Back Nine: SEC Tournament title far from just a formality for UF


Florida head coach Billy Donovan on the sidelines against the Kentucky Wildcats during Saturday's 84-65 UF win to finish 18-0 in the SEC.

Matt Stamey/Staff photographer/File
Published: Tuesday, March 11, 2014 at 8:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, March 10, 2014 at 10:08 p.m.

The Back Nine comes at you after one of those special Gainesville weekends. I'd like to thank everyone involved for an amazing few days of basketball and consumption.

10. While the Gator Nation is still basking in the glow of 18-0 and a blowout win over Kentucky, Billy Donovan knows how important it is for the team to flush it. It would be human nature to waltz into the SEC tournament and think you can do what you've done throughout the regular-season schedule (not lose). But the tournament is a different animal and while I know there are some of you who hope Florida takes it easy in Atlanta to get ready for the NCAA tournament, that would go against everything this coach and this team believe in. Here's a stat that should make everyone understand that you can't expect an SEC tournament title to be a formality — other than the South Carolina game, Florida won its SEC games away from home by an average of 6.5 points. The fans at the Georgia Dome will be pulling for the upsets (especially Kentucky fans who show up for the early sessions this weekend). There won't be a lack of motivation because these seniors have been in two finals and lost them both. And while it's nice to have the double bye, you almost think this team would love to go play right away because it has won its last three games by an average of 21 points. Like I said, the tournament is different, especially in the Dome where the shooting background is unlike anything they have seen this year.

11. No, I'm not trying to bring you down to earth, Gator fans. You should enjoy what happened Saturday and what has happened all season for the next few days. You don't have to re-focus until Friday at 1 p.m. But know this — defense travels. Florida finished the regular season ranked sixth in the nation in scoring defense. The Gators play the winner of Missouri-Texas A&M on Friday and if it's the Tigers this will be their last chance to get into the big tournament. And we saw them give Florida fits in Gainesville. But don't you worry. Not today. Enjoy the glow.

12. It wasn't a good Sunday for basketball in the state of Florida. Florida Gulf Coast, last year's media darling, lost on its home court to Mercer with an NCAA berth on the line. Florida State, which a month ago looked like a lock for the tournament, lost at home to Syracuse. The Seminoles probably need to beat both Maryland and Virginia in the ACC tournament to make the Dance. Meanwhile, the bracketologists still have Tennessee and Arkansas in the tournament and have both in First Four games in Dayton. I hope that holds because those games would be interesting to watch. But here's the rub. If Arkansas wins Thursday against the winner of Auburn-South Carolina, it will play Tennessee on Friday. One team has to lose. Would that knock the SEC down from four teams to three? It may depend on what goes on elsewhere. Man, I love this time of the year.

13. Congratulations are certainly in order for our old friend Lon Kruger, who was named the Big 12 coach of the year Monday. He previously had been coach of the year twice at Florida and once at UNLV. The guy knows how to win basketball games. If you're a believer that the NCAA committee intentionally matches up teams that will make the best stories, you might see Oklahoma in Florida's bracket.

14. The Florida-Georgia football game will have a different look to it this season. It's not really a new look for a lot of fans, but for many it will be something they have never seen before. Both teams will wear their home jerseys. That's the way it was back in the 1960s when Steve Spurrier was the quarterback at Florida. I'm told it's just to add a little spice to the big game. On another Gator football note, I spent some time with Will Muschamp at halftime of the Florida-Kentucky game and he said he's been pounding his team with a simple message. “You want to know what it means to be a team, what it takes to be successful, just look across the street at the basketball team,” he said. You'd love to see the football and basketball teams forge the same kind of symbiotic relationship that they did back in the 2006-08 years when Florida won four national titles in the two sports and pushed each other to be great.

15. There seems to be a lot of movement for an early signing period (again), especially after Susan Peal, the NCAA assistant director of operations, said this last week — "I think everyone wants an early signing period. It's just trying to nail down what's the appropriate date for that." Well, that's just not true. Muschamp told The Back Nine that when SEC football coaches met in February they were against the idea. “There is not a lot of interest in the SEC,” he said. “The biggest drawback is you have to take more time away from your team because of visits in the fall. I was kind of for it until we met, but some of the older coaches brought up some issues and now I'm leaning against it. And if I'm in the Big 10 or in that area, I don't want it because you can't get kids on campus.” We'll see if there is true momentum in June when the Conference Commissioners Association meets.

16. Last year, I referred to Florida's baseball team as lacking the clutch gene. After this weekend, the Gators may have shown me they have it this year. Three extra-inning wins are impressive no matter the opponent. An indication that this team gets better in crunch time — the Gators have outscored opponents 24-10 after the sixth inning. Most impressive has been freshman pitcher Logan Shore, who has allowed only one earned run in 20 innings. The SEC is coming and it's as good as always so we'll find out a lot more about this team in the coming weeks.

17. The Tweet of the Week comes from CBS analyst Doug Gottlieb and should be of particular interest to Florida fans — “ 'Value of 1 seed is overrated' last 4 years #2 seeds are 27-5 in round of 64 - #1 seeds have still never lost - 1 seed is a bye.” Alrighty, then.

18. Thanks to everyone for all of the great songs sent in for the Back Nine but it's time for me to get back to work on my downloads. Try these — “Normal Person” by Arcade Fire, “Blue Moon” by Beck and for an oldie, well, my wife and daughter have been referring to me as a Beatles Snob because I refer to the greatest band of all time's biggest hits as “cliche Beatle songs.” It doesn't mean they aren't great songs, just that they have been played so much I prefer to listen to B-sides. So download “Rain” by The Beatles.

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

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