The Back Nine: Florida’s tourney draw difficult

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Nevada coach Eric Musselman will match wits with Florida's Mike White in Thursday's NCAA tourney game. (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken)

The Back Nine comes at you after a crazy weekend and way too much green beer. Hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.

10. Mike White figured Florida had to be in based on the metrics, but as team after team came up during the selection show with no Gators, the Florida coach could see his guys tensing up. “You could see it on the faces of Kevarrius (Hayes) and Jalen (Hudson),” he said Monday. “There was some tension in the room.” Florida’s draw is difficult because Nevada is really good and Michigan is really better. Nevada owned the woeful Pac-12 this year going 3-0 against the league. Those were the only games against Power Five teams the Wolf Pack played. It’s kind of funny that before this season started I was listening to a show and the expert was talking about Nevada as a team to watch out for this year and I filed that away. Anyway, I think it’s interesting. White might want to call San Diego State’s Brian Dutcher for some advice. The Aztecs handed Nevada half of its four losses this year. (And also lost by 28, but who’s counting?)

11. We’ll never know for sure what would have happened to the Gators had they gone one-and-done in the SEC Tournament, but Florida — with those three games — ended up No. 40 on the seed list despite having a 31 NET Rankings. That tells you that the selection committee used the new NET Rankings as a guide, but not the be-all, end-all. The lowest seeded team that didn’t win its tournament was No. 47 St. Johns. So it’s likely, the Gators made the tournament when they beat Arkansas and moved up a seed line with the win over LSU. Like we all figured. “We did enough to get there,” White said.

12. Of course, there were a lot of people screaming back in Gainesville on Friday when Andrew Nembhard hit the shot against LSU that felt like it officially tipped off March Madness and then 24 hours later there was a lot of screaming again for different reasons. What do you tell a 17-year-old who bursts into your office yelling, “How is that not a foul?” You just say, “S-E-C.” At least I did and I think it is important to note that the officials giveth and they taketh away. The turning point in that LSU win was the six-point play that should have been just a couple of free throws and the ball for Florida. We all know it was a bad call (Keyontae Johnson saw the flagrant happen in front of him, paused and then shot). The non-call on Andrew Nembhard at the end of the Auburn game was brutal. At least it exposed just how mediocre officiating is in this conference. But it was hardly surprising. I admit the sport is hard to officiate … especially when you’re not looking.

13. The talking heads and ink-stained wretches seem to agree that this was one of the few times the selection committee got it right (about 85 percent of their glee was based on Belmont making the field). The one exception is that Michigan State didn’t catch a break drawing Duke as the one seed in its bracket, which doesn’t seem fair, but if you want to win this thing you’re probably going to have to beat Duke at some point. I’ll give you my bracket later in the week, but I know that today will be spent in the annual rite of looking at the flaws of the highest seeds trying to find the potential for an upset. For example, I don’t know what to do with Auburn, which is on a roll after winning the SEC Tournament. Auburn feels like a team that could make it to the Elite Eight, but one bad shooting night and they’re done. Auburn wasn’t a good road team until the end of the season and you wonder about fatigue after four games in four days and a Tuesday flight to Salt Lake City as the reward. The Tigers might have to beat Kansas, North Carolina and Kentucky if the seeds hold in that region. See, I don’t know what to do with Auburn. In fact, the SEC teams in the field are all a little hard to figure. Part of the reason is these teams have been battling known commodities for months and the NCAA Tournament is so different than anything. For example, what do you do with LSU?

14. So Florida’s football team will play in 2019 its fourth straight Tigers team for homecoming. This year it’s Auburn and it has been LSU and Missouri twice the other three years. I’m sure Auburn doesn’t feel as insulted as LSU did two years ago. Those Tigers were just looking for a reason to feel disrespected. Homecoming is not the same as it used to be when you’d bring in a crummy directional team so the alumni would go home happy. Florida has lost two straight Homecoming games, for those of you scoring at home. This year’s game did not make the list of the 10 games that will shape this year’s playoff race, according to the NCAA website, but two of the UF games did make the list. Here you go:

• Florida vs Miami

• Auburn vs Oregon

• Texas A&M at Clemson

• LSU at Texas

• Notre Dame at Georgia

• Oklahoma vs Texas

• Notre Dame at Michigan

• Alabama at Texas A&M

• Georgia vs Florida

• Ohio St at Michigan

Notice there are four neutral site games among the 10. And this list goes back to what I’ve been saying about how important that Miami game is.

15. One impression from last week’s practice I attended, there are two guys who feel like they are about to have breakout years on offense — Trevon Grimes and Lucas Krull. Grimes is the kind of special athlete at the wide receiver position who Florida needs to make the offense really dangerous. And Krull will be a major weapon at tight end for Dan Mullen this season. The question is whether anybody will be targeted enough to put up All-SEC numbers. The Gators are so loaded at wide receiver they could lead the league in passing and not have a first-team All-SEC receiver, because the completions are so spread out. Just look at last year when Florida had eight receivers (including two tailbacks) with double-digit catches, but nobody more than Van Jefferson’s 35. That’s only 53 off the school record.

