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UConn wins GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The final poll of the 2013-14 season was released Tuesday and I must say I was a little surprised with how the voters of the USA Today/Coaches balloting ranked the rest of the Top 25 field after Connecticut defeated Kentucky for the national championship Monday night.

That UK finished second and Florida third wasn’t a total surprise, though I can’t for the life of me see the reasoning for filling out a ballot that way. UF lost just three games during the season, with two of them to the team that won it all (UConn), and the third to the other team (Wisconsin) defeated in the national semifinal at the Final Four. Along the way, of course, the Gators beat the Wildcats three times (at home, on the road, on a neutral site; twice by double digits).

Yet, there was Kentucky, with its 11 losses, not only checking in at No. 2, but someone actually gave the Cats a first-place vote. That’s just wrong -- and probably the difference between UF finishing with its second-highest end-of-season ranking in school history (UF was second in 2000; fourth in 1994).

Note: The Associated Press does not do a final poll, rather lets the tournament stand on its merit. Good idea.

Wichita State actually got a first-place vote in the coaches poll too, but you an almost -- almost --  make a case for it, if you want to think the voter was making a statement to the Shockers, 34-0 heading into the year, drawing under-seeded UK in the second round, but even that’s a stretch.

A second-place vote? Sure.

But a first? C’mon, man.

Same goes for the Kentucky vote ... times 10.

Now, having gone on that mini-rant, allow me to put some perspective to it all.

Who cares?

I guarantee Billy Donovan doesn’t.

And he as long as we’re writing about who-cares stuff, that brings me to the ridiculously early preseason projections for the 2014-15 season, several of which were rolled out Tuesday. Some mentioned the Gators, who not only have some question marks on the roster as to returning players, but will have to replace four senior starters who accounted for 58 percent of the team’s scoring and 51 percent of its rebounding.

* ESPN.com’s Eamonn Brennan ranked the Gators No. 8, behind Arizona, Duke, Kentucky, Wisconsin, Wichita State, North Carolina and Virginia. His take on UF:

“Billy Donovan, as is his wont, has another strategically perfect class coming in. It's a group of four-star players who should be able to contribute and fill needs right away, but they won't necessarily need major minutes or lots of touches right off the bat. That's good, because losing Scottie Wilbekin, Casey Prather and Patric Young creates a need for a smooth, structured transition. The talent is here: Kasey Hill flashed brilliance in a backup role before wilting in the Final Four; Michael Frazier II is a knockdown shooter; Dorian Finney-Smith is a highly skilled forward; and rising sophomore center Chris Walker is a complete athletic freak whose late start to the season gave him no time to develop. When he does, look out. Florida may have some growing pains, but Donovan will get them there.”

* USA Today put Florida at No. 7, courtesy of Scott Gleeson, behind Duke, Arizona, Wisconsin, Kansas, Kentucky and North Carolina:

“Billy Donovan's Final Four squad will take a big hit — losing senior starters Scottie Wilbekin, Casey Prather, Patric Young, Will Yeguete. That doesn't mean the Gators won't be the Gators next fall. They'll bring back sharpshooter Michael Frazier II (12.4 ppg) and key reserve Dorian Finney-Smith (8.7 ppg, 6.7 rpg). Heralded freshmen Kasey Hill and Chris Walker haven't yet developed into NBA prospects, and if Walker comes back, both should have a pivotal roles. Rutgers transfer Eli Carter should be available as well. The crafty guard averaged 14.9 points in his sophomore year with the Scarlet Knights. Incoming freshmen wing players Devin Robinson and Brandone Francis have the skillset to play right away. Chris Chiozza is a smaller version of former Gators guard Jason Williams.”

* Seth Davis of SI.com did a video from AT&T Stadium after Monday night’s title game and picked his top five for next year. No Gators, but his 1-through-5 goes Duke, Wisconsin, Arizona, Villanova and North Carolina. Davis on Tuesday tweeted out a list of his top 25, where he placed Kentucky ninth and UF at No. 15 (just after UConn).

* CBSSports.com didn’t provide any analysis, just a list of its Top 25 (plus 1) and who’s coming back. Gary Parish, Jeff Borzello and Matt Norlander combined notes and put the Gators at No. 5, the highest of any of these publications. Probably too high (and definitely, if you ask Donovan). The CBS crew had Duke, Arizona, Wisconsin and Kansas in the top four.

* NBCSports.com gave a breakdown of its projected top 10, but the Gators weren’t in there. UF showed up at No. 14, which is probably more along realistic lines given the rebuilding job in front of the coaching staff.

UT-ArlingtonARLINGTON, Texas -- Standing at center court of the University of Texas-Arlington practice facility, Billy Donovan surveyed his team as they took pre-practice free throws Friday morning.

“There’s a great coaches quote,” Donovan told me. “All practices are 50-50.”

As in some good, some bad.

The objective right now, obviously, is for good.

Really, really good.

The No. 1-ranked Gators (36-2), winners of 30 in a row, have not played a game since last Saturday night, so over the course of the last six days the UF coaching staff has tried to manage the team with a steady and progressive build-up of to Saturday night’s showdown with 18th-ranked Connecticut (30-8) in the Final Four at AT&T Stadium.

Donovan gave his players both Sunday and Monday off from practice, but met with them as a team. The Gators returned to floor Tuesday with a specialized work and individual instruction at the O’Connell Center, then had a solid practice that included some full-contact segments Wednesday before leaving for Dallas late in the afternoon.

On Thursday, Florida had hard 90-minute closed workout inside the vastness that is “Jerry World” and that practice was pretty good, too.

After this morning’s sessions (that included some live scrimmaging and working on both themselves and UConn), the Gators were to bus from UT-Arlington to AT&T for their required media obligations and 50-minute open shoot-around. Both of those constitute “distractions” that Donovan has told his players over and over are part of the deal when reaching the Final Four.

“Every team has to do it," Donovan said. "And it's better than the alternative."

As in being home.

Nothing 50-50 about that statement.


Sunday March 30, 2014Basketball Notes: Lots more about the Final Four

Updated: 12:21pm, March 31

Final Four in Texas GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The other half of the 2014 Final Four field was locked up Sunday night, so let your orange and blue imaginations run wild.

The Florida Gators, ranked No. 1 in the nation and winners of 30 in a row after defeating Dayton 62-52 Saturday in the NCAA Tournament South Region title game, will face 18th-ranked Connecticut in Saturday’s national semifinals at 6:09 p.m. from AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. UConn, of course, was the last team to defeat UF, handing the Gators a 65-64 road loss when guard Shabazz Napier, the MVP of the East Region, hit a 15-foot jumper at the buzzer way back on Dec. 2.

Yes, 118 days ago.

And in the event you’re comatose and not at all intrigued at the rematch prospect, well the other half of the Final Four may rattle your cage. No. 12 Wisconsin (30-7) gets suddenly surging Kentucky (28-10) for the rights to a national-championship game berth. That means if the Gators are fortunate enough to advance -- and don’t expect Coach Billy Donovan to provide much insight into that possibility when he’s asked about it a thousand times between now and Saturday -- they could face the only other team that beat them, the Badgers, or the Southeastern Conference nemesis Florida beat three times already.

Tumbleweeds blowing across the Texas plains will bump into Florida story angles, they're so many.

What a week it’ll be.

Let the “madness” continue.

 

WELCOME HOME, SOUTH REGION CHAMPIONS!

When the Gators' chartered flight from Memphis returned to Gainesville early Sunday morning, an estimated crowd of about 400 were at the airport to salute the team and celebrate the fifth trip to the Final Four, the fourth under Coach Billy Donovan and the first since 2007. 

GatorVision was there to capture the moment.

 

WHAT MIGHT HAVE NOT BEEN

DeVo cutting Monday will mark the one-year anniversary of Michigan totally smashing Florida 78-58 in the South Region title game last year. In the days that followed, little-used freshman guard DeVon Walker began pondering the possibility of transferring.

A month later, Walker announced he was leaving.

A week later, he announced he was staying.

"This is crazy,” Walker said Saturday in the locker room euphoria at FedEx Forum in Memphis, Tenn. “I don't know what was going through my head when I was about to leave and all that. I'm glad I didn't. I thank God for that. I love these guys. It's never been like this before on a team and I don't know if it will ever be again. That's why we're trying to enjoy this moment. What we have here is special. I keep trying to find words, but it's feelings and stuff that you just can't explain."

That pretty much explains it.

Walker, the sophomore from Winter Haven, Fla., averaged just 2.5 points per game this season and combined to score just three over the last seven games after hitting 10 3-point shots over six games during a critical midseason run.

But Walker’s thinking bigger picture. He may have played only eight minutes against Dayton, missing his only two field-goal attempts and grabbing two rebounds, but he can’t begin to imagine what it would have been like being on another campus somewhere watching his former teammates going to the Final Four.

He played his role and helped deliver something great to his senior brothers.

“There was just this whole vibe. Everybody was focused like we were going to war,” Walker said. “The other guys aside from the four seniors, we knew we had to pull our weight because we knew they deserved it. We knew everybody in this room deserved it."

 

OTHER VIEWS

Here's a couple links to some national perspective of the Gators' defeat of Dayton; specifically on this senior class that, for some reason, getting an awful lot of attention these days. Maybe it's the 120 combined victories.

* Yahoo!'s Pat Forde summed up the journey of the four seniors that suffered and perservered through those three Elite Eight disappointments.

* ESPN.com's Eamonn Brennan didn't see much similarity between the Gators in the 2014 regional title and the ones in the '11, '12 and '13 games.

* And SI.com's Pete Thamel with a terrific column about the growth of this senior class.

 

CHARTING THE GATORS

Billy D has now joined an elite group of just 16 coaches in college basketball history to go to four Final Fours. On this list, only three names (in boldface type) ever led their team to back-to-back national championships.

