The Back Nine comes at you after a full weekend of baseball with some softball and basketball viewing mixed in. Maybe I should have been more constructive.
- It felt like an empty weekend in a way for Gator fans even with all that was going on around campus and elsewhere because there was no basketball and a year ago it was all anybody was talking about this time of year. That’s the thing about the NCAA Tournament. While the nation is intrigued with the big picture, individual fan bases are drinking up how far their teams go and there is nothing — I repeat, nothing — as intoxicating as advancing in this tournament. When you advance, you are a much better person in between games. If we could only bottle up that feeling. Anyway, the Final Four is really not that out of place (except for Loyola of Chicago and Sister Jean) because all four teams won their conference tournaments. So maybe there is something to playing well in those tournaments instead of getting some rest.
- One last look back on the Florida basketball season, especially because one of the teams it played against is in the Final Four. I don’t think anybody sat in the O-Dome back in December and watched Loyola win by six and thought, “That looks like a Final Four team.” Instead, it felt like a bad loss for the Gators, but that was because Florida played horribly in that game shooting 2-for-19 from 3-point range and having no player score in double figures. Those, as we would later find out, were the bad Gators who would creep into the mix every once in awhile. Of course, there were the good Gators, too, the ones who won 21 games, swept Kentucky and finished third in the SEC. Here’s a stat to show you how tough a schedule Florida played this season — the Gators played a six-game stretch where they faced Gonzaga, Duke, FSU, Loyola-Chicago, Cincinnati and Clemson in a row. All NCAA tourney teams. And those teams have gone 15-5 in the tournament with one still playing. The next non-conference schedule looks like another rugged road with Butler, Michigan State, FSU and another Big 12 team (on the road) on the slate with more to come.
- One of the things that makes the tournament so great for some of us is negative rooting. Just because your team is out doesn’t mean it’s over for you, because one of your rivals may still be playing. You don’t think North Carolina fans woke up smiling today because Grayson Allen’s career ended Sunday? That was a terrific game and got some of the bad taste out of the mouths of anyone who watched Michigan-Florida State where nobody seemed capable of making a shot. Count me among the people who thought Leonard Hamilton was dead wrong not fouling down four with 10 seconds to play. “The game was over,” he said. Apparently, he doesn’t have cable because I seem to recall a few games where crazy things happened in the final seconds of games this year. Yes, it probably was over. But it wasn’t OVER. Never give up. Anyway, I have some new T-shirts coming this week and I’ll leave it at that because I met some lovely people from Kentucky in St. Louis and they were trying to convince me not to buy a shirt from whoever knocked Kentucky out.
- It’s just spring football. There is no game around the corner. But the incessant positive vibe coming out of Florida’s practices is overwhelming. Talk to former players and current players and fans finally let into practices and the energy is palpable. Every time I’m on a radio show around the Southeast I tell them the same thing — Florida is on the right track. But it still comes down to one position and you know what that is. Look, if Florida can reduce its penalties (an average of 89.7 over the last seven seasons) and have solid special teams (and Dan Mullen is totally invested in making that happen) it will be a major improvement.
- Caeleb Dressel is ridiculous. He finished off his Gator career by swimming like someone trying to escape a Great White Shark. The fastest swimmer in the world is also one of the best guys you’ll ever meet. Florida and this community should be proud of him the way we are proud of the other legends who have performed in orange and blue. Just amazing. And all you need to know about him is that he gave all three of his winning trophies at the NCAA meet to children who were serving as volunteers. Or this — “I’m glad I could do it wearing the cap I’m wearing, representing the university. They’ve been absolutely wonderful to me,” he said.
- A few years back, I wondered if Florida’s baseball team had that clutch gene. That was the year the Gators snuck into the NCAA Tournament and went two-and-through. It’s pretty clear that the clutch gene is alive and well in Gainesville. To come back after losing the first game of the series against the fourth-ranked team in America and take the last two was more evidence. Although after seeing the renditions of the new baseball and softball facilities I want to speed up time to cover games in those stadiums. They look spectacular and the idea of covering a softball game where you can see the entire field from press row is certainly appealing.
- It was a shame to see Alex McMurtry fall in the floor exercise Saturday during the SEC gymnastics meet but remember she has only competed in that event a couple of times because of her back problems and hasn’t been able to properly train for the floor exercise. She’ll figure it out. The fact that Florida did so well — leading after two events and winning or sharing a title at each apparatus — is a sign that this team has a chance when it returns to the same St. Louis arena for the national championships even with Kennedy Baker out. And speaking of Baker, at the SEC meet Alabama’s Ari Guerra, who shared the floor title with UF’s Alicia Boren and Kentucky’s Sidney Dukes, gave her award flowers to Baker and Tweeted, “I know you would have won floor tonight so here you can have my flowers.” The two gymnasts trained together at Texas Dreams Club. Class.
- The Tweet of the Week goes to Johnny Football, yes, THE Johnny Manziel, who let this be known this week — “This will probably cause an uproar, but I’m tired of the @Kaepernick7 vs myself comparisons and anger. Kap is doing amazing things right now changing lives and donating millions of dollars. His impact off the field from a societal standpoint is legendary and straight admirable.” I don’t think it caused much of an uproar, but I get where he’s coming from. And basically he’s saying, “All Kap did was kneel during the anthem. I’ve done some very dumb things.”
- A back injury has kept me away from the gym the last couple of weeks, but I vow to get back this week. And I will bring along this playlist:
* “Broken” by lovelytheband.
* Kings & Queens” by Mat Kearney.
* “Safari Song” by Greta Van Fleet.
* “Hanging On” by The Tracks.
* And for a great old one, “Don’t Answer Me” by The Alan Parsons Project (insert Austin Powers line here).
Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.