There’s a reason Florida basketball’s collapse stings
If Florida Gators basketball’s late-season collapse has you feeling frustrated, it’s probably because you went through something strikingly similar just three months earlier with Florida’s football team.
Sure, Gators basketball did not rise to the heights the football team did, but consider the fact that it was firmly in the 2016 NCAA Tournament as of Feb. 3 following consecutive victories over No. 9 West Virginia and Arkansas, games in which the team combined to score 175 points. Basketball looked to have put everything together and be ready to roll to a strong finish, similar to how football beat No. 3 Ole Miss and Missouri by a combined 59-13.
Understandable losses came next for both teams (basketball 80-61 at No. 20 Kentucky, football 35-28 at No. 6 LSU) and things were never the same for the respective programs since.
Football managed to rattle off four more wins but none were impressive, and Florida appeared to steadily get worse as it beat Vanderbilt 9-7, South Carolina 24-14 and then needed overtime to take down Florida Atlantic 20-14. What happened next? The Gators were embarrassed over their final three games of the season, getting blasted 27-2 by No. 13 Florida State, falling 29-15 to eventual national champion Alabama and being routed 41-7 by a Michigan team led by another first-year coach with a lot of big expectations.
Following basketball’s loss, the Gators edged Ole Miss and Georgia teams they had previously beaten this season. Florida has lost its other four games, dropping one to an Alabama team led by another first-year coach with a lot of big expectations and then three straight while giving up 73 points to South Carolina, 87 to Vanderbilt and 96 to LSU. UF was expected to go 3-1 – or at worst, 2-2 – in those four games. Instead, the Gators lost all four and went from squarely in the NCAA Tournament to obviously sitting outside the bubble.
The biggest problem? Florida basketball has appeared disinterested and unmotivated for much of these losses while seemingly unable to comprehend what it is blatantly doing wrong: wasting possessions and occasionally appearing apathetic on defense.
The biggest difference? Gators football lost a starting quarterback who appeared to finally fill a void and was emerging as the make-or-break difference for a team that had too many issues to overcome to expect success in its first season under a new head coach in Jim McElwain. Florida basketball has been without redshirt senior forward Alex Murphy, but he’s been out of action nearly the entire season and was not a piece the team suddenly finds itself without.
Fans should be disappointed in basketball’s downward spiral. It’s one thing for a team to need to fight its way into an NCAA Tournament and quite another for it to seemingly blow chance after chance to keep itself in a 68-team field in which it has traditionally belonged.
But while the Gators’ collapsing in this way is a surprise, the team not making a major leap during year one under head coach Mike White should not come as a shock. Consider that Florida in Billy Donovan’s final year hit low marks it had not reached since his second season with the program in 1997-98. UF was eliminated in the first round of the NIT that season. Donovan followed that up with nine straight NCAA Tournament appearances, including a runner-up finish just two years later and back-to-back titles.
There’s no proof yet that White will have anywhere near a similar amount of success, but there’s also little to say he’s going to be a failure in this gg. There is a lot of youth on these Gators and plenty of opportunity for improvement in year two. So while you can complain all you want about this season’s failures, let’s hold off on aspersions about White and the future of the program.
‘The Promise,’ Part II?
Give senior gymnast Bridget Sloan credit, the three-time NCAA individual champion and 21-time All-American has no desire to let her team’s first home loss since 2008 define its season.
You see, No. 2 Gators gymnastics had been undefeated in the Stephen C. O’Connell Center from Jan. 2008 through Friday, when it fell by the narrowest of margins 197.900-197.875 to the No. 7 LSU Tigers. Sloan struggled in the meet, stepping out of bounds during her second pass on floor, and was not prepared to let her miscue result in the team feeling down on itself as it attempts to win a fourth-straight NCAA Championship.
Sloan sat in Florida’s post-match press conference silent until called on. It was at that time she went off on a 211-word diatribe, twice as long as Tim Tebow’s now-famous 102-word declaration.
”You have no idea the fire that is literally burning inside me right now. I would love to have a rematch, and that’s what SEC [Championship] is for. That’s what NCAA [Championship] is for. This is why gymnastics, I think, is one of the most exciting sports. You have little rivalries like tonight and one team is going to lose. It was us tonight. But we’re going to walk back into that O’Dome for Senior Night and kill it. We’re going to walk into SECs with the most confident attitude, knowing that we are an amazing team, knowing that we have the best coaches in the nation coaching one of the best teams in the nation.