FFs    Coach                      Schools                                                                      Titles
12      John Wooden           UCLA                                                                           10
11      Mike Krzyzewski       Duke                                                                             4
          Dean Smith                 North Carolina                                                             2
7        Rick Pitino                    Providence (1), Kentucky (3), Louisville (3)          2
6        Denny Crum                Louisville                                                                     2
          Tom Izzo                      Michigan State                                                            1
          Adolph Rupp                Kentucky                                                                     4
          Roy Williams                Kansas (4), North Carolina (2)                                2
5        Bobby Knight               Indiana                                                                        3
          Guy Lewis                   Houston                                                                        0
          Lute Olsen                  Iowa (1), Arizona (4)                                                   1
         John Calipari               Massachusetts (1), Memphis (1), Kentucky (3)     1
4       Jim Boeheim               Syracuse                                                                      1
         Jim Calhoun               Connecticut                                                                   3
         Billy Donovan             Florida                                                                           2
         Jerry Tarkanian           UNLV                                                                             1  

 

TWITTER PATTER

Some stuff I saw pop up on my timeline that caught my eye maybe a little more some other Gators-centrist tweets.

 

Friday March 28, 2014Marshall Henderson hops on Gators bandwagon

Updated: 4:19pm, March 28

Marshall MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Our post-game stories from Florida’s 79-68 defeat of UCLA were filed around 2 a.m. local time, so GatorZone colleague Scott Carter and I began making our way back to the UF team hotel when we decided to duck into a bar for nightcap.

Yes, there were one or two still open here.

The place was called Local, on Main Street, and there were a handful of folks still hanging out. Scott and I joined good friend Pat Forde, of Yahoo!, and watched some hoops highlights, chatted with the bartenders and some patrons, when a guy and his girl wandered in and caused something of an immediate buzz.

Welcome, Marshall Henderson.

[Of course, we took advantage of the photo opp]

Decked out in his Gator shirt, the Ole Miss shooting guard had come to Memphis for the game, had great seats right behind the CBS crew and fellow gunner Reggie Miller, from where he did the Gator chomp and cheered on his Southeastern Conference brothers as they advanced to the Elite Eight.

Henderson raved about Florida -- “Love the way they play” -- and had nothing but great things to say about Scottie Wilbekin. Henderson brought up the 25 he had in a loss at Gainesville last season, flashed a humongous championship ring from his MVP performance in beating the Gators in the 2013 SEC Tournament title game, and reminded us that he hung 22 on UF and that defense in the first half when the Gators and Rebels played at Oxford last month.

Me: “And none in the second half.”

Again, he credited Wilbekin and a UF defense that played far better in its zone defense and turned his 23-footers into 28-footers.

All and all, nice visit with a guy who may have been a lightning rod the last two seasons -- and a Florida foil, for sure -- but now he’s on the Gators bandwagon.

Hop on, Marshall.

There’s plenty of room.

Tuesday March 25, 2014Gators 'hunker' down in land of Elvis

Updated: 8:27am, March 26

Will and Pat on plane

Florida seniors Patric Young, left, and Will Yeguete prepare to board plane for Memphis.


The Hunker MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- The team’s chartered flight from Gainesville bolted around 4:15 p.m. and landed here around 5:30 p.m. local time.

After the plane was unloaded and buses were loaded -- with team, support staff, families, cheerleaders, pep band, etc. -- police escorted a caravan of the No. 1-ranked and top-seeded Florida Gators to their home base for the next several days.

The historic and landmark Peabody Hotel in downtown Memphis.

Yes, the place with the ducks.

No, the Gators did not see the famous lobby duck march to the elevator. They missed it by an hour or so, but the little critters will be back in the morning. 

In the interim, the UF basketball team went right to work. First, the Gators ate dinner together, with the players getting a couple hours afterward to relax while the coaching staff huddled in “the hunker” -- the nickname for the hotel suite where they study tape this time of year -- and further broke down the UCLA Bruins, their opponent in Thursday night’s NCAA South Region Sweet 16 game at FedEx Forum.

Elvis At 9 p.m., the entire team met again to crunch some more UCLA tape.

The Gators will practice at a local church Wednesday morning, before heading to the Forum for their media responsibilities an hour-long open shoot-around in the arena.

As for the rest of the traveling party?

Can you say ribs at Rendezvous? Music on Beale Street? Or Graceland?

Thank you, thank you very much.

Tuesday March 25, 2014Alex Murphy does his best Kyle Anderson

Updated: 2:16pm, March 26

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Alex Murphy became really good friends with Kyle Anderson a few years back when they were AAU teammates. That's come in handy this week for the Florida Gators.

Murphy had to become Kyle Anderson.

“Obviously, I’m not him,” Murphy said after Florida’s practice Tuesday. “But I think I did OK pretending to be him.”

Alex Murphy mugMurphy, the transfer from Duke who is sitting out this season per NCAA rules, got the assignment of mimicking Anderson, UCLA’s long and lanky do-everything point guard, for Florida’s “orange” scout team as the top-seeded, top-ranked Gators (34-2) prepared for Thursday night’s South Region Sweet 16 showdown against the Bruins (28-8) at Memphis.

The choice was a logical one, given Murphy goes 6-foot-8, has a really good face-up game, can take contested 3s, has dribble-drive skills and finds the open man.

Anderson does all that too, only he’s expected to be doing it in the NBA next season. The 6-foot-9, 230-pound Anderson averages 14.7 points, 8.8 rebounds, 6.6 assists and shoots 48 percent from the floor and 49 percent from the arc for the No. 25 team in the country. He’s expected to be a top-10 NBA lottery pick in the June draft.

However the Gators choose to defend the Bruins -- they average nearly 82 points per game, which ranks 12th in the nation -- someone must account for Anderson's playmaking skills in both the halfcourt and in transition, where he's really dangerous.

Anderson’s nickname is “SlowMo,” as his game is more methodical and analytical than it is explosive, and he’s the biggest reason the team ranks fifth nationally in assists at 17.3 per game.

The guy, with his combination of size and savvy, can stuff a stat sheet. Murphy saw that first hand (and as a teammate, enjoyed it) when played alongisde Anderson on the AAU squad adidas Nation.

Kyle Anderson“He looks like he’s not moving fast, but he’s really efficient,” Murphy said after UF's final practice before the team left for Memphis late Tuesday afternoon. “I think people have a perception that he’s slow and handles the ball slowly, but he’s very smart, knows and feels the game, and really, really knows angles. You’re not going to take the ball from him. And he’s so big, he can see over smaller defenders and find open guys. I know in my time with him, he was a lot of fun to play with because he’s such a great passer.”

Murphy has played a pivotal role for the UF scout team this season, along with Jacob Kurtz, Billy Donovan (the son), Lexx Edwards and Damontre Harris. The goal is always to give the “blue” team a realistic look of the upcoming opponent.

“Obviously, there are some differences with Alex and Kyle,” UF coach Billy Donovan said with a grin.

But probably more important than mimicking an individual player is assimilating what an opponent, schemewise, does on offense and defense. That takes the entire group.

Example: There’s no assimilating Kentucky’s size, but the Florida orange team's most outstanding performance of the season might have been the day before the Gators faced the Wildcats in the regular-season finale. The orange squad scored, got shots, grabbed offensive rebounds and basically played the style Kentucky was going to play.

That’s all a coach can ask.

The orange team doesn’t have 6-9 twins like UCLA’s Wear brothers (twins Travis and David) or a 6-5, 220-pound post-up guard like Jordan Adams.

Or Kyle Anderson.

But the have a group of players committed to impersonating an opponent to the best of their abilities.

“The guy’s definitely got a lot of swag to him,” Murphy said. “And it translates over and helps him on the court.”

Monday March 24, 2014Charting the Gators: 3 SEC teams in Sweet 16

Updated: 9:23pm, March 24

CHARTING THE GATORS

Gator champsGAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The Southeastern Conference took quite a beating during the 2013-14 regular season for being down. That fact remains, though, the portrayal was hardly unfair. The league was woefully top-heavy, with one team, Florida Gators, going 18-0 and then sweeping through the postseason tournament. 

As it turned out, the three teams projected in the preseason to contend for the league title all made the NCAA Tournament -- the lone SEC reps to do so -- and remain alive heading into the Sweet 16.

Take a bow Florida, Kentucky and Tennessee.

The SEC is one of three conferences with three teams still playing. The Big Ten has Wisconsin, Michigan and Michigan State, while the Pac-12 has Arizona, UCLA and Stanford.

What does it mean? Not a whole lot, according to Gators coach Billy Donovan.

“If everybody in the SEC was out of the tournament, they’d say, ‘See, I told you the league is no good,’ ” said Donovan, who guided UF to back-to-back national championships in 2006-07 (pictured right). “Now, that we’ve got some teams advancing, [it’s] ‘Wow, the league must be really underrated.' Sometimes, it has to do with match-ups. Sometimes it has to do with who you’re playing. Sometimes it has to do with how well you’re playing. There are a lot of variables.”

And there’s some history.

That three SEC teams are still playing in the Sweet 16 is not a particularly rare occurrence for the conference. Actually, it’s the ninth time it's happened -- and one of those times, the SEC had four teams in the Sweet 16.

Here's a history lesson.

LSU 1986
Teams: Alabama, Auburn, Kentucky, LSU
Fallout: LSU advanced to Final Four (pictured right); Auburn and Kentucky fell in regional final.

1987
Teams: Alabama, Florida, LSU
Fallout: LSU lost in regional final; Alabama and UF lost in Sweet 16.

1993
Teams: Arkansas, Kentucky, Vanderbilt
Fallout: Kentucky advanced to Final Four, losing to Michigan in NCAA semifinals; Arkansas and Vandy lost in Sweet 16.

1995
Teams: Arkansas, Kentucky, Mississippi State
Fallout: Arkansas lost to UCLA in NCAA final; Kentucky lost in regional final; MSU lost in Sweet 16.

Kentucky champs1996
Teams: Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi State
Fallout: Kentucky defeated Syracuse for NCAA title (pictured right); Mississippi State lost to Syracuse in NCAA semifinal; Arkansas and Georgia lost in Sweet 16.

1999
Teams: Auburn, Florida, Kentucky
Fallout: Kentucky lost in regional final; Auburn and Florida lost in Sweet 16.

2000
Teams: Florida, LSU, Tennessee
Fallout: UF lost to Michigan State in NCAA final; LSU and Tennessee lost in Sweet 16.

2007
Teams: Florida, Tennessee, Vanderbilt
Fallout: UF defeated Ohio State in NCAA title game; Tennessee and Vandy lost in Sweet 16.

2014
Teams: Florida, Kentucky, Tennessee
Fallout: TBD

Sunday March 23, 2014Gators-UCLA to meet in bracket-busted South Region semifinal

Updated: 10:52am, March 24

Kyle Anderson GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- One half of the NCAA Tournament’s South Region bracket is still in order heading into the event’s second week.

