The Back Nine: Madness makes it a tough tournament

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Florida senior guard Chris Chiozza, left, is followed off the court by teammates after their 69-66 loss Saturday to Texas Tech in a second-round NCAA Tournament game in Dallas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

The Back Nine comes at you after — and I’m serious about this — watching too much basketball over a four-day period. And the same six commercials over and over although “turtle-rat” gets me every time.

10. It’s OK if you cried. It’s all right if you got angry. It’s fine if you cursed or threw something at your TV set. That’s what March Madness is all about. It is both the best way to crown a national champion and the most unfair way at the same time. On the one hand, teams battle all season to get the highest seed possible in the best location and then along comes someone who doesn’t care and ends that season. On the other hand, oh my, the drama of knowing every game could be the last no matter what you accomplished during the grind of the season. There are as many tears as cheers during this tournament and that’s because it is a made-for-TV event. OK, not all TVs because no matter how much they try to force feed TruTV down America’s throat, it’s still TruTV the rest of the year. Jim Boeheim, the Syracuse coach, said it best — “It’s a tough tournament.” He was defending Virginia coach Tony Bennett at the time, but he spoke the truth for all of the coaches, players and especially the fans. It is an extremely tough tournament. There are 67 teams who lose their final game and those are the lucky ones because they at least made the field. We fell in love with UMBC and their “Teen Wolf” jerseys, but think about what it was like to be a Virginia fan that night. It’s brutal for the losers on the first weekend because teams are defined by how far they go, not by how well they played for the previous four months. But it is still the best event in sports.

11. And on Saturday night, it was goodbye to Chris Chiozza, who will be missed as much for his character as his play on the court. They don’t come much better that “Cheez” and it was a real shame to see his final game be mired in foul trouble and poor shooting. (One thing we learned watching this tournament was that poor officiating isn’t just an SEC dilemma). Chiozza will go down as one of the all-time favorites at UF and this team overcame so much to get as far as it went. Fans get angry and when they are disappointed they sometimes get irrational. Remember them coming after Billy Donovan with pitchforks after he went five straight years without getting out of the first weekend? Gator fans should be happy they have a bright young coach who is only going to get better. It’s funny that the same people who were labeling UF as an NIT team and were adamant the Gators would not go far in the tournament are the same ones who are incredulous that they didn’t go far in the tournament.

12. Meanwhile, the SEC Network boys got a little too giddy about the league’s 4-0 start on Thursday and are left with only two teams to fawn over in the Sweet 16. That should not come as a major surprise. This was a league that improved drastically this season, but lacked great teams. That said, Tennessee lost on a last-second shot and Florida was inches away from overtime. Let’s face it, the teams with the most talent all year were Texas A&M and Kentucky. The Aggies had internal problems, but looked like the team we all thought they might be in their rout of North Carolina. And Kentucky is being Kentucky, coming on strong at the end and now being the beneficiary of the easiest path to the Final Four because of all of the upsets. And Auburn faded into the background down the stretch before crashing with an embarrassing loss to Clemson. Still, the league getting eight teams in the tournament will be more cash for a league printing its own money.

13. Four words nobody wants to hear from you today — My bracket is busted. Well, duh. Everyone’s bracket is a mess. That’s what a one-and-done tournament brings — absolute chaos. It’s why college baseball actually does it the right way in terms of fairness in that you can’t get beat by one lucky bloop hit. You get two shots at it over and over again. But it lacks the drama that TV loves so much and TV runs the tournament while the NCAA sits back and counts the money. In an effort not to be so bitter, I want to remind you that Florida is still the last team to repeat as hoops national champs and will remain so with North Carolina out and that the 11 defending champs since then have not even made an Elite Eight. With one-and-dones and the volatility of the tournament, it’s not surprising, but it should make Gator fans appreciate those 2006 and ’07 teams even more.

14. It was only one practice I attended and the season is a long way from being here, but my biggest takeaway from Florida football was that they are in great shape at tailback even with Malik Davis out because Jordan Scarlett looks like a man on a mission. And that Dan Mullen’s enthusiasm is infectious and you can tell a difference in the way these guys practice vs. the way they used to practice according to people who actually were allowed to watch practice. Of course, it’s early.

15. A week ago, The Back Nine was talking about the wonderful Saturday that UF had with walk-offs in baseball and softball and another indoor track national title. Then came this past Saturday when baseball gave up 15 runs and softball 11 runs and the basketball team was eliminated. It’s a daily game and by that I mean you cannot rest on your laurels. The good news was that both the baseball and softball teams came back and won on Sunday with baseball taking the first SEC series of the season against South Carolina. It’s funny, but I wondered if Michael Byrne could follow up on his breakout season as the Florida closer and in 16⅔ innings he has given up zero runs and struck out 14. Not bad, young man. Both teams have home SEC series this weekend with the baseball team taking on the powerful bats of Arkansas (the Razorbacks are hitting .327 with 39 homers) after a game Tuesday against Jacksonville. Softball faces USF Wednesday and then plays host to Texas A&M in a Saturday-Monday series.