“I think that really is more important than LSU beat[ing] us at home. Alright, I think they beat us last time we went there, so, alright LSU, we get it, we get it. Again, fueling the fire, that’s what gymnastics is all about. Wanting to win. I think it would be really unfortunate if we were to walk away tonight being like, ‘Oh, it’s fine, no big deal.’ We are competitors. Anyone here at Florida, we want to win. We don’t go out in that O’Dome wanting to get second. We go out knowing we are one of the best teams and knowing we can do it.”
Will Sloan’s confidence lead to the same result as Tebow’s ‘Promise?’ That remains to be seen, but the Gators (6-2) only have Kentucky and North Carolina left before they take on the postseason and hope to return to the Promised Land that is the NCAA Super Six.
Hat tip to UF writer Scott Carter, who came up with the well-conceived ‘The Promise’ comparison.
A special speaker
Former Ohio State running back Maurice Clarett spent time in Gainesville, Florida, this past week for a speaking engagement with the Gators football team. Clarett wrote on Twitter that he “had a productive time” speaking with the team and noted that McElwain and Florida’s staff are “building the right culture” in Gainesville. When asked by OnlyGators.com on Twitter whether he had a good time in town, Clarett replied that the experience was “great.”
Players shared similar sentences with them referring to it as everything from “one of the most powerful talks we’ve heard here in a while” to “a great message about how your habits form who you are.”
In short, Clarett spoke to Florida about accountability and how quickly one can fall from the top of a mountain if he is not prepared for everything life can throw at him.
As most remember, Clarett was a tremendous performer for Ohio State during its national title season of 2002 but chose to leave the team early due to behavioral incidents and scandal, even attempting to force his way into the NFL Draft despite being a true sophomore. He was denied, drafted by the Denver Broncos in the third round, flamed out before even playing a game and found himself in a variety of legal troubles until being released from jail in 2010.
Not Only Gators: My picks and predictions for the 88th Academy Awards
The Oscars are set for Sunday, which means it is time for me to share my picks (if I had a vote) and predictions (what I think will win) for the most important awards that will be handed out. Though I am far from a professional film critic, I am an avid movie buff and have watched and dissected every film nominated for the awards below.
For context, you will also find my record in picking and predicting such categories over the last three years, the last of which was published here on OnlyGators.com. The prior two years were published on my now-inactive-but-still-public Tumblr page. Remember: The picks are opinion; the predictions are what matters.
Nominees: The Big Short, Bridge of Spies, Brooklyn, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Martian, The Revenant, Room, Spotlight
Pick: Spotlight | Prediction: The Revenant
Pick record: 3-0 | Prediction record: 3-0
For the second straight year, there is no obvious winner for Best Picture. And unlike 2014, I feel like the field is relatively weak. The Martian and Mad Max: Fury Road were both entertaining but do not belong in the category, especially with Straight Outta Compton being left out. Brooklyn and Room were both included achievements in acting but do not meet the standard, which makes this a four-film race. Bridge of Spies is criminally underrated and simply does not have the momentum to pull off a win. The Big Short is criminally overrated but seen by many as a legitimate contender. That leaves me with two and results in the first year my pick and prediction will be different for this category. While The Revenant was enthralling from start to finish with tremendous direction and cinematography; it deserves to be the favorite. Spotlight, however, was captivating in its detail and a more important film; it has not received the praise it deserves and hopefully becomes a must-watch for everyone.
Actor – in a Leading Role
Nominees: Bryan Cranston (Trumbo), Matt Damon (The Martian), Leonardo DiCaprio (The Revenant), Michael Fassbender (Steve Jobs), Eddie Redmayne (The Danish Girl)
Pick: Leonardo DiCaprio (The Revenant) | Prediction: Leonardo DiCaprio (The Revenant)
Pick record: 3-0 | Prediction record: 3-0
Unlike 2014, when I thought this was the night’s toughest category, Best Actor is a no-brainer. Forget that DiCaprio is “due” to win the award (no doubt about that), his performance was simply better than the rest of his peers. You felt everything DiCaprio’s character did in The Revenant, and he achieved that symbiosis despite an overall lack of dialogue in the film. Some have made fun of his performance as a bunch of grunting and yelling, but to convey emotion the way DiCaprio did while playing a character quite far out of his comfort zone is worthy of praise and a long-deserved Oscar.
