Okay, who among you had Villanova beating Oklahoma by 44 points Saturday night? Nobody? That’s what I thought.
I was certainly of the opinion that Villanova could win Saturday but I envisioned a white knuckles game decided by a foul shot or a buzzer-beater. Total dominance was never part of the equation I had in mind but after watching the way Nova dismantled Kansas and then laid waste to Oklahoma, I’m starting to wonder if the Wildcats aren’t this year’s team of destiny. In many ways, they remind me of 2006 Florida, a team best defined as the sum of all its parts. All five of those 2006 Gators averaged in double figures, yet none of them averaged as many as 14 points per game. It wasn’t until the Final Four that folks really knew there were other Gators not named Noah or Horford.
This Villanova team is like that. Four of the five starters average double figures and the fifth is at 9.7. If you follow the college game closely, then you know all about Ryan Arcidiacono and Josh Hart but can you name the other three starters?
North Carolina is the other team playing tonight and the Tar Heels are the usual collection of McDonald’s All-Americans. Everybody knows that Brice Johnson is one of the three best players in the country and maybe the biggest matchup nightmare in the college game. Everybody knows the Tar Heels are like an amoeba in that they can change shape to match what anybody throws at them.
But will it be good enough tonight? North Carolina will be favored, but Kansas was favored to beat Villanova and we know what happened to the Jayhawks. Oklahoma was also favored and the Sooners now own the title of the team that lost by the biggest margin in the entire history of the NCAA Tournament.
Ten years ago when the Gators destroyed UCLA to complete what was considered a highly unlikely title run, Billy Donovan said he wasn’t so sure the Gators were the best team in the country. Donovan said the team that hears “One Shining Moment” isn’t necessarily the best team, just the one that went unbeaten three straight weekends in the ultimate loser go home tournament. In case you don’t remember, none of the #1 seeds got out of the regionals that year. Duke lost to #4 LSU in the Atlanta regional semifinals and then LSU beat #2 Texas in the championship game. Memphis lost to #2 UCLA in the Oakland Regional championship game. George Mason, a #11 seed, won the Washington, DC regional by knocking off #3 North Carolina, #7 Wichita State and #1 UConn to get to the Final Four. Florida was a #3 and the Gators had to beat a Georgetown team that had beaten #2 Ohio State and then #1 Villanova to get to the Final Four where it destroyed George Mason and UCLA to win the national championship.
I tend to believe the Gators were the best team in the country in 2006, but I’ve often wondered what might have happened had they been sent to Atlanta or Washington, DC.
I tend to believe North Carolina is the best team in the country this year, but the way Villanova has played its last two games, the doubts are creeping in.
I’ll take North Carolina tonight, but it’s a very shaky vote of confidence.
UCONN WOMEN ON THE VERGE OF 4 STRAIGHT NCAA TITLES
Barring an upset of changing the water into wine proportions, the UConn women will win their fourth straight NCAA basketball title Tuesday night when they face sacrificial lamb Syracuse in the championship game. UConn has won 74 straight games and hasn’t had a game closer than 10 points this season. The Huskies played bored and through adversity Sunday night in the semifinals and they still beat Oregon State, 80-51. It was only that close because Breanna Stewart, the best player in the game, got into first quarter foul trouble and was a no-show in the first half and superstar freshman Katie Lou Samuelson broke a bone in her foot in the second quarter.
The reason UConn is so good is head coach Geno Auriemma, who is on the verge of his 11th NCAA title at UConn. When he took over at UConn in 1985, the school had exactly one winning season in its history. Since then the Huskies are 954-134 with 10 national titles and 16 Final Fours including the last nine in a row. When the Huskies dispose of Syracuse it will mark the sixth time they’ve gone through an entire season undefeated.
One small, but often overlooked detail – Geno has a near 100% graduation rate.
UF SPRING SPORTS WEEKEND
Baseball: It’s almost a given that the Gators (27-3, 7-2 SEC) will regain the #1 ranking after a week in which they took out #9 Florida State and then swept #1 Texas A&M (21-6, 4-5 SEC).
