Not feeling very confident about Florida’s 3 teams in NCAA tournament

So who goes the farthest in the NCAA tournament among our state’s three entrants?

Not sure it’s going to matter since I don’t expect the Hurricanes, Gators or Seminoles to make it out of the first weekend. Each has flaws, though Miami does a better job of masking them. Each is prone to lay a major egg every now and again.

Miami head coach Jim Larranaga reacts during a game against North Carolina in Chapel Hill, N.C., Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2018. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

If we’re assigning personality traits, FSU is tough, Florida is soft and Miami is smart. Any of them could surprise, like the Gators did last year in advancing all the way to the Elite Eight, but you could say that about most tournament teams from major conferences.

So we’ll go by who got the best draw. That’s always a good place to start.

The Gators get the break of knowing their first opponent, a No. 11 seed, won’t be coming in fresh. St. Bonaventure and UCLA are in a play-in game Tuesday night, and the winner will have to travel to Dallas and turn everything around pretty quick. That’s a potential plus for Florida, or at least it’s as much of a break as any No. 6 could ask to have.

If Florida advances, it probably will be Texas Tech waiting in the next round. The game would be in Texas, which makes that neutral court a little nastier, plus the Red Raiders won at Kansas in January. They’re well able to establish dominance in any setting.

Put it all together and I’ll give the Gators a 40 percent chance of advancing to the Sweet 16 round, and that’s only because Florida has mixed in some big wins here and there, including two over Kentucky, one over Cincinnati, a No. 2 seed, and one over Gonzaga, last year’s national finalist.

Miami’s first opponent is Loyola of Chicago, the Cinderella pick of all the national blabbers. The Ramblers are a legitimate threat, with a 10-game winning streak right now and a road upset of Florida in December, back when the Gators were feeling their oats at No. 5 in the AP poll.

The Hurricanes certainly can handle Loyola, a No. 11 seed, on a good night. Just a few weeks ago Miami beat North Carolina, a No. 2, on the road. Even if this potential trapdoor is avoided, however, it’s likely that Tennessee comes next, and in my opinion any team at the top of the SEC is a potential powerhouse.

Nobody but the Tournament Selection Committee seems to remember that the SEC had three teams in the Elite Eight last year, or that South Carolina, a No. 7 seed, reached the Final Four. As it is, a record eight SEC teams are in the 2018 NCAA tournament. Only the regal ACC has more.

So I’ll give Miami a 33 percent chance to making the Sweet 16, because there are not one but two difficult wins between here and there.

As for FSU, there are two things to know and they’re drawn from the same game, a 59-55 loss to Virginia in February.

First, the Seminoles led what might be the best team in the nation 32-22 at halftime and hung tough to the end, outrebounding the Cavaliers and playing great defense. Second, Virginia won by showing the kind of versatility you expect of a No. 1 seed and locking down to stifle FSU in the closing minutes.

That tells me FSU is dangerous enough to watch closely and good enough to beat Missouri in an opening 8-9 game, but then comes No. 1 seed Xavier, and nobody needs to be bumping heads with them so early in the brackets.

Make it a 25 percent chance, then, on advancing to the Sweet 16, and recognize that if the Seminoles beat those arbitrary odds, it will be from the bonus any ACC team gets playing against consistently rugged competition inside the league.

Overall, Florida has two national titles, back to back in 2006 and 2007, and five trips to the Final Four. FSU’s only Final Four appearance was in 1972 and Miami has never been.

You’ve got to be in it to win it, right? Having three state schools in the tournament field is a mad dash no matter how it turns out. Would love to think it will last beyond this weekend for fans of the Hurricanes, Gators and Seminoles, but then you’ve already read my predictions about that and you’re already mad so I’ll just shut up now and watch like everybody else.

[Justin Thomas’ climb to No. 2 in world boosts Honda Classic again]

[Players Tribune, a Derek Jeter project, gives Kevin Love an important platform]

[Marlins’ inaugural spring training 25 years ago was a Space Coast blast]

 

Because hiring Chip Kelly hasn’t been easy for Florida, nothing else about him would be either

If Chip Kelly doesn’t want to coach the Florida Gators, it’s better to find it out now.

That’s the only conclusion to draw from Friday’s Yahoo Sports report that the Gators have moved on from their top coaching candidate.

