That’s what I’m hearing from a couple of former Gators about juco transfer running back Mark Thompson. Thompson is 242 chiseled pounds who doesn’t lack for speed, but former Gators say what’s most impressive is how hard he hits the hole and how he moves the pile forward. That’s worth noting because how many times since Tim Tebow was almost automatic have the Gators been stuffed on third and fourth and short situations?
We put so much emphasis on running games that go for 200 or more yards per game, and make no mistake about it, going for 200 every time out says plenty about your offensive capabilities. But the real measure of a great running game is how well you convert in short yardage situations. If Thompson can be that guy who can move the pile forward when everybody in the ball yard knows he’s going to get the football, then the Gators have that hammer that’s been missing since 2009.
Here is hoping Thompson turns out to be that guy you can feed the football in the fourth quarter when you’re trying to (a) bleed the clock and (b) pound opponents into submission. If he can do that, then the Gators will have a legitimate shot at duplicating last year’s 10 regular season wins.
NIT: GATORS FACE GEORGE WASHINGTON WEDNESDAY
The Gators (21-14) will try to make it three NIT wins in a row Wednesday night when they travel to Washington, DC to face George Washington (25-10), an 87-71 winner over Monmouth (28-8) Monday night. The Colonials are coached by Mike Lonergan (471-226 career record) who is 94-70 in five years at GW.
The Colonials, who have nine players who average at least five minutes per game, average 75.2 points and give up 68.7 per game. This is a very tall team that goes 6-10, 6-9, 6-9 up front and 6-6 and 6-2 in the backcourt. Tyler Cavanaugh (6-9, 235) is a Wake Forest transfer who averages 16.5 points and 7.5 rebounds per game. Center Kevin Larsen goes 6-10, 260 and averages 11.9 points and 8.4 rebounds per game. Shooting guard Patricio Garino (6-6), a high school teammate of Florida’s Kasey Hill at Montverde Academy, is the Colonials’ best and most versatile player. He averages 14.1 points, 4.1 rebounds and 1.2 assists per game while hitting 43.7% of his 3-pointers.
MARCHING TO THE MADNESS
After the first round of the NCAA Tournament, there were 10 teams seeded 10 or higher hoping to play the role of Cinderella. After Saturday and Sunday’s second round games, the only teams seeded 10 or higher are Syracuse (10) and Gonzaga (11), who ironically face off Friday in the West Regional.
Of the 16 teams remaining, only Villanova (Big East) and Gonzaga (West Coast) are from non-Power 5 conferences.
All four #1 seeds (North Carolina, Kansas, Virginia and Oregon) advanced to the Sweet 16. Also in the Sweet 16 are two #2s (Villanova, Oklahoma), two #3s (Miami, Texas A&M), two #4s (Iowa State, Duke), two #5s (Maryland, Indiana), one #6 (Notre Dame), one #7 (Wisconsin), one #10 (Syracuse) and one #11 (Gonzaga).
Although it’s unlikely, the ACC could claim all four spots in the Final Four.
Of the 16 coaches with a team in the Sweet 16, Coach K has made 12 Final Fours while Roy Williams has been there 7 times. Coach K (5), Williams (2), Jim Boeheim (1) and Bill Self (1) have won national championships.
GATORS IN THE POLLS
Baseball: The Gators (21-1) continue to hold down the #1 ranking in the USAToday Coaches’ poll. Also ranked from the SEC are (2) Texas A&M, (4) Vanderbilt, (9) Ole Miss, (10) South Carolina, (13) LSU, (16) Mississippi State and (18) Arkansas. The Gators will play host to #19 Florida Atlantic tonight. Miami continues to hold down the #5 ranking while Florida State checks in once again at #11.
Softball: The new rankings come out Wednesday but the Gators (30-1, 5-1 SEC) should remain the #1-ranked team in the country. Florida returns to action Friday in Baton Rouge against #4 LSU (25-5, 3-3 SEC) … Kelly Barnhill, who struck out 18 against Winthrop then followed it up with five innings of 2-hit softball against Tennessee, was named SEC Freshman of the Week. Barnhill is 10-0 this season with a 1.40 ERA and 99 strikeouts in 60 innings.
Gymnastics: The 2nd-ranked Gators will be the top seeded team in the Minneapolis Regional when the NCAA Championships get under way April 2. Other teams in the Minneapolis Regional are Denver, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio State and BYU.
Men’s Golf: After one day of the Valspar Collegiate Invitational in Palm City, Florida, the #2-ranked Gators are in 15th place, 41 shots behind Texas. None of the 15 teams in the tournament field is below par.
Lacrosse: Despite the loss to #1-ranked Maryland, the Gators (9-1) are once again ranked #2 in the Inside Lacrosse Poll. Next up for the Gators is Vanderbilt on Saturday at Donald Dizney Stadium.
Women’s Golf: The Gators are ranked #8 nationally. The Gators lead the Briar’s Creek Invitational in John’s Island, SC by 3 strokes after two rounds. Florida’s 280 on Monday is tied for the second lowest round in program history. Freshman Sam Wagner is tied for third at -4 on the individual leaderboard after two rounds.
Women’s Tennis: The new poll won’t come out until today, but the Gators (11-2, 6-0 SEC) should move up from last week’s #13 ranking.
Men’s Tennis: After knocking off two higher-ranked teams last week, the Gators (9-4, 4-1 SEC) are expected to move up from their #24 ranking when the polls come out today.
SEC SPRING FOOTBALL NEWS
Alabama: Through Alabama’s first two practices of the spring, last year’s starting left guard, Ross Pierschbacher, has been running with the first team at center ... It’s still early, but Cooper Bateman is running with the first team at QB ... Alabama opponents for 2016 compiled a 97-58 record last season.
