Thursday May 22, 2014 Billy D to address Harris exit, Horford and Egbunu arrival today
Updated: 9:53am, May 22
Welcome to Harry Fodder!
Updated: 9:53am, May 22
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Billy Donovan will meet with the media Thursday morning for the first time since he guided the Florida Gators to the Final Four early last month.
At the top of the list of topics Donovan will address is the news that broke Tuesday regarding nomadic center Damontre Harris, who left the program two weeks ago for the second time in six months.
Harris, the 6-foot-10 junior who transferred to UF two summers ago after a solid two seasons at South Carolina, never played a minute for the Gators despite being eligible by NCAA guidelines the entire ’13-14 season.
Accountability issues last fall got Harris suspended from the team twice. In December, Donovan had had enough and dismissed Harris from the squad, only to agree to bring him back for the start of the spring semester with the understanding Harris would not play the rest of season and have to meet pre-determined requirements to be reinstated for the ’14-15 season.
He did not meet them.
As a sophomore in 2011-12, Harris averaged 6.8 points, 5.5 rebounds and was second in the Southeastern Conference with 2.3 blocked shots per game while being named to the league’s All-Defensive team. He certainly could have helped the Gators, but it’s not like they’ll miss him now that he's gone. As far as the rotation, he was never really here.
For Harris, his options are limited. Because he only has one year of eligibility left, he'd have to drop down to Division II classification to play right away, unless the NCAA granted him some sort of waiver, which is unlikely. He could also opt to give professional ball overseas a try.
As for the Gators and the low post, the addition of 6-10 transfer Jon Horford, by way of Michigan, offsets the loss of Harris. Horford averaged 3.8 points on 54.7-percent shooting and 4.2 rebounds in just under 14 minutes per game as a reserve for the Wolverines. All told, Horford played in 69 games the last two seasons, as Michigan advanced to the national title game in '12-13 and NCAA East Region final in '13-14.
Because Horford graduated from UM with a year of eligibility remaining and enrolled in post-graduate classes, he's eligible to play for UF next season.
The Gators also will benefit from the addition of 6-10, 245-pound sophomore John Egbunu, whose transfer from South Florida became official earlier this week. Egbunu averaged 6.2 points and 7.4 rebounds for the Bulls on his way to be named to the American Athletic Conference All-Freshman team.
Egbunu, who had 20 points and 14 rebounds in a game against Memphis, must sit out next season per transfer rules, but his availability at practice will be a significant, especially for the development of sophomore center Chris Walker.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- It’s going to seem weird around here next basketball season without Patric Young.
Hell, it already does.
Young, the consummate student-athlete and one of the most accomplished big men in the history of the Florida basketball program, is knee-deep in the evaluation process heading toward next month’s NBA Draft. So far, so good, also.
Projected as a likely second-round pick, Young went to Chicago last week and measured in at 6-foot-10 -- one inch more than his UF height -- to go with a 7-foot and 3/4-inch wingspan. And to exactly no one’s surprise, Young dropped down on the bench press and cranked out a combine-best 25 reps of 185 pounds and popped a 37 1/2-inch vertical jump that was second only to Arizona’s Aaron Gordon.
Young then went out and played well against the combine competition. His face-up game wasn't great (not his strength), but he made good on those baby jump hooks that helped the Gators win 30 in a row last season, capture both the Southeastern Conference regular season and tournament titles with a perfect (and unprecedented 21-0 mark), and advance to the Final Four. Young finished his career as just the 11th player in UF history to score at least 1,300 points and grab at least 800 rebounds (1,307 and 849, respectively).
His draft stock is on the uptick, which makes sense -- and shouldn't be a big surprise. Once the NBA draft starts venturing into the late-first round (and actually well before that in most years), it's all about projection and fit, especially with so many international players. A team that is looking for a reliable young player to develop for its frontcourt -- someone who who can come off the bench, play defense and be absolutely no problem in the locker room or away from the court -- may take a good, hard look at the former Gator.
In the below video, Young sat down during the combine with Seth Davis and my friends at CampusInsiders.com. He was asked about coming to terms with the disappointment of falling to Connecticut in the Final Four.