The other half?

Not so much.

The top-ranked and top-seeded Florida Gators (34-2) will face fourth-seeded UCLA (28-8) in the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA Tournament’s South Region Thursday night at FedEx Forum in Memphis, Tenn. Tipoff is set for 9:50 p.m.

The Bruins defeated 12th-seeded Stephen F. Austin 77-60 Sunday night, meaning both UF and UCLA survived a bloody opening weekend of upsets, none of which matched the carnage on the other side of South bracket.

Goodbye Kansas.

So long, Syracuse.

The winner of the UF-UCLA showdown will advance to Saturday’s regional final and face either 10th-seeded Stanford (23-12), which shocked No. 2 seed Kansas Sunday, or 11th-seeded Dayton (25-10), which jacked No. 3 seed Syracuse Saturday night. The Cardinal and Flyers will tip at 7:15 p.m., with the nightcap 30 minutes affer its conclusion.

The region survivor will advance to the Final Four at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, set for April 5-7.

Florida and UCLA are hardly strangers when it comes to the postseason. The upcoming game will be their fourth NCAA meeting in the last nine tournaments, with UF winning each of the previous three.

The Gators defeated the Bruins 73-57 in the 2006 national championship game to claim the program’s first crown at Indianapolis. UF eliminated UCLA again the following year in the Final Four, winning 76-66 in the NCAA semifinals at Atlanta. The last meeting came in the 2011 round of 32 in Tampa, where UF won 73-65 to move into the Sweet 16.

The Bruins, who finished second to Arizona in the Pac-12 standings but won their conference tournament, are led by sophomore point guard Kyle Anderson (pictured above), a matchup nightmare at 6-foot-8. Anderson averages 14.7 points, shoots 48 percent from the floor and 49 percent from 3-point range, grabs 8.8 rebounds and dishes 6.6 assists per game. He’s projected to be a top-10 NBA lottery pick in June.

They're headed by Coach Steve Alford, in his first season since coming from New Mexico.

As good as Anderson is, the team’s leading scorer is his backcourt mate. Jordan Adams is scoring 17.4 points per game, making 48 percent from the floor and 84 percent from the free-throw line.

UCLA averages 81.8 points per game (which ranks 12th nationally), thanks to one of the best passing teams in the country. The Bruins 17.2 assists per game rates fifth and leads to 49-percent shooting as a team, which is 10th best.

As far as strength of schedule and advanced metrics go, the Bruins check in at No. 22 in RPI with a 1-2 record against the Top 25, an 8-5 mark against the Top 50 and 11-6 the Top 100.

UCLA’s best win of the season was a 75-71 upset of Arizona in the Pac-12 Tournament title game. They also defeated Stanford twice, but lost at Missouri and had really bad losses at Oregon State (RPI 103) and Washington State (218th).

Those numbers will mean nothing come Thursday, but they help pad out this blog on Sunday night.

More to come Monday.

Sunday March 23, 2014Hoops Notebook: UF's schedule helped prepared Gators for this run

Updated: 10:50am, March 24

 Gators huddle

(Photo by Miami Herald)


GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- After Florida pounded Pittsburgh out of the NCAA South Region field Saturday, both the Panthers and their coach spoke repeatedly about the Gators being the most physical team they’d faced all season.

Basically, the way UF beat and bodied up took the Panthers aback.

But look at Pitt and who it played this season, then consider the resume Florida put to the NCAA Selection Committee. When comparing the two, the outcome of the game -- UF by a comfortable 16 points -- should not have come as a surprise. Those who thought otherwise put a little too much into what happened Thursday night against Alabany.

Anyone who thought the version of Florida that showed up against the Great Danes was going to be there against Pitt either either hasn’t paid attention to the Gators this season or doesn’t know Billy Donovan.


Sidelines Going into Saturday's game, Pittsburgh checked at No. 39 in the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI), one of the primary metrics used by the committee to select and seed the tournament. The Panthers had beaten one team (North Carolina in the ACC Tournament) in the RPI Top 25 and were 2-7 against RPI Top 50 teams; 7-9 against the Top 100.

Pitt’s strength of schedule checked in at 66th and its non-conference SOS was a woeful 230th.

In essence, the Panthers did not have much of any success against really good teams to hang their hats heading into a game against the nation’s No. 1 ranked squad.

The nation’s No. 1 RPI team, also.

Against the RPI Top 25, the Gators were 4-2. They were 10-2 against the Top 50 and 17-2 against the Top 100, having played the 22nd-toughest overall schedule and 21st-hardest non-conference schedule.

A game against Pitt wasn't going to be daunting. Not after playing the likes of Kentucky and Tennessee (three times each), plus Wisconsin, Connecticut, Kansas and Memphis. That's why teams with aspirations of be major players in March schedule great non-conference games.

Funny how it works.

Look at who’s left in the NCAA field now. The Southeastern Conference, blasted all year for being arguably the worst BCS basketball conference, has all of its tournament three teams still playing and Florida played nine games against the teams that were still alive as of 8:30 p.m.

 

BILLY D & BILLY B

BelichickCameras caught New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick, taking time from the NFL owners meetings up Interstate-4 at the Hyatt Grand Cypress to come to Amway Center, rising to his feet and cheering Casey Prather’s alley-oop slam dunk to Patric Young that help kick in UF’s rout of Pitt. 

“He put in the scouting report today,” Donovan joked afterward.

Belichick and Donovan are friends, with Donovan having sought out the Patriots coach back in 2006 to pick his brain about dealing with the pressure of defending a championship. The two have remained close, with Belichick even coming to Gainesville and speaking to one of Donovan’s former teams.

“I left him a couple ticket,” Donovan said. “I didn’t get a chance to see him ... but I’ve really enjoyed our relationship. It’s interesting to get a chance to talk to a guy like that. Most of the stuff we talk about is the whole coaching perspective of just dealing with people and motivating people and inspiring people. I appreciate the amount of time over the year he’s given me.”

Yahoo! sports columnist Eric Adelsen pinned down Belichick and wrote this excellent piece about Billy D after the game.

 

COACHING BUZZ

Pelphrey on sidelines A pair of UF assistants are being mentioned as possible candidates for head coaching vacancies -- and both in the state of Florida.

John Pelphrey is among the names being kicked around for the South Florida job in Tampa, while Matt McCall is being linked to the post at Florida Atlantic in Boca Raton.

Pelphrey went a combined 149-126 during five seasons at South Alabama (2002-07) and four more at Arkansas (’07-11). There, Pelphrey replaced Stan Heath, ironically the coach was dismissed last week by USF. McCall was an assistant at FAU for three seasons (2007-11) under Mike Jarvis, who was fired two weeks ago.

Neither coach has been contacted about the posts -- they’re a little busy right now -- but it makes sense both would draw interest and be interested if approached. Joey Johnston, of The Tampa Tribune, had this story in Sunday's additions about the USF search.

 

CHARTING THE GATORS

With two more wins, Billy Donovan improved his all-time NCAA Tournament winning percentage to .750, which is fifth among active coaches. Here's the list of the top 12, which will change before the night's over.

Rank    Coach                    School                    NCAAs    Record    Pct.    2014
1          Larry Brown            SMU                            7            19-6         .760    (NIT)
2          Mike Krzyzewski     Duke                          30           82-26      .759      0-1
3          Rick Pitino              Louisville                    19           50-16      .758      2-0
4         John Calipari           Kentucky                    15           40-13      .755      2-0
5         Billy Donovan        Florida                        14           33-11      .750      2-0
6         Roy Williams           North Carolina            24          63-22      .741      1-1
7         Tom Izzo                  Michigan State           17          41-15       .732     2-0
8         Scott Drew              Baylor                            4               8-3        .727      2-0
9         Bill Self                    Kansas                         16           36-15      .705     1-1
10       Sean MIller             Arizona                          7             13-6       .684      2-0    
11       Steve Fisher           San Diego State          14           25-12     .676      2-0
12      Thad Matta              Ohio State                    12            23-12     .657      0-1

 

THE OTHER VOICE

Patric Young dunk It’s always interesting to get the take from the opponent’s side. Both the players and media.

Here’s a couple stories from The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, courtesy of Panthers beat writer Paul Zeise and columnist Ron Cook. Both gave the Gators’ their due, with Zeise wrapping the game from the Pitt angle and Cook opining there was no shame came in a loss to this Florida team.

Pitt was jettisoned from the NCAA’s first weekend for the fifth straight year.

As Cook put it, there was no use pointing fingers after the Panthers struggled to score and attack UF’s relentless defensive pressure.

"But the blame game is silly in this case.
Pitt could play Florida 10 times and wouldn't win once.
Florida is that much better."

The game story in The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review likened what UF’s Scottie Wilbekin did to the Panthers to the same punishment inflicted by another Scottie (same spelling) in 2009. That was when Villanova All-American Scottie Reynolds ousted its then-Big East rival Pittsburgh from the Elite Eight with a game-winning basket with just 0.5 seconds remaining.

 

FRAZIER FROZEN FRAZIER?

Everyone knows it's not because he's not a fanatical practioner of his art, but UF sophomore shooting guard Michael Frazier II has found the 3-point going rough in his six NCAA Tournament games the last two seasons.

After going 3-for-10 from the floor and 2-for-9 from deep against Pittsburgh, Frazier has now made just six of his 24 shots in NCAA play (24 percent) and five of 21 from 3-point range (that's 23.8 percent). He averaged just 6.5 points in the first two rounds of this tourney.

Fro what it's worth, Frazier was at the Amway Center at 8 a.m. Saturday and took advantage of the 30-minute early riser block each team gets in the opening NCAA weekend. Rest assured, opponents crunching UF's numbers won't assume Frazier's tourney slump will continue against them.

 

TWEET OF THE DAY

Kasey ORLANDO -- Point guard Kasey Hill participated in Thursday morning’s shoot-around and could be available to play when No. 1-ranked and top-seeded Florida (32-2) takes on 16th-seeded Albany (19-14) in its NCAA South Region opener this afternoon at 4:10 p.m.

The decision will be made at game time by UF trainer David “Duke” Werner.

Hill suffered a right turf toe injury when he collided with teammate Michael Frazier during Wednesday’s practice at Bishop Moore High School.

