Florida is Quietly Building a Strong NCAA Resume

Posted by David Changas on February 2nd, 2016

Heading into the Big 12/SEC Challenge, Florida had quietly managed to put together a solid NCAA Tournament-quality resume. It may not have contained any wins over top-50 opponents, but the loss column was also largely limited to teams ranked among the top 50. After getting thrashed by Tennessee in early January in Knoxville, the Gators narrowly lost at Texas A&M and Vanderbilt in working their way to a good-not-great 5-3 SEC record. That profile changed on Saturday, however, as Florida enhanced its resume significantly with a resounding 88-71 home win over #9 West Virginia. It’s the kind of win that will pay significant dividends on Selection Sunday, and one that head coach Michael White hopes will become a springboard to even more success in the second half of conference play.

Michael White has Florida positioned for the NCAA Tournament (Rich Barnes/USA Today)

Michael White has Florida well positioned for the NCAA Tournament (Rich Barnes/USA Today)

Florida has lived in the NCAA Tournament for nearly all of the last two decades, missing the Big Dance only twice in the prior 17 seasons. Small note: All that was accomplished with a Hall of Fame coach pacing the sidelines. When Billy Donovan fled Gainesville last spring for the bright lights of the NBA, athletic director Jeremy Foley turned to a coach who was about as accomplished as Donovan when he arrived at the school in 1996. While the early returns on White’s tenure are mixed – the Gators’ pre-conference losses came to Purdue, Michigan State, Miami (FL) and Florida State, prior to the ugly loss at Tennessee — the new head man in Gainesville has since steadily righted the ship. Some questioned his hiring around the holidays, but Florida would easily be in the field of 68 if the season ended today. Most of the focus in the SEC has centered on the rise of Texas A&M, the fall of Kentucky, and the superstardom of Ben Simmons, allowing the Gators to fly well under the radar for the first time in a long while.

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SEC Week That Was: Volume IX

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on January 26th, 2016

The regular season title is solidly Texas A&M‘s to lose at this point as the Aggies are two games clear of a trio of second place teams. But if college basketball has taught us anything this year it’s that the game can be fickle. Here’s what the Aggies and rest of the league were up to last week.

Dorian Finney-Smith and Florida are hanging around in the race for the regular season title (zimbio.com).

Dorian Finney-Smith and Florida are hanging around in the race for the regular season title (zimbio.com).

Team of the Week. For now the storm has passed in Lexington. Kentucky followed up the loss at Auburn with a good win over Arkansas at Bud Walton Arena and a dominant performance at home against Vanderbilt. Lost amid the hand-wringing over the front court has been another very good Wildcat defense. They were excellent in that regard on Saturday, making non-factors out of Wade Baldwin, Riley LaChance, and Mathew Fisher-Davis. “That’s the best defensive game we’ve had,” Tyler Ulis told the Lexington Herald-Leader. “That’s what we need to do every game because in order for us to win, we have to be a defensive team.”

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Florida Backcourt Key to NCAA Chances

Posted by Greg Mitchell on December 11th, 2015

Florida had a chance to make a statement on Tuesday night against a Miami team off to a flying start this season. A road win against an intrastate rival would have given new head coach Mike White his first marquee win since arriving in Gainesville. Florida had some momentum too, coming off a dominant performance in a victory over a solid Richmond team. But in the end, the Gators left south Florida with only another loss and a handful of questions. The most pressing of them: Are the Gators’ guards good enough to get them to the NCAA Tournament?

Florida's back court couldn't keep up with Sheldon McCellan and Angel Rodriguez in a loss to Miami (caneswarning.com).