Leave it to @BigPatYoung4 to give such a true orange-and-blue answer.
“I hate to say it,” Young began, “I was just really glad Kentucky didn’t win it all.”
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Some of the best strength and conditioning work among the nation’s college basketball programs is done in the Florida Gators’ gym under the watchful and demanding eye of Preston Greene. All anyone need do is look at Patric Young, Will Yeguete and Casey Prather to know that.
Note: Chris Walker, who arrived in midseason, is finding out all about it now (much to his dismay).
This week, though, Greene said goodbye to another one of his proteges, top assistant Collin Crane, who will take over the strength program for Missouri State basketball starting next week. He’ll also oversee the men’s and women’s golf teams.
Crane, 23, played basketball at Division II Carson-Newman, so he has a built-in understanding of the best way to condition for the game. And now he’ll embark on the next step of his career with the experience of apprenticing under Greene, one of the absolute best in the business, with a chance to apply what he learned at UF to players in the Missouri Valley Conference.
“I’ve watched tape of them and tried to determine how they play,” Crane said, noting the Bears had a 20-point lead on unbeaten Wichita State during the season, only to become just another victim of the Shockers' 35-game winning streak. “It’s an opportunity to build a foundation with a really young team and make what we do in the weight room part of the culture there.”
Crane, who doubled as strength coach for the Gators men's tennis squad, is one of several support staff members leaving Coach Billy Donovan's program. Assistant video coordinator Billy O’Meara is headed to Minnesota to head up the video crew for the Gophers and Coach Richard Pitino, while the manager trio of Colby Donovan, Brandon Gilbert and David Moats -- yes, all of @UFManager fame on Twitter -- graduated earlier month.
I stopped by the gym Friday to say goodbye to Crane, who in addition to "smashing" Gators the last two years also was gracious with his time for the support staff’s workout sessions. For that, I say thank you.
How key is building relationships with players in the weight room? “I believe that is huge in this industry. We take those guys to the dark side, push them to their limits and see them at their weakest moments. You can’t take advantage of them. You have to build trust. You’re building them mentally and physically, but also tearing them down mentally and physically. You have to know where to draw a line once you’ve taken them to those weak spots.”
How has your philosophy for training athletes changed since coming to UF? “It definitely has, though I wouldn’t say it’s night and day. It’s improved my perception of how college athletes should train. We’re preparing these guys for battle. It’s not just about bench press and squat numbers. We’re sculpting these athletes and putting their body armor on them so they can withstand the longest season in college sports. Guys have to be tough.”
Two years ago, Will Greenberg was here and now he's the head strength coach at Army. Last year, Griffin Waller left to join the staff at Stanford. Now you. What will you take from your time with Preston? “The guy is the best. I don’t just mean that in a professional sense. He’s one of the top strength coaches in the country because he’s so innovative. He’s been in the industry for 16 or 17 years and he’s seen a lot of changes. There are a lot of strength coaches out there that haven’t adapted with the times. They don’t alter their methods and program to adapt to the evolution of how the game is played. I think Preston has done a great job of adapting and keeping in tune with the changes, pace and physicality of the game.”
How much pride did you take in a 21-0 Southeastern Conference record, 30 straight wins and a trip to the Final Four? “We take a lot of pride in that, but all the credit goes to the players. They buy into the system and realize the importance of what we’re doing in here. They’ve been committed. And you love it when you get through a season without any major injuries ... and then winning all those games along the way, that was special."
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Forgive me while I step back into my NFL writers mode.
Anyone who follows this blog knows I like to revisit the old days, so while colleague Scott Carter hacks away about the Gators and the 2014 NFL draft, I figured it was a good time to delve into Florida’s draft history.
This is the fifth year the NFL has split the draft into three days, with the first round getting Day 1 -- Thursday night in prime time -- all to itself. No Gators are expected to go when Commissioner Roger Goodell gavel’s the proceedings to order, so it looks like it'll be the ninth time since 1983 a UF player has not been taken in Round 1.
Those other years: 1992, ’93, ’94, ’96, ’04, ’05, ’06 and ’12.
