The Back Nine comes at you after a weekend that had a lot of everything, including what may have been the greatest Elite Eight ever.
10. The first weekend wasn’t much. The second weekend was ridiculous. March Madness will get a high grade from me if the Final Four scores are blowouts and Roseanne sings the national anthem. I’m satisfied. The entertainment, the raw emotion, the heartbreak, the instant heroes. Everything was there. We aren’t exactly left with the usual suspects, but the stories of how they got there are captivating. Especially because geniuses like me dismissed Auburn when it couldn’t win on the road during the regular season and Michigan State when it lost Joshua Langford for the season. These four teams are older and that seems to be the consistent formula for success in March. For all of the bashing of this Florida team this year, the Gators took Michigan State down to the wire and had a brutal call go against them in the closing seconds to lose by three when Auburn was starting its run. There is a Gator presence of sorts in Brandone Francis, who transferred from UF to Texas Tech. Let me also say this — as much as I loved the second weekend, there was one play that summed up college basketball. That came when Texas Tech’s Tariq Owens made a ridiculous block and saved it to a teammate on the sideline and the announcer twice called it “the play of the tournament.” Except Owens was clearly out of bounds when he flipped the ball back in. That, my friends, is college basketball.
11. Because every team that loses is going to complain about the refs and usually they have a good point. Great teams overcome bad calls. Fans also will complain about their coach when they lose. I’m sure there are fans at Duke who can’t believe Coach K lost with all of those lottery picks or that John Calipari doesn’t have but one title with all of the great players he has brought to Kentucky. But this is the system that is set up, the one that gets the ratings, the money and the casual fan interest. In other words, it works, but it doesn’t necessarily crown the best team (Florida, 2007 excepted). It’s a bunch of one-game tournaments with your season on the line. Sometimes, the ball rolls in and you celebrate. Sometimes it rolls off and you cry real tears. It’s what makes it great. Not fair, but great. It’s so difficult to manage a trip through the brackets and into the Final Four no matter how talented the team. The pressure is real. Just look at all of the missed free throws.
12. Major League Baseball started this week. The Braves went 0-3 in their first series. I’m good. I have the Masters next week. That’s all that really matters.
13. Different stories for UF baseball and softball over the weekend. Baseball got a much-needed sweep over Alabama and it will be interesting to see how this team — which was clobbered in its first SEC road series — will fare this weekend at Ole Miss on the weekend of that school’s spring game. Softball already went to Ole Miss and it did not turn out well. It feels strange to look at the SEC softball standings and see Florida floundering around in ninth place at 3-6. There’s a lot of softball to be played, including a big game at home against FSU on Wednesday night. Maybe they have learned to time her or maybe she’s struggling to locate or maybe she’s just getting worn down, but Kelly Barnhill’s ERA in SEC games is now 2.83 which would be like a baseball pitcher having an ERA in the sevens. She has allowed seven homers in seven SEC apperances. And when your team is struggling in all but two spots in the lineup, it puts that much more on the pitcher. Anyway, it’s early. Let’s see how this whole thing plays out in both sports and remember that we do get a little spoiled when the two sports have been to 16 combined College World Series since 2008.
14. Dennis Dodd did a piece for CBS Sports recently about the subject that won’t go away because college football had another attendance drop last year, per school the largest decline in 34 years. Dodd makes a good point in that so many stadiums were built so long ago it is difficult to wire them for Wi-Fi and you’re not drawing students to games without Wi-Fi. I’ve written a lot of words over the last couple of years and am convinced that the solution for almost every school is to reduce capacity and make the game exerience better, don’t worry about the number of people in your stadium, but the number of people who want to come back. Either that or build new stadiums, which isn’t going to happen.
15. I’ll confess, men’s tennis kind of snuck up on me. There is so much that goes on in our town with elite teams that we get caught up in spring football, hoops, baseball and everything else this time of the year. Let’s give the men’s tennis team some props at 9-0 in the SEC with three to play. Florida hasn’t won an SEC men’s title since 2005, but the coaches picked the Gators in the preseason to win it so it didn’t sneak up on them. Bryan Shelton’s team has a Friday-Sunday tour of the state of Alabama this weekend (Alabama is 3-6 in the conference, Auburn is 0-9) before finishing up April 14 at home against South Carolina. And the following week, the SEC Championships are here. Get out the sunscreen.
16. So Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin brought this to my attention that was tweeted by baseball stat guy Bill James, that George Brett made a run at .400 and it was huge because nobody had reached that mark in 39 years. And that was 39 years ago. That’s amazing, but not all that surprising. Baseball is totally about power now, everybody throwing as hard as they can and swinging as hard as they can. It almost feels violent. There isn’t a lot of drag bunting or hitting away from the shift. So I can say with real confidence that since nobody has hit .400 in my lifetime, nobody will.
17. The Tweet of the Week — and there were a lot of really good ones during the four days of basketball — comes from Ramzy Nasrallah — “Virginia, Auburn, Texas Tech, Michigan State. The noon kickoff final four.” Seriously, are these games going to be on Raycom?
18. It’s April, which means I’m closing in on knee surgery and I’m going to need a lot of really good music and Netflix recommendations to get through the rehab. So feel free.
• “The Third Degree” by Honeyblood.
• “Green Eyes” by Chris Cohen.
• “Missed Connection” by The Head and the Heart.
• “Younger” by The Mountain Goats.
• And for an old one, because I’m in a mood, “Ouch!” by The Rutles.
Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.