Florida’s backcourt couldn’t keep up with Sheldon McCellan and Angel Rodriguez in a loss to Miami. (Photo: caneswarning.com)

Sheldon McClellan (24 points) and Angel Rodriguez (17 points) had big scoring nights for Miami but it’s hard to get worked up about great players getting their points. It’s not as hard, however, to expect the Gators’ backcourt to make up some of the difference with scoring on the other end. White said before the game that his team needed to take advantage of its open looks, but this simply didn’t happen — the Gators were 1-of-12 from three on the evening, and their two highest volume three-point shooters in the backcourt (Brandone Francis-Ramirez and KeVaughn Allen) are shooting a combined 20.0 percent from three-point range this season. After the game, White was left scratching his head. “We see it in practice,” he told GatorZone.com. “I don’t think we have a bunch of great shooters, but they’re better than this.” Compounding the shooting problem were several long, contested two-point jumpers from Francis-Ramirez and Allen late in the game when the Gators were desperate for points. Allen managed to convert one of these shots to cut the Miami lead to 10 points, but the Gators are desperately in need of sustainable scoring from their perimeter players. Read the rest of this entry »

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Florida ‘Selfishness, Delusion’ Leads to Miserable Season

Posted by David Changas on March 13th, 2015

Florida dropped its quarterfinal matchup against No. 1 Kentucky in the SEC Tournament this afternoon in Nashville, and after the game, Gators head coach Billy Donovan did not mince words about what went wrong for his team. “I think it was a team that was maybe a little bit more wrapped up in themselves. Didn’t quite understand the level of sacrifice needed to beat a really good team. As a head coach, I think I really fell short in getting them to see how important it is for us to play as a team. And I think it was still a very, very humbling learning experience. It was a great experience, that I think and, I use the word maybe delusional or not in reality. These guys have never been in reality the entire year.” Harsh words to be sure, but given this year’s disappointment in Gainesville, it is hard to argue with them. Donovan, who just completed his 19th season at the school, will not lead the Gators into postseason play for the first time since 1996-97.

Billy Donovan did not mince words when talking about the Gators' struggles (AP/Phelan Ebenhack).

Billy Donovan did not mince words when talking about the Gators’ struggles (AP/Phelan Ebenhack).

The issues Donovan raised in his postgame commentary manifested themselves in the team’s season-long play, and things never really got any better. The Gators, coming off of a four-year run that included three Elite Eights and a Final Four, finished the season at 16-18 overall and were 6-7 in games decided by five points or fewer. The preseason top 10 team never scratched the surface of its potential, with its best win of the entire year a one-point home win over Arkansas. The early ranking was clearly not warranted, but neither was the woeful body of work that the Gators put together either. Donovan admitted earlier this week that he had overscheduled, and Florida might at least have had a winning record and a trip to the NIT ahead if he had not done so. Still, given the individual talent on the roster, most everyone agrees that much more was achievable.

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SEC Most Valuable Players, Part I

Posted by Greg Mitchell on March 9th, 2015

The regular season has flown by, but before the contenders separate themselves from the pretenders this postseason, it’s time to honor individuals for their valuable play this year. Even the teams that fell short of expectations had most valuable players, so let’s honor each of them below. Today we’ll present the team MVPs from Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Missouri, Mississippi State, South Carolina and Tennessee, in no particular order.

MissouriKeith Shamburger

Keith Shamburger was a steady hand in a rocky season for Mizzou (zimbio.com).

Keith Shamburger was a steady hand in a rocky season for Mizzou (zimbio.com).

Shamburger was a good soldier on a miserable team this season. He ran the point respectably (3.9 APG, 24.4 assist percentage) and acted as the Tigers’ lone ball-handler for a stretch after Wes Clark got injured and Tramaine Isabell was suspended. After spending the bulk of his career at San Jose State and Hawaii, a 9-22 season wasn’t what he expected during his only taste of high-major basketball but his body language remained consistently positive. His signature moment of the season was hitting the game-winner against Auburn on Senior Night.

AuburnCinmeon Bowers

Cinmeon Bowers was Auburn's lone threat down low this season (al.com).

Cinmeon Bowers was Auburn’s lone threat down low this season (al.com).