While we’re on the subject of first-round picks, the Gators have had 45 of them since running back Paul Duhart was taken in Round 1 (second overall) by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1945. That was the same year Steve Spurrier was born and, ironically, Spurrier happened to be the next UF player taken in the first round.
Spurrier was selected third overall by the San Francisco 49ers in 1967, but never developed into a top-flight quarterback, though he did set a franchise record with five touchdown passes in a game (a mark later broken by Joe Montana). Spurrier, however, hung around the NFL for 10 seasons and was a pretty good punter, but I'm not sure that disqualifies him the list of infamous first-round Florida flameouts along with the likes of John Reaves, Huey Richardson, Reggie McGrew, Derrick Harvey and Tim Tebow.
As for my list of best UF first-round picks, what do you think?
1) Emmitt Smith (Dallas, 1990, 17th overall). NFL’s all-time rushing leader with 18,355 yards, three-time Super Bowl champion, eight-time Pro-Bowler, four-time NFL rushing champion and first-ballot Pro Football Hall-of-Famer. Smith (pictured above right) is the only choice for this spot, right? Right.
2) Wilber Marshall (Chicago, 1984, 11th overall). Beastly outside linebacker -- maybe the greatest defensive player in UF history -- who starred on arguably the greatest defense in NFL history for the Bears. In 1988, Marshall (right) signed a free-agent contract before there was even free agency. He got big money from Washington and helped the Redskins win a Super Bowl, too.
3) Wes Chandler (New Orleans, 1978, 3rd overall). Was great for the Saints, but even greater as one Dan Fouts’ targets for those explosive “Air Coryell” offenses in San Diego.
4) Jack Youngblood (Los Angeles Rams, 1971, 20th overall). Linebacker from Monticello became the first UF-produced Pro Football Hall of Famer in 2001. One of the toughest, most ferocious and passionate players of his era.
5) Lomas Brown (Detroit Lions, 1985, 6th overall). An 18-year offensive left tackle whose career spanned three decades (1980s, 1990s and 2000s), was voted to seven Pro Bowls and named first-team All-Pro three times. Won a Super Bowl as a backup with Tampa Bay in ’02.
6) Kevin Carter (St. Louis Rams, 1995, 6th overall). Exemplary student-athlete, Carter became a Pro Bowl defensive end for the ’99 Super Bowl champion Rams and went on to star for Tennessee, Miami and Tampa Bay, as well. Carter (right) is one of only 30 players in NFL history to record 100 sacks in a career, Carter’s 104.5 is tied for 25th all-time.
7) Jevon Kearse (Tennessee Titans, 1999, 16th overall). They were calling him “The Freak” before everybody it seemed was called a “freak.” He broke the league’s rookie record for sacks with 14.5 and won ’99 Defensive Rookie of Year honors while helping the Titans reach the Super Bowl (where they lost to Carter’s Rams).
8) Fred Taylor (Jacksonville Jaguars, 1998, 9th overall). One of only 28 players in NFL history to reach 10,000 career rushing yards, Taylor currently ranks 15th on the all-time list with 11,695 yards. He retired after the 2010 season.
9) Trace Armstrong (Chicago Bears, 1989, 12th overall). Another 100-sacks club member. He checks in at 24th with 106. Armstrong returned to school to get his law degree, went on to become president of the NFL Players Association and now is agent for several high-profile coaches and sports media personalities.
10) Percy Harvin (Minnesota Vikings, 2009, 22nd overall). Tough to imagine 21 players better than this guy in that draft. Harvin was Offensive Rookie of the Year playing alongside Brett Favre. Granted, Harvin has had his injury issues -- that's why he was traded to Seattle for 1st, 3rd and 7th-round picks -- but he showed his dazzling game-changing skills in the Seahawks Super Bowl XLIII blowout of Denver in February with that 87-yard kickoff return to start the second half and break the game open.
Now, as an off-shoot (and perhaps more applicable, given where many of the 2014 Gators are rated heading into this year’s allocation), here’s a look at who I consider the 10 best bargain draft picks who came out of Florida.
