Maybe, just maybe, Mike White is getting some payback for all the pain and frustration from a regular season pockmarked by losses in games that could have been won with a free throw or two here and there or simply hitting 30% from the 3-point stripe. It’s not unreasonable to think the Florida Gators could have won 25-26 games in the regular season if they had simply taken care of some shooting business and that kind of record would have earned UF no worse than a top three seed in one of the NCAA Tournament regionals.
But it didn’t work out that way.
Fortunately, the Gators (21-14) have had a couple of games in the Nobody’s Interested Tournament (NIT) to show what’s possible for next year. The win over UNF was to be expected but the way the Gators made shots raised everybody’s eyebrows. Hitting 16 3-pointers against bad teams is great shooting and UNF is not a bad basketball team.
Sunday’s 74-66 win over Ohio State in Columbus was another story altogether. The Buckeyes (21-14) aren’t exactly the cream of the Big Ten crop, but they went 11-7 in conference play and were 15-5 at Value City Arena prior to Sunday when Florida did a very good impersonation of a Big Ten team. Playing without John Egbunu, the Gators still led bell-to-bell and manhandled the Buckeyes on the inside – 44-28 advantage in the paint; 43-35 rebounding advantage.
Egbunu’s place in the lineup was taken by Kevarrius Hayes, a skinny 6-9 who came into the contest averaging 2.1 points and 2.5 rebounds per game. His job was to neutralize Ohio State’s 3-headed center of 6-11, 250-pound Trevor Thompson, 6-10, 230-pound Daniel Giddens and 6-10, 220-pound David Bell. All Hayes did was score a career-high 14 points by hitting all 5 of his shots from the field and all 4 of his free throws. While he only corralled 3 rebounds, he got his hands on at least a dozen others that he tapped to teammates. Thompson, Giddens and Bell combined for 11 points and 9 rebounds. What Hayes did bodes well for next year.
There was help for Hayes. Dorian Finney-Smith pulled off a double-double with 16 points and 12 rebounds while Devin Robinson grabbed 8 rebounds and Justin Leon got 7 more. Leon also gave the Gators 12 of their 18 points off the bench.
Another highlight of the game was the continuing revival of point guard Kasey Hill. He’s still an adventure at the foul line, but he’s attacking the rim, scoring points and occasionally launching – and hitting – a 3-pointer, as he did with 4:08 remaining to help snuff out an Ohio State rally. Hill finished the game with 15 points, 5 assists and 2 steals. His defense on Ohio State point guard Kam Williams (3-12 shooting, 0-5 from the 3-point line) was off the charts.
What Hill has done in Florida’s last five games – 74 points, 16 assists, 11 steals, 6-13 from the 3-point line – should encourage him to come back to UF for another season. He came to UF with such potential and in recent games he’s playing like a light has come on. There are agents who are trying to get to him, but he needs to ignore them and improve his game if he really wants to play at the next level.
The NIT is a consolation tournament for most teams, but White and the Gators are using it as a springboard for improvement. They get the winner of Monmouth and George Washington next and a win will propel them to Madison Square Garden for the NIT version of the Final Four. There isn’t a team remaining in the NIT that the Gators can’t beat even without Egbunu as long as they play like they’ve played the last two games.
DO YOU BELIEVE IN MIRACLES?
I was in Chapel Hill when Dean Smith-coached North Carolina came from 8 points down with 18 seconds to go to send the Tar Heels into overtime with Duke. Carolina would have won that game if there had been a 3-point shot back in 1974 because Walter Davis’ 35-foot heave would have won the game instead of tying it.
Since then I’ve seen all sorts of buzzer beater shots like the one Paul Jesperson hit from beyond midcourt Friday night to lift Northern Iowa over Texas in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, but what Texas A&M did Sunday night defies description. The Aggies outscored Northern Iowa 14-2 in the last 33 seconds to tie the game at 71-71, sending it into overtime where the Aggies pulled out a 92-88 win.
Five years from now, there will be 478,364 people who will swear they were in Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City (capacity 18,203) for the Miracle on Reno Avenue. Triple that number when the calendar hits 2026.