Arkansas: The loss of OL coach Sam Pittman to Georgia is widely viewed as a huge blow, so all eyes will be on new coach Kurt Anderson, who spent the last three years with the Buffalo Bills, two as a quality control coach. Arkansas averaged 5 yards per carry, 9.3 yards per pass attempt and allowed only 20 sacks in 13 games last year … Arkansas 2016 opponents compiled a 104-52 record last year.
Auburn: Auburn returns to practice today after 10 days off for spring break ... Auburn’s 2016 opponents were 100-56 in 2015.
FLORIDA: Florida’s 2016 opponents went 69-78 in 2015.
Georgia: First year HBC Kirby Smart told ESPN’s Adam Rittenberger that running back is the Bulldogs’ “scariest position” because of depth issues. “You can’t get through the SEC unless you have three and right now, we have one that’s healthy out there,” Smart said. Sony Michel (1,161 yards in 2015) is the only healthy back while Nick Chubb is rehabbing and Elijah Holyfield is still a few weeks away from high school graduation ... Georgia opponents for next season were 74-76 in 2015.
Kentucky: The hope is that WR Dorian Baker, who caught 55 passes for 608 yards in 2015, can put a bad case of the dropsies behind him. If he can consistently make the catches, Baker would provide a nice balance on the other side of the field for Garrett Johnson, who caught 46 balls for 694 yards in 2015 ... Kentucky’s 2016 opponents were a combined 84-70 last season.
LSU: Based on last year’s won-lost records, LSU has the toughest schedule in 2016. LSU opponents were 108-52 last year.
Mississippi State: This year’s opponents compiled an 87-64 record in 2015.
Missouri: Missouri’s 2016 opponents combined for a 75-75 record in 2015.
Ole Miss: No one doubts the talent of former DT Robert Nkemdiche, but if his draft stock continues to fall it could be because of the close relationship he has with brother Denzel. “People are worried about the brother,” says Monday Morning Quarterback’s Robert Klemko quoted one NFL scout. “That’s the biggest fear … Well, you don’t throw away 20 years of brotherhood.” … Ole Miss opponents for 2016 combined for a 102-52 record in 2015.
South Carolina: The Gamecocks have five quarterbacks competing for the #1 job. Offensive coordinator Kurt Roper says he’s in no hurry to name a starter. “There’s no timetable on making this decision,” Roper said last week … Next season’s opponents compiled an 89-63 record in 2015.
Tennessee: Tennessee’s 2016 opponents finished 2015 with an 89-64 record.
Texas A&M: All-America DE Myles Garrett is impressed with Oklahoma graduate transfer QB Trevor Knight. “Just the way he carries himself, how hard he works, you just want to follow him,” Garrett told Sports Illustrated ... Texas A&M’s 2016 opponents were 91-60 in 2015.
Vanderbilt: Vandy’s 2016 opponents had a combined record of 85-66 in 2015.
COUNTDOWN TO FIRING DAY, FOOTBALL SPRING EDITION
Endangered Species List
1. Darrell Hazell, Purdue
2. Paul Haynes, Kent State
3. Mark Stoops, Kentucky
4. Dave Clawson, Wake Forest
5. Craig Bohl, Wyoming
6. Chuck Martin, Miami (Ohio)
7. Derek Mason, Vanderbilt
8. Charlie Strong, Texas
9. Gus Malzahn, Auburn
10. Todd Graham, Arizona State
COUNTDOWN TO FIRING DAY, HOOPS EDITION
Extinct Species List
Dave Rice, UNLV
Donnie Jones, UCF
Trent Johnson, TCU
Jim Crews, Saint Louis
Bruiser Flint, Drexel
Brooks Thompson, Texas-San Antonio
Aki Thomas, Maryland-Baltimore County
Joe Scott, Denver
Matt Brady, James Madison
Ron Verlin, Pacific
Rex Walters, San Francisco
Eddie Jordan, Rutgers
Eddie Dickerman, Central Connecticut
Kerry Keating, Santa Clara
Nick Robinson, Southern Utah
Ed Conroy, Tulane
Johnny Dawkins, Stanford
Bill Courtney, Cornell
Byron Rimm III, Prairie View A&M
Cy Alexander, North Carolina A&T
Rob Jeter, Wisconsin-Milwaukee
Ray Harper, Western Kentucky
Travis Ford, Oklahoma State
Monte Ross, Delaware State
Oklahoma State wasted no time replacing fired Travis Ford. The new coach is Brad Underwood, a former Bob Huggins and Frank Martin assistant who was 89-14 in three seasons at Stephen F. Austin.
Jamie Dixon is going home to TCU, where he played collegiately from 1984-97. Dixon, took Pitt to 11 NCAA Tournaments and a 328-123 record, takes over a TCU program that went 50-79 in five seasons under Trent Johnson.
Apparently talks have heated up between UNLV and Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin.
Stony Brook head coach Steve Pikiell is awaiting approval by the Board of Governors to become the next head basketball coach at Rutgers. Pikiell is too good a coach for that job. He should hold out for something better.
No shock here. Ben Simmons has announced he’s off to the NBA. Simmons has NBA talent, but he played more than half his LSU season like he was bored playing with less talented teammates. How is that going to translate in the NBA where he’s playing with grown men?
Kentucky expects to lose three underclassmen to the NBA Draft – Tyler Ulis, Jamal Murray and Skal Labissiere.
QUESTION OF THE DAY
Basketball purists complain that the 3-point shot in the college game is too easy to make. Would the game be better if the 3-point line was moved back a couple of feet or is the game fine the way it’s played today?
MUSIC FOR TODAY
Francine Reed has one of those voices you never forget. She is a true blues legend who is still active even though she’s pushing 70. Today’s music is an hour-plus of Francine live from a concert venue in Maine.