1) Nat Moore (Miami Dolphins, 1974, 3rd round, 78th overall). He caught 510 passes for 7,466 yards and 74 touchdowns in 13 NFL seasons -- all with the Dolphins. He started his career catching passes from Bob Griese and ended it catching them from Dan Marino, both of Hall of Famers. In 1984, Moore was voted NFL Man of the Year and went on to be the color analyst for Gators replays on Sun Sports.
2) Brad Culpepper (Minnesota Vikings, 1992, 10th round, 264th overall). One of the all-time great student-athletes at UF -- also student body vice president -- Culpepper was considered too small for the league and lasted into a round that doesn't even exist anymore (the draft is just seven rounds now). Despite being the 29th defensive tackle taken that year, he went on to play nine seasons in the NFL. His bests days were as Warren Sapp’s nose tackle and wing man in that vaunted Tampa 2 scheme with the Buccaneers. He had 34 sacks in his career, including 8.5 in 1997.
3) Max Starks (Pittsburgh Steelers, 2004, 3rd round, 75th overall). Started 96 of his 125 NFL games and played on two Super Bowl championship teams with the Steelers, blocking for Ben Roethlisberger.
4) Don Chandler (New York Giants, 1956, 5th round, 57th). He eventually became the placekicker for Vince Lombardi and the Green Bay Packers teams that won the first two Super Bowls and was named as the punter of the NFL’s All-Decade Team for the 1960s. Chandler still holds a share of the record for most field goals in a Super Bowl (4). Oh, and in 1965, he had -- get this -- a 90-yard punt in a game against the 49ers.
5) David Little (Pittsburgh Steelers, 1981, 7th round, 183rd overall). Played 12 seasons in the NFL, started 125 games, including 81 in a row during one stretch. Little died in 2005 at the age of 42 when he accidentally dropped 250 pounds of bench-press weights on his throat.
6) Alex Brown (Chicago Bears, 2002, 4th round, 104th overall). Played nine NFL seasons, all but one with the Bears, and started 123 of 145 games -- losing to Peyton Manning in Super Bowl XL at Miami -- and totaled 45.5 sacks.
7) Bobby McCray (Jacksonville Jaguars, 2004, 7th round, 249th). Played four years with the Jaguars, but made a much bigger name (and more money after signing a five-year, $20 million free-agent deal) with the New Orleans Saints. McCray put the infamous “bounty” hit on Arizona’s Kurt Warner in a 2009 playoff game, then a week later did the same to Favre against the Vikings and was fined $20,000 for his actions.
8) Ray McDonald (San Francisco 49ers, 2007, 3rd round, 97th overall). Has been a key player on the 49ers defensive line the last several seasons and started in Super Bowl XLVII won by the Baltimore Ravens. McDonald, who signed a $20 million contract extension in 2011, has 134 career tackles and 13 sacks.
9) Bobby Joe Green (Pittsburgh Steelers, 1959, 9th round, 102nd overall). Still holds the UF record for punting average in a season (44.9 yards). Green (that's his football card to the right) was traded to the Bears in 1962 and was a member the ’63 NFL championship squad coached by he legendary George Halas. Green died at his home in Gainesville in 1993 at the age of 57 following a heart attack.
10) Cooper Carlisle (Denver Broncos, 1999, 4th round, 112th overall). He was neither flashy nor talkative during his UF days, but Carlisle was a mid-round draft pick of Mike Shanahan's and and stuck in the NFL as an offensive guard for 13 seasons, playing in 190 games and starting 133 of them.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Jaterra Bonds was listening to the keynote speaker during Thursday’s luncheon for graduating University of Florida student-athletes when her phone started vibrating. The caller ID said it was basketball coach Amanda Butler.
Bonds quietly answered.
“Step outside really quickly,” Butler said.
Bonds popped out of the Gator Room and then got the news; the WNBA Indiana Fever was wondering if Bonds, the point guard, top scorer and unquestioned leader of the Florida’s 2013-14 NCAA Tournament squad, might be interested in coming to tryout camp this weekend.
First, there was silence, the deafening variety, followed by some some stammering.
“It was so emotional,” Bonds said. “I didn’t cry, but I was sort of lost for words.”
