MUST READ, IN-DEPTH LOOK AT THE 2013 SEASON, PLAYERS & TEAM
In order to make sure Florida Gators-related news stories don't fall through the cracks, once or twice a week Orange & Blue News will keep you up-to-date with the latest goings on in the world of University of Florida athletics.
Gators football on Monday cancelled the scheduled on-field portion of Pro Day and announced that players who wish to run the 40-yard dash will do so on an indoor track. Though that sounds good for guys like cornerbacks Loucheiz Purifoy and Marcus Roberson, each of whom needs to drastically improve their time in the event, neither has been practicing on an indoor rubber surface over the last few months but instead has been doing so outdoors in great South Florida weather. Florida CB Jaylen Watkins impressed with a 4.44-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine and therefore may not run again considering it is indoors. However, Watkins has also been rehabbing a sprained Achilles and was planning to participate in the full on-field workout, which he skipped during the combine due to his Achilles flaring up on him after the 40. The cancelled on-field workout also affects guys like wide receiver Solomon Patton, who was not invited to the NFL Combine (but was able to show off some of his skills in Senior Bowl practices). The Gators have a couple of options here. Florida could hold a second Pro Day, a common practice anyway even if the weather is nice, or players could attempt to work out on Florida Field in April when defensive end Dominique Easley (ACL) will be holding a private Pro Day.
Already from the outside, the South Region that overall No. 1 seed Gators basketball finds itself in appears difficult simply based on the quality teams placed in that quarter of the bracket and their respective records thus far this season. Then consider this: four other coaches aside from Billy Donovan in Florida's region have Final Four experience. Jim Boeheim (Syracuse), Thad Matta (Ohio State), Bill Self (Kansas) and Shaka Smart (VCU) have each reached the Final Four before with Boeheim, Self and Donovan, of course, all winning national titles in the past. Even though SU, OSU and Kansas (sans Joel Embiid) have flaws, top-notch, experienced coaching can often hide those black eyes during tournament play. UF does not have the toughest trek to the Final Four (see Wichita State), but it is certainly a difficult one.
Though he was plenty vocal about his love for the Gators on Twitter this Sunday following Florida's victory in the SEC Tournament Championship, Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah also had plenty to say about the team the day prior. "I watched the game today and I was really impressed. They played against a tough Tennessee team, came ready to play," he said after Chicago's game on Saturday, "and I think they're a team that's also gone through a lot of adversity this year. The defense, Pat Young looks so much more comfortable playing basketball, [Michael] Frazier's my guy, I love the way he plays. Everybody, proud of those guys. I think they're playing with great poise out there, they're defending and when you defend like that you're going to have a shot to do something special." He continued: "It's exciting as an alum, as a proud Gator to watch a team that's playing like that. That's all you can ask for. That's the only thing that matters. It's exciting that they're going to have a shot in any game because of how hard they play. So I'm proud of that."
On the topic of Noah, Houston Rockets coach Kevin McHale on Thursday said that Noah should win the NBA Defensive Player of the Year award based on how he has played this season. McHale, selected multiple times to the NBA All-Defensive Team as a player, has also coached DPOYs in Kevin Garnett and Dwight Howard, so suffice to say he can speak on Noah's defensive skills as well as anyone. "He's played very well," McHale said. "He should be defensive player of the year. He's done a great job with these guys. They've been winning a lot just on his energy and effort, his kind of determination and toughness. Those are all qualities everybody appreciates."
Rolling through the last 12 days has been Florida baseball, which picked up seven-straight wins before long its series finale on Sunday to Arkansas. The Gators were looking for their first sweep of the Razorbacks since 2001 but came up short, falling behind 4-0 in the second inning and ultimately losing the contest 9-3. Sophomore centerfielder Harrison Bader played his first game of the season on Sunday after being out with an extended suspension and finished 2/4. UF will end its long homestand on Tuesday when it takes on Florida State for the first time this season. Florida will then play four-straight contests away from home with a three-game series at Texas A&M and a neutral-site contest against FSU next Tuesday.
SEC Championship play is set to begin for Florida gymnastics, which is performing better than ever with its two highest scores of the season coming in consecutive meets (198.325 vs. West Virginia, 198.20 at Missouri). In both contests, UF dominated the competition with huge margins of victory, giving the Gators plenty of confidence heading into the league championship meet on Saturday. Florida will look to win its third-straight SEC title and fourth in the last five years as it prepares to head back to the NCAA Tournament for the 14th consecutive season. UF captured its first-ever NCAA title in 2013.