It’s hard not to write great things about K.T. Harrell, who ended up being the SEC’s leading scorer this year at 18.1 PPG. But as great as he was, the Tigers featured several perimeter scorers. Other than Bowers, however, who nearly averaged a double-double (12.6 points per game, 9.7 rebounds per game) on the season, Bruce Pearl’s inaugural team on The Plains simply didn’t have any reliable size. He prevented the Tigers from getting eaten alive in the paint and on the glass all season long. The better news is that he should have more help coming next year as Trayvon Reed develops and Horace Spencer and Danjel Purifoy arrive on campus.

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Morning Five: 03.02.15 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on March 2nd, 2015


  1. March is finally here. For those of you who have been slacking now is a very good time to cram in as much basketball before Selection Sunday. If the next two weeks seem overwhelming, we have an easy-to-use spreadsheet that lays everything out for you. Even if your team is in a conference that is not playing their conference tournament this week, it is worth keeping an eye on the games particularly later in the week because some of those could make a big difference in the bubble if a team that was expected to get an automatic bid is knocked off and then becomes a bubble team.
  2. The big news from this weekend came from Kansas where Cliff Alexander is being held out of games while the school and the NCAA work through questions regarding Alexander’s eligibility. While Alexander’s performance this year has been underwhelming–particularly in comparison to what some other similarly highly-touted freshman have done in recent years–his absence would be a big loss for Kansas in the Big 12 Tournament and beyond. Simply put, legitimate 7-footers big men with athleticism are extremely rare and despite Alexander’s current limitations he does have the ability to carry his team for brief stretches. Much like Rick Pitino last week, we are hesitant to question Bill Self, but the loss of Alexander would limit Kansas’ ceiling albeit to a much-lesser extent than what Chris Jones’ absence will do for Louisville.
  3. At this point North Carolina should just send the NCAA a drawing of a giant middle finger. The latest news from Dan Kane, who might be the least popular person in Chapel Hill, is that a senior associate athletic director helped a football player gain admission to a graduate school despite having a low GPA, no entrance exam score, and being several months past the application deadline. To make matters worse, the issue was brought up to the school’s provost, but instead of denying the admission he simply referred the official to the dean of the graduate school who admitted him in time after which he played in all but one of the team’s games, but regularly skipped classes while receiving Fs. While this appears to be the most egregious abuse of UNC’s graduate schools and the NCAA’s graduate school transfer waiver exception in this part of UNC’s ever-growing academic scandal, it was not the only case as it appears to have happened almost yearly with Justin Knox being another example, who may have been able to get into the graduate school anyways, but was past the application deadline and got in anyways. This probably won’t affect the NCAA’s decision given how many other things went on at the school, but it just makes the school look even worse and might be an issue that an accrediting body takes seriously.
  4. On Saturday, Billy Donovan won his 500th game with a win at home against Tennessee making him the second youngest to reach the figure (only Bobby Knight did it faster), but this might end up being his most disappointing season during his time in Gainesville. Coming into the season Florida was expected to be a top-10 team and potential Final Four threat. Now they will need to win the SEC Tournament to even make it to the NCAA Tournament and unfortunately for the Gators we suspect that a team from Lexington will be showing up for the SEC Tournament making that possibility seem like nothing more than a dream. The Gators did get one other piece of good news on Saturday with the return of Dorian Finney-Smith from a three-game suspension. Finney-Smith, who came into the game as the team’s second-leading scorer at 12.9 per game and leading rebounder at 5.8 per game, had 20 points and 10 rebounds and makes the Gators a threat to make a SEC Tournament run given all their talent, but in the end it probably will not matter.
  5. Dwayne Polee II‘s comeback suffered a setback when the senior forward was noted to have “abnormal” readings on his implanted cardiac monitor necessitating an adjustment in one of his cardiac medications. Polee, who collapsed during a game on December 22, returned to action last weekend, but with this setback we are not sure how much longer he will be out. It isn’t our place to tell Polee to play or not (that decision is up to Polee, his doctors, and his family), but whenever we hear about cases like this we always think of Hank Gathers, who died on March 4, 1990 (Wednesday will be the 25th anniversary). Dick Jerardi wrote an excellent piece on Gathers and his legacy for Philly.com, which only serves to reinforce our concern in situations like this.
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Morning Five: 02.20.15 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on February 20th, 2015