The win by the Aggies salvages whatever is left of pride for the Southeastern Conference after Vanderbilt was embarrassed by Wichita State in a play-in game last Tuesday and Kentucky went two-and-through, losing to Indiana Saturday afternoon. When Texas A&M was on the verge of losing to Northern Iowa by double figures with 30 seconds left in the game, buzzards were circling what goes for SEC basketball. The buzzards can go back to their trees for now because the SEC is still alive and the Aggies are every bit as good as the remaining teams in the West bracket.
AFTER TWO ROUNDS OF THE NCAA TOURNAMENT
It’s pretty clear that the Atlantic Coast Conference was the best basketball league in the country this year. The ACC got seven teams in the tournament and through two rounds, the league is 12-1. Contrast that to the Pac-12, which also got seven teams in and is 3-6. The Big Ten and Big 12 are both 6-4.
Now that we’ve got a Sweet 16, here are my picks for next weekend:
South: Kansas beats Maryland and Miami beats Villanova. Kansas advances.
West: Oregon beats Duke and Texas A&M beats Oklahoma. The Aggies advance.
East: North Carolina beats Indiana and Notre Dame beats Wisconsin. Tar Heels advance.
Midwest: Virginia beats Iowa State and Gonzaga beats Syracuse. Virginia advances giving the ACC half of the Final Four.
Second Best game: Indiana 73, Kentucky 67
The matchup between point guards Tyler Ulis of Kentucky and Indiana’s Yogi Ferrell was worth the price of admission, but the real star was Indiana freshman center Thomas Bryant, who completely destroyed Kentucky’s front line of Skal Labissiere, Marcus Lee and Alex Poythress.
Best Coached Team: Stephen F. Austin
The Lumberjacks have no size at all but they swarm on defense, turn games into track meets and can play with any team in the country. Brad Underwood is 89-14 in the last three years. Percentage-wise, that’s better than John Calipari (Kentucky), Mike Kryzyzewski (Duke) and Gregg Marshall (Wichita State)
Best Player #1: Woody Hield, Oklahoma
He scored 29 points in the second half against VCU. If he doesn’t go off, Oklahoma is a two-and-through instead of heading to the Sweet 16. In two games he has 63 points, 12 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 blocked shots and 2 steals. He’s hit 19-34 from the field and 9-20 from the 3-point line.
Best Player #1A: Yogi Ferrell, Indiana
In his two games, Ferrell has scored 38 points, grabbed 6 rebounds and passed for 14 assists. He gets everybody involved on Indiana, which is why the Hoosiers can score on anyone.
Best Player #2: Brice Johnson, North Carolina
He’s scored 39 points, grabbed 17 rebounds, passed for 3 assists and blocked 10 shots in two games. Whatever the Tar Heels need, he gives them.
Best Player #3: Damontas Sabonis, Gonzaga
He’s got a lot of his dad’s game (Arvydas Sabonis, member Basketball Hall of Fame). Through two games he’s scored 40 points, grabbed 26 rebounds, passed for 7 assists, blocked 3 shots and stolen the ball 3 times.
Best Player #4: Grayson Allen, Duke
It’s easy to dislike him because he’s a punk and borderline dirty, but he plays as hard as anybody and he is a natural born scorer and playmaker. Through two games his stat line is 52 points, 12 rebounds and 6 assists.
UF SPRING SPORTS UPDATE
Baseball: The #1-ranked Gators (21-1, 3-0 SEC) have won 15 straight games after sweeping Missouri over the weekend. Sunday, the Gators jumped to a 6-1 lead, then held on after the Tigers rallied for four in the top of the sixth for a 7-5 win. Buddy Reed hit a 2-run homer in the top of the first as part of a 3-4 effort. In Saturday’s 6-2 win over Mizzou, A.J. Puk pitched 7 shutout innings and was backed by homers by Peter Alonso, Deacon Liput and Mike Rivera. Friday night, the Gators went into extra innings, taking a 4-3 win on Alonso’s single to left field in the bottom of the 10th. The Gators face Florida Atlantic in Gainesville Tuesday night then travel to Kentucky for a 3-game SEC series starting Friday.
