Back Nine: SEC on upswing with stellar NCAA tournament showing
Published: Tuesday, March 25, 2014 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, March 24, 2014 at 8:19 p.m.
The Back Nine comes at you while the spin cycle is on the washing machine. I'll put them in the dryer after 14 and then start packing when I'm done. These basketball rides are hectic, but who's complaining?
10. I saw SEC commissioner and travel partner (OK, it was only for a day) Mike Slive in Orlando and mentioned something to him about the SEC's showing in the tournament. “Yeah, not bad for a league that can't play basketball, huh?” he said. The conference is now 7-0 with three teams in the Sweet 16. (And is the first conference to go 7-0 in the NCAA tournament heading into the Sweet 16 since 2003.) But it's not like it's a huge surprise. Tennessee is a tough matchup for anyone and got a great draw. Kentucky is the most talented team in the tournament. Florida is Florida. The fact the league has all three of its teams still alive doesn't mean it should have received more bids or that the league was better than everyone thought. It is what we thought it was — top heavy with one extraordinary team and two others who could be exceptional when properly motivated. More than anything, what has happened in this postseason should be a great launching point to try to get this league where it belongs among the nation's best. Not only is it getting great exposure with these three teams still playing, but the hiring of Bruce Pearl by Auburn is a huge get for the SEC.
11. Anyone who sees Wichita State's loss to Kentucky as validation that the Shockers didn't deserve a No. 1 seed either has watched zero basketball this season or didn't watch the game. It was incredible basketball and Wichita State was unfortunate to draw the Wildcats as a No. 8 seed. The Shockers didn't get to play the knucklehead Wildcats, the ones who play “me” basketball and lost 10 games this year. They played Kentucky at its best and there aren't a lot of teams who can beat Kentucky when it's playing its best. Sunday was an incredible day for college basketball that was unfortunately not continued into a boring night. At any rate, to say Wichita State didn't deserve a one seed because it lost would be like saying Duke didn't deserve a three seed because it lost to Mercer or that Syracuse and Kansas and North Carolina didn't deserve their seeds. Things happen in the NCAA tournament. That's why we love it.
12. While I was watching games being played in Raleigh, it took me back to 2004 when the Gators played there and lost by 15 to Manhattan. It was the postseason low point for Billy Donovan, the one time when it wasn't about matchups, but about how poorly his team had played. Since then, Donovan is 24-5 in NCAA tournament games. Show me a coach with a better record during that 10-year stretch in the tournament. What Donovan has done with different styles and different players is remarkable. I hope everybody appreciates it. By the way, you may see these shirts that are being sold around town from Smack Apparel that are pretty cool. The front says, “Let's Make This A Senior Moment.” And the back says, “'Cause One & Done Just Ain't Fun!”
13. If you are into these kind of things, Florida is still the overall favorite to win the title according to Bovada in Las Vegas. And Scottie Wilbekin is the favorite to be named the Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four. If it were that simple. I don't know why it is that the committee has been so insistent on matching up Florida and UCLA. Certainly, playing each other in the Final Four is one thing, but in 2011 it was a Round of 32 game and would have been again last year if the Bruins had survived their first game. Certainly, this is going to be Florida's toughest game as a defense this season. The Bruins are on a roll. They've beaten five straight NCAA teams (two of them during the tourney, of course) by an average of 16.4 points a game and have not scored fewer than 75 points in those games. That's the bad news. The worse news is that Ben Howland isn't coaching them.
14. It's difficult to fathom that it would be an upset for Florida to beat Dayton in anything, but it certainly was for the women's basketball team Sunday. It took some talent to watch parts of the game without missing the craziness of the men's tournament, but I have nimble thumbs. When Amanda Butler's team went down 10 you wondered if it was going to be an early exit, but they showed some real grit in bouncing back to win going away. If not for the lost players for various reasons, this could have been a really special team, but it's still been a great season. Butler definitely has things heading in the right direction.
15. Matt Every is a different cat. That's the best way to describe him. But he's a talented golfer and you knew he would break through. The former Gator star won at Bay Hill and broke down in the post-round interview. He and Billy Horschel haven't discussed rooming together at Augusta, where each will be making his first appearance. “I knew it was coming,” Horschel told The Back Nine on Monday. “I just wish I could have been there to congratulate him the way he did me in New Orleans (in 2013).” Horschel finished his round before Every made the turn and had a plane to catch. He did see the Gators play Albany on Thursday.
16. Tough weekend for the Gator baseball team heading to Jacksonville tonight to face FSU. The Gators have played a season's worth of close games already. In their first 24 games, Kevin O'Sullivan's team has played 15 games decided by two runs or less and has gone 10-5. UF finds itself in a five-way tie for first in the SEC East after two conference series and the parity of the league is obvious with eight teams at 3-3. It's going to be like this all year. This weekend it's the mighty Tigers of LSU coming to town. It should be worth the price of admission to watch LSU's Aaron Nola pitch. He's 5-0 with an 0.22 ERA this year. Remember that he was injured two years ago when LSU visited town and then threw a complete game shutout last year in Baton Rouge.
17. The Tweet of the Week isn't about basketball even though there were plenty to choose from. It comes from Jason Sobel of GolfChannel.com — “Jack Fleck passes away at age 92. The only 16 seed to ever win the national championship.” Fleck's passing was lost in the shuffle of the madness, but his 1955 U.S. Open playoff win over Ben Hogan was more stunning than any upsets so far in the tournament.
18. The music is going to be flowing on Beale Street, but on the way there and back I may binge watch “House of Cards” Or I could listen to these downloads — “The Low Anthem” by Charlie Darwin, “Upside Down” by Jack Jackson and for an old-school song “Lonely People” by America.
Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at email@example.com. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.