The Back Nine comes at you after a great weekend in St. Augustine with my Dad and siblings, the last retreat before things get crazy around here.
10. Because not only are we in the middle of the stretch run for basketball with some vitally important games coming up (or should that say Vitale-important), but softball has its home opener Wednesday and baseball starts Friday and gymnastics is rolling and on and on we go, and, oh yeah, we’re not that far from the start of spring football and that’s where I get your attention. I used to have a T-shirt that that read, “Athens, a Drinking Town with a Football problem.” That was during the Ray Goff era. I loved that T-shirt. But it applies to Gainesville now and the people in Athens are loving life. We all have to remember that things go in cycles, even at Alabama where the Tide had three losing seasons in seven years before Nick Saban walked through the door. The most difficult part of what has happened in the last five years for Florida fans isn’t the success at other places, it’s that they know what Florida can be and to see it fall woefully short is painful. Most Gator fans have seen nirvana and I don’t mean the band. They saw the national titles, SEC titles and the 12 double-digit wins in a span of 19 seasons, all but three of those years with Steve Spurrier and Urban Meyer at the controls. But to have two losing seasons in five years seemed like a place they would never have to go back to. The last time anything like that happened was in 1978 and ’79 when Florida won only four games. The most important thing right now for UF is to establish some continuity, some stability. And that may mean changing the way fans view results in the early part of the Dan Mullen Era. Your team went 4-7 last year. You may or may not have an SEC caliber quarterback on the roster. It’s not going to turn around overnight. There is a plan in place. Enjoy the process.
11. I don’t understand Florida’s basketball RPI. And yet, I do kind of get it. Here’s why it is so low for a team with wins at Texas A&M, Missouri and Kentucky and neutral site wins over Cincinnati and Gonzaga. Florida also has five wins over teams ranked 216th or lower and that loss to No. 102 Ole Miss doesn’t help. But the RPI is no longer the definitive measurement and Florida becomes a difficult team for the bracketologists to get a handle on with the new Quadrant System. For example, Joe Lunardi’s latest bracketology has UF as a four seed and Jerry Palm has the Gators as a nine. After the reveal of the top 16 seeds Sunday, I’m not sure losses matter. It seems way more important to win games, win them away from home and win them against good teams. You look at the top two seeds — Virginia and Villanova — and they each have 13 Quadrant 1 and Quadrant 2 wins. I know, nobody said there would be math. Florida has 10 this season with the opportunities for more coming in these last three weeks. Michigan State, which was a three seed, has only seven, which is why the Spartans were where they were despite a 24-3 record. Let’s stop with all of these numbers before I get a headache.
12. If there is one thing you can consistently count on from the NCAA Selection Committee it is that there will be a lack of consistency. This matters when comparing these two teams, but when we compare these two we’re looking more at this. But then we get to the first Thursday (or the First Four in Dayton if you really are a hoops junkie) and it’s all forgotten. The one thing Florida needs to avoid is the dreaded 8-9 game where you are facing a team that’s probably just as good as you and if you win you get to play a one seed. But no matter how it shakes out, don’t you get the feeling we’re heading for one of those wild and crazy NCAA Tournaments? It’s almost become a cliche for announcers to talk about how there were so many upsets in a week because that’s every week.
13. And the SEC Tournament in St. Louis should be must-see TV. OK, so it may not feel like an SEC experience under the Gateway Arch, but it will be entertaining because the league has improved enough that there can be upsets because of how well a lower seed plays instead of how lethargic a higher seed plays. Does that make any sense? Anyway, we still have six games to go before the pairings are set and Florida fans find themselves in a strange position Wednesday night. While they are rooting for their team to get revenge against Georgia in the O’ Dome, they’ll be keeping an eye on Kentucky at Auburn. And rooting for Kentucky. Sorry, but that’s what the Gators need if they are going to have a shot at winning the conference or at least sharing the title. C-A-T-S. Right? Or would you rather concede the SEC title to Auburn and revel in Kentucky going under .500 in league play? Tough call.
14. So the worst call of the week was a technical and ejection of Louisiana Tech’s Jacobi Boykins, who had a fierce dunk and then glanced at the player he had posterized. You can find it easily on Google. It’s a terrible call, but what was really fascinating to me is that while reading about it I discovered the Ken Pomeroy rankings of all the officials in college basketball. So I was perusing the list because I have my own ideas about who is good and who stinks on ice. We know what Frank Martin thinks about Lee Cassell, who T’d him up in the Florida game. Martin, as you probably read in Kevin Brockway’s story, is angry that Cassell left for the ACC and then returned to the SEC. “I’m sure someone’s going to call me and say, ‘Why did you say that?’ ” Martin said. “And I’m going to tell them, ‘It’s what I feel and I’ve told you this before and you know that I’ve told you this in private because it’s the way I feel.’ It’s not right.’ ” That’s Greg Sankey on Line 2 (Martin was fined $25,000 by the SEC on Monday for his comments). By the way, Cassell was ranked 25th in last year’s ratings. But in the end, you just have to deal with it. Calls even out over a season. There are times when I’m sure Gator fans wish Mike White would get more demonstrative after a bad call, but so often we see a team let the calls bother them to the point where they don’t play well. That’s enough on refs. Many calls are opinions, not facts. You have to play around them.
15. Headline on ESPN Monday morning — “Top German Shepherd out at Westminster.” You HAVE to click on that story just to find out why. Owner abuse? Did he test positive for something? Did he sign with Georgia? Turns out he has something wrong with his ear that makes it flop funny. Kind of like Stephen Colbert. With Fanucci out, it’s a dog eat dog competition.
16. One thing I didn’t mention was the Winter Olympics and that is because I haven’t watched much because I’m pacing myself. It’s nothing against cold-weather sports, but ice dancing and curling are not in the top 10. Instead, we focus on baseball and softball this week, as the women have their home opener Wednesday after winning five games at USF and outscoring the opposition 42-3. Florida had more homers in the five games than it had earned runs allowed. And baseball cranks it up Friday at home. It feels like we’ve been talking about the potential of America’s No. 1 team for months. Here we go.
17. The Tweet of the Week goes to the legendary Jay Bilas, who has to go to work — “A few of the decisions in the bracket preview Top 16 seeds are laughable. I hope this was just to create controversy and discussion. Otherwise, the Committee is wasting its time.” See? I’m not the only one who can’t figure out what this committee is thinking.
18. What little I have watched of the Winter Olympics has inspired me to get to the gym with this playlist, but I think I’m underdressed. Anyone seen my rhinestone gym shorts?
• “Lemon To A Knife Fight” by The Wombats.
• “Already Gone” by Brett Dennen.
• “Don’t Matter Now” by George Ezra.
• “Hope The High Road” by Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit.
• And for an old one, “Radio Ga Ga” by Queen. It’s an inside joke.
Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.