The Back Nine comes at you after a weekend where I still somehow managed to avoid long pants. Of course, I also watched a lot of basketball, which is an indoor sport for me.
10. Let’s talk about the elephant in the room and, to be honest with you, I’m looking forward to letting her out. Do the two basketball losses down the stretch mean that we could have an antsy Selection Sunday? Not really. Florida is still a seven seed in Jerry Palm’s bracket and a nine in Joe Lunardi’s. UF is 29th in NET rankings and has eight Quad 1 and Quad 2 wins and only one bad loss. There are teams who need wins a lot more than Florida needed to win either of the two games it lost last week. Now if Florida loses on Thursday to the winner of the first-round SEC Tournament game between Vanderbilt (NET 109) and Texas A&M (143), well, there could be some concerns. But more than likely, what Florida did with those two losses was play its way into the dreaded 8 v. 9 games. Heck, you’re better off being a 10 seed to avoid those No. 1 seeds a little longer.
11. Think back to a little more than a week ago and how much most of you out there were proud of your basketball team and wanted to give them elbow bumps. Now, here we are and the mob has pulled its pitchforks and torches after the Gators played uninspired basketball in Knoxville. The one thing you could count on with this flawed team was that it would play hard despite all of the things it has been through. But it got so bad Sunday that Mike White put walk-on Alex Klatsky in the game to show his displeasure with the hustle. The one possession when Tennessee got four offensive rebounds made me want to take my artificial knees and try to go up there and box someone out. Certainly, not having Tre Mann was a body blow for this team. My one criticism for Mike White is that he does not have an SEC caliber point guard on this team and — without Mann trying to fill the role to the best of his ability — the Gators had 16 turnovers including Ques Glover simply dribbling the ball out of bounds. Twice.
12. It’s on to the SEC Tourney and no double-bye which makes it very difficult to win the thing. In fact, Florida has never even played in four games in its history let alone won four games in four days. The Gators have been champs four times and runners-up six times. Florida is 45-50 overall in the event and White is 3-4. None of these things matter. What matters is for this team to get back to playing hard on every possession and for Mann to be healthy and maybe for Scottie Lewis to be engaged. I don’t know what is going on with him.
13. Let’s do some picking. I expect an Arkansas-Alabama final because they were the best teams during the season, but the really dangerous team is the LSU Cheatin’ Tigers. I can see Florida making the semis because we saw what they could do to Tennessee in Gainesville and for about 12 minutes in Knoxville. Then there is Ole Miss, which is the one team with its NCAA hopes on the line and in need of a couple of wins minimum. But I can’t see the Rebs beating LSU. And there is the Kentucky problem, which is that the Wildcats played so well on Saturday, it gave the Big Blue Nation hope that a four-game sweep is in play. No matter what happens, it’s going to be kind of sad for me because the almost annual ritual of trying to book a flight after the bracket is released Sunday has gone the way of the dinosaurs.
14. Even though Florida had already clinched a share of the SEC title and even though star Trinity Thomas was held out of Friday’s meet with an ankle injury, the mighty Gators found a way to beat Alabama in gymnastics in Tuscaloosa. As the Soup Nazi would say, “No trophy for you, one year, Alabama.” This team is remarkable, a collection of grit and athleticism and grace that gets the weekend off to prepare for the SEC meet and, of course, what follows. Jenny Rowland, we salute you.
15. The Jacob Young story is just ridiculous, a guy with a three-year hitting streak, who does that? It wasn’t a line drive to break the record and I know Jeff Cardozo was hoping for something more dramatic for the play-by-play, but it was definitely a hit to get to 30 games in a row. Florida has five games this week including a really good Stetson team on Wednesday before things get really interesting next week with FSU and the start of SEC play.
16. You know a story that gets lost in the shuffle sometimes? Men’s tennis. Reading Scott Carter’s account of Florida’s win over No. 3 Tennessee this weekend got me fired up. The best story was Ben Shelton, the son of the Florida coach, winning in doubles and then rallying from 0-6 to win the next two sets. That must be one proud poppa Bryan.
17. It’s kind of exciting to also have The Players Championship on top of all of this basketball and baseball and softball and other sports we will be watching this week. Rory McIlroy is going to win. Just thought I would let you know that.
18. The Florida Four today takes a lot at a time long, long ago when the college basketball season for the Florida Gators ended with the final regular-season game. There was no SEC basketball tournament from 1953-78. Florida’s only postseason appearance during this stretch was a one-and-done in the NIT in 1969. You youngsters out there are probably having a difficult time imagining how a team could go 21-4, not be in NCAA jail and not play any postseason games, but that happened in 1966-67. Here are the four best players who never played in an SEC Tournament game:
* Neal Walk, the second pick in the 1970 draft. Averaged 20 points and 15 rebounds for his career. Maybe the best to ever play here.
* Andy Owens, a teammate of Walk’s who averaged 26.7 points a game as a junior.
* Chip Williams, who averaged a double-double as a junior.
* Gene Shy, who is ninth on Florida’s all-time list in scoring.
It’s kind of sad to think of all the Gator greats who never got to enjoy the SEC Tournament.