SEC East: Florida (27-3, 7-2 SEC); South Carolina (24-5, 7-2 SEC); Vanderbilt (23-5, 6-3 SEC); Kentucky (20-8, 6-3 SEC); Georgia (17-12, 4-5 SEC); Tennessee (17-11, 3-6 SEC); Missouri (16-13, 2-7 SEC)
SEC West: Mississippi State (20-8, 6-3); Alabama (16-11, 5-4 SEC); Texas A&M (21-6, 4-5 SEC); Arkansas (19-9, 4-5 SEC); LSU (18-9, 4-5 SEC); Ole Miss (21-7, 3-6 SEC); Auburn (13-15, 2-7 SEC)
Gymnastics: From a scoring standpoint, it wasn’t exactly a great weekend for the 2nd-ranked Gators but they won the Minneapolis Region to advance to the NCAA Championships in Fort Worth in two weeks. Florida’s 196.725 score was only the sixth best of all the regionals nationally, but the score in two weeks is the one that will matter. Florida produced four of the five winning scores: Alicia Boren (9.90) and Alex McMurtry (9.90) on vault; Alex McMurtry (9.875) on uneven bars, Bridget Sloan (9.95) on balance beam; and Sloan (39.375) claimed the all-around. Top qualifying score nationally was Oklahoma (197.575). In addition to Florida, qualifying from the SE were LSU (197.300), Alabama (197.125), Georgia (196.850) and Auburn (196.525). The Gators will be competing in Fort Worth for their fourth straight NCAA title.
Softball: It was not a good weekend for the #1-ranked Gators (34-3, 9-3 SEC), who lost two out of three to #7 Alabama (31-7, 5-4 SEC) including a 3-0 series finale Sunday before a crowd of 2,409. Sunday, the Gators gave up two unearned runs in the top of the first inning and then never solved Bama’s Sydney Littlejohn, who went the full seven innings for the shutout. The Gators face UCF in a midweek game in Orlando and then travel to Oxford to face Ole Miss
Lacrosse: The 2nd-ranked Gators (11-1, 2-0 Big East) squeaked out a 10-9 win over Temple to stay atop the Big East Conference standings. The Gators are idle until Saturday when they face Georgetown in a Big East encounter in Washington, DC.
Women’s Tennis: The 6th-ranked Gators (14-2, 9-0) maintained their hold on first place in the SEC with wins over #15 LSU and #25 Texas A&M over the weekend. The Gators will be at Alabama and Auburn next weekend.
Men’s Golf: Sam Horsfield and Gordon Neale finished 1-2 individually as the 7th-ranked Gators finished second, one stroke behind Vanderbilt, in the Mason Rudolph Championships in Franklin, Tennessee. Horfield finished -7 while Neal finished two strikes behind. Next up for the Gators is the SEC Championships at Sea Island, Georgia April 15-17.
Women’s Golf: The 8th-ranked Gators should move up in the national rankings after winning their fourth straight tournament at the Clemson Invitational. It was Florida’s sixth tournament title in the last seven. Sunday, the Gators carded a -1 and that was enough to edge Furman by a single shot for the championship. Individually, Sam Wagner finished -5 for 4th place while Karolina Vickova was -4 for 5th place.
Men’s Tennis: By knocking off Vanderbilt, the 11th-ranked Gators (12-4, 7-1 SEC) remained one game behind Georgia (13-3, 7-0 SEC). The Gators face Virginia in Gainesville Wednesday before traveling to Athens for the conference showdown match with Georgia on Friday.
Track and Field: At the Pepsi Florida Relays, Robin Reynolds, Kyra Jefferson, Sharrika Barnet and Claudia Francis ran the 10th fastest 4X400-meter relay in collegiate history Saturday. Earlier in the day, the 4X100 relay team of Reynolds, Shayla Sanders, Skylar Ross-Ransom and Jefferson ran the fastest time this season. The men’s 4X400 relay team of Hugh Graham Jr., Arman Hall, Eric Futch and Najee Glass ran the fourth fastest time in Division I this year. KeAndre Bates turned in a triple jump of 16.04 meters, which is the second best mark in Division I this season.
PIPPEN: BULLS OVER WARRIORS IN 4
When asked how the 1996-96 Chicago Bulls (72 wins) would fare against this year’s Golden State Warriors, are closing in on the Bulls’ NBA record, Scottie Pippen didn’t hesitate to tell Dan Patrick, “Bulls in Four Games.” It’s impossible for teams of different eras to play, but if I were to choose a winner between the Bulls of 20 years ago and today’s Warriors, I would definitely take the Bulls. I would not predict a sweep, however.
