The Back Nine: It’s almost experiment time for Mullen

Florida quarterback Emory Jones throws under the watch of QB coach Brian Johnson at practice. [Brad McClenny/The Gainesville Sun]
The Back Nine comes at you after an interesting trifecta of covering Gator sports — baseball Friday, hoops on Saturday, softball Sunday. It was this close to perfection.
10.Technically, we still have nine days until the start of spring and six days until the start of Florida’s spring football practice, but it feels like spring. And that means Dan Mullen and his staff will start the great experiment. Actually, that should be plural. Because when you get a coach in his third year of building a roster, spring is a great opportunity to try a lot of things out. “The more depth you have,” Mullen said Monday, “the more you can move guys around.” That’s the goal coming out of spring practice next month — to know which players you want on the field. In the case of Florida, because that depth has been recruited and developed, there are a lot of options at every position. “We are three-deep plus at every spot,” Mullen said. Of course, we will have to see about injuries and the transfer portal before we know exactly what the UF 2020 roster will look like. But with all of the expectations, a perfect world allows the Florida staff to keep rotating guys in all over the field to avoid fatigue. Mullen said he’d like guys to go 40-45 plays in a game. I think that’s where the issues of last year might have affected this team in some big games.
11. You never want to overreact, but after spending close to 48 hours around Gainesville and hearing from the Gator Nation, the loss to Kentucky on Saturday might have been one of the toughest regular-season losses in the history of the basketball program. It’s not easy for a lot of fans to shake off and I know there are a lot of people out there who are simply done with this team (and judging by the empty seats, some were done before the Kentucky game). It doesn’t mean the same fans won’t be asking for boosts to get back on the bandwagon if Florida has success in the postseason, but the sting of that loss cannot be patched up quickly. After the game, Mike White again looked exasperated, frustrated, agitated and some other words that end with an “-ed”. He once again questioned the toughness of his team, but the Gators have played 31 games. If they aren’t tough after going through an 18-game SEC stretch, it’s probably not going to happen.
12. In some ways, the Kentucky game was the football game between the two schools in reverse. I don’t think Florida beats Kentucky in football if Feleipe Franks doesn’t go down with an injury and I have no doubt Florida wins the basketball game if Kerry Blackshear Jr. doesn’t go down with an injury. I’m pretty sure UF would not have been outrebounded in the second half 19-7 if Blackshear was healthy. The problem is that the other bigs didn’t take up the slack and now Blackshear is questionable for Thursday’s tourney game against the Mississippi-Georgia winner. It would be tempting just to sit him out in Nashville if there are any issues.
13. It was a little bit surprising to see Florida did not drop after the loss in the NET Rankings and stayed at No. 28, while Kentucky, after a road win, moved up one spot and then fell back to No. 22 on Monday after the Sunday results. I don’t pretend to understand how those rankings are calculated. The SEC looks like it’s still stuck on getting only four teams into the NCAAs unless one of these teams makes a big run in Nashville. And I mean a BIG run, like getting to the finals. Arkansas (47th), Miss. State (50) and Alabama (53) still have an outside chance to give the SEC a fifth team, but the way this league has been this year we might see Vanderbilt in the final. It has been as crazy a season as I can remember. John Calipari was lobbying for more teams to get in on Saturday. He said the league should get six or seven teams in. Good luck with that. By the way, ESPN’s Joe Lunardi still has UF in as a nine seed. Calipari’s argument was that when other conferences cannibalize each other, it’s called parity and they are rewarded. But the SEC doesn’t get rewarded that way (I said, it was HIS argument). That’s the question — is the conference deep or is the conference just not all that good this season? And in the end, it’s the beginning that counts. How you do in November and December as a conference sets the ceiling for how your conference is evaluated. Whether that is fair or not, as Bruce Hornsby sang, “That’s just the way it is.” Me? I think the league is full of dangerous teams that are wildly inconsistent. It’s not only a Florida problem.
14. One more example of how wild and crazy college basketball has been this year — there are 11 teams in the top 30 of the NET Rankings with double-digit losses. It sets up for what could be some great conference tournaments (we’ve already seen major upsets in the mid-major conference tournaments) and possibly one of the best NCAA Tournaments ever. On the other hand, March Madness comes with no guarantees and there are some great teams out there no matter what anyone is saying.
15. We all know Florida will not go unbeaten for the regular season in baseball (although so far, so good) and certainly this will be a big week for the Gators. Tonight, Kevin O’Sullivan’s team takes on No. 15 Florida State, then opens SEC play with three games against No. 3 Georgia. There’s not much going on in sports this weekend with the SEC Tournament, a baseball series between Nos. 1 and 3, softball hosting ranked teams in FSU and Baylor, The Players Championship and Gatornationals. Oh, and the final gymnastics meet of the season for America’s No. 2 team. Please try to enjoy.
16. Here’s some good news for Gator fans — now that the basketball regular seasons are finished, we can give you an update of where Florida stands in the All-Sports Trophy competition. After losing the title to Texas A&M last year, UF is in first place in the overall, men’s and women’s standings. A&M is second in all three categories with Kentucky third and Georgia fourth in the overall standings. So there is that.
17. The Tweet of the Week comes from Aaron Torres of Fox Sports (and I will forgive him for calling Florida’s basketball arena The Swamp on radio last week): “In November, Texas A&M lost to Fairfield – FAIRFIELD – and I had an SEC coach tell me, ‘I don’t think they’ll win an SEC game.’ Well, Aggies just finished the regular season 10-8 in SEC play, with wins at Auburn + at Tennessee. The future is BRIGHT under Buzz Williams in Aggieland.” I thought John Calipari had SEC Coach of the Year locked up a week ago and Buzz looked like a clown on the sidelines. See how wrong I can be?
18. Many thanks to the good people at Stop Children’s Cancer, who put on quite a gala Saturday night at the Reitz Union. It kind of helped some people get the taste of that basketball loss out of their mouths. The band there played a lot of music. None of these songs made the playlist:
• “Wreckless Abandon” by The Dirty Knobs (Mike Campbell’s group and if you don’t know who Mike is then we probably can’t be close friends).
“Shinin’ ” by the Allman Betts Band and if you don’t know of anyone named Allman or Betts, we probably can’t be friends at all.
• “I Can Hardly Speak” by Bombay Bicycle Club. I could tell you some stories about the old Bombay Bicycle Club in Jacksonville, but this is a family newspaper. You old school Duval hacks are safe.
Shaking” by Hazel English.
• And for an old one mainly because I heard Harry Styles (don’t hate me) do a brilliant version on Howard Stern, “Sledgehammer” by Peter Gabriel.
Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at And follow at


