The Back Nine comes at you with a game plan for St. Louis that could include a trip to the Gateway Arch, the St. Louis Zoo and certainly a couple of stops at my favorite sports bar “The Over/Under”.
10. Here’s the thing about Senior Day — it’s only as special as the result. The framed jersey is nice and the applause is humbling and having your family there means a lot. But if you win the game, THAT is what makes Senior Day memorable. Sometimes there’s not a whole lot that the seniors can do about it if the opponent is just too good. But never take for granted the effort of a team in any sport when the players know the seniors are playing their last games at home. You saw that Saturday and you probably overheard some Kentucky fans (there weren’t many) mumbling about the good old days when they actually had a Senior Day that involved more than managers and trainers. Also, memo to the SEC schedule makers — Florida and Kentucky should always play in the last regular-season game of the year. They are the faces of your conference, basketball-wise, and it’s the best rivalry the conference has to offer. Don’t overthink it anymore. If you want to match up Auburn and Tennessee next year on the last Saturday, fine. Just make sure the Gators and ’Cats are playing each other.
11. I’m no expert. I don’t even fancy myself an amateur bracketologist. But I’m still baffled by the number of sites who have Kentucky seeded higher than Florida. I get it that Florida has some really bad losses in SEC play and Kentucky doesn’t. And, as a result, Kentucky has a much higher RPI. But Florida has 10 Quadrant 1 wins and while you may be tired of hearing the word Quadrant (don’t worry, it will go away once the tournament starts), it matters to the NCAA Selection Committee. Kentucky has three. Florida beat Kentucky twice. Florida finished higher in the SEC standings than Kentucky. Joe Lunardi gets it. He has Florida a five seed and Kentucky a six in his latest bracketology. He even Tweeted that Florida is closer to a four seed than some people might think. Meanwhile, he still has eight teams from the SEC getting in despite Alabama trying to play its way out with five straight losses. When you compare Quadrant 1 wins, Alabama is right there with the other 11 seeds with five (two more than Kentucky). Anyway, it’s conference tournament time and the selection show should be fascinating, especially with the Notre Dame question now that Bonzie Colson is back.
12. We are headed for St. Louis and it will be interesting to see what kind of atmosphere there will be. I was there last year for NCAA Gymnastics and you wouldn’t have known the event was taking place unless you were in the arena. I’m sure the city is more concerned with the Cardinals than SEC basketball and in some ways it’s a shame to have the tourney there this year because it should be the best we’ve seen in a long time. If I had to take one team against the field, it would be Tennessee. The co-champions of the league have been impressive all season and feel like a team built to win three games in three days. But as crazy as this season has been, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see someone come from the Thursday games to win it all. The four teams playing Wednesday have no chance.
13. Some might dismiss Florida’s 12-1 start in baseball as not coming against really good teams (and I include Miami in that mix), but there are some numbers that really stand out. First, the team ERA is 1.71, so Florida’s pitching has been exactly what we thought it would be. Here’s another impressive stat — Florida has hit 19 homers and allowed only five. Of course, Florida’s softball team has put up even more impressive numbers with a 19-1 mark and an ERA that is a ridiculous 0.57. Amanda Lorenz is off to a blazing start with a .460 batting average and 25 RBI already. The Gator softball team cranks it up in SEC play this weekend with Kentucky coming to town for a three-game series starting Friday.
14. Last year, I tried to give advice to the Cleveland Browns, which is like trying to get your 92-year-old grandfather to turn down the TV. They just can’t hear you. I would have taken Deshaun Watson in the 2017 NFL draft. They did not. Watson was great until he was injured. The Browns were never confused with great last season. I have no great love for the Browns. I’m just offering unsolicited advice. Ready? Take Saquon Barkley with the first pick. One NFL general manager told pro football writer Mike Freeman, “I would punch myself in the nuts many, many, many times to be able to draft him.” Then, with the fourth pick, take whatever quarterback is available and you know there will be options. And then, soon enough that you don’t let him get away, take Shaquem Griffin, who wowed them at the combine and is the kind of amazing story that can rally your fan base. You can figure out the rest of the draft. I’ll remain on retainer.
15. Did you ever see the movie “Draft Day” and wished there had been this at the end after Kevin Costner had wheeled and dealed his way to a great draft? “The injury-riddled Cleveland Browns would win three games the following year.” Or is it just me? Anyway, two Gators at the combine did really well and it looks like Taven Bryan is a lock for the first round. Good for him. He was a guy who finally got motivated in his last year at UF. I’ve always said that it doesn’t matter why you get motivated to play your best. It can be for your teammates or your coach or your position coach or your family or it can just be because you want to make some money in the NFL. Whatever floats your boat, as long as you play hard. Antonio Callaway is another story because the guy has talent, but more baggage than a Kardashian on a round-the-world cruise. It only takes one team to like you and one will. If he can overcome his proclivity for getting into trouble, Callaway can be a decent pro. But when he says he feels responsible for Jim McElwain being fired because he couldn’t make a difference, he’s being naive. It wasn’t about wins and losses.
16. How great was it to see old man Phil Mickelson win on Tour Sunday? OK, the finish might have been a little anticlimactic when Justin Thomas badly missed a par putt in the playoff, but it was still fun to watch. I said a while back that I thought Tiger Woods would win another major before Lefty, but now I’m not so sure. I love that Mickelson, who is 47, said he still thinks he can get to 50 wins (he has 43) and that we could see an unbelievable Masters with both of golf’s aging stars fist-pumping their way around the Augusta National course. “I needed to get a win before Augusta, so I wasn’t trying to win for the first time in four-and-a-half, five years at that event,” Mickelson said.
17. There are two Tweets of the Week because they are connected and they come from guys who played the same position and played then well. First, from Erving Walker — “Heard my assist record got broke at my school today congrats to that boy chris chiozza #gogator.” And the reply from Chiozza — “Records are meant to be broken, just an honor to be in the same category with a Gator great like you my guy.” Aww. So if you were ranking the top three point guards in UF history, who would you pick? Discuss.
18. I made a playlist for the SEC Tournament too early and played it so much I needed a new one with some fresher songs so I’m calling this one “Quadrant 1 Wins”:
• “Nervous Mary” by The Breeders.
• “Everybody Wants To Be Famous” by Superorganism.
• “Silver Lining” By Mt. Joy.
• “Set To Attack” by Albert Hammond Jr.
• And for an old one, heard it the other day and have been singing it to myself ever since, “Mandolin Wind” by Rod Stewart.
Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.