16. The Players Championship in March ended up with Rory McIlroy winning on St. Patrick’s Day? What more do you need to know that it should never be moved again. It was a special weekend with all of the stuff going on, including Gatornationals all weekend and a baseball doubleheader Saturday. This week isn’t as busy around Gainesville, but it will be busy on your TVs.

17. The Tweet of the Week comes from Dan Wolken, the columnist from USA Today — “The SEC long ago clinched the season long award for worst officiating moments among the power conferences and now they’re just running up the score.” This was right after the non-call on Nembhard. See, it wasn’t just me.

18. I did spend part of Sunday listening to Irish music on a Sirius channel. But I did not wear green. I’m Irish every day. We let you into the club on St. Patrick’s Day. Here’s your playlist:

• “Happy Birthday, You’re Alone” by Joshua Speers.

• “The Mapping of Dandruff” by the Indoor Pets

• “Salvation” by The Strumbellas

• “bury a friend” by Billie Eilish.

• And for an oldie, kinda, the Herbie Hancock-Norah Jones’ version of “Court and Spark” by Joni Mitchell on Mitchell’s 75th birthday tribute album last November.

Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at pat.dooley@gvillesun.com. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.

12 COMMENTS

  1. Reinforcing the importance of that kickoff game vs. Miami, as Pat just did, is really vital in motivating the Gator OL to get its act together by Day 1. That game is an opportunity for the Gators to make an opening bid for a CFP spot by whipping the Canes on national TV right out of the chute. With FSU in disarray, it would also be YUUUGE for winning the recruiting battles in the State of Florida.

    Go Gators!!!

    • Also important to shut the Canes fans up for a while. I live in So. Fla. Just beating FAU or FIU starts the yearly churn of “The UUUUUUUUUUUUUU is Back!”. Beat the Gators? And then Miami’s tissue soft schedule kicks in an the noise will last until the ACC Championship Game when Clemson doormats them – again.

    • When you’re a bad team, EVERY draw is a tough draw. As you said, don’t lose 15 games. Quit missing bunnies and don’t get so many shots blocked at the rim. You’ll score about 10 more points per game. Now cut and paste 10 points onto each game this season. What’s the seeding now?

      • Exactly, Gopher. Now, when I suggested a few weeks back, trying to use plain text English without PC, that this was basically a “bad” team — well, drawn and quartered wouldn’t do it justice. Hope you fare better for calling a spade a spade.

        All that aside, I hope “not-so-sterling” this year will translate into the nucleus of a championship level team next year. There’s certainly a lot to build on, and talent doesn’t seem to be the problem. This team matures, and it’s a different story.

        Let the virtue signaling begin! Go Gators………..

        • Maybe “bad” is a little harsh. But, Lord, they’re not as good as you’d think. Not with starting the season with (3) seniors and junior (a luxury of experience few teams can enjoy). But they’re definitely less than the sum of their parts. One of the things I love most about team sports is the exact opposite of that. Good teams are more than the sum of their parts. Teamwork matters. Talent helps isn’t the be all/end all. As we’ve seen over and over – especially in football – “great recruiters” aren’t necessarily great coaches. Development of talent matters. Leaders on the team matter. Now, I do think Mike White is a good coach. I trust what he’s doing. But sometimes, inexplicably, teams just collectively shrink “for no reason”. Maybe it’s “biorhythms” (yeah, I’m THAT old). Maybe it’s sunspots. There are those to downplay/dismiss chemistry and intangibles. I’m all about intangibles. I believe in the “clutch gene”. But I also believe the clutch gene is a fickle mistress. This team just troughed and underperformed. The absence of John Egbunu, Gorjak Gak and Keith Stone to injury can’t be ignored. But I still expected more from this team. I’ll still cheer for them as long as their playing. But I don’t expect that to be too much longer.

  2. Well, we all saw the SEC Good ‘Ole Boys Network at work in our SEC Basketball Tourney game v.s. AU, and no doubt, WHENEVER we play AU, the refs will make the calls for the Tigers. It never fails, whether we are at Jordan-Hare or at home against those guys.

    The two teams from Alabama are the Golden Children of the SEC and always have been.

  3. Speaking of the bad officiating in the SEC, the Gator softball team saw it in plain sight last night at LSU. With the Gators leading 2-1 in the bottom of the 6th inning with 2 outs, LSU had runners on 2nd and 3rd. A ground ball to Gators 2nd baseman was bobbled but retrieved in enough time to make the throw to 1st. Of course, the SEC ump called the runner safe, the tying run scored, and the Gators went on the lose in the 7th inning. Problem was that the TV replay showed the batter was clearly out, and by a pretty good margin. Even the TV commentators were commenting on such a poor call at a critical junction in the game. All in all another night of SEC officiating ineptitude in all areas.

  4. I don’t believe it is an SEC ref problem. The refs that called the game officiate in other conferences as well. In fact, many so called “SEC” officials call games in other conferences. I think the problem is more complicated, it’s a college basketball problem. To simply blame it on SEC refs is not diagnosing the problem accurately. I suspect part of the problem is that officials that switch between conferences have to deal with multiple styles of play and this accounts for the drastic inconsistencies we see. I also think the refs officiate way to many games. Those are a few of the problems, as I see it at least.