The Back Nine comes at you after an exceptional weekend in this town and certainly in the Gator Nation. I had fun. Did you have fun?
10. Perhaps the only bad news over the weekend was that Charlie Strong reportedly decided to go to Alabama as an analyst when all signs pointed to him returning to UF. There were a lot of us who simply wanted Strong back because he’s a great guy and others who wanted another link to the championship run. His decision was not about money, because he is going to make the same thing wherever he decided to coach this year because of his USF money. In the end, it came down to this. Nick Saban has a track record for rehabilitating coaching resumes. We joke Alabama is the Home for Wayward Coaches, but it worked for Lane Kiffin, Mike Locksley and Steve Sarkisian. And Butch Jones and Major Applewhite hope it works for them. Having Alabama on your resume is a big deal in the coaching circles. That’s just the way it is.
11. One thing you certainly have to say about the presentation of Billy Donovan Court on Saturday Night was that Florida did it up right. There were a lot of people who put a lot into it. After it was all over, I saw associate athletics director Alicia Longworth in the press room and told her what a great job she did. “I’d do it all over again,” she said. Those are the kind of feelings Donovan inspired in the people who work there, who have had relationships with him and who interacted with him during the 19 years he was in the community. It was pretty impressive to see all of those players at the pregame social. As a certain AD emeritus joked Saturday night, “You look at all of this talent in this room and you wonder how we only won two championships.” It was an unbelievable night that certainly lived up to the hype. I know that memories fade and audio tapes may prove me wrong, but I can’t remember the O-Dome being louder than when Donovan was introduced.
12. Florida’s current basketball team — almost an afterthought Saturday night — has now finished the softest part of its SEC schedule, winning the games it should have to go 4-1 during that stretch. Those teams (Vandy twice) have a combined record of 14-46 in conference games. Florida is at No. 35 in the NET Rankings, which puts the Gators comfortably in the tournament. But the fate of this team will be decided over the difficult final six games of the regular season. Florida gets Kentucky twice, Arkansas tonight and LSU during the stretch. The good news is that three of those four games are at home, where the arena noise has returned to form.
13. I saw this Tweet from Kyle Tucker of The Athletic this week (Tweet of the Week will come later) — “This college basketball season has broken the computers.
Kentucky: 20-5, won 12 of last 14
Michigan State: 17-9, lost 6 of last 10
Kentucky beat Michigan State on a neutral court.
Kentucky in KenPom: 30th, Michigan State in KenPom: 10th.”
His point is well taken, but the strength of the Big Ten is skewing things a bit in the computers. Which I guess it should. There is an outside chance that league could get 12 of 14 teams into the tournament, because of strong NET Rankings (where MSU is 12th and OK 25th and 12 Big Ten teams are in the top 40). That said, it was difficult to explain how Florida’s NET jumped two spots after beating a team at home with one conference win and then another spot to 35th with Sunday off. But nobody is complaining.
14. I know that I get all warm and fuzzy when I talk about how great it is to be a sports fan (or writer) in a place where there are so many incredible teams and athletes. That was on display bigtime this weekend. Lacrosse beat the No. 1 team in the land on the road, men’s tennis had a big weekend, baseball and softball rolled, basketball won and then there was the story of Ricky Castillo. I doubt that will be the last time you read that name in my column. Everyone I talk to about the Florida freshman golfer raves about him as a player and marvels at his composure. The guy is 24-under for his last two tournaments and had the third lowest score in the history of UF golf. J.C. Deacon has himself something.
15. It’s early. I mean, really early. But the perception of the Florida baseball and softball teams going into the season was that both will be able to hit and we’ll see about the pitching. Florida looked like a confident baseball team in its sweep of Marshall and the ball seemed to explode off the bats, especially the older guys who certainly look bigger and stronger than a year ago. The stats are one thing, but I was impressed with how well Florida ran the bases and how aggressive the Gators were. The No. 2 Gators go against No. 1 Miami starting Friday, so it will be interesting to see how they handle midweek games against JU. Florida’s 11-1 softball team is hitting .353 with 11 homers and Michigan State transfer Charla Echols has 18 hits in her first 12 games as a Gator. It’s going to be an interesting spring.
16. And with everything else going on, we also had the NBA All-Star Game, Tour golf with a good leaderboard and the Daytona 500 this weekend. Did you notice we didn’t see a lot of talk about the XFL? That’s the problem this league will run into — sports do not crawl up and die after the Super Bowl. They just break off into niches.
17. The Back Nine Tweet of the Week comes from Chris Vitali, who loves his baseball and barbecue so we have that much in common. Anyway, I thought this was pretty good — “People still talk about the Black Sox 101 years later.
They still talk about Pete Rose 31 years after the fact.
They’re still talking about steroids 15 years after Juiced came out.
The idea people think this Astros story will just go away after a couple months is adorable.” What he said.
18. It felt like all I did this week was drive to and from campus. Except when I was driving to and from The Sun. So it gave me time to check out some music for your playlist (also, Howard was on vacation … again):
• “Fallen Leaves” by The Deep Dark Woods.
• “Rain Check” by Carl Broemel.
• “Give It Back” by The Hearts
• “Deep End” by Holly Humberstone.
• And for an old one, I just thought it was appropriate to bring this one back because of the night we all had at the O-Dome Saturday. “You Can Call Me Al” by Paul Simon.
Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.