While Florida fans were giddy but shocked at the ease in which the 23rd-ranked Gators (18-5, 8-2 SEC) handled 8th-ranked Kentucky (18-5, 8-2 SEC) at the O-Dome Saturday night, there wasn’t even a hint of surprise in the voices of Devin Robinson, Kasey Hill and Chris Chiozza in the post game media room.
It was obvious all three expected the Gators to beat Kentucky and you expect that of a well coached basketball team. Not only did they expect to win, they weren’t the least bit surprised at the 88-66 outcome. If anything, they thought the Gators should have won by a bigger margin.
“I’m not at all surprised at how well we are playing,” Chiozza said. He, along with Robinson, pointed to a player’s only meeting on the Monday after the loss to Vanderbilt and noted, “We regrouped and talked out what we needed to do to be successful and now we are starting to get locked in.”
Just starting to get locked in?
That’s a scary thought if you’ve watched how UF has systematically dismantled the last four opponents since that players only meeting. It starts with a team concept on both ends of the floor. Defensively, the Gators are getting to their double teams faster and it’s rare they miss rotating to the right space. They’re getting hands in the passing lanes, getting off the ball help when it’s dumped down low (did you catch those early blocked shots when UK tried to set up Bam Adebayo?) and they’re playing defense with their heels on the 3-point line, which means opponents are setting up their offense 3-4 feet further out than normal and taking shots they aren’t accustomed to either taking or making.
Over on the offensive end, the ball is getting shared and we’re seeing far better shot selection. In the last four games, Hill and Chiozza have combined for 54 assists and only 17 turnovers. Any coach in the world will tell you that when he’s got a 3-1 assist to turnover ratio out of his point guards good things are happening.
Hill is hitting jump shots. Robinson has rediscovered his touch from the 3-point line and is a demon on the offensive boards. Chiozza has 27 rebounds, 33 assists and 23 points. KeVaughn Allen is driving the ball to the rim when teams try to crowd him off the 3-point line and Canyon Barry is averaging 15.3 points off the bench in the last three games (didn’t play against LSU with a sprained ankle).
Before we get too caught up in what’s happened the last four games, the rest of Florida’s schedule for February is brutal. Of the eight remaining SEC games, there are roadies at Georgia, Auburn, Mississippi State, Kentucky and Vanderbilt and only three homers – Texas A&M, South Carolina and Arkansas. Florida has Georgia and A&M this week and if the Gators win the two, they’ll have 20 regular season wins. If they get to 23 regular season wins, it will be very difficult for UF to get anything lower than a #6 NCAA seed.
WILL THERE BE MORE STAFF CHANGES FOR MCELWAIN?
Saturday was moving and shaking day for Florida football coach Jim McElwain. Just a couple of hours after it was announced that secondary coach Torian Gray was taking an NFL job with the Washington Redskins, McElwain announced the hiring of Corey Bell to coach the secondary and Brad Davis to coach the offensive line. By adding those two, McElwain has a full complement of nine assistants but the NCAA will allow a tenth assistant starting in the summer. There is also some whispering that there will be at least one other change on the UF staff prior to the start of spring practice on February 28.
What Bell means: Let’s start with two glaring facts: (1) He’s obviously on the same page with defensive coordinator Randy Shannon and (2) it’s another recruiter in South Florida. The additions of Ja’Juan Seider and Bell to the coaching staff along with Shannon give UF the strongest presence in South Florida it has ever had. As a high school coach in Miami, Bell turned Edison into a powerhouse, which earned him a spot on Shannon’s Miami staff.
What Davis means: This is a lunch pail type of O-line coach who fully understands the hard work it takes to be successful. The fact that he’s worked his way up the ladder to where he’s now the O-line coach at an SEC school is a tribute to willingness to grow at every pitstop along the way. Take a look at the people he’s worked or played under, too. While at Oklahoma his offensive coordinators were Mark Mangino, Chuck Long and Kevin Wilson. He worked under Mouse Davis at Portland State and Ruffin McNeil at East Carolina, so he’s been exposed to the run and shoot and the Mike Leach offensive styles. At North Texas he worked for Seth Littrell, who was an offensive coordinator for Larry Fedora at North Carolina. Davis has a dynamic personality and he’s expected to shine on the recruiting trail, which will be a huge upgrade from Mike Summers.
More on the Davis hire: All eyes were on former Alabama OL and current Philadelphia Eagles OL coach Jeff Stoutland but I’m told that he’s still in the NFL because of money. With the Eagles Stoutland is making in excess of $600,000 (thought to be somewhere in the $715,000 per season). With Stoutland out of the picture, Davis came into play. Maybe he wasn’t at the top of everyone’s wish list, but he was well known and well regarded. Expect him to get a starting salary of something like $400,000.
A COMEBACK FOR THE AGES FOR NEW ENGLAND
Okay, show of hands time. How many of you were celebrating an Atlanta Super Bowl ring when the clock struck zero at the end of the third quarter Sunday night? I’ll admit. I never thought Atlanta could come back from 21-3 at the half much less 28-9 going into the fourth quarter. I’ve never been more wrong in my life.