  1. It was not that long ago that we heard talk about Division 4 (basically all the schools from the biggest conferences) revolutionizing college sports by using their influence (read: money) to change the competitive landscape. Now it looks like they might be doing that, but in the process could be shooting themselves in the foot (or worse). We had already heard talk about some major conference considering the idea of making freshman ineligible to play sports, which would theoretically give them the chance to adjust to college life. It appears that the Big Ten may have taken the “lead” on this issue by proposing the initiation of discussions amongst its members to make freshmen ineligible to play football or men’s basketball. Outside of this making the conference less competitive (think many “one-and-dones” would come there?) it seems like an attempt to keep the revenue-producing athletes around the school for a longer period of time even if they are not necessarily playing any longer. The conference is apparently trying to use the low graduation rates as a justification for singling out the two sports, but making certain individuals ineligible just based on the sport they play (actually the gender they are too since this would not affect women’s basketball) seems suspect at best.
  2. Thon Maker‘s announcement that he would be reclassifying to the class of 2015 is not exactly a surprise, but it will shake up the recruiting world for the next few months. Maker was considered by many to be the top prospect in the class of 2016 with his combination of size and skill and will probably end up in the top 5 to 10 for the class of 2015 when he is put into this year’s class rankings. While there is an air of mystery around Maker who is native of Sudan, but grew up in Australia and currently plays high school basketball in Ontario, Canada, his list of schools is probably going to remain the same–Kentucky and Kansas being the favorites with Missouri, Duke, Louisville, and Maryland not far behind–but there remains the possibility that he could take the Emmanuel Mudiay route taking a shoe contract and playing overseas or even staying at his current location for a postgraduate year and directly enter the NBA Draft in 2016.
  3. It appears that Chris Jones managed to make up for whatever led to his indefinite suspension as the Louisville guard was reinstated after missing just one game. According to the school, Jones “has done what he needed to do” to have the indefinite suspension rescinded. More cynical individuals (like us) would point to the team’s ugly loss at Syracuse on Wednesday as having at least a small impact on Rick Pitino’s decision to bring Jones back on the team. With Jones returning, the Cardinals will have four players who can score (none regularly against a zone), which will help them when one of those players has an off-night (like Wayne Blackshear who came pretty close to pulling a 19-trillion if he hadn’t fouled out) assuming Jones can stay out of trouble.
  4. #TeamBadLuck suffered another setback on Wednesday when they announced that Dorian Finney-Smith had been suspended indefinitely for a violation of team rules. Finney-Smith, who was averaging 12.9 points (2nd on the team) and 5.8 rebounds (leading the team) prior to his suspeneion. We have not heard what led to the suspension, but this is Finney-Smith’s second suspension while at Florida. Even though the Gators reversed their season-long trend by winning a close game on Wednesday night things are not looking good for their postseason hopes at this point.
  5. With Kentucky closing in on an undefeated regular season, there is one person who played a significant role in making Kentucky the team it is today, but is largely forgotten: Billy Gillispie. Fox Sports has an oral history of the Billy Gillispie era in Lexington. As you would expect from an oral history (particularly with a person as unique as Gillispie) it has plenty of interesting anecdotes, but it also serves as a look at the bridge between the Tubby Smith era at Kentucky, which Big Blue Nation views much more favorably now, and the John Calipari era, which Big Blue Nation was much more nervous about at the time than they are willing to admit now.
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SEC Stock Watch: 01.30.15 Edition

Posted by David Changas on January 30th, 2015

It’s time for our weekly look at which SEC teams, players, and coaches are trending up, down, or somewhere in the middle. This is SEC Stock Watch.

