ORLANDO -- Rule #1 for the Florida Gators today in first round play in the NCAA East Regional is do not let East Tennessee State’s T.J. Cromer get his feet set and his shoulders square any time he touches the ball behind the 3-point line.
Cromer averages 19.1 points per game and hits 40.4% of his 3-point attempts. He’s a lot like KeVaughn Allen in that if he hits his first shot he thinks everything he throws up is going in and like Allen, it’s not unusual for him to have one of those runs when he completely takes over a game.
“I guess your biggest fear going into this one, especially because of us and because of the not-so-distant past is just a couple of mental lapses defensively and boy, Cromer goes on a 6-0 run by himself,” Florida coach Mike said Wednesday afternoon before the Gators got in their one hour practice session at Amway Arena. White went on to rattle off a couple excuses he heard when the Gators suddenly couldn’t defend the 3-ball against Vandy’s Luke Kornet and Riley LaChance and Kentucky’s Malik Monk – “I forgot to call switch” and “I lost him in the corner.”
When it comes to Cromer, who holds one of the keys to 13-seed ETSU scoring an upset over the 4th-seeded Gators, White simply says, “Can’t have it. Can’t have it.”
The second rule the Gators have to abide by today is “Thou shalt not turn the ball over.” Quite simply, East Tennessee thrives on turning opponents over and then beating them down the floor.
“Transition defense is huge in this one,” White said. “They’re phenomenal in transition offense. They really feed off it. They feed off live-ball turnovers to get them into transition offense.”
The third and final rule for UF and essential for the Gators’ hopes to advance to a second round game on Saturday against the winner of Thursday’s Virginia-UNC-Wilmington game is keeping Hanner Mosquera-Perea and Tevin Glass from dominating on the backboards, particularly on the offensive end. If the Gators can’t body up on those two and keep them from producing second chance points and extra shots, Florida will be in trouble.
On the positive side, the Gators have great speed in the open court and a number of players capable of putting the ball on the deck and getting to the rim. This is a game where the Gators can’t afford to get into a 3-point shooting contest. A jump shooting contest means fewer free throws. Florida’s advantage is to drive the basketball and get the Buccaneers into foul trouble. Get past Mosquera-Perea and Glass and there isn’t much in the way of size or defensive ability in the paint. The Gators need to get them in foul trouble and live at the foul line.
Prediction: This isn’t going to be easy but the Gators will use superior size and depth to advance to the second round.
MORE MARCH MADNESS STUFF
A lot of folks think UNC-Wilmington can score the upset over 5-seed Virginia today in Orlando. I think that’s a bigger possibility than Florida Gulf Coast knocking off FSU in a West Regional game tonight in Orlando.
I won’t be the least bit surprised if 11-seed Xavier whacks 6-seed Maryland in a West Regional game nor will it surprise me if #12 Middle Tennessee State eliminates 5-seed Minnesota. I’ve thought Minnesota is overrated all season and tonight’s game will expose the Golden Gophers. I’m also warming up to 13-seed Winthrop’s possibilities of knocking Butler off the #4 line.
Southern Cal came from 16 down to knock out Providence in an 11-seed first four game in Dayton Wednesday night. The Trojans play 6-seed SMU Friday. Don’t be surprised if Southern Cal scores a Friday upset.
KEEP IT SIMPLE AND PLAY FAST
That’s the philosophy of Florida defensive coordinator Randy Shannon. Shannon believes the easier it is for players to understand their roles the faster they can play. Don’t expect Shannon to throw out everything the Gators did when Geoff Collins was making the defensive calls, but this unit will definitely have his stamp. Here’s something to remember about Shannon: He cut his teeth playing for Jimmy Johnson, whose Miami defenses were predicated on speed. JJ took safeties and made linebackers out of them; linebackers were turned into defensive ends and defensive ends were grown into tackles. And all of them could run. You can expect he’ll do something similar with Florida’s defense.
SOME SEC FOOTBALL AND BASKETBALL STUFF
LSU: Word out of the LSU camp is that new offensive coordinator Matt Canada won’t rely as much on the I-formation and instead will spread the field to take advantage of LSU’s speed advantages at the skill positions. Senior QB Danny Etling is said to be adapting well to the new scheme but observers believe dual threat true freshman Lowell Narcisse might elbow his way into the backup position.
Texas A&M: With three key wide receivers gone, the Aggies might be moving more to a run-dominated offense in 2017 which could open the door for true freshman QB Kellen Mond to earn the starting role this spring over three-year backup Jake Hubenak.
Alabama: Basketball coach Avery Johnson better hope his highly regarded recruiting class of 2017 can produce. An NIT bid that ended in a first round loss to Richmond has the natives restless.
Arkansas: The Razorbacks might be an 8-seed in the NCAA East but forward Manuale Watkins says, “We have national championship on our minds.” Perhaps he also believes in the Eastern Bunny.
Georgia: The Bulldogs were eliminated by Belmont in the first round of the NIT in large part because Yante Maten couldn’t play and Juwan Parker had to leave the game with an Achilles injury. This has been one of those if it weren’t for bad luck there would be no luck at all seasons for HBC Mark Fox.