What Tom Brady did is the stuff legends are made of. In leading the greatest comeback in Super Bowl and NFL postseason history, Brady took the New England Patriots on his back and refused to let his team lose for his NFL record fifth Super Bowl ring. After looking very average for the first 40 minutes of the game, Brady went into a zone and found something only truly great players have within them. Brady missed throws he never misses in the second and third quarters, but once it got to the fourth quarter everything changed. In the first three quarters Brady was 23-37 for 247 yards but in the fourth quarter, he was 20-26 for 219 yards.
Tying the game at the end of the fourth quarter was phenomenal, but once the Patriots won the toss to start the overtime, there was a sense that the Patriots were unstoppable and they proved it.
Give credit to Dan Quinn and the Falcons, however. This is one of the youngest teams in the NFL and there is every good chance Quinn will not only get the Falcons back to the Super Bowl, but he’ll win his ring.
POST SIGNING DAY THOUGHTS IN THE SEC
Alabama: Some long time followers of Nick Saban say this 2017 recruiting class has zero holes, fills all Alabama’s needs and might just be the very best class he’s ever brought in to Tuscaloosa.
Arkansas: Will losing DC Robb Smith to Minnesota and the upgrade of Paul Rhodes to coordinator be enough to keep Bret Bielema’s rather large posterior off the hot seat?
Auburn: Auburn got the quarterback it needed before signing day in Baylor/juco transfer Jared Stidham but can these young receivers catch the football, stretch defenses and force safeties to play the Tigers honestly instead of stacking the box?
Florida: Maybe the most impressive thing about the way the Gators closed in the final five days leading up to National Signing Day was the fact UF was doing this with a short staff.
Georgia: There is no doubt Kirby Smart can recruit, but we said that about Ray Goff, Jim Donnan and Mark Richt before him and none of them ever got the Bulldogs within sniffing distance of a national championship.
Kentucky: Even with the addition of one of the best recruiting classes in UK history the Wildcats look like a team that will finish with 6-7 wins at best.
LSU: Everybody knew Coach O could recruit and he proved it with one of the top classes in the nation, filling holes on the defensive side with size and speed and bringing in the quarterbacks of the future in Lowell Narcisse and Myles Brennan to work with new OC Matt Canada.
Mississippi State: Dan Mullen hired Todd Grantham from Louisville as his DC and the entire defensive staff was upgraded before signing day so expectations are for an 8-10-win season in 2017.
Missouri: There wasn’t a lot of star power in a recruiting class ranked #46 by Scout.com but the defensive and offensive lines got some big bodies they desperately need.
Ole Miss: Ole Miss recruited probably better than expected with the threat of NCAA sanctions looming and the prevailing question is will Hugh Freeze be coaching this football team in 2017 or will the NCAA drop the hammer and force his firing?
South Carolina: Will Muschamp upgraded the roster substantially with a nice recruiting class but he’s still a year away from a roster that looks like an SEC team from top to bottom.
Tennessee: Butch Jones once again landed a load of talent and once again he’ll have as talented a team as there is other than Alabama or LSU but the Vols will once again lose some games they should have won.
Texas A&M: The focus will be on who’s playing QB for Kevin Sumlin, but there are far more serious questions on the defensive side of the ball where John Chavis hasn’t lived up to the hype in his two years as DC.
Vanderbilt: Vandy’s offense is in desperate need of an infusion of speed but apparently that was lost on the recruiting staff, which brought in a bunch of plodders.
A day after assessing a technical foul on St. Bonaventure’s fans for storming the court with 2 seconds remaining, which allowed VCU to make two free throws for a 73-73 win, the Atlantic 10 is saying the fans actually didn’t storm the court until time had expired. The A-10 is now saying a technical foul was called for other reasons. Yeah, right.
At what point does Arkansas AD Jeff Long hold basketball coach Mike Anderson to the same standard he held John Pelphrey? Pelphrey was fired because he took the Razorbacks to only one NCAA Tournament in four years. Anderson has only one NCAA in six years and after watching the Hogs lose to Missouri Saturday, it’s looking like Anderson will be 1-7.
The TurboTax Super Bowl commercial with Humpty Dumpty was absolutely hysterical. The commercials with John Malkovich for Squarespace were also terrific. Other than Jack Nicholson, nobody plays crazy better than Malkovich and it makes you wonder if it’s real or just acting?
The Pro Football Hall of Fame Class includes PK Morten Anderson, RB Terrell Davis, S Kenny Easely, QB Kurt Warner, DE Jason Taylor, RB LaDainian Tomlinson and owner Jerry Jones. I have a hard time believing Davis belongs in the class ahead of Terrell Owens or John Lynch.
At some point, I wonder when Kentucky’s one-and-done recruiting philosophy is going to backfire in a big way. There is no question John Calipari has one of the most talented rosters – if not the most talented roster – in all of college basketball, but if there was one thing perfectly clear Saturday night is this team has zero in the way of leadership. Once Florida weathered Kentucky’s second half run in the first three minutes, the Wildcats completely fell apart.
QUESTION OF THE DAY
With the amazing comeback that earned him his fifth Super Bowl ring, most of any quarterback in NFL history, has Tom Brady earned the best that ever was title?
MUSIC FOR TODAY
While at the gym Sunday afternoon, I got an earful of Earth, Wind and Fire. I had almost forgotten how entertaining they were in their heyday. Today’s music is a live by request concert from 1999.