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 firstname.lastname@example.org. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.