The freshman and backup to Scottie Wilbekin took part in the team’s light shoot-around at Amway Center later Wednesday afternoon (pictured right(, but Werner wanted to wait and see how Hill responded today at both the morning shoot at Bishop Moore and again during pre-game warmups.

Hill averaged 5.5 points and 3.1 assists this season, and played his best game of the season in Florida’s 84-65 victory over Kentucky on March 8.

Watch party

ORLANDO -- When you’re embedded with a basketball team this time of year, you really get an appreciation for the time-crunch, rapid-fire, behind-the-scenes work that goes into playing in the NCAA Tournament.

Like video prep.

Oliver Props to coordinator Oliver Winterbone (left) and his staff of three full-timers -- Billy O’Meara, Zak Elfenbein and Amit Tailor -- and the three interns back in Gainesville. Before the Gators had played a game in the Southeastern Conference Tournament last week, they already had a pretty good idea they'd be a No. 1 seed in the big tournament, right? So the video team had cut-ups done of 8-10 teams that likely would be No. 16 seeds and thus paired against Florida.

Yep, Albany was one of them.

But the crew also had to project a group of a dozen or so teams that could be seeded 8th or 9th and thus be a potential second-game opponent for Florida.

And, yep, Colorado and Pittsburgh, the No. 8 and 9 seeds in the South, respectively, were on the list.

Florida getting the so-called "play-in" opponent draw made the video guys scramble a little more usual. The Gators did not know who they were playing in their first game, so the coaches and video teams had to prep for two opponents.

When Albany and Mount St. Mary’s squared off Tuesday in Dayton, Ohio to determined UF’s first-round foe, Winterbone wasn’t sure the team’s Orlando hotel would carry TruTV -- last week, the Gators’ team hotel in Atlanta didn’t air all the SEC Tournament games, if you can believe that -- so he dispatched Elfenbein to Amway Center, where the Orlando Magic video folks let UF tape the game.

Back at the hotel, the coaching staff together (top photo) and watched the Albany-Mount St. Mary’s game. Assistant coach Matt McCall spent the previous two days gathering intel on the mad-bombing “Mounts,” who took 37 3-point shots and made 12 in erasing a 20-2 deficit and closing the game to a point late before coming up short.

Personnel Assistant Rashon Burno had the Albany scout, so once the final horn sounded in the Great Danes’ 71-64 victory, Burno met with the video crew and told them what he wanted to emphasize during the Gators' “first look” preview of Albany less than an hour later.

McCall, meanwhile, was free to go right to work on Colorado, with assistant John Pelphrey already deep into the Pittsburgh scout.

A more detailed “personnel” video isolating individual strengths and tendencies of Albany players was presented to the team after breakfast Wednesday (pictured left) in time for the Gators to implement some specific things during their morning practice at Bishop Moore High School. Once UF arrived at the school, Burno took the “orange” scout team aside and walked through Albany actions so it could give the "blue" team regulars the most realistic look possible.

On the sidelines, the video crew already was working on both Colorado and Pittsburgh -- and the Gators haven’t even advanced, yet.

But that’s the only way to operate this time of year.

McCall and O

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Assistant coach Matt McCall (left) and video coordiantor Oliver Winterbone (right) were up early Wednesday organizing scout video.

Amit

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And so was assistant Amit Tailor.

Billy O and Zak

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Video assistants Billy O'Meara (left) and Zak Elfenbein (right) set up sidelines shop Wednesday morning while Gators practice at Bishop Moore High.

Tuesday March 18, 2014UPDATED Play-In Primer: Get to know Albany

Updated: 8:07pm, March 18

Billy D

UPDATED: Albany survived a furious rally by a mad-bombing Mount St. Mary's that took 37 shots from the 3-point line before succumbing to the Great Danes 71-64 Tuesday night in opening game of the 2014 NCAA Tournament at Dayton, Ohio.

For 16th-seeded Albany (19-14), the first NCAA win school history earned the program a date with the top-ranked and top-seeded Florida Gators (32-2) in Thursday's second-round play from the Amway Center in Orlando.

Guard DJ Evans scored 22 points and guard Peter Hooley had 20, as Danes backcourt combined to go 15-for-27 from the floor, but just 2-for-11 from the 3-point line.

The below post was filed earlier this afternoon as a warm-up for the Who-Gets-the-Gators game.

Since the NCAA went to a 64-team field in 1985, no No. 16 seed has ever defeated a No. 1 seed. The record is 0-116.

*************************************************************************

ORLANDO -- The No. 1-ranked and top-seeded Florida Gators won’t know for certain who they’ll play at the NCAA Tournament at Amway Center until maybe close to 9 p.m. Tuesday. That’s because the South Region’s twin 16 seeds, Mount St. Mary’s and Albany, will butt heads in a so-called play-in game Tuesday in Dayton, Ohio. Tipoff is set for 6:40.

Since the NCAA field was announced Sunday, members of UF coach Billy Donovan and his staff have watched tape of both teams, courtesy of coordinator Oliver Winterbone and his crack video department, but they'll certainly will take time to watch MSMC and SUNY live on ESPN.

Maybe you will, too.

If so, it makes sense that a getting-to-know you look at both schools and programs was in order. Here’s your introduction to Mount St. Mary's, a tiny liberal arts school nestled in Maryland’s Catoctin Mountains, and Albany, the Empire State capital’s branch of the massive SUNY system of colleges (and its really cool mascot). 
 

MSM MOUNT ST. MARY’S

Where: Emmitsburg, Md.
Founded: 1808
Enrollment: 2,100
Noteworthy: Second-oldest Catholic college in the nation, behind only Georgetown (1789)
Nickname: Mountaineers
Conference: Northeast 

NCAA History
Berths: 3
Record: 1-3
Results: 1995 -- Lost to 1-seed Kentucky 113-67 in first round; 1999 -- Lost to 1-seed Michigan State 76-53 in first round; 2008 -- Defeated Coppin State 69-60 in play-in game, then lost to 1-seed North Carolina 113-74 in second round.

2014 Tournament Resume
Overall record: 16-16
Conference record: 9-7
MSM coach NCAA qualifier: Defeated Robert Morris 88-71 in Northeast Conference Tournament title game. 
RPI: 192
Strength of schedule: 243
Vs RPI Top 50 (0-3): Lost at Villanova 90-59; lost at Brigham Young 108-76; lost at Michigan State 98-65.
Vs RPI Top 100 (0-1): Lost at West Virginia 77-62
Best RPI wins: American (122) and Robert Morris (135).
Worst RPI losses: Maryland-Eastern Shore (348); Sacred Heart (339); Maryland-Baltimore County (329); Binghamton (323).

About the Mountaineers: They started the season with five straight losses and were 4-10 at one time, but the Mounts won their final four games, including an upset of Robert Morris in the tournament final -- yes, the Robert Morris that defeated Kentucky in the first round of the NIT last season. ... MSU works from a three-guard set of all seniors, led by 6-3 senior Rashad Whack (17.7 ppg, 4.4 rpg and 37.3 percent from 3) and 6-2 senior point man Julian Norfleet (17.5 ppg, 5.4 apg, 46 percent from floor, 35.9 from 3). The third guard is 6-3 Sam Prescott (11 ppg, 5 rpg). ... The Mounts also have a 7-foot, 215-pound center in sophomore Taylor Danaher (7.1 ppg, 5.1 rpg). ... They are coached by Jamion Christian (pictured above right), who played guard at Mount St. Mary's from 2000-03 under Coach Jim Phelan, a NCAA College Hall-of-Famer after winning 830 games (14th in NCAA history) over 49 seasons at the school, a run that included the 1962 Division II national title.

O'MalleyNotable Mountaineer Alumni

* Agnus Berenato (Class of ‘80): Women’s basketball coach at Pittsburgh.

* Rory Michael Bourke (‘64): Inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, having written Charlie Rich’s hit of the 1970s, “Most Beautiful Girl.”

* Fred Carter - Averaged 15.2 points for Baltimore, Philadelphia and Milwaukee over eight NBA seasons (player from 1969-76) and was head coach of the 76ers in 1993-94.

* Susan O’Malley (pictured above): Former president of the NBA Washington Wizards and first female president of an NBA franchise (pictured left)

Babe RuthCampus landmark: According to the school’s website, “The National Shrine Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes, a Catholic shrine devoted to Our Blessed Mother Mary, is a place of worship, pilgrimage, evangelization and reconciliation.This beautiful mountain shrine features one of the oldest American replicas of the Lourdes shrine in France, built about two decades after the apparition of Mary at Lourdes in 1858, and attracts hundreds of thousands of pilgrims each year from all over the world. It offers the occasion for a deepening conversion, a step forward in the journey to God, with Mary as the model for that journey.”

That’s incredible: A fella name George Herman Ruth, also known as “Babe,” was a student at the St. Mary’s Industrial School for Boys in Baltimore when its baseball team traveled to Emmitsburg to play the Mount St. Mary’s team. It was there that a young MSU student named Joe Engel watched Ruth pitch and passed his name on to Baltimore Orioles manager Jack Dunn. Things moved fast for Ruth after that.


ALBANY

Great DanesWhere: Albany, NY
Founded: 1844
Enrollment: 17,500
Noteworthy: It's been called six different names over its 170 years. From State Normal School (1844-1990), to New York State Normal College (1890-1914), to New York State College (1914-59) for Teachers, to State University of New York College of Education at Albany (1959-61), to State University College at Alabany (1961-62) to University of New York at Alabany (1962-present), as in SUNY.
Nickname: Great Danes
Conference: America East

NCAA HISTORY
Berths: 3
Record: 0-3
Results: 2006 - Lost in first round to 1-seed Connecticut 72-59; 2007 - Lost in first round to 4-seed Virginia 84-57; 2013 - Lost in first round to 2-seed Duke 73-61.

Albany action2014 Tournament Resume
Overall record: 18-14
Conference record: 9-7
NCAA qualifier: Defeated Stony Brook 65-60 in America East Tournament title game.
RPI: 182 (Tied with Oakland) 
Strength of schedule: 287
Vs RPI Top 50 (0-1): Lost at Pittsburgh 58-46 
Vs RPI Top 100 (0-0): None
Best RPI wins: Vermont (108) and Yale (148).
Worst RPI losses: New Hampshire (340); Maryland-Baltimore County (329); Massachusetts Lowell (283).