Added Butler: “I know the kid well enough to know exactly what her face looked like and what was going through her mind. She didn’t scream, but she was over the moon. Jaterra wanted a chance so badly and didn’t think it was going to happen, but you never know when those opportunities are going to come. You have to be ready.”
She wasn’t taken in the WNBA draft last month, so Bonds will have to do it the hard way. That’s OK, too. Bonds, the Gainesville P.K. Yonge product who averaged 15.6 points as a senior and finished seventh on the school’s all-time scoring list with 1,602 points and first in career minutes played with 4,294, has never been one to take the easy route. In fact, she was all set to give professional hoops overseas a crack this summer.
Then her phone rang at lunch.
"I can't believe it," she said.
Now, Bonds will finish up classes Friday, be on a plane Saturday to Indy, deal with tryouts and preseason games next week, then be back the following weekend walk the O'Connell Center's graduation stage and pick up her degree in telecommunications.
But first, you can say she has the Fever.
“Before that phone call, everything was up in the air, but you just never know when you might get that call,” Bonds said. “You just want to be ready -- and I will be ready when I get there, I promise you that.”
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Redshirt freshman safety Marqui Hawkins has decided to transfer from the University of Florida and look to continue his collegiate football career elsewhere.
A 6-foot-1, 213-pounder from Columbus, Ga., Hawkins was part of Florida's 2013 signing class and came to UF as a wideout. He did not play during the fall season and was moved to the secondary during spring practice by the coaching staff.
Hawkins had one tackle in the Orange & Blue Debut spring game earlier this month.
“Marqui came to me and expressed an interest in getting a fresh start on the football field,” Gators coach Will Muschamp said. “He was never in trouble off the field and was attentive in the classroom. We appreciate the way he carried himself and represented the program and wish him nothing but the best of luck in the future.”
Hawkins, who caught 41 passes for 800 yards and six touchdowns during his senior season at Columbus Carver High, chose UF over a list of 15 schools that also included Clemson, Tennessee, Southern Cal and North Carolina.
“I appreciate the support that has been in place since the day I got to Gainesville,” Hawkins said. “I will always remember my boys in the locker room and the coaching staff, but I think it’s in my best interest to get a fresh start playing football somewhere else. I will be watching next fall as the program continues to rise back to the top.”
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- It wasn’t intended as a trick question, but you wouldn’t have know it from the look on Tim Walton’s face.
“I honestly don’t remember,” Walton said when asked last week to recall his first game as a college softball coach. “I know where we were. It was at Texas-San Antonio. And I know we lost.”
When you’ve coached as many as Walton a few are bound to slip from the memory banks.
But the very first one? C’mon.
“Wait,” he said. “I think we actually won.”
Yes, Wichita State defeated Texas-San Antonio 5-1 on Feb. 14, 2003 to mark Walton’s first career win.
On Sunday, the fifth-ranked Gators defeated No. 21 Texas A&M 8-0 on Sunday to not only hand UF a huge sweep in a pivotal Southeastern Conference series, but present Walton with his 600th career victory. Over his 12 seasons (the first three at WSU, the last nine at Florida) that averages out to 50 a year. Walton’s 2014 Gators improved to 40-8 and are on pace to hit that 50 mark -- and then some -- with seven regular-season games to go, plus the postseason after that.
With the milestone approaching, Walton was asked last week what it mean to be in such rarified numerical air.
“Not a whole lot, personally,” said Walton, whose team crushed the Aggies by a combined score of 30-5 at College Station, Texas. “What it makes you think about is the span of players you’ve coached. That’s the beauty of winning games and winning a lot of games. You think of all the kids and personalities.”
His record at Florida now stands at 477-110, which converts a .813 winning percentage.
“It’s funny,” Walton said. “Every coach always says, ‘Yeah, wait till next year, we’ve got these guys coming in.’ Now, after all these wins and you asking me about it, you start thinking, ‘Man, I remember this kid or that kid and that kid.’ You go backward, but that’s a cool thing.”
One day, one of those kids he’s thinking about will be pitcher Hannah Rogers, who struck out nine Sunday on the way to her 20th win of the season and 117th of her UF career.
That’s 37 percent of Walton’s wins for the Gators.