Softball: Delanie Gourley was practically unhittable Sunday as the #1-ranked Gators (30-1, 5-1 SEC) completed their sweep of #16 Tennessee (21-8, 3-3 SEC) with a 3-0 shutout. Gourley (10-0, 0.86 ERA) gave up a third inning single, walked one, hit two batters and struck out 8 on the afternoon to complete a weekend in which the Gators outscored the Vols, 12-2. Kelsey Stewart sealed the win in the fifth with a 2-run single up the middle to drive home Justine McLean and Nicole Dewitt. Aleshia Ocasio (10-1, 0.46) started the weekend with a 2-hitter as the Gators took a 4-0 decision, then Saturday freshman Kelly Barnhill (10-0, 1.40 ERA) combined with Ocasio to 2-hit the Vols as the Gators rolled to a 4-2 win. Through 31 games, the Gators have outscored opponents, 208-28. The Gators have a team ERA of .0.87. As a team the Gators are hitting .349 while opponents are hitting .147. The Gators have committed only 11 errors in 31 games. The Gators travel to Baton Rouge next weekend to face 4th-ranked LSU (25-5, 3-3 SEC). LSU lost two of three to 10th-ranked Texas A&M over the weekend.
Gymnastics: The 2nd-ranked Gators won the SEC championship in North Little Rock, Arkansas, holding off Alabama by the slimmest of margins for the 10th conference championship in school history. Florida’s final margin of 197.775 edged out Alabama, which scored a 197.750. Kennedy Baker and Alex McMurtry went 1-2 in the all-around to lead the Gators. Baker shared the vault title and McMurtry won the balance beam. The Gators, who have won the last three NCAA titles, will get their regional assignment today. Regionals will be held on April 2 with the NCAA championships scheduled in Fort Worth, TX on April 15-16.
Lacrosse: Second-ranked Florida lost (9-1) lost its first match of the season Saturday to #1 Maryland, 14-4, at Donald Dizney Stadium. The next match for the Gators is Saturday when Vanderbilt comes to town.
Women’s Tennis: The 13th-ranked Gators (11-2, 6-0 SEC) went 2-0 in the state of Mississippi over the weekend, scoring identical 4-0 wins over #37 Ole Miss and #22 Mississippi State. Florida’s only match this week is Saturday when the Gators travel to Columbia to face South Carolina.
Men’s Tennis: The #24 Gators (9-4, 4-1 SEC) knocked off #13 Arkansas, 6-1, on Friday and followed that up with a 6-1 win over #22 Ole Miss on Sunday. The Gators are on the road this week, at Mississippi State on Friday and at Alabama Sunday.
Women’s basketball: The season came to a disappointing end in the first round of the NCAA Tournament with an unexpected 61-59 loss to Albany.
In addition to Florida’s second round win over Ohio State, Georgia-St. Mary’s. The second round concludes the next two nights with George Washington (24-10) at Monmouth (28-7), Georgia Tech (20-14) at South Carolina (25-8), Washington (19-14) at San Diego State (26-9) and Creighton (20-14) at BYU (25-10)
LSU offensive coordinator Cam Cameron got a 3-year extension, but it came at a price. He’s taking a $300,000 a year pay cut.
Johnny Manziel has hired Drew Rosenhaus as his agent. Johnny Football needs an exorcist not an agent that every GM in the NFL hates.
If I’m an NFL GM looking for a QB that can be had on the cheap, I’m going after Colin Kaepernick or Robert Griffin III. Both guys have talent and both guys probably are night and day better with a change of scenery.
I still wonder what might have been if Andrew McCutcheon had elected to play baseball for the Gators instead of signing with the Pittsburgh Pirates.
QUESTION OF THE DAY
Who are your Sweet 16 and Final Four picks?
MUSIC FOR TODAY
I heard “Paradise by the Dashboard Lights” over the weekend, so that sealed it for today’s music. It’s a live performance by Meat Loaf, which, of course, includes “Paradise by the Dashboard Lights.” It’s one of the greatest rock and roll songs of all time. Do you remember where you were and what you were doing the first time you ever heard it?