Will the third time be a charm for SEC Coach of the Year Mike White and Florida’s 13th-ranked Gators (24-7), who take on Vanderbilt (18-14) at 7 p.m. in the quarter-final round of the SEC Basketball Tournament at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville?
If the Gators were to fall to the Commodores for a third time, it would certainly solidify Vanderbilt’s spot in the NCAA Tournament field, but it might also knock the Gators off the four-line in the bracketology. A Florida win would pretty much lock up Florida as a #4, which would assure the Gators of playing their opening weekend in the NCAA Tournament in Orlando. If the Gators were to beat the Commodores and then win Saturday in the semifinals, they would likely move up to a #3 seed.
But, that’s easier said than done. The task at hand tonight is to beat a Vanderbilt team that has four wins over teams that are ranked in the top 30 RPI, two of them against the Gators (68-66 in Gainesville, 73-71 in Nashville). If the Gators had won both of these winnable games against Vandy they would have shared the SEC regular season championship with Kentucky.
The Commodores are a difficult matchup for the Gators because of 7-1 Luke Kornet, who is a prolific shotblocker in the paint on the defensive end but a rather proficient 3-point shooter at the other end of the floor. In the loss to the Commodores in Nashville last weekend, the Gators had to guard Kornet with Justin Leon, Devin Robinson and Keith Stone, who each give up 5 inches in height. Kornet had no problems shooting over them when he went out to the perimeter and when he went inside he once again used the height advantage.
Task number one for UF is to shut down Kornet from the outside and force him to try to live in the paint where the Gators can bring help from odd angles.
Task number two is to shut down the Commodores hot shooting duo of Riley LaChance and Joe Toye, who combined for 9-16 from the 3-point line in the Commodores’ 65-41 win over Texas A&M in the second round of the tournament on Thursday. LaChance is hitting 48.8% from the 3-point line while Toye, who went 5-8 against the Aggies, is hitting a very respectable 37.7%. Toye presents real problems because he’s 6-7 and can shoot over Florida’s undersized guards.
Here is Florida’s game plan to beat the Commodores:
1. LaChance has incredible range, but the Gators have to keep him at least three feet beyond the 3-point line. He’s not a threat to drive the basketball so there is no excuse to sag off him.
2. Kornet would prefer to shoot from the perimeter so that means Jeff Roberson is the Commodores’ inside guy. He’s a very tough offensive rebounder and Florida has to put a body on him and keep him from giving Vandy second chances.
3. Devin Robinson has to play his best game since he scored 14 against South Carolina on February 21. When Robinson is scoring the Gators have someone to balance the floor with KeVaughn Allen on the other wing so the defense stretches and that opens things up.
4. Kasey Hill has 12 assists and 18 turnovers in the last five games including 5 last week against Vandy. Hill has to play under control and have at least a 2-1 assist to turnover ratio.
5. The Gators cannot allow themselves to be lured into a 3-point shooting contest because the more jump shots the fewer the free throws. Florida has a quickness advantage, can get to the rim and get the Commodores in foul trouble.
THURSDAY SEC RESULTS/FRIDAY SCHEDULE
Georgia (19-13) 59, Tennessee (16-16) 57
Alabama (18-13) 75, Mississippi State (16-16) 55
Vanderbilt (18-14) 65, Texas A&M (16-15) 41
Ole Miss (20-12) 86, Missouri (8-24) 74
Thursday notes: Yante Maten returned to the lineup for Georgia’s win over Tennessee. Maten sprained an MCL minutes into a loss to Kentucky back on February 18, then missed the final four games of the regular season. Against the Vols, Maten came off the bench for 12 points, 5 rebounds, 2 blocked shots and 3 steals … With their 19th win, Georgia probably solidified its chances of getting into the NIT. For the Bulldogs to get into the NCAA field they’ll almost certainly have to upset Kentucky today … General consensus Thursday was that Texas A&M will stick with coach Billy Kennedy for one more year. The Aggies return nearly every player of significance except for Robert Williams (expected to declare for the NBA) and add high school studs J.J. Caldwell and Savion Flagg to the roster next year ... Alabama’s third win this season over Mississippi State probably gets the Crimson Tide into the NIT. The Crimson Tide will have to win the tournament to get into the NCAA … LSU will announce what everyone knows Friday, that Johnny Jones has been fired … Ole Miss got to 20 wins by knocking off Missouri, but the Rebels will have to beat Arkansas tonight for any chance to make the NCAA field. Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy has won 20 or more games 9 times in the last 11 years.
Georgia (19-13) vs. Kentucky (26-5)
Alabama (18-13) vs. South Carolina (22-9)
Vanderbilt (18-14) vs. Florida (24-7)
Ole Miss (20-12) vs. Arkansas (23-8)
CAN MIKE HOLLOWAY WIN HIS 7TH NCAA TITLE THIS WEEKEND?
Can the #1-ranked Florida track team give coach Mike Holloway his seventh overall NCAA title and fourth indoors this weekend at the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships at Texas A&M? Even after their disappointing third place finish at the SEC Championships a couple of weeks ago, the Gators are expected to contend for their first indoor title since the 2012 team brought home UF’s third straight national title.
There is every good reason to expect the Gators to make a run for the title. UF has seven athletes whose scores rank third or better nationally while 3rd-ranked has the second highest number at three. Where the Gators have a chance to rack up plenty of points is in the field events where KeAndre Bates is seeded second in the triple jump and second in the long jump, Clayton Brown is second in the high jump and third in the triple jump and Grant Holloway is also ranked in the long jump. Holloway also boasts the nation’s best time in the 60 meter hurdles.
Florida’s women have a handful of participants. The Gators go into the NCAA meet ranked #11 nationally.
