Preseason predictions

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It looks like most around the country feel Florida will bounce back from not making the NCAA Tournament last season for the first time in 10 years.

Athlon Sports picks the Gators to finish second in the SEC East (behind Tennessee) and reach the second round of the NCAA Tournament. “Florida will be young but should be better in 2008-09. The shadow of those national titles isn’t quite as menacing, and the players who are returning have had to live with the disappointing finish to the 2007-08 regular season. That should be motivation enough,” the magazine writes.

Lindy’s picks Florida to finish second behind Tennessee in the SEC East and return to the NCAA Tournament. “Now that the Gators have more than nine scholarship players to battle in practice and a core group of returnees, they should contend for the SEC title and compete in the Big Dance again,” the magazine writes.

Dick Vitale picks the Gators 17th nationally in his preseason rankings and says the Gators will get back into the NCAA Tournament behind returning SEC co-freshman of the year Nick Calathes.

My early opinion? The Gators and Kentucky will battle for the 2-3 spot in the SEC East. Don’t sleep on Vanderbilt, either? Kevin Stallings always finds a way to get the most out of his talent and with big-man A.J. Ogilvy and guard Jermaine Beal back, the Commodores will play a factor in the division race.

SHEA GOODBYE

I know, this is supposed to be a hoops blog, but if my tone has been more cranky lately, it has to do with witnessing another potential Mets collapse. Being a Mets fan is an unfortunate birthright. I came into this world at St. John’s Hospital in Elmhurst, Queens, N.Y., a stone’s throw from Shea and Flushing Meadow Park.

Yes, I know the new stadium is at the same site. And it really looks beautiful. But I feel like they are tearing down another piece of my childhood and adolescence. First the Orange Bowl. Now this? Granted both were/are dumps, but they were also homes to countless memories.

My favorite moments at Shea include:

— Watching Carlos Delgado go deep and Mike Pelfrey pitch a gem last July against the St. Louis Cardinals with my godson. It’s probably the last game I’ll see live at the big ballpark.

— The infamous SAT game, in which Darryl Strawberry hit a game-winning, two-run homer the night before my second SAT exam (I still managed to score an 1130 on the exam despite minimal sleep).

— Gary Carter hitting the game-winning home run in his first game as a Met on opening day against the Cardinals in 1985. At first pitch, it was 38 degrees and we sat in the fourth deck high above the right field line. By the 10th inning, we snuck into the field level seats and had an excellent view of Carter’s shot, which just cleared the left field fence and landed in the visiting bullpen.

Thanks, Big Shea, for the memories. I’ll miss you.