I would choose the Bulls because the 1995-96 team already had three NBA championships (1991-93) led by Michael Jordan and Pippen. It’s one thing to win one NBA title, which is what the Warriors have done. It’s something altogether different to have won three straight. I would also give the Bulls the advantage because Jordan and Pippen were two of the most versatile players in basketball history who could play and guard multiple positions. The 1996-98 Bulls also had Dennis Rodman, one of the great rebounders of all time and a premier defender. I think the Warriors have plenty of offensive weapons, but they don’t have three premier defenders and Jordan, Pippen and Rodman were three of the best ever.
Now, there is plenty to like about this Golden State team. Steph Curry might be the greatest shooter in the history of the pro game and he’s got the perfect complement in Klay Thompson, another unconscious bomber who can light it up. I love Draymond Green but I wonder how he would function if Dennis Rodman got in his shorts (and his head). I also like the fact that Steve Kerr, who supplied 3-point daggers for the 1996-98 Bulls, coaches Golden State. The more I see of the Warriors, the more I think they have the look of the Bulls from the Jordan era.
For now, at least, I go with the Chicago Bulls if there were a way to play these teams head-to-head but I can’t and wouldn’t predict a sweep.
NATIONAL TITLES FB/BB BY CONFERENCE SINCE 1980
Football (13): Georgia (1980), Alabama (1992, 2009, 2011-12, 2015), Florida (1996, 2006, 2008), Tennessee (1998), LSU (2003, 2007), Auburn (2010)
Basketball (6): Arkansas (1994), Kentucky (1996, 1998, 2012), Florida (2006-07)
Football (5): Clemson (1981), Georgia Tech (1990), Florida State (1993, 1999, 2013)
Basketball (11): North Carolina (1982, 1993, 2005, 2009), North Carolina State (1983), Duke (1991-92, 2001, 2010, 2015), Maryland (2002)
Big 8/12 (9)
Football (7): Oklahoma (1985 2000), Colorado (1990) Nebraska (1994-95, 1997), Texas (2005)
Basketball (2): Kansas (1988, 2008)
Big East (9)
Football (2): Miami (1991, 2001)
Basketball (7): Georgetown (1984), Villanova (1985), UConn (1999, 2004, 2011), Syracuse (2003), Louisville (2013)
Big Ten (7)
Football (3): Michigan (1997), Ohio State (2002, 2014)
Basketball (4): Indiana (1981, 1987), Michigan (1989), Michigan State (2000)
Football (6): Penn State (1982, 1986), Miami (1983, 1987, 1989), Notre Dame (1999)
Football (2): Southern Cal (2003-04)
Basketball (2): UCLA 1995, Arizona (1997)
Basketball (2): Louisville (1980, 1986)
Football (1): BYU (1984)
American Athletic (1)
Basketball (1): UConn (2014)
I know I say this a lot, but Doris Burke is as good a basketball analyst as there is. There is a reason she does analysis of NBA games. I wish she were part of the men’s Final Four broadcast team. Listening to her dissect the UConn-Oregon State women’s game was like a graduate level course in basketball strategy.
The Denver Broncos are going to have to get creative to find a way to make a deal for San Francisco 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick.
Urban Meyer isn’t going to let Jim Harbaugh stretch the rules all by himself. Urb is scheduling a satellite camp this summer in Georgia. My guess is this will be the last year for such camps because I believe the NCAA will step in and say no more.
There is a Title IX lawsuit that has been filed against Baylor by a former student who reported that she has been raped by former BU football player Tevin Elliott. The victim claims the school knew Elliott had a history of sexual assaults and failed to protect her and other women on campus.
Major League Baseball opened its season Sunday. Did you notice?
QUESTION OF THE DAY
Two-part question: Who does your head say wins tonight between Villanova and North Carolina and who does your heart say will win it?
MUSIC FOR TODAY
I had a serious crush Mary Isobelle Catherine Bernadette O’Brien for much of the 1960s. But, then again, so did a few million other boys and men of all ages. We knew her as Dusty Springfield and in the 1960s. Not only was she seriously beautiful, she sold more records than any female on the planet. She had me in 1963 when she went killed it with “I Only Want to Be with You” and followed that up a year later with “You Don’t Own Me” and “Anyone Who Had a Heart” on her album “A Girl Called Dusty.” Today’s music is “A Girl Called Dusty.” If “Anyone Who Had a Heart” doesn’t grab you by the lapels and shake you, then you don’t have a heart.