South Carolina: As good as true freshman Jake Bentley was in the final seven games of the season when he led the Gamecocks to a bowl game in Will Muschamp’s first year on the job, Mr. College Football (Tony Barnhart) expects him to be better in 2017. Reason for the optimism is improvement at all the skill positions which Barnhart says have been “dramatically upgraded.”
THEY CAN’T BEAT YOU IF THEY CAN’T SCORE
Florida’s #1-ranked softball team (23-1, 2-0 SEC) racked up its third straight shutout Tuesday night with a 13-0 run rule win over North Dakota State. Aleshia Ocasio and Katie Chronister combined to allow NDS just three hits as the Gators registered their 16th shutout of the season.
Janell Wheaton and Chelsea Herndon both hit home runs and drove in 5 runs apiece to pace Florida’s 13-hit attack.
MIZZOU HIRES CUONZO MARTIN
Cuonzo Martin coached his last game at California Tuesday night in the NIT. He promptly resigned and Wednesday accepted a 7-year deal to coach Missouri, bringing him back to the SEC, where he coached at Tennessee for 4 years, and close to his East St. Louis roots. There is plenty of talent in the St. Louis metro area and the Mizzou campus is a 6-hour drive from Chicago and 5 hours from Indianapolis. There is great potential to turn Missouri into a real power if Martin can keep the homegrown talent and land some of the players from the Chicago and Indianapolis metro areas.
Washington fires Lorenzo Romar: This is no shocker. The program has been on a downhill spiral the last 5-6 years and after a losing record with the likely #1 overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft (Markelle Fultz), Romar more or less had to go. Whoever is hired to replace Romar will have the monumental task of convincing Michael Porter Jr. (6-10, 225), arguably the best recruit in the 2017 class, to stick with UDub. That might mean hiring Porter’s dad, Michael Sr., who was a Romar assistant. Don’t be surprised by this scenario: Porter Sr. takes a job with Cuonzo Martin at Missouri and Porter Jr. opts out at Washington and follows dad. Whoever gets Porter Jr. probably gets his kid brother Jontay, a 6-10, 240-pound beastly high school center who is committed to Washington’s 2018 class. Porter Sr. is a former assistant coach for the Missouri women’s program. Expect UDub to try to find a bargain basement hire. Romar is owed $3.2 million within the next 30 days and the school isn’t exactly swimming in cash.
LSU coaching search: Word in Orlando among a variety of basketball experts is that LSU is likely to hire Nevada head coach Eric Musselman, who was the associate head coach at LSU in 2014-15. Musselman is 28-6 at Nevada this season and was an NBA head coach on three separate occasions. LSU has sent out flirtations to Virginia Tech’s Buzz Williams (former HBC at UNO), Northwestern’s Chris Collins (played at Duke when Crazy Joe Aleva was AD there), Wojo from Marquette (see Collins), Frank Martin of South Carolina (LSU associate AD Eddie Nunez played for Martin at Miami High more than a few years back) and Gregg Marshall of Wichita State.
North Carolina State coaching search: A head coach who’s a long time friend offered these three nuggets: (1) Gregg Marshall isn’t going anywhere that pays less than $4 million so scratch him; (2) the perception of this job is the only way you can compete with the likes of Duke and North Carolina is to cheat; and (3) they will settle for a coach like the one they just fired (Mark Gottfried) because they’re (a) cheap and (b) nobody wants to get hired by a retiring AD with a bad rep (Debbie Yow) and not know who the next boss is going to be.
California coaching search: Now that Martin is gone, there is a lot of early talk that the target will be Florida State assistant Dennis Gates, a lights out recruiter who played at Cal in the 1990s and was an assistant to Ben Braun from 2005-07.
Remember when Todd Marinovich was supposed to be a guaranteed hall of fame QB before his football career was over? That never happened in large part because of drug problems and an overbearing dad. Now 47, Marinovich was just sentenced to 90 days in jail in Newport Beach, California for public nudity, drug and trespassing counts.
There was an interesting roundtable discussion among ESPN college football experts about who is the best football coach not named Nick Saban in the SEC. The panel didn’t offer a consensus choice but offered the following coaches as the next best thing: Jim McElwain (Florida), Dan Mullen (Mississippi State), Gus Malzahn (Auburn) and Hugh Freeze (Ole Miss). Although Freeze is under serious NCAA investigation that could result in his firing, the ESPN panelist noted that Freeze has won 40 games in the last four years.
This is a shocker. Darrelle Revis had charges of aggravated assault, robbery and making terrorist threats dropped by a Pittsburgh judge. After his arrest on those charges, the New York Jets severed tied with Revis. How long do you think it will take someone to offer Revis a ton of money now that he doesn’t have jail time hanging over his head.
Steven A. Smith, never one to hold back, says Chicago Bears QB castoff Jay Cutler has been stealing money from the NFL for years and says the idea that Cutler could start again in the NFL “is disgraceful.”
QUESTION OF THE DAY
Nick Saban is clearly the #1 football coach in the SEC, but if you had to choose the next best, who would it be?
MUSIC FOR TODAY
On the way down to Orlando Wednesday morning, I listened to Stevie Ray Vaughan’s 1991 album “The Sky Is Crying” which features an extended instrumental version of the Jimi Hendrix classic “Little Wing.” What an incredible guitarist he was. Mark him down as another great musician who died entirely too early.