The Back Nine: Power conferences flex during NCAA Tournament

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(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

The Back Nine comes at you after a weekend where I might have made a Homer Simpson-like impression on my recliner. Beer, Marge.

10. The NCAA Tournament, a.k.a. Big Dance, March Madness, Gambler’s Paradise, has been devoid of drama with the exception of the Duke-UCF game Sunday that was the perfect unscripted drama for TV. Other than that, it hasn’t been what we were hoping for the first four days. And as a result, it’s exactly what we should have been hoping for all along. The best teams are playing. If this were golf, Jim Nantz would be quietly talking about how impressive the leaderboard is. OK, so there have been few upsets and the tournament has so much chalk it looks like that geometry teacher you had in high school who had it all over his pants and tie. But the upcoming match-ups have the potential to have an epic four days. And, really, isn’t that what we really want, the heavyweights slugging it out until blue blood is drawn? We root for the underdog and want Loyola to win, but we don’t necessarily want to always see them play again. The power conferences flexed their muscles and treated these playoffs like they were College Football Playoffs. And you know what that means? More money for the conferences with the most money. The system for paying the conferences — and eventually the schools — rewards quantity and quality. The more teams in, great. The farther they advance, better.

11. Gee, there was a lot of complaining about the officials throughout the first weekend of the tournament (although there was little mention of Michigan being called for only 10 fouls in its win over Florida despite being the most physical team UF played, but I digress). I get it. And I also know there is not a darn thing you can do about it. Fans have been complaining about missed calls ever since they nailed a peach basket to a wall and started wearing uniforms. College basketball has become a difficult game to officiate and it’s not going to get any better. Look, we see officials go to the monitor for three minutes and still can’t figure out what happened. No more lecturing about the refs. I’ve got a different angle on my soapbox ….

12. Let’s talk about Mike White. I get that immediately after or even during a loss that ends the season, people are going to fire off negative comments on social media. It’s part of the world we live in. But what happens is that these posts and texts and emails lead writers to feel like they have to address an issue that really isn’t one. And then people start asking me about the Florida basketball coach. This was a weird season. It’s the only word for it. I thought White did an excellent job of getting this team to buy in and make things interesting in the postseason. He has Florida basketball in a good place. But there is this element of the fan base that truly believes Florida should be in the Final Four every year, in part because they have sipped from that fountain and long for the taste. At a place like Florida, it’s usually a process. Some fans believe it should be easy and yet the Gators struggle to sell out an arena that had a seat reduction during renovations. I’ll just leave that there.

13. One last word on the 2018-19 basketball team. Those of you who said you couldn’t watch them play anymore got your wish. It’s always sad when it’s over and you hate to see a team go out with a 49-point effort, but you should have learned to expect the unexpected with Team Weird. If nothing else, here’s what you should hope the returning players learned — there has to be a sense of urgency in every single game during the regular season. Because you don’t want to be anywhere out of the top four seed lines. When you are a 10, you get shipped to Des Moines, Iowa, and play a team that does you better than you on one day’s rest. Seeding matters and maybe these guys get it now. At any rate, goodbye to the seniors and it was certainly interesting. From the reluctant star in KeVaughn Allen to the odd career of Jalen Hudson to the lunch-pail efforts of Kevarrius Hayes, these guys always played hard.

14. Tom Izzo. Can we talk about Tom Izzo? I like the guy. He was very nice to me when I was in East Lansing, Mich., a long time ago. Always admired how he got his kids to play. Then this thing blows up out of control because he was berating a player. The player was used to it. He was cool. Coaches coach. But do you want to know why the story became a STORY? Because Izzo’s players kept grabbing him and holding him back like they were afraid it could get physical. That put an impression in people’s minds, that he might. That’s my theory. Anyway, my bracket has been about like the tournament, not terrible but mundane. I got 12 of the Sweet 16 teams. I’m not impressed either.

15. Well, what did you expect, that basketball wouldn’t dominate today after I watched, like, 38 hours of basketball over the last few days? The SEC is excited because four teams are still playing, but the other side of the new expectations around this conference is that three coaches have been let go. Billy Kennedy, I get. Great guy, but seems to have a ceiling and a deep floor. Avery Johnson. Terrific guy. His teams were always talented, but never seemed to be greater than the sum of their parts. Bryce Drew is an odd firing, because it was very un-Vandy like. You get a new AD, you probably shouldn’t lose every conference game. It should be really interesting to see where the three teams go.

16. We knew it might be an up-and-down season for Kevin O’Sullivan’s young baseball team, but it’s not just the freshmen who seem to be overwhelmed by the start of SEC play. Perhaps the Gators have hit the bottom after being manhandled in a three-game sweep by Vanderbilt. UF is now 1-5 in the conference, but I remember a Florida team that started miserable in the SEC by getting swept on the road and ended up winning the national title. So there. Bottom line is Florida is hitting .237 in SEC play with a 6.58 ERA and that’s not winning in any league.

17. There were a lot of great basketball tweets, but I felt I should address a fairly big story with the Tweet of the Week from Patriots’ writer Ben Volin — “Factoid of the day: Tom Brady was entering his 11th NFL season when Gronk was drafted nine years ago, and Brady has outlasted him.” I have always been amazed at the dominance at the position by Rob Gronkowski. But you don’t announce on the first weekend of March Madness. Wait a day and get the proper pub.

