Back Nine: Donovan has UF in line for NCAA date in Orlando

Published: Tuesday, February 18, 2014 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, February 17, 2014 at 10:24 p.m.

The Back Nine comes at you after a busy weekend that included a lot of hoops, some Gator baseball, a Valentine's brunch, a little grilling and not one second of the NBA All-Star Game or the Olympics. Just not for me.

10. It isn't unprecedented (I know because I looked it up), but that doesn't make it any less impressive. This was one of the greatest non-postseason weeks in the history of the Gator basketball program. The last time UF won at Tennessee and Kentucky in the same week, Norm Sloan was the coach. It was in 1988 with a Florida team that would go to the second round of the tournament and eventually bring on the wrath of the NCAA. Sloan also won on the road against the two teams in 1985, but not in the same week. And that's it. Three times in UF history have the Gators won at Kentucky and at Tennessee in the same season. Heading into the week, how many of you would have taken a split of the two games? To have won against a Tennessee team that desperately needed a resume win and against a Kentucky team that had GameDay and the most loyal fans in college basketball and the Stepford cheerleaders and all of that tradition, well, it was spectacular. The announced attendance for the two games was a combined 42,434. That's a lot of unhappy people. The most impressive stat of the two games was this: Florida outscored Tennessee and Kentucky 75-52 in the second half. This is a team that understands that games are won or lost in the second half.

11. Now we'll see how they handle success. That may seem like a stupid comment because they have won 17 games in a row, but this team was kind of flying under the national radar because of the weakness of the conference. You go win at Rupp and suddenly the national media starts talking to and about you. Having four seniors should keep these Gators grounded, but you will see everyone start penning them into their Final Fours. Billy Donovan has done a great job of making this team understand that one win is only one win even if it felt like more Saturday night. The Gators are in prime position to win the SEC with a three-game lead on Kentucky (No. 1 seed plays at 1 p.m. in SEC Tourney — hooray for me!) and the Gators will be a one seed in the NCAA Tournament in Orlando if they can finish out these last six games with a strong record. In fact, after reading some comments from the selection committee chair Ron Wellman about keeping teams close to home, I'm not sure there is a scenario where Florida doesn't end up in Orlando.

12. OK, so let me guess. Kentucky lost Saturday night because of its inexperience. Blah, blah, blah. This is the path John Calipari has chosen to take and it has paid off with a national title. The downside is that you have young players who don't always get it. I get so tired of every time Kentucky wins the announcers start talking about how they're growing up and every time they lose they talk about how young this team is. Gag me with a spoon. But isn't it worth pointing out that the turning point of the game might have been the technical foul that was called on Calipari that gave Florida a lead it would not relinquish? Dude's 55 years old. That's not young. Oh, and the Harrison twins? They're only 18 months younger than Scottie Wilbekin. Anyway, Kentucky's seeding will be interesting when we get to March because the Wildcats have six losses, but none of them are bad. There are still losable games out there for UK, but right now the 'Cats look a lot like a five seed.

13. I watch as much SEC basketball as anyone in the country. I've watched more games on my laptop than on my TV. But it's difficult to defend this league when the bubble teams keep retreating like scared deer. And the quality of play Saturday was as smelly as it gets. Alabama scored four, count 'em, four baskets in the first half against South Carolina. Texas A&M and Vanderbilt needed overtime to crack 100 points and combined to miss 22 free throws (Vandy also went 3-for-26 from 3 … in a win!) Georgia and Ole Miss both shot 32 percent in their game. Right now, eight of the 14 teams in the league have overall records that are hovering within five games either way of .500. That reeks of mediocrity. Missouri did itself some good last week and would be in the tournament if it were selected today. Tennessee is still either just in or just out. The rest? Meh. It's going to take a miracle to get more than four teams in and if I had to bet it would be three.

14. And if Tennessee is left out again, what say you Vols about your coach? Cuonzo Martin may be headed for his third straight NIT appearance at the same time Bruce Pearl's three-year show-cause from the NCAA expires. Pearl has stayed visible with regular appearances on TV and radio and at least some Tennessee fans want him back. An online petition is closing in on 10,000 signatures with hopes of getting 50K. Earlier this month, I was looking up some info on Martin and someone had hacked into his Wikipedia page and written — “Martin will be replaced by former Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl at the end of this season.” (It was quickly deleted). I doubt Tennessee would do it, but after Bobby Petrino returned to Louisville, I guess anything is possible. There are people who believe Pearl will coach somewhere next year and it could be in the SEC somewhere besides Knoxville and that makes Tennessee fans uncomfortable. Stay tuned.

15. It's only three games. Really, we have no idea what this Florida baseball team will do this year after taking three steps of a marathon. I like the young talent and Kevin O'Sullivan certainly isn't afraid to play these guys. I like that the three guys the Gators are counting on at the plate —Taylor Gushue, Casey Turgeon and Richie Martin — had 12 of their 21 hits in the first series. I like the way Buddy Reed plays center field and runs the bases. I like their overall defense. It will be interesting to see what happens when suspended starter Harrison Bader returns to the team (likely around the start of SEC play). Let's see how they do this week with the mid-week games and a trip to Miami. The Hurricanes are better than they have been in awhile.

16. But we can tell a lot about the Florida softball team, which is off to an 11-0 start after traveling to a couple of tournaments. The Gators are hitting .340, have belted 17 homers and have a team ERA of 1.68. What's not to like? And they are off to the fast start without playing a home game yet. That changes Wednesday when they play host to Jacksonville to start a seven-game homestand. Then there's this — Florida has five wins over four Big Ten teams already. Do they get T-shirts that say, “Big Ten Champs?”

17. The Tweet of the Week comes from my friend Pat Forde at, who was one of the members of the mock committee the NCAA puts together each year to show the media how the process works (I guess my invitation keeps getting lost in the mail) — “For the RPI Truthers out there: It is one of several metrics available to committee. Said Pomeroy, Sagarin and others used by members also.” RPI is a tool and is especially used to see how many top 50 or top 100 wins a team has. For Florida fans, isn't it nice not to have to worry about such things?

18. The response was overwhelming to my request for song suggestions and I was able to listen to a lot of them. If your songs didn't make it this week, know that I am keeping them on hold for future Back Nines. This week, we're going with reader Casey Kidd's suggestions — “Never Been Good” by Maida Vale, “Michigan” by Sarah Mac Band and for an oldie “Doctor My Eyes” by Jackson Browne. Thanks again everyone and feel free to send more in. I'm also going to work on getting a semi-celebrity to give me a list.

Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at And follow at

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