Trending Up

  • Texas A&M. It is hard to imagine that the future has looked any brighter at this school since the glory days of Billy Gillispie. The Aggies lost their first two SEC games — played without second-leading scorer Jalen Jones — but have since reeled off five in a row in league play. They already have three conference road wins and a favorable schedule going forward. With an RPI that sits at #34, this team is a legitimate contender for an NCAA Tournament bid, something that certainly didn’t seem very likely a few short weeks ago.
Alex Caruso and Texas A&M have hit their stride (Paul Abell- USA Today)

Alex Caruso and Texas A&M have hit their stride (Paul Abell- USA Today)

  • Dorian Finney-Smith Dunks. In what was likely the most emphatic game-winning basket we’ve seen this year, Finney-Smith put away Alabama and got his Gators a key road win last week. Florida is still sitting squarely atop the bubble and has a lot of work to do to overcome it, but this was the type of win that will serve handy on Selection Sunday.
  • Mark Fox’s Job Security. It’s looking more and more like Georgia has a legitimate chance to emerge as the SEC’s second-best team, as the Bulldogs have bounced back nicely from two losses to open conference play. Georgia has moved into the RPI’s top 25 and appears very well-positioned to secure its first NCAA bid since 2011.
  • Jordan Mickey’s Draft Stock. If there is a more consistent player in the SEC this season, we haven’t seen him. Mickey is averaging 15.9 points, 10.4 rebounds, and 3.7 blocks per contest and has propelled LSU to a nice 5-2 league record. The only bad news associated with Mickey’s play is that he likely won’t be around to play with Ben Simmons and Antonio Blakeney next season, as the NBA Draft’s first round is well within his sights.
  • Kentucky’s Chances of an Undefeated Season. This stock trends up with every passing week that the Wildcats don’t lose a game. According to KenPom, the best chance Kentucky has of losing in the regular season is when it travels to Georgia on March 3. There, the Wildcats have an 84 percent chance of winning, according to the advanced stats guru’s latest projections.

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SEC Quotable & Notable: Volume I

Posted by Greg Mitchell on January 29th, 2015

Periodically throughout the rest of the season, we will use this column to take a look at who’s making history and who’s saying what around the SEC. Here’s Volume I of what’s Quotable and Notable right now in college basketball’s Southern reaches.

“I just went strong to the hole.” Florida’s Dorian Finney-Smith on his game-winning dunk against Alabama.

No player in the country will have a minute as impressive and unlikely as Finney-Smith did in the final 60 seconds of Florida’s recent win against the Crimson Tide. His fierce drive and dunk ended up being the game-winner, and it was sandwiched around two crucial blocks: a body-straight-up rejection on Michael Kessens to keep the game knotted at 50, and a help defense block of Levi Randolph’s potential game-tying shot as time expired. This all coming after the junior had gone scoreless to that point.  Finney-Smith’s magical minute, which helped end Florida’s three-game losing streak, should be one of the highlights of Gators’ season.

Georgia is probably the second best team in the league and, by far, the most physical team.” Mississippi State head coach Rick Ray after his team’s loss to Georgia last weekend. “I thought they hurt us on the boards in the first half, but then you look down and see they hit 50 percent from the field in the second half and over 90 percent from the line… you can’t beat anybody like that.” Vanderbilt head coach Kevin Stallings after Georgia hit 23-of-25 free throws and outrebounded the Commodores by 10 in an eight-point victory.

Georgia is taking on the feel of a team that can grind out wins, and in this league, that can be the key to a shiny conference record. Just take care of business. The Bulldogs squeaked by Mississippi State because of a Herculean effort from J.J. Frazier (37 points), and against Vanderbilt, they were sloppy with the ball (16 turnovers) but did enough elsewhere to control the game throughout. Neither win is all that impressive alone, but SEC teams have perfected the art of losing winnable games. The Bulldogs will end up in the NCAA Tournament if they have finally bucked that trend.