18. I have to stop singing in the steam room at the gym. Nobody has asked me yet, but I have noticed some heavy sighs. Your playlist:

“Patience” by Tame Impala.

• “Sisyphus” by Andrew Bird.

• “Land of the Free” by The Killers.

• “Just You and I” by Tom Walker.

• And for an old one from an old man whose wife reminded him that he likes too many songs from the ’60s for a guy who is pretending to be hip musically (at least I think that’s what she was implying) “Love Is All Around” by The Troggs. D-Em-G-A. Easy-peezy.

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

5 COMMENTS

  1. I won’t digress. Florida looks dogged in the paint for 2 dang years straight, Pat. THAT’S DUECE! And Mike White’s heralded recruits, with more stars than the Milky Way, has only 6’9″ guys. While UCF’s front court is, I swear to God, above, 6’11” and 6’11” and yes 7’6″. You want a process, well recruit bigs and develop them Mike White. And you actually may see a Seeet 16 again… one day. Last point, Florida’s last 2 H.C. in Basketball made the Final Four in their 4th year, since you brought it up, Pat. Facts!

  2. This year’s Gator Basketball keep was easy to understand: They were too itty bitty for consistent winning, big boy basketball. Beginning and end of story…everybody knows it. Example, only two 3’s for 6 points in the first five minutes of MI. You could see it in White’s face…”I’ve got to finds some monsters like MI”. Our 6’5″ guys did try hard. Too small, period. No need for long paragraphs of analysis.

  3. I’m behind Mike White. I think he is doing a good job. This team had a clear disadvantage in size. Injuries took away John Egbunu (for the 2 years gatorgi laments) and Gorjak Gak (hardly a dominant presence, but an active, improving player) and Keith Stone (multiple talents). Stokes looks like a player – great effort/high motor. He clearly needs more seasoning and conditioning. But, yeah, the old saw is “you can’t coach height”. It’s still a big man’s game as far as I’m concerned. So go recruit some trees. Coach ’em up, Coach White.

  4. You gotta love Pat Dooley sometimes. I do not think we should fire Mike White. I think Mike White is a good coach and capable of being a great coach. However, there are some things about his tenure that should be cause for concern. Not “freak out, sky-is-falling” concerns but small red flags.

    Gator fans aren’t expecting the Final Four every year. That’s just typical Dooley hyperbole. Here is what fans want on a consistent basis:

    1) To average less than 10 losses a season (currently White averages 13.25).
    2) To be competitive in the SEC through the final weeks and earn a bye in the tournament
    3) Earn at least a #5 seed in the tournament. Why? Because it is very difficult to get to the 2nd weekend of the tournament when your 2nd round game is against a #1, #2 or #3. The tournament is all about match-ups, but they tend to be more favorable if you aren’t playing the best teams.
    4) Have a balanced roster.

    Also Gator fans want you to stop comparing Mike White’s first 4 years to Billy Donovan’s first 4 years. Donovan took over Florida basketball in a much different state. Forget the record comparison, forget the NCAA tournament appearances.

    To see Donovan’s brilliance, compare the Year-4 rosters. When Donovan arrived, he inherited a team whose best players were a point guard with only one eye, a big man who could only shoot 3s, and Kenyan Weaks. Fast forward 4 years, and Weaks was the only player from the Krueger era on that 1999-2000 team who played any meaningful minutes. In fairness, Stolt and Shannon were vital to the Sweet 16 team in 1998-99 but the main nucleus of that team were the freshman. In fact Weaks, Stolt and Shannon only accounted for 35% of the scoring in 98-99.

    Krueger recruits accounted for 62% of scoring in 97-98 (Year 2); 35% in 98-99 (Sweet 16) and only 12% in 99-00 (Runner Up).

    Now compare that to Mike White’s rosters. Many of the significant players in White’s tournament runs were signed by Billy Donovan. White inherited Kasey Hill, Jon Egbunu, Devin Robinson and Chris Chiozza. Keith Stone, Kavarrius Hayes and KeVaugh Allen all signed LOIs under Donovan. I am not saying that Mike White didn’t have to coach these players up or work to have them gel. I think he also did a good job bringing in transfers to complete the teams. All I am saying is that the nucleus of the 3 teams that went to the tournament were made up of Donovan recruits.

    Donovan Recruits: 16-17 (Elite 8) – 77% of scoring; 17-18 (2nd Round) – 48% of scoring; 2nd Round (18-19)- 40% of scoring.

    So please stop saying that Donovan left White with an empty cupboard.

    White gets credit for all those wins but, unlike Donovan, he has not completely rebuilt the program in his 4 years, even if the record is similar. This is the reason next year is critical to Mike White’s coaching career.

    Finally, you have to love that whenever Dooley gets mad at the fringe on Twitter, he decides to throw the entire Gator fanbase under the bus and blame them equally for basketball’s struggles. Most fans would love basketball season tickets but we don’t live in Gainesville and have difficulty driving 4+ hours round trip to see a game on a weeknight. Most of our employers and families wouldn’t appreciate that.

    All in all, Mike White and that Gator basketball program will be just fine but for fans to question his performance is not as ludicrous as Dooley makes it seem.