-17) 69
FLORIDA (19-13) vs. Texas A&M (24-7)
Tennessee (15-18) vs. LSU (18-13)
Alabama (18-13) vs. Kentucky (23-8)
Georgia (18-12) vs. South Carolina (24-7)
UF SPORTS WEEKEND
Baseball: The #1-ranked Gators (14-1) will face Harvard (2-2) in the final non-conference weekend series before the SEC portion of the schedule kicks in. The weekend rotation for the Gators is righthander Logan Shore (3-0, 0.43 ERA) on Friday night, lefty A.J. Puk (0-1, 3.09 ERA) on Saturday and righty Alex Faedo (3-0, 2.12 ERA) on Saturday.
Softball: The #1-ranked Gators (24-0) travel to #3 Auburn (22-1) for a 3-game series beginning Saturday evening. The Gators rank 12th nationally in team batting average (.363) and #1 in team ERA (0.58). The Gators are the #2 team nationally with a .984 fielding percentage. Auburn is the #1 hitting team in the nation (.391 average) and #2 in ERA (0.96).
Gymnastics: It’s senior night for the #2 Gators, who host North Carolina tonight in the final regular season match of the year. Seniors Bridget Sloan, Bridgette Caquatto, Bianca Dancose-Giambattisto and Morgan Frazier will be honored in a post meet ceremony.
Lacrosse: The #2 Gators (7-0) begin a 5-game home stand with matches against #14 Boston College this evening and #18 Towson on Monday.
Men’s/Women’s Track and Field: Florida’s #3 men’s and #2 women’s teams will be participating in the NCAA Indoor championships in Birmingham this weekend.
MARCH MADNESS UPDATE
Duke, which won the 2015 NCAA title, is a one-and-done in the ACC Tournament after dropping an 84-79 overtime decision to Notre Dame. The loss could very well keep Duke from a top four seed.
Kansas (28-4) could lock down a #1 seed with a win over Baylor (22-10) in the Big 12 semifinals today. Kansas advanced to the semis with an 85-63 win over Kansas State while Baylor advanced with a 75-61 win over Texas.
Villanova (28-4) and Xavier (27-4) won their quarterfinal games in the Big East Tournament. Whichever of those two wins the conference tournament will probably earn a #1 seed. Villanova beat Georgetown, 81-67, Thursday while Xavier smacked Marquette, 90-72.
Currently, both Virginia (25-6) and North Carolina (26-6) of the ACC are projected as #1 seeds. Thursday, Virginia knocked off Georgia Tech, 72-52, and North Carolina beat Pittsburgh, 88-71.
Conference USA might have lost a chance to get a second team into the Big Dance with both UAB and Louisiana Tech losing in the quarterfinals.
In so far:
Florida Gulf Coast (19-13)
Northern Iowa (22-12)
Austin Peay (18-17)
Holy Cross (14-19)
SEC SPRING FOOTBALL UPDATES
Alabama: The Crimson Tide will play Kentucky for homecoming on October 1 in 2020. Alabama is 9-0 in homecoming games under Nick Saban.
Arkansas: Tight ends coach Barry Lunney Jr., defensive line coach Rory Segrest and linebackers coach Vernon Hargreaves received raises that brought their salaries to $300,000 each. Every Arkansas assistant coach received a raise in the offseason. The Arkansas assistant coaches will be paid a collective $3.83 million next year.
Auburn: Auburn’s offense was very pedestrian without a running threat at QB last year. That could change next season with juco transfer John Franklin III, who HBC Gus Malzahn says “has the ‘wow’ factor” when he runs the football.
FLORIDA: Early enrollee kicker Eddy Pineiro didn’t disappoint on Florida’s first day of spring practice, nailing a 58-yarder to end the first day. HBC Jim McElwain said Pineiro didn’t miss a kick during practice and noted “the ball comes up real quick and goes very far.”
Georgia: One week of fund raising brought in $35,000 of the $500,000 that will be necessary to build and equip a home for Devon Gales, the Southern University player who was partially paralyzed after getting hit in a September game against Georgia last September. Work on the home’s foundation has begun.
Kentucky: Jon Hale of the Louisville Courier-Journal says the battle for the #1 QB job between Drew Barker and juco transfer Stephon Johnson II is “actually closer than you might imagine at first glance.” Barker is a traditional pocket passer while Johnson is a dual threat who can be electric when he takes off with the ball. Hale says, “I think there’s a chance Johnson plays by winning the job outright or in relief of Barker in certain situations but I don’t think it will be in a traditional platoon. Johnson’s speed definitely adds something that Barker, who is not exactly a statue in the pocket doesn’t have, but he also considers himself a pass-first quarterback.”