About the Great Danes: They lost at Stony Brook during the regular season, yet won there to capture the AEC tournament crown. ... The Danes are a balanced bunch with four players who average in double figures: 6-4 guard Peter Hooley (15.7 ppg, 40 percent from 3); 6-6, 230-pound forward Sam Rowley (11.5 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 52 percent from floor); 5-9 guard D.J. Evans (11.2 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 2.8 apg; pictured right) and 6-6, 205-pound forward Gary Johnson (10.9 ppg, 4.9 rpg). ... The coach is Will Brown, now in his 13th season at Albany -- the longest-tenured coach in the America East -- and with a record of 190-205, but with NCAA appearances in two consecutive seasons for the second time during his tenure (’06, ’07).

BurnsNotable Alumni

* Edward Burns (attended; pictured right): Film star from such movies as “Saving Private Ryan.”

* Harold Gould (’47): Film star from “The Sting,” as well TV series “Rhoda” and “The Golden Girls.”

* Steve Guttenberg (attended): Film star of “Diner,” “Cocoon,” and “Police Academy” movies.

Whaley* Tom Junod (1980): Journalist and staff writer at Esquire.

* Tara VanDerveer (’71-72): Women’s basketball coach at Stanford.

* James Jones (’86): Men’s basketball coach at Yale

* Frank Whaley (attended; pictured bottom right): Film star from “Field of Dreams,” “Hoffa” and “Pulp Fiction.”


Fountain Campus landmark: The school’s website invites visitors to “Splash in the fountain ... Whether it be the dramatic, refurbished Main Fountain on the Academic Podium, where students and visitors gather to talk, sunbathe, take photos or picnic, or the walk-through fountain which completes the University's Entry Plaza, relaxing by the waters is a UAlbany way of life.”

That’s incredible: Twice SUNY-Albany has staged a “Guiness Day” to chase a Guiness Book of World Records mark. On April 20, 1985, students successfully played the world largest game of musical chairs -- 5,060 participants. And on April 17, 2005, Albany waged the world’s largest pillow fight -- 3,648 participants.

Wednesday March 12, 2014Charting the Gators: Florida's history in SEC Tournament

Updated: 10:45am, March 12

Walsh, Roberson GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The Southeastern Conference throws up the tournament opening tipoff Wednesday night, but the top-seeded and No. 1-ranked Florida Gators won’t even board their chartered flight to Atlanta until Thursday evening after practice.

One of the spoils of an undefeated league season.

UF (29-2), along with 2-seed Kentucky (22-9), 3-seed Georgia (18-12) and 4-seed Tennessee (20-11) will sit out the first two days and fold into the tournament fray for the Friday quarterfinal-round games, with the Gators taking on the winner of Thursday’s matchup between 8-seed Missouri (21-10) and 9-seed Texas A&M (17-14).

Some SEC Tournament history: The event was played from 1933 to 1952, then was disbanded for 27 years before starting up again in 1979. Kentucky, of course, has dominated the tournament, with its 27 all-time titles more than the rest of the league’s teams combined.

Florida’s three-year rampage through of 2005, ’06 and ’07 are the school’s only SEC Tournament championships -- that's MVP Matt Walsh (on the left) and Anthony Roberson (pictured right) -- though the Gators have played for the title six other times, including a loss to Ole Miss in the 2013 finals at Nashville.

UF is 23-14 in 17 league tournaments under Coach Billy Donovan.

Here’s a primer with some historical data of the Gators in the SEC Tournament


ALL-TIME STANDINGS
School (tourneys)              Won    Lost    Pct.    Semis     Finals    Titles     Last title
Kentucky (52)                       119       24     .832       38           36          27          2012
Alabama (54)                         61       47     .563       24           13            6          1991
Tennessee (53)                     61       49     .555       22           10            4          1979
Missouri (1)                               1         1     .500         0             0            0           --
Texas A&M (1)                          1         1     .500         0             0            0           --
Arkansas (22)                        22       20     .488       12             5            1           2000
LSU (54)                                 45       53     .459       24             5            1           1980
Florida (48)                            38       45     .459       15             9            3           2007
Georgia (53)                          40        51    .440       12             6             2          2008
Vanderbilt (53)                      37       50     .425       13             2             2          1951
South Carolina (22)             16       22     .421         6             2             0            --
Ole Miss (51)                         29       49     .372       11             5             2          2013
Mississippi State (53)           28       50     .359       12             6             3          2009
Auburn (51)                            27       50     .351       11             3             1         1985

Former members
Georgia Tech (19)                14       18     .438         8               2             1         1938
Tulane (16)                            12        16    .429          5              3              0           --
Sewanee (2)                            0          2    .000          0              0              0            --



FLORIDA’S SEC TOURNAMENT RECORD HOLDERS

Points
DametriGame: 35 - Anthony Roberson vs. Vanderbilt (2004)
Tournament: 70 - Livingston Chatman (3 games in 1989)
Career: 153 - Dametri Hill (pictured right) in 11 games from 1993-96)

Rebounds
Game: 17 - David Lee vs. Kentucky (2005)
Tournament: 37 - Dwayne Schnitzius (3 games in 1989)
Career: 68 - Al Horford in 9 games from 2005-07; Dametri Hill in 11 games from ’93-96

Field goals
Game: 13 - Kenyan Weaks (pictured middle right with Donovan) vs Auburn (1998)
Tournament: 27 - Livingston Chatman in 3 games in 1989
Career: 60 - Dametri Hill in 11 games from 1993-96

Weaks Field-goal percentage (minimum 5 attempts)
Game: 1.000 - Udonis Haslem (7-7 vs Auburn in 2002); Greg Williams (5-5 vs Miss State in 1995)
Tournament: .846 - Mark Giombetti (11 of 13 in 2 games in 1981)
Career: .639 - Jason Anderson (23-36 in 78 games from 1993-96); Dwayne Davis (23-36 in 6 games from 1988-91)

3-pointers made
Game: 8 - *Greg Stolt (pictured lower right) vs LSU (1999) 
Tournament: 14 - Anthony Roberson (3 games in 2004)
Career: 24 - Kenny Boynton in 10 games from 2010-13

StoltAssists
Game: 8 - Eddie Shannon, twice (vs Auburn in 1998; vs LSU in 1999)
Tournament: 14 - David Lee (3 games in 2004)
Career: 31 - Kenny Boynton in 10 games from 2010-13; Eddie Shannon in 7 games 1996-99

Steals
Game: 6 - Taurean Green (vs LSU in 2006)
Tournament: 8 - Taurean Green (3 games in 2006)
Career: 15 - Andrew DeClercq in 8 games from 1992-95

Blocked shots
Game: 7 - Dwayne Schnitzius (vs Georgia in 1989)
Tournament: 18 - Dwayne Schnitzius in 3 games in 1989
Career: 23 - Dwayne Schnitzius in 6 games from 1987-89

* Denotes SEC Tournament record


FLORIDA IN SEC TOURNAMENT FINALS
Year     Score                                                Site                  MVP
1934     Alabama 41, Florida 25                 Atlanta            (None selected)
1989    Alabama 72, Florida 60                  Knoxville         Livingston Chatman, Florida
1994    Kentucky 73, Florida 60                 Memphis         Travis Ford, Kentucky
2004    Kentucky 89, Florida 73                 Atlanta            Gerald Fitch, Kentucky
2005    Florida 70, Kentucky 53                 Nashville         Matt Walsh, Florida
2006    Florida 49, South Carolina 47      Atlanta            Taurean Green. Florida
2007    Florida 77, Arkansas 56                 Atlanta            Al Horford, Florida
2011    Kentucky 70, Florida 54                 Atlanta            Darius Miller, Kentucky
2013    Ole Miss 63, Florida 60                 Nashville         Marshall Henderson, Ole Miss


ScottieGAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Humbled and on message.

That was the takeaway upon hearing from Florida’s players Tuesday after the Gators dominated the Southeastern Conference’s individual postseason honors much like they did the league’s regular season, as voted on by coaches.

Senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin was named 2014 SEC Player of the Year, while Billy Donovan was named Coach of the Year. Senior center Patric Young was tabbed Defensive Player of the Year and reigned in his third straight Scholar Athlete of the Year award. Sophomore backup forward Dorian Finney-Smith was named Sixth Man of the Year. Wilbekin and senior forward Casey Prather made the eight-man All-SEC first team, while Young was placed on the second team.

The lone individual superlative that did not go to a Gator was SEC Freshman of the Year, which was an easy choice in Kentucky power forward and human double-double Julius Randle.

But what a haul for Florida, right?

Then again, the Gators merely became the first team in SEC history to go unbeaten in an 18-game season and are ranked No. 1 in the nation heading into the postseason, which for UF begins Friday in the quarterfinals of the conference tournament in Atlanta. Florida will be the top seed.

“It feels good,” said senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin, who was suspended for the season’s first five games for violating team rules before being reinstated and resuming his spot as the team’s unquestioned leader and floor general. “I definitely couldn’t have done it without my teammates, Coach D believing in me and [Athletic Director] Jeremy Foley giving me a second chance. All of my teammates had faith in me.”

Wilbekin, who averaged 12.9 points, 3.9 assists and guarded every opponents’ best perimeter player, joined Chandler Parsons as the only Gators ever named SEC Player of the Year. Parsons won it in 2011.

As for Donovan, make that three coach-of-the-year plaques in four seasons -- after getting none in his first 14 seasons, including the two NCAA championship seasons of 2006 (LSU’s John Brady) and 2007 (Vanderbilt’s Kevin Stallings).

Donovan joined Kentucky’s Adolph Rupp as the only coaches in SEC history to be so honored at least three times. The league first awarded its coach of the year in 1964 and Rupp won it seven times over the first nine years.

Patric Last summer, the 6-foot-9, 250-pound Young stated that winning the SEC’s Defensive Player of the Year award was one of his goals, but also to become the first league player to be basketball’s scholar athlete three straight seasons.

Boom.

“I’m grated to my teammates for playing such terrible defense so I could pick up the slack,” Young joked about a squad that finished first in scoring defense (58.5 points per game) and fourth in field-goal percentage defense (.401). “It’s a reflection of our coaches, their belief in me and how I’ve been coachable and apply it on the court.”

As for meshing the athletics and academics?

“I just really strive to maximize my opportunity of being here, being the best I can be at everything I do,” Young said. “Of course, coming here, I didn’t always see it that way. That’s something I’ve grown into, matured, just trying to impact people, being a personable person, striving to be the best I can be on the court, off the court, trying to experience life because basketball is not everything.”