"He's just an awesome coach,” said Rogers, the senior from Lake Wales, Fla. “He's always trying to fix anything that we might be having a problem with. Whether it's hitting, pitching, defense or communication, he's always trying to get better in all aspects.”
Rest assured, he’ll continue to do just that ... all the way to 700.
CHARTING THE GATORS
With Tim Walton ringing career win No. 600 Sunday, here's a some other Florida coaches with big numbers on their career ledger.
Coach Sport UF record Career record
Mary Wise Volleyball 23 seasons, 714-84 27 seasons, 795-147
Tim Walton Softball 10 seasons, 477-110 13 seasons, 600-135
Billy Donovan M-Basketball 18 seasons, 451-169 20 seasons, 486-189
Becky Burleigh Soccer 19 seasons, 337-90-28 25 seasons, 419-113-34
Roland Thornqvist W-Tennis 13 seasons, 321-38 18 seasons, 396-89
Kevin O'Sullivan Baseball 7 seasons, 278-145 7 seasons, 278-145
Bryan Shelton M-Tennis 2 seasons, 30-19 15 seasons, 257-127
Amanda O'Leary Lacrosse 5 seasons, 78-20-5 18 seasons, 240-85
Rhonda Faehn Gymnastics 12 seasons, 210-43-4 12 seasons, 210-43-4
Amanda Butler W-Basketball 7 seasons, 140-95 9 seasons, 180-117
Updated: 10:56am, April 19
UPDATE: Several hours after this story was posted, reports surfaced Friday night that Memphis Grizzlies guard Nick Calathes, an All-Southeastern Conference player at Florida during the 2008 and '09 seasons, had been suspended by 20 games for violating the league's substance policy. According to a Yahoo! story Saturday, the NBA Players Association will appeal the ruling. In the interim, Calathes will not play for Grizzlies when their series against Oklahoma City opens Saturday, which reduces the Gators in the playoffs to eight (one less than former North Carolina players).
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The NBA playoffs tip off this weekend and guess what college will have the most players suiting up in the postseason?
Well, since you’re reading GatorZone.com ...
That’s right. Out of the 12 former Billy Donovan pupils that played in the NBA this season, nine of them are on teams still playing and competing for the world championship. Only Atlanta’s Al Horford, who will miss the Hawks playoff series against Indiana with a pectoral tear, Minnesota’s Corey Brewer and Erik Murphy, who was waived by Chicago two weeks ago, are sitting the postseason out.
[Note: We’ll say Brewer’s consolation prize was that career night Monday when he blew up for 51 points in a win over Houston]
UF tied the alums-in-postseason count with North Carolina. Duke is next with eight, followed by Kansas, Kentucky and Texas at seven, and Connecticut with six.
Heading into the 2013-14 NBA season, Florida’s 12 players on NBA rosters tied with UConn for the fourth-most of any college program. Kentucky led the way with 22, followed by UNC with 14, then Duke with 13.
Here’s a quick look at the Gators in the playoffs, along with a video at bottom, courtesy of our colleagues at GatorVision, profiling the Donovan and his staff’s impressive track record for sending players to NBA.
* Bradley Beal, forward, Washington Wizards
One of just two Donovan players who took the “one-and-done” route, Beal (pictured above) helped guide the Wizards to their first playoff berth since 2008 in just his second season since being taken No. 3 overall in the 2012 draft. Beal, still only 20 years old, averaged 17.1 points, 3.7 rebounds per game, 3.3 assists and shot 40.2 percent from 3-point range. Beal and point guard John Wall, the former No. 1 overall pick in 2010 out of Kentucky, make up one of the top young backcourts in the league. The Wizards, the No. 5 seed in the Eastern Conference, open their series with the Chicago (and another former Gator) Sunday night.
* Matt Bonner, forward, San Antonio
Now in his ninth season, Bonner still gets some minutes here and there for the Spurs, who finished with the league’s best record and have the top seed in the Western Conference. He averaged 3.2 points, 2.3 rebounds and 11.3 minutes in his 61 games this season. San Antonio opens its series with Dallas on Sunday.