LSU: It’s not a big surprise, but Brandon Jennings, who started 12 games as a sophomore in 2014, has elected to transfer. Jennings was 9-4 in 13 career starts but played in only two games and didn’t register a single rushing or pass attempt in 2015. Jennings will graduate in the summer and will be immediately eligible. With Jennings’ departure, LSU spring practice will continue with incumbent Brandon Harris, Purdue transfer Danny Etling and redshirt freshman Justin McMillan.
Mississippi State: Wide receiver Fred Ross, who caught 88 passes for 1,007 yards and 5 TDs last year, has had ankle surgery and will miss the rest of spring practice … Redshirt junior Damien Williams opened spring practice as the #1 QB … Dan Mullen will run the Boston Marathon on April 18.
Missouri: Although it shouldn’t affect the athletic department, Missouri’s declining enrollment (1,500 fewer students than this time last year) projects to a $32 million budget deficit for next year. The school lost $2 million in donations after the student protest against alleged campus racism last fall.
Ole Miss: Former Syracuse defensive end Qaadir Sheppard will visit Ole Miss this weekend. Sheppard was suspended the last three games of 2015 at Syracuse for failing a second drug test and was dismissed from the team by new coach Dino Babers back in February.
South Carolina: Outside linebacker Damani Staley, son of South Carolina great Duce Staley, committed to South Carolina. Staley had 22 sacks last year as a high school junior.
Tennessee: New defensive coordinator Bob Shoop is overhauling everything from the way the Vols align to the terminology. Recalling a conversation with linebacker Darrin Kirkland Jr., the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported Shoop said, “At first we were saying the same thing but he was speaking German and I was speaking Portuguese. It was one of those deals. Now, we’re learning a common ground and a common communication.”
Texas A&M: The Aggies will play Fresno State of the Mountain West Conference on September 26, 2020.
Vanderbilt: Former Vandy QB Bill Wade, who helped lead the Chicago Bears to the 1963 NFL title, died Wednesday. The 1951 SEC Player of the Year was 85.
Rico Gathers, Baylor’s 6-8, 268-pound physical specimen who will make some All-America teams as a power forward, has been planning all along to play tight end in the NFL. “I avoided the wear and tear of most of the people who played high school and college football,” Gathers told CBSSports.com. “I’m probably the most durable player in the draft.” Reportedly, Gathers runs a 4.65 40-yard dash. His route to the NFL will be similar to that of Antonio Gates, the former Kent State basketball star who is one of the two or three best tight ends in all of pro football.
Hall of Fame relief pitcher Goose Gossage isn’t exactly a fan of the people running Major League Baseball these days. Speaking to ESPN, Gossage said, “The game is becoming a freaking joke because of the nerds who are running it. I’ll tell you what has happened, these guys played Rotisserie baseball at Harvard or wherever the F*$% they went they thought they figured the F*$%ing game out. They don’t know s*$%!” Tell us what you really feel Goose.
NFL Network analyst Heath Evans believes he has the perfect solution to the Johnny Manziel problem. Evans says, “I wish Roger Goodell would pass out a league-wide memo saying we’re going to blackball this young man for the betterment of our league, for the betterment of the future of our league, for every young man that gets to watch our great game and the great NFL shield and say, ‘We’re not tolerating this type of selfish, childish, mindless behavior.'”
The Cincinnati Bengals have signed three defensive players to big contracts, which raises the question will there be enough money in their salary cap to re-sign Pro Bowl safety Reggie Nelson?
With Peyton Manning retiring and Brock Osweiler signing a free agent deal with the Houston Texans, the Denver Broncos have their eye on Colin Kaepernick, currently property of the San Francisco 49ers. Reportedly, the 49ers want a second round draft pick from the Broncos. Kaepernick is also reportedly willing to restructure his contract to fit under the Broncos’ salary cap.
Dos Equis is retiring “The Most Interesting Man in the World” after nine years. My favorite line from one of the commercials: “Once a rattlesnake bit him. After 5 days of excruciating pain, the snake finally died.” My second favorite line: “He once taught a German Shepherd how to bark in Spanish.”
QUESTION OF THE DAY
Having watched the Gators knock of Arkansas, do you think the Gators have a chance to spring the upset over the Aggies this afternoon?
MUSIC FOR TODAY
I listened to the original “Dire Straits” album today and was reminded why it remains one of my favorites some 38 years since its release and why I can still listen to Mark Knopfler all day long and never grow tired of his music.