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SEC M5: MLK Day Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on January 19th, 2015


  1. So many potential narratives started swirling around after Kentucky’s shaky outings against Ole Miss and Texas A&M. Had the Wildcats become unfocused and vulnerable? Would they respond? Was the sky falling? At least for now, it seems the close calls indeed got the ‘Cats attention. “I think those struggles just reset our mind,” Willie Cauley-Stein told the Louisville Courier-Journal. “Now we’re back to like, ‘OK, we’re trying to shut people out.’ We’re not just trying to play with them. We’re trying to demoralize them.” After allowing Ole Miss to score more points per possession than it had any team this season (1.09), Kentucky broke Missouri’s soul (0.58) and then stifled a good Alabama squad (0.83). Given Alabama’s length, athleticism and desperation for a marquee win, the game in Tuscaloosa may have been one of the tougher road assignments Kentucky will face this year. They passed it easily, and it seems the appropriate narrative is that the Wildcats’ slow start to conference play may have in fact been a positive thing.
  2. Kentucky isn’t the only team that took something away from its SEC opener against Ole Miss. The Rebels weren’t intimidated in Rupp against a seemingly invincible opponent, and they brought that same confidence to Fayetteville when they whacked Arkansas 96-82. If you combine their shooting stats from both games, the Rebels shot 53.1 percent on 32 three-point attempts. That is precisely the way to give yourself a chance against good teams in tough environments. The abundance of bravado has to be tied to Ole Miss’ veteran backcourt of Jarvis Summers, Stefan Moody and Snoop White. The trio has guided the Rebels to a 2-2 record against arguably the best the SEC has to offer: Kentucky, South Carolina, LSU and Arkansas. Ole Miss may be able to make some hay as the schedule eases up, especially if it keeps lighting it up from deep.
  3. Is Texas A&M’s Jalen Jones the most important player in the SEC? Probably not, but the Aggies are 2-0 with him in SEC play and 0-2 without him. Billy Kennedy’s leading scorer returned from an ankle injury to score 16 points in a win over Mississippi State and then 18 points in Saturday’s win over LSU. The latter performance was all the more impressive since it came against the Tigers’ ultra-talented front line. Would a healthy Jones have given the Aggies the slight edge they would’ve needed to drop Kentucky? We will never know, but with how Texas A&M has struggled to score this season, it needs Jones to remain healthy if it has any chance of ending up on the tournament bubble.
  4. Auburn’s big recruits a year away. The team was coming off a 20 point loss. Kentucky wasn’t in town. And this is Auburn, after all. Nonetheless, Auburn Arena was rocking Saturday night during the Tigers’ quality win over South Carolina. This is the Bruce Pearl effect. We heard about the spike in season ticket sales during the offseason, and actually saw it come to life against the Gamecocks. Cinmeon Bowers – who is becoming a star in the SEC – ripped down an offensive rebound and converted a tough layup to extend the Tigers’ lead to three with under four minutes left and the arena exploded. Last year, a scene like that seemed a world away. But there is truly excitement around Auburn basketball, and with home wins over Missouri and Carolina, not to mention the emergence of Bowers as a double-double machine, there is tangible progress on the court too. Again, this is the Bruce Pearl effect, and the entire league is better for it.
  5. Florida’s 24-game conference win streak came to an end with an unusual sight. Michael Frazier and Dorian Finney-Smith were glued to bench for a large swath of the second half in the Gators’ loss to Georgia, and not because of foul trouble. “For me, it was just, let’s play (freshman) Devin Robinson, Chris Chiozza. Let’s get them some experience. Let’s let them play. These older guys aren’t playing at the level we need them to play at,” Billy Donovan told the Gainesville Sun. Despite the loss, Florida’s 3-1 conference record does not have it in a helpless position so the benching was a somewhat bold move from Donovan. It might signal that this season has become as much about building for the future as it is contending in the present. And that’s not a bad thing, because except for senior Jon Horford, this same Florida team will likely take the floor together next year.
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