* Nick Calathes, guard, Memphis
The rookie who played four seasons in Greece before jumping to the NBA this season came on strong late in the year. Calathes finished the year averaging 4.9 points and nearly three assists per game while shooting nearly 46 percent from the floor. Calathes' first taste of the NBA playoffs comes Saturday at Oklahoma City.
* Udonis Haslem, forward, Miami
He’s certainly not the player he was in his prime -- remember his contributions with Dwayne Wade during the run to the 2006 crown? -- but now 33 and in his 10th season, Haslem has a chance to win a third straight NBA title alongside LeBron James. He only played 14 minutes per game and averaged 3.8 points and 3.8 rebounds, but the Heat know they can count on him to do his job. The Heat and Charlotte, making the first playoff appearance in franchise history, are first-round opponents. That series starts Sunday.
* David Lee, forward, Golden State
The loss of center Andrew Bogut to a broken rib makes Lee all the more important to the Warriors in their series against the Los Angeles Clippers. Bogut’s loss takes 7.3 points and 10 rebounds from the Golden State lineup. Lee, the two-time all-star, has better numbers than that (19.2 ppg, 9.3 ppg), but he’ll probably need more than his usual 33 minutes in the playoffs to help offset the missing Bogut.
* Mike Miller, forward, Memphis
In addition to being a Grizzly, he’s the most grizzled of all the Gators’ NBA vets -- with 913 career games (not including the playoffs) over 13 seasons and those back-to-back titles in Miami alongside Haslem, his buddy and former UF teammate. You know what Miller does. He’s just solid and steady: 7.1 points, 2.5 rebounds, 1.7 assists in nearly 21 minutes in all 82 games for Memphis (only four starts).
* Joakim Noah, center, Chicago
If there were a second tier of MVP conversations (the one after James and Kevin Durant), Noah would be in them. His second straight all-star season shows 12.6 points per game, 11.3 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.5 blocks per game. Noah (pictured left) likely is headed for a second straight naming to the NBA’s All-Defensive Team. He’s definitely headed for a first-round playoff matchup against Beal. No, the two didn’t play with one another, but their Gator bonds will make for something of a series storyline -- and a lot of interested viewership in the UF coaches offices.
* Chandler Parsons, forward, Houston
The guy’s on the brink of being a superstar -- and a very wealthy one, also. Parsons, the 2011 Southeastern Conference Player of the Year for the Gators, averaged 16.6 points, 5.5 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 1.2 steals while nailing 37 percent of his 3-point shots. Oh, and he's doing freaking underwear ads now. The Rockets tip their series against Portland at home Sunday night.
* Marreese Speights, forward, Golden State
He’s a key sub off the bench for the Warriors and the aforementioned Bogut situation likely impacts him, too. Speights only started three games this season, averaging 6.4 points, 3.6 rebounds and just over 12 minutes. But the way Golden State and the LA Clippers get up and down the floor, he could be in the middle of some high-scoring action in that series.
Updated: 1:41pm, April 17
ALACHUA, Fla. -- Tom Rose was holed up in a third-floor conference room Wednesday morning at his RTI Surgical office about 15 miles north of the University of Florida campus. RTI’s executive vice president for administration was on a video conference with the company’s president and CEO, whose image was projected on large screen at the front of the room.
Suddenly, the meeting was interrupted.
In walked a UPS courier.
In walked UF cheerleaders, followed by Albert the Alligator, plus a film crew.
And in walked Billy Donovan.
“I have no idea what’s going on right now,” said a stunned Rose (pictured right).
Just a routine work-day delivery, that’s all.
OK, maybe not so routine.
Donovan, just off his 2013-14 basketball team’s run to the Final Four, donned UPS logo wear and made the day for a pair of local execs who double as big Gator fans and loyal UPS customers. The special deliveries were part of Donovan’s endorsement deal with UPS -- a follow-up to his “logistics” commercial (see below) that ran throughout the NCAA Tournament in 2013 -- and will be featured along with several other basketball personalities (such as this one with Jay Bilas) on the company’s website.
In the packages handed off to both Rose and later to Jody Phillips, chief financial officer at Exactech in Gainesville, were basketballs that were soon unpacked, signed and presented by the UF coach to the customers for their steadfast commitment to UPS.