Actress – in a Leading Role
Nominees: Cate Blanchett (Carol), Brie Larson (Room), Jennifer Lawrence (Joy), Charlotte Rampling (45 years), Saoirse Ronan (Brooklyn)
Pick: Brie Larson (Room) | Prediction: Brie Larson (Room)
Pick record: 1-2 | Prediction record: 3-0
I was not completely thrilled with how this category was filled, but there’s little question Larson has this locked up. She will likely be the biggest fresh-faced star to come out of the Oscars, especially once her performance in Room is more widely viewed and appreciated. Consider that she stuffed years of suffering into an hour-long extended scene and the brilliance is obvious. Then again, it’s tough to get people to watch a film about a mother locked in a shed with a nine-year-old boy.
Actor – in a Supporting Role
Nominees: Christian Bale (The Big Short), Tom Hardy (The Revenant), Mark Ruffalo (Spotlight), Mark Rylance (Bridge of Spies), Sylvester Stallone (Creed)
Pick: Mark Ruffalo (Spotlight) | Prediction: Sylvester Stallone (Creed)
Pick record: 2-1 | Prediction record: 2-1
Ruffalo finds himself an underdog for Best Supporting Actor for a second straight year as he goes up against a brilliant turn by Rylance and an impressive performance by Stallone, who also happens to be a big name and in the twilight of his career. Let’s not even get into Idris Alba being jobbed without a nomination here. I do believe there’s a legitimate chance Ruffalo pulls it out, but there’s something telling me Stallone will double up on his Golden Globe.
Actress – in a Supporting Role
Nominees: Jennifer Jason Leigh (The Hateful Eight), Rooney Mara (Carol), Rachel McAdams (Spotlight), Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl), Kate Winslet (Steve Jobs)
Pick: Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl) | Prediction: Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl)
Pick record: 2-1 | Prediction record: 3-0
Here’s the crazy thing. Vikander was good enough this year that she should have been nominated for two films, including Ex Machina. She also did a great job in Burnt, which for all intents and purposes, was a box office failure. Originally, I thought Jason Leigh should have received more buzz. Mara also stole Carol and probably should have been nominated outside of this category. Ultimately though, Vikander’s body of work over 2015 should get her the nod.
Nominees: Adam McKay (The Big Short), George Miller (Mad Max: Fury Road), Alejandro G. Iñárritu (The Revenant), Lenny Abrahamson (Room), Tom McCarthy (Spotlight)
Pick: Alejandro G. Iñárritu (The Revenant) | Prediction: Alejandro G. Iñárritu (The Revenant)
Pick record: 2-1 | Prediction record: 1-2
Three years of doing this post, three years of splitting up my pick and prediction and hitting one of them. No longer as we’re going to go for the sweep with Iñárritu becoming the first director to win the award in back-to-back years since 1950. McKay is going to get a lot of love for The Big Short, but I think it manifests itself in another way (see below).
Writing – Adapted Screenplay
Nominees: The Big Short, Brooklyn, Carol, The Martian, Room
Pick: The Big Short | Prediction: The Big Short
Pick record: 2-1 | Prediction record: 3-0
Here’s where The Big Short and McKay get their just due. As well done as Brooklyn and Room were, it’s nearly an impossible task to put the United States financial crisis onto the silver screen and not only have it make sense but be incredibly entertaining at the same time. Perhaps this goes along with a Best Picture win for The Big Short, but it’s still a great achievement in its own right.
Writing – Original Screenplay
Nominees: Bridge of Spies, Ex Machina, Inside Out, Spotlight, Straight Outta Compton
Pick: Spotlight | Prediction: Spotlight
Pick record: 3-0 | Prediction record: 1-2
The creativity of Ex Machina will be overlooked, and I’ve already mentioned that Bridge of Spies has been vastly underrated through this awards season. Straight Outta Compton has little shot of winning, which leaves Spotlight and the animated feature Inside Out, the latter of which has received a ton of praise for its story. Ultimately though, as I noted with Best Picture, Spotlight is such an important film and was so successful in its storytelling that I think it will be hard to beat here.
Nominees: Carol, The Hateful Eight, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Revenant, Sicario
Pick: The Revenant | Prediction: The Revenant
Pick record: 3-0 | Prediction record: 3-0
Mad Max: Fury Road should pick up a handful of Oscars in categories like costume and makeup, visual effects and editing. The Hateful Eight was a beautiful achievement, especially if you got to see it in 70mm like I did. But there’s no comparing any of these to The Revenant, which was visually striking and stands as a true testament to the efforts of Emmanuel Lubezki, who should lock up this award once again.
This Week’s Movie Trailer
Elvis & Nixon:
The Top 5 List
From the home office in Wahoo, Nebraska…
Best Picture winners, 2010-14, ranked:
2. 12 Years a Slave
3. The King’s Speech
5. The Artist
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