Finney-Smith sat out last season after transferring from Virginia Tech. While working through his red-shirt year, Finney-Smith (a.k.a. "Doe-Doe") often tried to envision where he’d best fit in for the Gators. As it turned out, his scoring (9.4 points), rebounding (6.9), passing (2.1 assists) and major minutes (25.5) in reserve were exactly what the team needed on a roster with three seniors in the frontcourt.

The hard part, he said, was getting used to cooling down after pre-game warmups and hopping into the game. Obviously, he figured some things out.

"When I came here I just wanted to do anything to help my team win,” said Finney-Smith, who along with Chris Richard (2007) are UF's lone Sixth Man honorees to date. “If that means coming off the bench with a lot of energy, hitting the open shots, rebounding hard, then that's what I've got to do.”

And what can be said about Prather?

He came into the season averaging 3.1 points for his career, only to lead the Gators in scoring (14.6 points), finish fourth in rebounding (5.2), top the SEC in field-goal percentage (.625) and give UF an athletic, off-the-bounce perimeter threat far greater than anyone expected.

“I guess it just says that I was determined to get better,” Prather said. “I’ve got great people around me.”

Decorated people, to be sure.

Patric at SEC GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Last October, Patric Young made some news (and rattled some metaphorical rims) in the Commonwealth State with his unfiltered remarks about Kentucky’s “one-and-done” basketball business model.

The scene was Southeastern Conference Media Days in Birmingham, Ala., the annual preseason dog-and-pony show to preview the upcoming basketball campaign. The topic of yet another UK freshman class deemed among the greatest of all-time was put to Florida’s senior center and two-time SEC Scholar Athlete of the Year. 

Young happened to start for a team coming off an SEC championship the year. That team won the league over another class of young Wildcats proclaimed to be one of the greatest ever. 

That team went to the NIT. Even lost in the first round.

So there was Young, surrounded by tape recorders and brimming with confidence about the prospects of the Gators' season and a senior-laden team out to defend its league championship.

Facing another collection of big-name prep All-Americans did not impress him.

"I hope they think that they can just walk on the court and beat everybody," Young said. “As soon as they step on the court and play a real top team, they’re going to see that it's not just a walk in the park. One-and-done is not for everybody.”

Those words rang truer than ever Saturday, as the No. 1-ranked Gators bludgeoned Kentucky 84-65 behind a senior class that accounted for 51 points and left the O’Connell Center with the most-lopsided defeat of the Wildcats in the 77-year history of the series and the first 18-0 record ever posted by SEC play.

It’s entirely possible that Florida (29-2) and Kentucky (22-9) will play again this week in the SEC Tournament at Atlanta, and the Wildcats -- stacked with the most talented, deepest roster in the conference, according to UF coach Billy Donovan -- could indeed have the last word.

But for now, give Young, who played one of his finest games of the year (season-high 18 points, 7 rebounds), a nod for speaking his mind and backing it up. He was already a five-star ambassador for not only Florida basketball but college basketball in general. With candid "takes," like the one in Birmingham, he's well on his way to applying that telecommunications degree and his goal of being a TV talking head.


SENIOR SALUTE IN MOVING PICTURES

If you weren’t among the 12,604 at the O’Dome Saturday, then you didn't the pre-game ceremony honoring UF’s senior class of Young, Will Yeguete, Casey Prather and Scottie Wilbekin.

But GatorVision had your back.

Enjoy.




SEC TOURNAMENT SCHEDULE

Here’s how the SEC Tournament slate shapes up, with the Gators not even leaving for Atlanta -- even if they did go, they couldn’t get on the Georgia Dome court to shoot, anyway -- until after practice Thursday. Florida, of course, is the No. 1 seed, followed by Kentucky (2), Georgia (3) and Tennessee (4), each of which get byes through the first two rounds and into Friday’s quarterfinals.

Higher seeds are listed first.

Wednesday
Game 1: Auburn (14-15, 6-12) vs South Carolina (12-19, 5-13), 7 p.m. 
Game 2: Vanderbilt (15-15, 7-11) vs Mississippi State (13-18, 3-15), 9:30 (est.)

Thursday
Game 3: Missouri (21-10, 9-9) vs Texas A&M (17-14, 8-10), 1 p.m.
Game 4: Arkansas (21-10, 10-8) vs Game 1 winner, 3:30 p.m. (est.) 
Game 5: LSU (18-12) vs Alabama (13-18, 7-11), 7 p.m.
Game 6: Ole Miss (18-13, 9-9) vs Game 2 winner, 9:30 (est).

Friday (Quarterfinals)
Game 7: Florida (29-2, 18-0) vs Game 3 winner, 1 p.m.
Game 8: Tennessee (20-11, 11-7) vs Game 4 winner, 3:30 (est.)
Game 9: Kentucky (22-9, 12-6) vs Game 5 winner, 7 p.m.
Game 10: Georgia (18-12, 12-6) vs Game 6 winner, 9:30 (est.)

Saturday (Semifinals)
Game 11: Game 7 winner vs Game 8 winner, 1 p.m.
Game 12: Game 9 winner vs Game 10 winner, 3:30 (est.)

Sunday
Championship Game, 3:15 p.m. (ESPN)


TRIVIA QUESTION

Florida 2013-14 became just the third team in SEC history to win the league’s regular-season title by at least six games. Who were the others? Answer below in “Free Throws” section.


FORMER GATOR UPDATE 

CodyChicago’s Joakim Noah had a second triple-double in three games and Memphis point guard Nick Calathes was named NBA Rookie of the Month. Good work, fellas.

But since so much of the week focused on the Florida seniors, it seemed appropriate to recognize the fifth member of that 2010 signing class.

Cody Larson, a center/forward from South Dakota, arrived at UF along with Prather, Wilbekin, Young and Yeguete, but stuck aroundfor just two seasons before transferring to South Dakota State in 2012.

Now a fourth-year junior, Larson is averaging 13.4 points per game (hitting 52 percent from the floor, 69 from the free-throw line) and 6.9 rebounds for SDSU. He has five double-doubles this season, including a career-best game of 24 points and 10 boards in a win back in November against Howard.

SDSU, the Jackrabbits, was 18-11, with wins in eight of the last nine games, heading into Sunday night’s Summit League Tournament quarterfinal against Western Illinois in Larson’s hometown of Sioux Falls.

Larson (something of a fifth Beatle, you could say) was extremely close to his UF freshmen classmates and remains in touch with them.

And you just know he felt good for those guys on Saturday.



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seniors CHARTING THE GATORS
They won their 113th game together, but for further context here's a look at some of the UF seniors' individual numbers (which figure to swell in the coming weeks). The goal, obviously, is to pad that 113 and top the school record of 117 victories over four years, a mark set by guard Walter Hodge from '05-06 to '08-09.

               Games/Starts      Mins/Avg         Points     Rebs      Assists

Patric       142/99                 3,423/24.1        1,216          801           112

Scottie     135/56                 3,188/21.6           842          278           393

Will           119/51                2,176/18.2           485          589           103

Casey      119/31                1,793/15.1            698          343            96

Totals      515/237            10,580/20.5          3,241        2,011         704


FREE THROWS

A couple weeks ago, the Gators were having trouble hitting 3-point shots. The last three games, they're a combined 33-for-69, which converts to 47.8 percent. UF won those games by a combined 63 points. ... Florida’s 19-point margin over UK was the biggest for the Gators in a series that dates to 1928. Among their 35 previous all-time wins, UF had beaten UK four times by 17 and twice by 18 (in 1968 and ’87), but never by 19. It was also just the second time Florida swept the season series by double-digits. The Gators won by 10 in Lexington last month. ... My good friend Mike Bianchi, columnist for The Orlando Sentinel, swooped in Saturday and cranked out a pretty good piece sizing up Billy D and his place in the SEC. ... Michael Frazier II’s 11 makes from 3-point range at South Carolina were the most at Colonial Life Arena since Lee Humphrey went 7-for-8 from deep in an 84-50 blowout of the Gamecocks in 2007. Frazier, of course, is one of the reasons the Gators are so red hot from deep lately. Over the last five games, he's 25-for-48. That's 52.1 percent. Yeah, that'll stretch a defense and open the lane. ... Trivia answer: Kentucky had six-game cushions in the SEC final standings twice. The Wildcats of ’95-96 went 16-0 and won the league by six games over Mississippi State, only to lose to the Bulldogs in the SEC Tournament title game; UK ’11-12 went 16-0, which was six games better than Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Florida, but the Wildcats again fell prey in the league tournament, losing to Vandy in the final. Worth noting: Both of those Kentucky teams went on to win national championships.

Wednesday March 5, 2014Charting the Gators: Frazier is 10th Billy D player to score 30

Updated: 11:08am, March 5

Frazier

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Don’t look now, but Michael Frazier II just made another 3-pointer.

The Florida sophomore shooting guard rained 11 on South Carolina in a 72-46 road win Tuesday night. The performance, obviously, was significant for the team because it fueled a 22nd straight win and improved the top-ranked Gators to 28-2 overall and 17-0 in Southeastern Conference play. It was significant for Frazier because the 11 treys were the most ever by a player in an SEC game, breaking the mark of 10 held collectively by LSU’s Chris Jackson, Auburn’s Lance Weems and Kentucky’s Jodie Meeks.

Frazier up As for UF context, Frazier was 17 points shy of the school record for points in a single game held by Tony Miller, who went for 54 against Chicago State on Feb. 29, 1972 at the old Florida Gym. Frazier was three points shy -- and actually missed his last long ball attempt -- of becoming just the seventh Gator to hit the 40-point milestone and first since Eugene "The Dunking Machine" McDowell flushed 40 on Biscayne on Dec. 21, 1982.

It was the 102nd time a UF player went for 30 in a game, but just the 13th time during Coach Billy Donovan’s 18 seasons. That’s because the system Donovan runs -- when executed correctly, as in the way the Gators are doing it now -- is not designed to get a guy a shot; it’s designed to get the best shot for any one of five guys on the floor.

Against a South Carolina defense that continuely left UF's 3-point assassin open from his most deadly long-distance spots, that guy was Frazier.

“That’s why I love the offense,” Frazier said after his lights-out performance made him just the 10th Donovan player to go for 30 and the first since Erving Walker in 2012. “It could be anybody. Tonight it was just my night.”