ANOTHER CHANCE TO GET THE BATS GOING
Losing two at midweek to Florida Gulf Coast has certainly changed the tenor for Kevin O’Sullivan and Florida’s 2nd-ranked Gators (10-4), who play host to Seton Hall (6-6) for a 3-game series starting at 6:30 p.m. at McKethan Stadium. Let’s start with three undeniable facts.
1. The Gators can forget that #2 ranking when the new polls come out on Monday. If the Gators get a sweep they can probably stay in the top ten, but #2 is totally out of the question.
2. It’s a good thing that it’s the weekend. The Gators are 9-0 with three 3-game weekend sweeps thanks to a terrific weekend rotation of Friday starter Alex Faedo (2-0, 1.77 ERA); Saturday starter Brady Singer (2-0, 1.00 ERA) and Sunday starter Jackson Kowar (3-0, 2.45 ERA). The way these guys throw the baseball it doesn’t take a lot of run production to give them what they need to win.
3. The Gators are hitting a pitiful .252, .283 at home on the weekends and a below the Mendoza line .195 in their five midweek games. Deacon Liput is hitting .239, Jonathan India is hitting .223, JJ Schwarz is hitting .220 and Mike Rivera is hitting .217. These are veterans who have hit the ball against some of the best pitching in the country in their careers, but they are struggling to put the bat on the ball for anything close to a base hit these days.
It’s time for the Gators to start hitting the baseball because things are about to get really serious. Following the weekend set with Seton Hall, UF plays Florida State in Jacksonville Tuesday night before opening the SEC portion of their schedule on the road next weekend at Auburn. Seton Hall comes to town with a 5.45 team ERA so this might be the worst pitching UF will see the rest of the year. The Gators need to get it going at the plate this weekend and hope that good hitting is contagious.
OTHER FLORIDA SPORTS
Softball: The Gators (20-1) maintained their hold on the #1 spot in the ESPN/USA Softball poll after last week’s impressive performance at the Judi Garmin Classic in California where they went 5-0 with wins over then #8 UCLA and #18 California. The Gators open SEC play this weekend at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium with three games against Missouri (8-5). The Gators and Mizzou square off at 11:30 a.m. Saturday, at 6 on Sunday and at 7 Monday. The Gators rank 2nd nationally in ERA (0.70) and 1st in fielding percentage (.993, only 4 errors all season). Sophomore Kelly Barnhill leads the Gators with a 7-0 record (0.28 ERA) and 98 strikeouts in 49-2/3 innings.
Women’s Tennis: The #1-ranked Gators (11-0, 2-0 SEC) host unranked South Carolina at the Ring Tennis Center Saturday (1 p.m.) in what will be a tuneup match for a Tuesday showdown in Orlando against #2 Ohio State.
Gymnastics: It will be Senior Night at the O-Dome for the third-ranked Gators (7-2), who host #22 West Virginia in the final dual meet of the season at the O-Dome (6:45 p.m.). Claire Boyce will be honored as Florida’s only senior. She announced late last month that she was moving into a student coaching role because of continuing pain issues with her hip. Watch for Alex McMurtry to possibly score a 10 in the vault or bars. McMurtry go her third 10 of the season in the vault last week at LSU.
Lacrosse: Fresh off a pair of wins on a road trip to Maryland (13-6 over Towson; 15-5 over Loyola), the #3 Gators (4-1) will return home to face #7 Stony Brook at Donald Dizney Stadium (1 p.m.). The Gators will play host to #5 Syracuse Tuesday.
Women’s Golf: The 6th-ranked Gators will play host to the Sun Trust Invitational at the UF golf course starting Saturday. The tournament features 12th-ranked Duke and 23rd-ranked UCF as part of a 14-team field.
Men’s Tennis: The 15th-ranked Gators (8-5) will face off with unranked Florida State in Orlando today. The Gators will return home Sunday to face South Carolina in an SEC match.
The bleeding continues at ESPN. Last month the network lost 422,000 subscribers. The hot rumor is that ESPN is going to start giving much of the on-air talent a choice: either reduce those ridiculously high salaries or hit the road. It’s being said that ESPN will have a dramatically different look in the fall.
Deborah Crowder, a former staffer in what was the African and Afro-American Studies Department at North Carolina, told the NCAA in an affidavit that the NCAA has falsely accused her of wrongdoing. Considering the NCAA has already all but vindicated Roy Williams and UNC men’s basketball, what are the odds the NCAA gives a slap on the wrist for punishment?
Greensboro will exact its revenge on Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim. The Greensboro Grasshoppers of the Class A South Atlantic League will hold Jim Boeheim (No Value) Night on April 11 and will give away $20 of food and drinks to anyone who shows up with a driver’s license that has Syracuse listed as the home town.
The Chicago Bears released Jay Cutler after 8 seasons. What took them so long? Of course, as P.T. Barnum once said, “There’s a sucker born every minute.” Someone in the NFL will sign him … and lose with him.
The Houston Texans got creative to unload QB bust Brock Osweiler to Cleveland, a deal that will clear some salary cap space for a trade to land Tony Romo.
Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook has 31 triple-doubles this season and is averaging 32.1 points, 10 assists and 10.5 rebounds per game.
QUESTION OF THE DAY
ESPN is bleeding subscriptions at an alarming rate with rumors that several top announcers might be jettisoned. If you were in charge of showing people to the door, who are your top two candidates ESPN should fire?
MUSIC FOR TODAY
Los Lobos has been combining soul, blues, Tex-Mex and rock and roll for the last 43 years. The East Los Angeles-based group has won several Grammy Awards for their recordings but this band is best heard live and in concert. Today’s music is a live performance from last week at The Hamilton in Washington, DC.