    • Amen! I am tired of him always questioning the toughness of his players. It’s been 5 years. If your players aren’t tough, recruit different players! If your players are weak, fire the strength coach! If your players lack an intensity, get new assistants! This whole thing with “toughness” and calling players out is what bothers me the most about White. Like the losses, excuses, scoring droughts and poor shooting…this is a trend. Proof below…I’m sure there are more. I got tired of looking.

      “For us to be a really good team, to max out as a team, we have to get tougher,” White said. “So we’re searching for different ways.”
      November 23, 2017

      “Sometimes you feel like … you feel like you’re dragging these guys a little bit. That’s not a sign of a great team, when you’ve got to coach effort in practice.”
      January 8, 2019

      “I thought last year’s team had some softness issues. I think we do currently right now. I say we, I’m part of it, I’m leading it. I hate to say ‘My guys are soft’. We’re a bit soft right now,”
      November 2, 2018

      “Yeah, I beat our guys up a lot last year with questioning their toughness.”
      Discussing the 2016-17 team

  1. I have been very critical of the UF basketball team this season, but what I saw in the Kentucky game made me feel a lot better. Sure, it was very disappointing to see the 1 point loss, but I was very impressed by the improvement of Scottie Lewis who is beginning to see what college basketball is and how he needs to play. There was a lot more movement in that game without the ball and it showed. Aside from losing Blackshear next season, I am very hopeful that it will be a great year with Lewis, Glover, Mann and Payne having a season of experience and with some improvement by Jitiboh. He has great bulk and strength (6-10 and 300 lbs) but he needs to develop his shot more. Confidence in playing more should help. No long will any center in the league be able to back our center down toward the hoop. Blackshear, as athletic as he is doesn’t have the bulk and strength to hold fast. Jitiboh showed that when he played. The quick centers will beat him now and then, but they ain’t going to push him. Hopefully, the Gators will play at a high level in the SEC tournament and in the NCAA tournament, but what I have seen in the Kentucky game, the Georgia game and the LSU game makes me feel better.

    • Surprisingly optimistic. Hope you’re right, but that game demoralized me, and it’s difficult for me to see a silver lining right now. Still, a Jitoboh-Payne twin towers lineup could be interesting. Go Gators!

  2. ”I have no doubt Florida wins the basketball game if Kerry Blackshear Jr does’t go down” -Pat Dooely. Really? As if Kerry Blackshear is suddenly Dwayne Schintzius, or Shaq? No, Pat, wrong! Love ya’ man, but you don’t know what you’re talking about with that statement. Kerry was hurt, bad fall, no doubt. But young freshman come into programs at big schools and perform all the time. You and Steve Russell types say, “But we aren’t U.K. or Duke, yadayadayada!” Love ya’ too Steve Russell, but please show me a school with FIVE FINAL FOURS in our present predicament. You all can’t! This Coach jumped in here head 1st and KNEW DAMN WELL WHAT HE SIGNED UP FOR! No sympathy from many of us Gator fans! This team has a disconnect, perhaps, but it’s White’s 5th year! Billy ‘D’ went to Final FOur in his 4th year at U.F.
    So, here we are, this roster rocks! And you ”experts” all said, ”give Mike White time to get his own players.” THERE HERE! Tick-tock, Mike! Yea, man, I’m older than Mike White, I can call him by his 1st name! And I love these players, this roster, (we love ya’ gator ballers), and we all want you all to come back and prove us wrong. Especially if you love your Coach Mike White! And so now it’s up to you all ‘IF’ you love your Coach to make this right! Go Gators!