16. I have to admit that on Sunday I watched as much golf as I did basketball because, to be honest, the golf was more exciting and I felt I owed it to Arnold Palmer to watch his tournament. So Rory McIlroy is rounding back into form and Tiger Woods had another Sunday in contention and the spring football game is not the Saturday of the Masters. The gods are forcing me to become one with my recliner.

17. The Tweet of the Week comes from UF grad and public relations expert Jonathan Arnholz — “*Gators Twitter, circa 1992* I know (Steve) Spurrier was a Heisman winner here, but idk if he has the right stuff as a coach. We had 4 losses this year, lost the SEC title game and only went to the Gator Bowl. Big let down after last year. Could last year have been a fluke?” That says it all about where we are in social media.

18. Usually, the next three days would feel like a vast desert because the NCAA Tournament takes some time off (although if TV wanted it to, I’m sure they would schedule games for the middle of the night tonight). We all need a break so get in the gym and try this playlist:

• “Best of the Best of Times” by Darlingride.

• “Paradise” by George Ezra,

• “White Flag” by Bishop Briggs.

• “This Is It” by Lo Moon.

• And for an oldie, “The Heart of Saturday Night” by Tom Waits.

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

13 COMMENTS

  1. I’m with you Pat, I don’t get these people bashing Coach White. Doing what they did this year with 3 big men on the bench all year, and then having 2 good looks at the end to tie it up and go overtime. He’s not perfect, who is?

    • I agree…we’re not a basketball school, far from it. We need to be pleased with how well we’ve done and start understanding that the BD years were the exception not the rule around here. My only complaint is we can’t lose to FSU for the fifth consecutive year. That is inexcusable.

      • UF isn’t a “basketball only” school like Duke, Kansas, Kentucky, Indiana, and, now Tennessee (take that Vols), but it is a basketball school. UF is one of only 15 schools with multiple basketball national championships and ranks 12th all-time in NCAA tournament wins. UF is 4th all-time in NCAA tournament winning percentage, behind only Duke, UNC, and UCLA. It has the same number of Final Fours as Villanova, Georgetown, and UConn, the same number of titles as Villanova, and one more than Georgetown. You can make the Billy Donovan argument, but most of Duke’s success and all their titles have come under Coach K. Four different coaches have taken UF to the Sweet 16, three coaches have taken UF to the Elite 8, and two coaches have taken them to the Final Four. That’s a basketball school.

  2. March madness is a great event, but it sure does make fans forget the regular season. I’m not sure I want to see the football playoffs expanded to the point that advancing in postseason would be more important than a great regular season.

    • Pat, nice article (I, too, like the Sir Charles’ bit). Sparky, AMEN! Before all the Final Four’s in both basketball and football (now), we had some amazing memorable seasons at U.F. (especially in football before all the post-season T.V. hoopla). For me, personally (and in-person), it started with James Jones’ catch, falling backwards into the north-east corner end zone, falling onto the pylon and catching a game winner against the mighty ‘Canes of the 80’s. Or Kerwin Bell willing and limping Florida to an amazing win against a top 10 Auburn team in the 80’s also. The 90’s, one word, golden! But now it’s all about an ”all or nothing” attitude and mentality with college sports for many on ”social media”, not so much here, but it’s prevalent and it’s a shame. And, in my opinion, a destroyer of many coaches’ careers (right or wrong).

  3. Great Back Nine–All well put. Since the Spurrier Era–and by that I mean ALL Sports since then–I don’t know if we’ve been “spoiled”–but we’ve won a ton of football and basketball games and titles–not to mentions titles in literally everything else. We’ve won National Titles Every Year since 2005. Not too bad. Other than Stanford, which fields about twice as many men’s and women’s varsity sports as UF, few can compare. This is coming from a 1980 grad–so the last football season I witnessed was 1979. 0-10-1. We’ve come a LONG Way, Baby!
    Go Gators!

  4. The referees have been awful in the tournament. They look slow and are constantly out of position. The speed, size and athleticism of players has improved while the refs have remained slow, old and way too set in their ways. The game has changed over the decades and the referees have not. They should consider giving players 6 fouls to make up for the lack on consistency. It is not just the Gators. I watched countless games where players who were never in foul trouble in the regular season were fouling out. There were steals and blocks that were obviously clean and the whistle blew. Then on the very next possession a player would get destroyed while shooting and the refs were staring with a blank look.

  5. orlandogator77, I agree completely. I know there are going to be missed calls, but when it’s some 60+ guy chugging down the court 40 feet behind the play making a call on something he can’t even see, those are the ones that get me.

  6. Did anyone notice the comments of the Texas Tech coach that his intention was to get Chiozza into foul trouble? That seems a little shady to me. I think we all saw it-with Chiozza out it was an entirely different game. I don’t remember a coach being so explicit about scheming to get the other teams best player into foul trouble. It’s not against the rules, but it seems dirty.

  7. I believe in the future of Gator basketball under a capable, still-learning Coach White. The Gators missed the Final Flour because of out-of-control moments by a usually cool 3Gor, some missed foul shots and above all, the season-long injuries to our big men. I’m 89, a lifetime sports fan and long ago sports editor of my college newspaper.