Of course, it helps when what you do best counts for one point extra.

Here’s the Billy D 30-point honor roll, led by guard Anthony Roberson (pictured right), who did it three times.

Anthony Roberson Pts    Player                           Date                       Opponent                   Outcome
37     Joakim Noah                March 1, 2006       Georgia                      W 77-66
         Michael Frazier            March 4, 2014        at South Carolina     W 72-46
35     Anthony Roberson      March 13, 2004     *vs Vanderbilt           W 91-69
34     Anthony Roberson      Jan. 12, 2005         at Auburn                  W 84-78 (OT)
33     Greg Stolt                     Dec. 10, 1996          South Florida           W 85-53
         Matt Walsh                    Dec. 21, 2002         at Miami                    W 94-93 (2OT)
         Nick Calathes               Feb. 10, 2009        at Kentucky                L 68-65
32     Nick Calathes              Jan. 3, 2009           North Carolina St.   W 68-66 
31     Jason Williams             Dec. 9, 1997          at Texas                     L 85-82
         Kenyan Weaks            March 5, 1998         *vs Auburn               W 68-64
         Matt Bonner                 Dec. 8, 2001           at South Florida        W 92-73
         Erving Walker              Feb. 18, 2012         at Arkansas               W 98-68
30     Anthony Roberson     Jan. 15, 2005         at Vanderbilt             W 82-65 

* Denotes SEC Tournament game

Gators celebrate GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Tulane and Georgia Tech left the Southeastern Conference after the 1964 season, dropping the league from 12 to 10 teams. The following year, each SEC team began playing 18 conference games and did so until the league expanded back to 12 teams (adding Arkansas and South Carolina) for the 1991-92 season.

Over those 27 seasons of playing an 18-game league schedule, three schools managed to go through the SEC season with a 17-1 mark: Kentucky did it three times (’65-66, ’69-70, ’85-86); Vanderbilt (’64-65) and LSU (’80-81) once each.

But never an 18-0.

That LSU team, by the way, is the only one in league history to have a 17-0 mark in conference play. The '80-81 Tigers lost their regular-season finale against Kentucky.

You know where this is going, right?

The numbers “18” and “zero” were not bandied about by Florida coach Billy Donovan or his players following their 79-61 thumping of the present-day Tigers Saturday, but this UF group sees an opportunity to do something truly special; something that has never been done before.

On a team that already has clinched an outright conference championship and is close to locking up a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, there needs to be other quests (and conquests) during the journey to keep the troops challenged, focused and motivated.

“There are opportunities out there for them to chase things,” Donovan said.

That will be the theme as top-ranked UF (27-2, 16-0) enters its final week of the regular season, with a Tuesday game at South Carolina (11-18, 4-12) and Saturday finale at home against Kentucky (21-8, 11-5) that will mark the final O’Connell Center appearance for seniors Casey Prather, Scottie Wilbekin, Will Yeguete and Patric Young.

What a week it could be.

Or, frankly, what a reality check it could be.

We'll see.

As the Gators like to say, they're chasing greatness.

LSU coach Johnny Jones was impressed by the effort Florida put forth in destroying his high-scoring Tigers despite having locked up the league title and top seed in the conference tournament.

“It says a lot about their team,” Jones said. “They sit here and they’ve already clinched the championship, and for the guys to come out and play as motivated and hard as they did tonight ... .”

He paused.

“The other motivation is for them to go undefeated in the league.”

Jones can talk about it. Others will talk about it.

On Sunday the Gators were back at work. They were talking about South Carolina.

 

THANKS FOR THE MEMORIES

Kudos to the O'Dome crowd for making members of the 1988-89 UF basketball feel welcome Saturday during their reunion to commemorate the 25-year anniversary of the program's first SEC title. A number of players, including Livingston Chatman, Clifford Lett, Renaldo Garcia and Brian Hogan were on hand. So was Ken Schintzius, father of Dwayne Schintzius, the 7-foot-2 center who died in 2012 following a battle with a rare form of leukemia. The sight of Mr. Schintzius breaking down as an image of his son was beamed on the JumboTron was a poignant one.

If you missed it, here's a video of the halftime celebration, including the highlight tribute to that team.




TRIVIA QUESTION

After watching the Gators shuffle nine guys in and out of their main rotation Saturday, I got to thinking about minutes. UF’s active leader in average minutes played for his career is Young at 24.1. Two-part question: Who is Florida’s all-time minutes leader per game and who is the leader during the Donovan era? Answer below in “Free Throws” section. 

 

FORMER GATOR UPDATE 

Sydney MossThis one was a little out of the box, but it was an easy call.

Sydney Moss, who starred for the UF women’s team as a freshman last season but opted to transfer to be closer to home, set a Division III single-game scoring record Friday night when she poured in 63 points for Thomas More College (Ohio) in the title game of the Presidents Athletic Conference Tournament.

Moss, averaging 28.6 points per game, went 24-for-41 from the floor (she made just one 3-pointer in four attempts) and 14-for-16 from the free-throw line against Waynesburg on the way to breaking the mark of D-III 61 set by Oberlin’s Ann Gilbert in 1991.

The daughter for former NFL star Randy Moss was Kentucky’s 2012 “Miss Basketball” as a senior. As a UF freshman she averaged 11.6 points and 6.7 points per game in helping lead the Gators to the semifinals of the WNIT.

In leaving Florida, Moss transferred to a school just across the Kentucky state line in suburban Cincinnati. Thomas More is 27-0 and ranked seventh in the D-III poll.


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CHARTING THE GATORS

That 13-for-22 performance from the 3-point line Saturday was far and away the best of the season. It’s not been a great year shooting the long ball for the Gators, with the exception of Michael Frazier II (and even his stats are down in SEC play compared to last year), so it seemed like a good time to crunch some 3-point numbers. This UF team is on pace to tie the third-worst shooting percentage from distance among Donovan’s 18 teams, yet it is taking, on average, the fewest of any Billy D squad at 15.6 per game. The 6.5 makes trending for the third-lowest of any Gators team since Donovan arrived in 1996-97. Wouldn't it be something if that .353 trend began tilting more in Florida’s favor and inching close toward the UF-under-Donovan all-time average of 37.4 percent and nearly eight treys per game. As Wilbekin put it after the LSU onslaught, “If we shot like this every game, we’d never lose.”
Scottie
Season      Pct.         Attempts per    Makes per
‘96-97        .374               22.6                8.46
‘97-98        .400               24.5                9.83
‘98-99        .379               24.6                9.32
‘99-00        .363               19.7                8.10
’00-01        .383               21.5                8.26
’01-02        .353               21.2                7.48
’02-03        .390               22.2                8.70
’03-04        .377               21.3                8.03
’04-05        .390               19.5                7.63
’05-06        .392               18.9                7.41
’06-07        .409               18.1                7.40
’07-08        .363               20.8                7.55
’08-09        .367               22.2                8.17
’09-10        .313               19.0                5.97
’10-11        .352               17.7                6.30
’11-12        .380               25.3                9.65
’13-13        .378               21.5                8.10
‘13-14        .353               15.6                6.51

Totals       .374                21.1               7.86     


FREE THROWS

Nice return to action by freshman point guard Kasey Hill, who led UF with five assists against the Tigers. Hill had missed the previous three games with a groin strain. ... Dorian Finney-Smith, after clanging 22 of 23 shots from 3-point range over a seven-game stretch, has gone 7-for-14 the last two games. ... Look for a big spread in Sports Illustrated this week, written by Andy Staples, that profiles the No. 1 Gators and focuses on their four seniors. Ace photographer Bill Frakes has been virtually embedded with the team for two weeks. ... Lots of complaints from fans about the Gators -- did we mentioned they’re ranked No. 1 in the nation -- being pretty much snubbed on ESPN SportsCenter Saturday night and Sunday morning for repeated coverage and highlights of Wichita State, Virginia and Oklahoma State, all of whom rang up huge wins during the day. Relax, people. Not only is that not a bad thing, this group of players doesn’t need that stuff to feel justified right now. Publicity does not drive this bunch.  ... Trivia question: UF’s all-time per-game minutes leader is forward Ronnie Williams, who also happens to be the school’s all-time scoring leader with 2,090 points from 1981-84. He logged an insane 35.43 per game. Under Donovan, it’s point guard Nick Calathes, who went 32.97 a game in ‘08-09.

 

Saturday March 1, 2014Dwayne Schnitzius remembered

Updated: 3:08pm, March 1

 

Dwayne and I

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The big story Saturday will be No. 1 Florida (26-2, 15-0) playing LSU (17-10, 8-7) with a chance to extend its school record to 21 straight victories and maintain its quest for an undefeated Southeastern Conference season.

But it's also an opportunity to remember another big story.

And a very big guy.

At halftime of the UF-LSU game, the 1988-89 Gators basketball team will be honored in recognition of the 25-year anniversary of the school's first Southeastern Conference championship. I wrote about that team and that magical season here, but I figured this was a a good opportunity to roll out a story I wrote in 2007 about the famous and equally infamous Dwayne Schintzius.

The 7-foot-2, 265-pound UF center, Schintzius was a lightning rod in the SEC along the lines of say, Ole Miss guard Marshall Henderson these days. He was a villified target everywhere he went. Much of it of his own doing, by the way.

But he also was one of the greatest players in Gators history -- and the only player in SEC history to score 1,500 points, grab 800 rebounds, dish 250 assists and block 200 blocks. 

Think about those numbers. 

Seven years ago, as Billy Donovan and that incomparable bunch led by Joakim Noah was about to embark on defense of its NCAA title, I was working in Tampa as abn NFL writer for The Orlando Sentinel and managed to track down Schintzius (not an easy task, by the way, and certainly worth the photo opp above) to commemorate the 20-year anniversary of UF's first NCAA Tournament game. Schintzius was a freshman and huge part -- literally -- of that team and thus began his high-profile and engimatic existence as Florida basketball worked its way, first to relevance, then to prominence.

Schintzius died at the age 42 following complications from a rare form of leukemia. His parents, Ken and Linda, will represent him today.

In his memory, here's the story I wrote of a man who grew to find both perspective and peace in his life after a very successful, very controversial time as a Gator.

 

*****************************************************************************************************

GLORY DAYS
20 years ago today, Dwayne Schintzius and the Gators found themselves in the Big Dance.

