After the Florida Gators won their first of two straight national championships in 2006, Billy Donovan made the statement (I’m paraphrasing here) that he wasn’t sure the Gators were the best team in the country, just the one that won six straight games.
In 2007, the Gators were clearly the best team so their repeat performance was not a surprise and had the Oh-Fours elected to come back for their senior seasons does anyone doubt for a second the Gators would have made it three in a row?
The NCAA champ is not always the best team in the country, just the one that gets hot for three weekends in March. It’s worth mentioning what Donovan said in 2006 because when I look at the 2017 NCAA field I see nine teams that I think could go 6-0 but I can’t think of one that I would qualify – at least at this point – as a great team. You can make a pretty good case for usual suspects Villanova, Kansas and North Carolina, which are all on the #1 line along with Gonzaga, which regularly flirts with greatness but comes up short. One day you figure the Zags will do it. This year? Maybe their best shot at winning it all because they are really good and there isn’t a truly great team out there.
On the #2 line you have more usual suspects in bluebloods Kentucky, Duke and Louisville along with Arizona, which isn’t a blueblood but is definitely an elite program. All four are capable of winning six straight games.
Then on the #3 line there is UCLA, which can score the ball as well or better than any team in the field. If nobody plays serious defense, the Bruins can light up the scoreboard.
Here is the problem with those nine teams: every single one of them has major flaws. On any given night they can play like world beaters and then go into a funk like the one North Carolina had a couple of weeks ago against Virginia when the Tar Heels managed only 43 points. For the whole game. That’s what they normally score in a half. Look at the other eight teams in that group and you’ll find similar stories of how they torched someone one night then stunk the next.
Beyond those nine, there are a lot of very good teams although this year there are only a couple of teams that have that Cinderella look about them – Middle Tennessee is one and Wichita State is another. The bulk of the field is made up of teams that won conferences that don’t get on TV too often (for good reason) or also rans from majors. Vandy is a great story but it’s hard to get excited about a team that lost 15 games. Same with Michigan State.
Last year Wichita State had to play in to make a #11 then promptly knocked off heavily favored Arizona. Middle Tennessee was a #15 that whacked #2 Michigan State. Stephen F. Austin was a #14 that knocked off #3 Notre Dame. Gonzaga was a #11 that beat #6 Seton Hall and #3 Utah. Syracuse made the final four as a #10.
Maybe it will play out in a similar fashion this year but looking at the brackets I just don’t feel it. There are nine teams that make me think they could win it and a maybe 3-4 others that might get on enough of a roll to win six straight games, but no matter who wins the NCAA title, I don’t see a great team in the bunch. Some good ones and maybe one very good one … but great?
SPRING PRACTICE REALLY BEGINS THIS WEEK
Oh yes, officially it began two weeks ago, but the Gators took a week off for spring break after getting in a couple of practices in shorts and shells. So it gets real this week and Jim McElwain and his newly configured coaching staff can start putting the pieces together for 2017.
From all the early talk, quarterbacks Feleipe Franks and Kyle Trask showed once again they have the big arms. Don’t be too concerned that they’re still a little bit behind. They were the third and fourth quarterbacks last year so they didn’t get the starter’s reps while taking a redshirt. From a talent standpoint, they’ve got what it takes and it should show up during the spring, perhaps starting with this week as practice really gets going in earnest.
It is also an important week for new offensive line coach Brad Davis. All the talk in the first two days was he’s a high energy guy who excels at teaching. He’s got an experienced group to work with so if his style translates into productivity, Florida’s offense could be significantly better.
THREE GATORS IN MCSHAY’S TOP 32
Corners Jalen Tabor and Quincy Wilson have been fixtures in Todd McShay’s top 32 players available for the 2017 NFL Draft but there is a new Gator on his list. Tabor checks in at #11 in spite of a poor combine showing while Wilson was ranked #29. The newbie is safety Marcus Maye, who has moved up to the #32 spot. Clemson QB Deshaun Watson isn’t listed among the top 32. The only QB to make the list is North Carolina’s Mitch Trubisky, who checks in at #30.
THEY WILL CRY WOLF ONCE AGAIN
How many times do we have to hear “this is the year” when it comes to the Georgia Bulldogs? We heard it throughout the Mark Richt era and all the Bulldogs got were a couple of what their fans call “near national championships” before they tired of going 9-3 or 10-2 just about every year. The same people who predicted a brand new era and championships for Georgia last year – the Bulldogs went 8-5 – are on the Kirby Smart bandwagon once again. We’ve got a little more than two months before the preseason magazines are out and you can bet the farm that the pundits will once again cry wolf and claim this is Georgia’s year.
Prediction: Georgia will lose at least 3-4 games. I haven’t seen anything about Kirby Smart that makes me think for even one second that he can sustain the program as well as Richt. Georgia hasn’t tasted a national title since 1980. Since Herschel Walker left the program in 1983 Alabama has won five national championships, Florida three, LSU two and Tennessee and Auburn one each.
