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Pat Dooley’s Back Nine: March 1

The Back Nine comes at you after a pretty incredible weekend in Gator sports. Don’t ever take these kinds of weekends for granted, peeps.

10. I could literally spend this entire column writing about Florida’s basketball win over Kentucky on Saturday. But that would be a disservice to the other sports. Still, you know how I feel about the Big Blue Nation, which is crying Big Blue tears because this will be the first Kentucky team to finish the season with a losing record at Rupp Arena. Ever. But that doesn’t take away from Florida’s win in any way. Kentucky went into that game with a three-game winning streak and was considered to be a mere three wins in the SEC Tournament away from surviving this season and making the Big Dance. I’m not saying that ship sailed, but there was some “Fire Cal” buzz in Lexington Saturday night. Not that anyone takes it seriously (Mark Story of the Lexington Herald Leader reported that the buyout is $51.5 million), but the chances are pretty good that Kentucky will miss out on the first-day bye and have to win four games in Nashville.

11. And you are probably saying you don’t care and let’s get to the good stuff. Like how Florida has now won seven of its last nine games. And how Tre Mann has become what KeVaughn Allen always struggled to embrace – being the guy who is aggressive late in games. And how Mike White got a technical (which is so unusual for him) and then Florida went on an 8-0 run. And how he has only one fewer win against John Calipari-coached Kentucky teams than Billy Donovan did (of course, Billy won 13 against two other UK coaches including seven in a row). Or how White is now 22 games above .500 in SEC play as the Florida coach and is heading for what would have been his fifth NCAA Tournament in six years if not for last year’s cancellation. And if not for Nate Oats at Alabama, White would be the SEC Coach of the Year. Just when it looked like Florida was about to falter because of some bad offensive possessions, the Gators hunkered down on defense and held Kentucky to four points in the final 3:46. This team deserves to be admired for how tough it has been through so much adversity no matter what happens the rest of the way.

12. Before we get to the rest of a busy weekend, those of us here at the Back Nine are ready to not wake up in the morning and check out the NET Rankings. Sometimes, they make no sense although I am not surprised Florida only went up one notch after Saturday’s win because the opponent has such a bad NET (it is now No. 65). The final two regular season games for No. 26 NET Florida will be against No. 47 Missouri Wednesday night and No. 22 (and falling like an anchor) Tennessee on Sunday. The NET is a strange metric in a strange season. For example, I give you these numbers.

Colgate: Quad 1 wins — 0. NET – No. 10.
Loyola-Chicago: Quad 1 wins – 1. NET No. 16.
San Diego St.: Quad 1 wins – 0. NET No. 18.
Florida: Quad 1 wins – 5. NET – No. 26.

Don’t worry. It will all work out (said nobody).

13. There was not much bad news in Gainesville this weekend. In fact, it was pretty amazing. The only negative was the never-ending story of tight end Arik Gilbert, who was considered a huge get in the transfer portal but now has decided to go elsewhere. Whether it was an academic issue or a personal issue or whatever the issue, this is the world we live in where you can’t count your five stars until they actually are on campus and start producing.

14. Enough of the bad news, let’s move on to a Florida baseball team that can really rake, but is struggling to get the pitching going. And the amazing story of Jacob Young, who now has a 26-game hitting streak over three seasons. All he did Sunday was make his fourth hit of the day send the Gators home with a win. We are only seven games into the season, but this team can really hit (99 hits so far and a .316 batting average). The problem has been the pitching with a 4.50 ERA and 38 walks already. I think we all believe Kevin O’Sullivan will figure it out, but the injuries have definitely been a factor.

15. It was a pretty sweet night for Scott Stricklin Friday when he saw the Gators win SEC titles in gymnastics and men’s swimming. My fam got together in the living room to watch gymnastics and it was majestic. Trinity Thomas shook off her COVID-19 paise to record two 10s. I wonder what that crowd would have been like if we weren’t dealing with this pandemic. They would have been hanging from the rafters with the banners.

16. There were other big wins in other sports like women’s tennis and another Hannah Adams walk-off in softball to keep that team unbeaten (12-0) heading into two games against Florida State next weekend. It’s like I always say, one of the best things about living in Gainesville is that there are so many great athletic teams, there is always something to pay attention to.

17. It is March and I can feel the Madness starting to creep in. It’s like that episode of Seinfeld where Elaine tells Tim Whatley she has a confession to make. “I have Super Bowl Fever.” Well, I have a fever and it’s not for more cowbell. February was crazy around here. March is going to be insane.
18. The “Florida Four” is a little different today in that it kind of involves Florida and kind of does not. Alabama on Saturday became the first team since the 2006-07 Gators to win both the football and basketball titles in the same academic year. So, while Alabama is having a lot of fun, I was wondering which Power Five school is having the least amount of fun. I know some of the numbers are skewed because of games lost to the pandemic, but here are the Bottom Four in terms of combined conference wins in the two sports this academic year:

Vanderbilt 3.
California 4.
Nebraska 5.
(Tie) Wake Forest 6
S. Carolina 6

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