March 13, 2007

By Chris Harry
Orlando Sentinel Staff Writer

BRANDON, Fla. -- As he ducked through the doorway into the Sonny's Real Pit Barbecue on State Road 60, heads turned, eyes widened, lips whispered.
A smallish 70-ish man, wearing a John Deere hat, was waiting to be seated. Staring straight up, he couldn't help himself.

"My God! How tall are you?"

"Two-point-two meters, sir."

"What's that in English?"

Dwayne Schintzius removed his sunglasses, dropped a monstrous hand in the man's direction and answered the question as calmly as if he was ordering a side of slaw.

"Seven-foot-two, sir," he said. "You have a nice day."

Schintzius swears similar conversations take place 30, 50, sometimes 100 times a day. Between mouthfuls of all-you-can-eat brisket, four such exchanges (three customers, one waiter) occurred during a 50-minute lunch last week.

"I love it," he said.

There was a time when Schintzius viewed his height as a curse more than a blessing. Like the days when strangers would approach the biggest man on Florida's campus and ask, "How's the weather up there?"

The stock reply came after the loogie.

"It's raining."

Even giants need time to grow up.

"I look back on my life, and I didn't like myself," Schintzius, now 38, said with a smile. "I like myself now."

If only such admiration had been there in the 1980s. Without it, Schintzius never got to fully enjoy -- or lament -- his time as the lightning rod of Florida basketball. Exactly 20 years ago today -- March 13, 1987 -- the sixth-seeded Gators defeated North Carolina State 82-70 in Syracuse, N.Y., in Florida's first-ever NCAA Tournament game. The win was followed by an 85-66 rout of third-seeded Purdue that moved the Gators into the Sweet 16 and gave UF fans the first taste of a tradition it's grown to expect.

March Madness.

Schintzius, a gawky freshman from Brandon High, wasn't just in the middle of it all; he was the impetus of it all.

"We had some good players, and we'd been to three straight NITs," recalled then-UF assistant Monte Towe, now an assistant at North Carolina State. "But we didn't make the NCAAs until Dwayne got there. He was the missing piece."

Schintzius arrived in Gainesville in the fall of 1986. He stood 7 feet 1 and weighed a shade over 200 pounds, yet was a graceful athlete -- a former baseball pitcher and Punt, Pass and Kick champion who had outgrown every sport but one.

In addition to his size and wing span, Schintzius could run the floor, and had soft hands, a deft shooting touch and terrific basketball instincts. And he could pass.

From either the high or low post, Schintzius carved up defenses with pinpoint dishes to perimeter scorers Vernon Maxwell, Andrew Moten and Pat Lawrence. The 1986-87 team went 21-9 in the regular season, finished second in the Southeastern Conference at 12-6 and received an at-large NCAA bid.

"That was a fun team to watch," UF Athletic Director Jeremy Foley said.

It became a nightmare team to watch over, though.

An NCAA investigation into violations by then-coach Norm Sloan and his staff and DEA investigations of Maxwell and some teammates scandalized the on-the-rise program and made Florida basketball a national embarrassment -- even as the Gators captured the school's first SEC title two years later in 1989.

"More than anyone else," Towe said at the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament in Tampa last week, "I think Dwayne was affected most by what happened to us."

On his way to becoming the only player in SEC history to amass 1,500 points, 800 rebounds, 250 assists and 200 blocks, Schintzius' fame on the court was overshadowed by his infamy off it. Police run-ins, frat-party melees and the most controversial haircut (the "Lobster") in college sports turned Schintzius into a sideshow.

"I made a lot of mistakes back then, but I was a kid. And those mistakes got blown out of proportion because of who I was," said Schintzius, the No. 6 scorer in UF history with 1,624 points in 110 games (all starts). "If I had to do it all over again, I'd do some things differently. But that's not how life works."

Schintzius said his greatest regret was the decision to quit the team and renounce his scholarship 11 games into his senior season in 1989-90, after the preseason firing of Sloan and hiring of disciplinarian Don DeVoe. He and Schintzius clashed instantly, and Schintzius eventually announced his exit from the program via a release stating his refusal "to sail under the authority of Captain Ahab."

The decision left UF without its All-America center, left Schintzius' younger brother, Travis, to be the brunt of DeVoe's frustration and sank the reigning SEC champions to a 7-21 mark and last-place league finish.

Schintzius shrugged when asked to reflect on the Herman Melville reference.

"I'd never even read Moby Dick. Some lawyer who wanted to be my agent gave me a few drinks and told me to say it," Schintzius said. "I should have toughened it out and stayed my senior year, at least for my brother's sake, but I was too selfish.

"Without me there, DeVoe took everything out on him."

Had Schintzius left school after his junior season, NBA scouts had him pegged as a top-10 draft choice. Instead, his senior-year baggage brought a tumble to No. 24, where San Antonio -- already armed with center David Robinson -- selected him. One year and one painful back injury into his pro career, Schintzius was traded to Sacramento, starting a nine-year NBA odyssey of little achievement.

"I don't know where to put him as far as his potential or where he should have gotten, but he still did a lot for Florida and lot for himself," Towe said. "Maybe he was never as good as everybody wanted him to be, but Dwayne was a special player."

Fit and trim at around 275 pounds, thanks to his newfound affinity for kick-boxing and martial arts, he still looks like he could play. But seven surgeries keep him off the court.

Thanks to the NBA, though, Schintzius has enough money to dabble in various business opportunities, among them a partnership in a vitamin company and some acting opportunities, mostly in commercials.

What would he tell a young athlete?

"Get an education, figure out how to manage your own money . . . oh, yeah, and get your wife to sign a prenuptial agreement," said Schintzius, who is twice divorced and has no children. "Above all, learn from your mistakes.

"I still make them -- who doesn't? -- but I learn from them."

As he left the restaurant, gawkers dropped their jaws when Schintzius, to prove a point about his flexibility, touched his foot to the 9-foot ceiling. He did it with ease.

"Thanks," he said to the cashier. "Have a good one, ma'am."

At 2.2 meters, the weather is more pleasant up there now

Friday February 28, 2014Another SEC title to their own is nice, but Gators thinking bigger

Updated: 5:20pm, February 28

Starting 5 Gators

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Around 9:40 Thursday night, Arkansas finished off a big 71-67 overtime road win over Kentucky at Rupp Arena.

With the final horn, the Florida Gators had officially clinched the 2014 Southeastern Conference title. Minutes later, UF’s four seniors -- Patric Young, Will Yeguete, Scottie Wilbekin and Casey Prather -- got a text message from Coach Billy Donovan.

What happened in Lexington has nothing to do with us.

Those words began trickling down to the rest of the team.

More to the point, they were embraced by the team.

The No. 1-ranked Gators (26-2, 15-0), winners of a school-record 20 in a row, aspire to bigger things than SEC championships this season, starting with being the very best they can be Saturday against LSU (17-10, 8-7) at the O’Connell Center.

“It’s nice. We worked for it. But at the same time we’re trying to chase greatness,” sophomore guard Michael Frazier said Friday. “We’re not settling for this. We still have a game tomorrow, and that’s what we’re focusing on. It’s great to have that honor, but we still have a lot of things to accomplish. We still have a lot of goals.”

Those goal, of course, will not be talked about publicly, but imaginations don’t exactly have to run too wild to figure out what they might be. This is a team that twice lost the SEC Tournament title game the last three years, and three times has fallen one win shy of the Final Four.

For now, though, it’s about -- have you heard this before? -- “living in the moment,” which means facing a talented Tigers squad very capable of coming to the O’Dome and bursting the UF bubble. The Gators also go Tuesday night to South Carolina and finish the regular season at home March 8 against what figures to be a Kentucky team out to prove a point by blowing up Florida's much-anticipated “Senior Day.”

For what it’s worth, no team other than Kentucky has gone unbeaten through the SEC schedule the last 57 years; and no team in college basketball history has gone undefeated in an 18-game conference season.

So there are some carrots still dangling out there for the season’s final week.

“Our guys certainly set out to compete for an SEC championship in early January, but the league’s not over,” Donovan said. “We’ve done a good job up to this point of staying focused and going through the process of getting prepared each game and I don’t think this game is any different for us. You want to continue playing well. ... I still think there’s a lot out there for this team.”

That’s exactly what sophomore forward Dorian Finney-Smith said.

With the proper spin, courtesy of his coach.

“We’re striving for greatness,” Finney-Smith said, repeating one of Donovan's many catch phrases. “We’re thinking about bigger things.”

Kasey Hill vs KentuckyGAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Backup point guard Kasey Hill returned to practice Thursday, which means senior starter Scottie Wilbekin can breathe a little easier.

At least two or three minutes worth.

Hill, the Florida freshman averaging 5.6 points, 3.1 assists and 23.4 minutes per game, had been sidelined the previous three contests with a strained groin muscle suffered in the second half of the team’s win at Kentucky on Feb. 15. Wilbekin was averaging 33.4 minutes when Hill was available, but was forced to log 35 minutes against Auburn, 38 at Ole Miss, and 38 again at Vanderbilt -- and all at the point guard spot; all while guarding the opponent's best perimeter offensive player.

“It’s helps Scottie, yes,” Coach Billy Donovan said of Hill’s return.

It also helps with UF’s rotation options. In addition to giving Wilbekin some time on the bench, the No. 1-ranked Gators (26-2, 15-0) can get back to using Hill in a variety of combinations -- such as the “small ball” look with Wilbekin at the off-guard and Frazier at the small forward -- and they can do it as soon as Saturday when LSU (17-10, 8-7) comes to town for a 4 p.m. Southeastern Conference date at the O’Connell Center.

“Scottie always told me he wasn’t tired, but I knew others guys would get tired without an extra guy to go,” Hill said after practice Thursday. “I’m just glad I can get back out there and do my part and help the team.”

UF trainer David “Duke” Werner said Hill could have played Tuesday at Vandy, but never really considered clearing him. The cautious path (and an extra three days of recovery) was the prudent way to go, he said.

“It’s a tough [injury],” Werner said. “One misstep, one mishap, he could have been out another month.”

Instead, the Gators get their speed-dribbler and up-tempo guy back for the home stretch of the season. UF’s win Tuesday in Nashville, Tenn., clinched at least a share of the SEC title, but the Gators can win the crown outright with one victory in their finally three league games.

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