BASKETBALL COACH OPENINGS/UPDATES
LSU: Joe Alleva would love to hire Chris Collins (Northwestern) or Wojo (Marquette), but don’t count on either one of them leaving where they are anytime soon. Next name on the list is Buzz Williams of Virginia Tech, but VaTech is a better job in a better conference. Buzz will stay put until Shaka Smart either makes it work at Texas or gets fired, whichever comes first. Scott Drew of Baylor isn’t going to coach in the same league with his brother (Bryce at Vanderbilt). Gregg Marshall is another one Crazy Joe would like to hire, but is he going to pay a basketball coach (Marshall makes $3.3 million at Wichita State) more than he pays his football coach (Coach O makes $3.5 million and you know Marshall isn’t going to move for a $200,000 raise)? So right there are two more you can scratch. So what are we down to now? Sixth choice? Kermit Davis (Middle Tennessee) could be had but he’s not going to inspire the masses. The guy who makes the most sense once everybody else turns LSU down is Eric Musselman, a former LSU assistant and NBA head coach who has Nevada (28-6) in the NCAA.
Missouri: The early name was Lorenzo Romar of Washington but Mizzou isn’t about to hire a coach who is four games below .500 in his last five seasons and hasn’t made the NCAA since 2011 even if hiring him means the Tigers land the best high school player in the country. Mizzou has made it perfectly clear it’s going after an established coach with a great track record and won’t make the mistake of trying to land a Division II coach (Kim Anderson was) again. Keep an eye on Indiana’s Tom Crean. He’s won two Big Ten titles in the last five years but the Hoosiers are in the NIT this year and the natives are restless. If Crean is feeling the heat, Missouri could be a perfect landing spot. It’s close enough to talent hotbeds St. Louis and Chicago and not that from Texas, another place that is ripe with freaky talent. One more name that is thought to be on the Mizzou list is Seton Hall’s Kevin Willard, a former Rick Pitino assistant and son of Ralph Willard, a former head coach at Pitt and Pitino’s associate head coach at Louisville.
Illinois: John Groce is the perfect example of the Peter Principle at work. He had a good thing going at Ohio U then got promoted to a job for which he was incompetent. The hot name to replace Groce is former Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin, who has Cal in the NIT. Reportedly, Martin can’t wait to depart Berkeley. The other name to watch here is Scott Drew, who has done wonders at Baylor but might be looking for a change of scenery.
North Carolina State: The coach everybody would love is Dayton’s Archie Miller, who played point guard for Herb Sendek at NC State from 1998-2002. There are whisperings that as long as Debbie Yow is the athletic director, he’s not interested. Dayton pays Miller well and he has the Flyers in the NCAA Tournament again so he can pick and choose where he’s going. Gregg Marshall of Wichita State should be on the NC State wish list since he cut his coaching teeth at Winthrop. I’m not sure if Marshall is willing to tolerate Yow or if Yow is willing to fork out the $4 million it will take to lure him away from Wichita. Once Miller and Marshall say no, NC State’s coach-hire pool should narrow down to Florida Gulf Coast’s Joe Dooley, VCU’s Will Wade or UNC-Wilmington’s Kevin Keatts.
South Florida: Everybody talks about the potential at USF. The folks in Tampa are hoping that the talk about potential will drown out the possibility the men in blue suits are going to hit USF hard with sanctions from the disastrous reign of Orlando Antigua. I wouldn’t be surprised if USF makes a strong pitch to land Anthony Grant off Billy Donovan’s staff with the Oklahoma City Thunder. He’s the one guy who could clean up on the home grown talent in Tampa and surrounding area. If Grant isn’t available, Kevin Keatts or Joe Dooley would be outstanding choices.
UMass: They keep looking to catch lightning in a bottle like they did years ago with John Calipari. Two names to keep an eye on are Mitch Henderson (Princeton) and King Rice (Monmouth).
LaVar Ball, father of UCLA stud freshman Lonzo Ball and younger siblings LiAngelo and LaMelo, both of whom are said to be as good or better than Lonzo, tells USA Today that the shoe company that wants his three sons will have to fork out a cool $1 billon. “That’s our number, a billion, straight out of the gate,” Ball said. “And you don’t even have to give it to me all up front. Give us $100 million a year.” Uh-huh.
The buzz around Columbus is that Kevin Wilson is about to take the Ohio State offense to a whole new level. Wilson, if you recall, was the architect of that Oklahoma point a minute offense that got the Sooners to the 2008 national championship game where they were stopped by the Gators.
Derrius Guice gained 1,387 yards and scored 15 touchdowns last year as a part-time starter at LSU. This was with four games when he touched the ball a combined 12 times. The focus nationally will be on the quarterbacks but if you’re looking for a legitimate Heisman contender who plays another position beside QB, Guice might be the one and only.
DeMarcus Ware of the Denver Broncos has elected to retire at age 34, citing “long term health and quality of life” as the reasons.
QUESTION OF THE DAY
Beyond the top four seeded teams in each bracket, which teams do you see have the most potential to knock off higher seeds and make it at least to the Sweet 16 round?
MUSIC FOR TODAY
Eric Krasno, who has fronted SouLive and Lettuce as well as winning multiple Grammy Awards for song writing and producing for the likes of Norah Jones and the Tedeschi Trucks Band, is touring with his own band. He will make stops in Boca Raton at the Funky Biscuit on March 30 and then in St. Augustine on March 31. Today’s music is a live concert recorded February 1 in Asheville. His latest album is “Blood from a Stone” which features Derek Trucks as a special guest.