The Back Nine comes at you after a wild weekend in Pollen-esia (oy, my sinuses), a lot of used notebooks and more hardware for the UF athletic program.
10. On a Monday after one of these three-day festivals we have in Gainesville on so many winter weekends (OK, it was 86 degrees, why do you think we live here?), I unpack my computer bag to work on The Back Nine and unstack the many legal pads of scribbled writing. If you weren’t paying attention, a lot of stuff happened that weren’t the Oscars (is it OK to watch a movie instead of the Academy Awards?) Anyway, Saturday at about 5:15 p.m. things weren’t looking too good for what was supposed to be a big weekend. Baseball had lost the series opener to Miami, basketball was trailing by 12 to Missouri and gymnastics had already lost to Georgia. Hey, we’re supposed to be having fun here. And then, within the space of a few hours, everything turned. Basketball rallied for an important win, baseball rallied in the late innings to beat Miami and both men’s swimming and diving and men’s track and field won SEC championships (seventh straight for swimming) and softball remained undefeated. Is that good, Scott Stricklin?
11. Let’s start off with the basketball win, which was not pretty but who cares? Missouri plays a physical brand of defense and made it difficult for Florida to get good looks from beyond the arc. Earlier in the year, that might have meant a loss for Florida, but these guys have figured out other ways to score enough points. Really, as slow as both teams played Saturday, 64 points was a lot. “We could never get in a great offensive rhythm,” coach Mike White said, “which you get when you play against them.” Missouri was called for 23 fouls as a result of its pressure defensively and Florida made the Tigers pay going 25 for 30 from the free-throw line. Checking out the NET Rankings, we saw Florida stay right at 31 after the win, which tells me that there is so much data already fed into the computer that the rankings aren’t going to change a whole bunch. Florida saw losses by a couple of teams drop their number of quality wins down a notch and that will be the big question for the selection committee — does Florida have enough good wins to get in when it’s all said and done?
12. Usually during a season — and, yes, I watch too much basketball — I latch onto a team because I like the way they play. Usually it’s because of offense, the ability to find open guys through passing. And usually it’s not a blue blood. But the team I really like this year is North Carolina. The Heels are third in the nation in scoring and could work their way into a No. 1 seed if they can get by Duke again. The ACC currently has the Nos. 2, 3 and 6 teams in NET Rankings. Is it possible the league could have three No. 1 seeds in Virginia, Duke and Carolina? Can Houston, which has lost only one game and is fourth, really get a No. 1 seed? Does Kentucky get a No. 1 if it wins out, including a victory at Tennessee on Saturday? Could struggling Tennessee (if two losses in three games could be considered struggling) drop down to a three or even a four seed before it’s all over? These are questions that will be answered in what should be a fascinating three weeks of basketball before the Madness.
13. One of the saddest things about the sports landscape is the need everyone seems to feel about telling a young man what he should and shouldn’t do with his career. Somehow the NCAA got blamed for an NBA rule last week because Zion Williamson was injured and so many pundits were demanding he sit out the rest of his season to get ready for the draft. It’s overwhelming to some of those with the pros-only-matter mentality to think it’s impossible that a player might actually like playing in college.
14. Attendance at baseball for the weekend was 15,379 and even though we got some rain Friday and Sunday it was a pretty good weekend to watch a rivalry series. One of the biggest things that happened Sunday was starter Jack Leftwich striking out Miami batters in the third and fourth to strand five runners on base and give the Gators a chance. I’m not sure what is more impressive — that a true freshman in Kendrick Calilao is leading the team in just about every offensive category or that a kid who should still be in high school (Nolan Crisp) already has four saves. Watch out Michael Byrne, your save record may already be in jeopardy.
15. Florida’s gymnastics team missed out on a chance to clinch the regular season SEC title with a tough loss to Georgia even though the Gators had a score that was better than the week before in a win at Alabama. Florida will have a chance to clinch a share of the title at Arkansas on Friday, but unfortunately you won’t be able to watch. The meet will not be on TV or even streaming. It’s the choice of the host school whether to stream it or not based on what else is going on around campus.
16. With all the hoopla on campus this weekend, Florida’s softball team quietly ran its record to 18-0 with a West Coast swing upcoming. One thing about Tim Walton’s teams is that they always seem to get off to fast starts. In the last four seasons prior to this one, Florida has won 22, 29, 34 and 28 games before losing for the second time in the season. Amanda Lorenz looks like someone who is going to enjoy her senior season hitting .474 with six homers and 19 RBIs so far. Florida through 18 games is hitting .347 with a 0.97 ERA. I’d say that’s a fast start.
17. The Tweet of the week comes from Jacksonville University’s baseball account during the Dolphins’ game with Jacksonville State —
“FISH DELAY | An Osprey just flew over John Sessions (Stadium) with a fish in his claws, but was threatened by a pursuing bald eagle, causing the osprey to drop the fish behind second base (Error).
The fish was recovered by a Dolphin and removed from the field.
Can’t make this up folks.”
Hey, we have ospreys here, but they drop other things at the baseball stadium.
18. So a weekend spent at two UF baseball games and one basketball game wasn’t great for the knee, but it gave me time to find a really good playlist (music at Gatorsports.com):
• “Boriska” by the Claypool Lennon Delirium.
• “Shapes in the Sun” by Allman Brown.
• Lily and Madeleine’s version of “Can’t Help The Way I Feel”.
• “Contention” by The Great Yawn.
• And for an oldie, this one really pains me, “I Don’t Think You Know Me” by The Monkees. It’s one of the rare vocals for Peter Tork, who died last week which is why I was watching Monkees reruns in the press box Friday.
Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at email@example.com. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.