Both men were afforded photo opportunities with the coach and his delivery crew, followed by some Gator cheers and chants alongside co-workers. Donovan even had a few words for that RTI executive, Brian Hutchison, on the other end of the teleconference being beamed in from Germany.
“Congratulations on a great year,” said Hutchison, who oversees a corporation that provides sterile biological implants for surgeries worldwide. “Hopefully, you can find some replacements for those four seniors in time for next year.”
Said Donovan: “If not, I’ll be doing a lot more UPS deliveries.”
It won’t take long for RTI Surgical or Exactech, a global innovator for bone and joint restoration products, to get the word out of their unexpected and pleasant distraction Wednesday.
“Total shock,” Rose said later. “Everybody in the company will know within about 15 minutes what just happened. We’ll have it on our internal website and I’m sure people will be calling friends and family. What a great surprise.”
Phillips, who attended the Final Four with his son two weekends ago, was in a closed-door presentation when Donovan and friends came calling. After the mini-ceremony, Phillips had glowing things to say about the Gators, the UF program and the coach.
“I just love how he does things and how he does it the right way,” said Phillips (surrounded by his Exactech colleagues, right). “Great delivery guy too. Certainly travels with quite the entourage.”
Some may recognize the real-life courier in the photo above. That’s Wyndell Jenkins, the Gainesville-area UPS delivery man who appeared in the last year’s commercial with Donovan and his staff.
But it’s also Wyndell Jenkins, local hoops hero. He led Hawthorne High to the 1987 Class 1A state title, averaging 21 points, eight assists and six steals a game. Jenkins eventually signed with UF, played sparingly as a freshman and transferred to Daytona Beach Community College.
Donovan strapped into the fold-down passenger seat in the UPS truck and rode shotgun alongside Jenkins to both delivery sites.
“Got the whole treatment," Donovan said. "First class all the way."
Same for his customers.
Updated: 4:56pm, April 8
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.
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.
ARLINGTON, 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.
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
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."
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
Some stuff I saw pop up on my timeline that caught my eye maybe a little more some other Gators-centrist tweets.
This team is special. I thank God for everything this team has accomplished. God is so good thank you for allowing us to be #FINALFOURBOUND— Patric Young (@BigPatYoung4) March 30, 2014
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.
Florida seniors Patric Young, left, and Will Yeguete prepare to board plane for Memphis.
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.
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.
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.”
Murphy, 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.
“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.”
CHARTING THE GATORS
GAINESVILLE, 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.
Teams: Alabama, Auburn, Kentucky, LSU
Fallout: LSU advanced to Final Four (pictured right); Auburn and Kentucky fell in regional final.
Teams: Alabama, Florida, LSU
Fallout: LSU lost in regional final; Alabama and UF lost in Sweet 16.
Teams: Arkansas, Kentucky, Vanderbilt
Fallout: Kentucky advanced to Final Four, losing to Michigan in NCAA semifinals; Arkansas and Vandy lost in Sweet 16.
Teams: Arkansas, Kentucky, Mississippi State
Fallout: Arkansas lost to UCLA in NCAA final; Kentucky lost in regional final; MSU lost in Sweet 16.
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.
Teams: Auburn, Florida, Kentucky
Fallout: Kentucky lost in regional final; Auburn and Florida lost in Sweet 16.
Teams: Florida, LSU, Tennessee
Fallout: UF lost to Michigan State in NCAA final; LSU and Tennessee lost in Sweet 16.
Teams: Florida, Tennessee, Vanderbilt
Fallout: UF defeated Ohio State in NCAA title game; Tennessee and Vandy lost in Sweet 16.
Teams: Florida, Kentucky, Tennessee
Updated: 10:52am, March 24
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.
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.
Updated: 10:50am, March 24
(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.
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
Cameras 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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Assistant coach Matt McCall (left) and video coordiantor Oliver Winterbone (right) were up early Wednesday organizing scout video.
And so was assistant Amit Tailor.
Video assistants Billy O'Meara (left) and Zak Elfenbein (right) set up sidelines shop Wednesday morning while Gators practice at Bishop Moore High.