In this Monday, Dec. 28, 2015 photo, Philadelphia Eagles head coach Chip Kelly listens to a question during a news conference at the NFL football team’s practice facility in Philadelphia. The Eagles fired Kelly with one game left in his third season, dumping the coach after missing the playoffs in consecutive years. Kelly was released Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2015 just before the end of a disappointing season that began with Super Bowl expectations. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

No matter the reason, if it’s Kelly telling Florida no or Gators athletic director Scott Stricklin tiring of the mind games, this would have been another one of those bad fits that have combined to set the program back a couple of times now.

Of course, there is a part of me that wants to wait for official announcements from Florida or from UCLA, to see if Kelly will change his mind.

[Saturday update: Chip Kelly agrees to a five-year deal to become UCLA’s football coach]

That’s what happened in 2012 when he was all set to become the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ coach but decided at the last minute to stay at Oregon.

The following year he told the Philadelphia Eagles no, thanks, but he would be staying at Oregon. Then he changed his mind and went to the NFL anyway.

The guy burns bright, like a firefly, and isn’t always sure at any given moment what he truly wants for himself.

Bottom line, though, Kelly could have taken the Gators job last Sunday when Florida’s top brass came to see him in New Hampshire. He is not coaching anybody and has no reason to delay if this opportunity to run one of the college game’s most coveted programs was a top priority.

Because he didn’t, it shows that the thought of coaching in the SEC, of struggling to overcome Nick Saban and all the others, held no instant appeal.

Because he didn’t, it shows that Kelly has no appetite for operating in an environment where his ego and his powers might be checked by Stricklin, or his failures magnified by a hypercritical SEC fan base.

Because he didn’t, it proved that there are other candidates out there who are far more motivated to take on this task, men who wouldn’t arrive in Gainesville with an exit strategy already building in the back of their minds.

It’s a major disappointment for Florida to miss out on the rebirth that Kelly could have brought to the Gators’ offense. This major swing and a miss looks bad for the program, too, just as it looked bad when Jeremy Foley went shopping for Bob Stoops and Mike Shanahan but wound up hiring Ron Zook when those two didn’t jump at the offer.

This job search won’t have a good ending, however, if there is conflict at the beginning.

Stricklin and Kelly either haven’t connected or haven’t yet, even though there has been ample time to do so. There’s no forcing it now. Just as importantly for the Gators, there should be no looking back.

The only way Kelly can truly destroy the Gators is by taking a job in the SEC. That’s why the best news now might be his quick introduction at UCLA, far, far away.

A funny Ronald Reagan tidbit from my upcoming story on Pembrook Burrows III

Just finished writing a long feature on West Palm Beach’s Pembrook Burrows III, who way back in 1970 played with Hall of Famer Artis Gilmore on the unlikeliest Final Four team you could ever hope to see.

The story, which is peppered with great photos, can be found at mypalmbeachpost.com beginning Thursday. It’s full of fun nuggets about the heyday of Roosevelt High School basketball and the overnight emergence of tiny Jacksonville University as a national power. Here’s one funny scene, however, that got left on the cutting-room floor.

ronnie raygunWhen Jacksonville advanced to the NCAA championship game to play mighty UCLA, Florida Gov. Claude Kirk, a real colorful guy, sent a telegram to his counterpart in California, Ronald Reagan.

Kirk had a lot of fun with it and made sure the contents of the telegram was released to the media. He referred to the Bruins as “the champagne team from Smoggy Hollow,” and announced “I am supremely comfortable in the knowledge that Jacksonville will ‘win one for the Gov’ while UCLA is ‘losing one for the old Gipper.’ “

Best of all, Kirk promised “If I lose, I will watch 50 reruns of ‘Death Valley Days.’ If I win, all I want is your public acknowledgement of this additional area of Florida’s superiority. I will await your wire of acceptance and your subsequent telephone call of congratulations.”

Reagan, the former actor and future U.S. president, served in 1964 and 1965 as narrator on television’s “Death Valley Days” anthology of western stories from the pioneer days. Some of those shows must have been a little dry based on Kirk’s wager.

[Why shouldn’t Hurricanes be formidable in both major sports?]

[Bullish on the Warriors finishing the job and besting 72-10]

[Simplest measure to tell if Dolphins hired the right coach]

There is no record of what happened when UCLA beat Jacksonville 80-69 but it figures that Reagan was gracious, not wishing to speak ill of a fellow Republican. Besides, the Bruins were beating everybody back then.

In 1972, after Kirk had left office, UCLA scored another victory over a Florida team in the NCAA championship game, beating FSU 81-76.