Team of the Week: Florida Gators
After watching Florida steamroll their first four SEC opponents by an average of 26.8 points — which included Saturday’s 31 point beatdown of Missouri — and being reminded of the fact that the Gators did the same thing to Wisconsin, Marquette and Florida State earlier in the season, the biggest question mark about this team is: ‘How did they manage to lose two games?’
It’s pretty simple, really. Florida gave away the game at Arizona, losing by one while being outscored 15-0 in the final two minutes of the half and regulation. The loss to Kansas State came when they laid an egg against Kansas State in Kansas City three days before Christmas when Kenny Boynton was shooting awfully and Mike Rosario went 1-9 from the floor.
Because Florida looks like they very well could be the best team in the country right now, and Kenpom agrees. They are second nationally in offensive efficiency. They are first nationally in defensive efficiency. They are balanced offensively, they have size inside, and they can give multiple different looks on the defensive end of the floor. On the nights that Boynton and Rosario do shoot well, the Gators are scary-good.
Five teams deserving a shout out:
- Butler: The Bulldogs beat Gonzaga on a fluky play with 3.5 seconds left that may or may not have involved multiple push-offs by Roosevelt Jones and may or may not have come after the buzzer. But that’s almost beside the point, because the Bulldogs did it without their best player, Rotnei Clarke. If this win did anything, it drove home a point that has been made too many times about Brad Stevens’ Bulldogs: Butler has always been more than the individuals on the roster. Their success is a testament to their system and their program.
- Iowa: The Hawkeyes had a tough start to league play, losing road games to Indiana and Michigan State before dropping a home date with Michigan, but have turned things around since. They won at Northwestern last Sunday, and followed that up no Saturday with a win over Wisconsin at home. The Hawkeyes were up 30-10 on Wisconsin early in the first half, and rode out a four-point win on the night they honored the memory of Chris Street.
- Oregon: Believe it or not, the Ducks are sitting all by themselves at the top of the Pac-12 standings thanks to a win over No. 24 UCLA in Pauley Pavilion on Saturday and a loss by Washington to Utah. And the most impressive part? It doesn’t seem fluky. The Ducks are legit, and may actually be the best team in the Pac-12. Who saw that coming?
- Syracuse: You go into the Yum! Center and you knock off the No. 1 team in the country on the road, you get nominated for Team of the Week. That’s just how it works.
- Valparaiso: The Crusaders have moved into sole possession of first place in the Horizon League thanks to a pair of impressive performances this week. On Thursday, Valpo came back from down 22 points in the second half to beat Detroit on the road and followed that up with a 69-63 win over Wright State, who was previously undefeated in league play.
Best of the rest: Belmont, Colorado State, Michigan, Michigan State, Northeastern, Pitt, Rhode Island, Stetson, Wichita State
You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.
After receiving commitments from former Purdue/Houston guard Ronnie Johnson and former Presbyterian forward DeSean Murray, Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl continued to load up on the transfer market Monday. Forward LaRon Smith, who was named MEAC Defensive Player of the Year at Bethune-Cookman last season, announced that he will use his final season of eligibility at the SEC program.
Like Smith, Johnson will also be eligible to compete immediately for the Tigers while Murray will have to sit out next season before having two years of eligibility remaining.
The 6-foot-8 Smith played two seasons at Georgia State before transferring to Bethune-Cookman, where he averaged 7.1 points, 6.9 rebounds and 3.0 blocks per contest in 2015-16. Smith played just over 25 minutes per game for the Wildcats, shooting 58.5 percent from the field.
Smith reached double figures in scoring in four of the Wildcats’ final seven games, including a 20-point, 11-rebound, three-block outing in an overtime win over North Carolina A&T. He joins a front court in need of depth following the departures of the likes of Cinmeon Bowers and Tyler Harris, with Horace Spencer, Trayvon Reed and incoming freshman Anfernee McLemore also competing for minutes in 2016-17.
With a five-member recruiting class set to arrive on campus this summer, SMU added a talented transfer Monday afternoon. Jimmy Whitt, who played his freshman season at Arkansas, committed to join Larry Brown’s program. Whitt, a 6-foot-4 guard from Columbia, Missouri, will have three seasons of eligibility remaining after sitting out the 2016-17 campaign.
As a freshman at Arkansas, Whitt averaged 6.1 points and 1.7 rebounds in just over 17 minutes of action per game. He reached double figures in scoring nine time, with the high being a 15-point outing in a blowout win over Missouri in mid-January. Whitt produced a stretch of four consecutive games in double figures during non-conference play, but he struggled to maintain that consistency against SEC competition.
At SMU he’ll join a perimeter rotation that will lose rising senior Sterling Brown following the 2016-17 season. Among those who will have eligibility remaining when Whitt becomes eligible are Ben Emelogu, Shake Milton, Jarrey Foster and incoming freshmen Tom Wilson and Dashawn McDowell.
GREELEY, Colo. (AP) Jeff Linder is the new basketball coach at Northern Colorado. He spent the last six seasons at Boise State, where he was associate head coach for the Broncos since 2013-14.
Linder replaces B.J. Hill, who was fired last month amid an NCAA investigation into allegations of violations in the program.
University President Kay Norton and Athletic Director Darren Dunn announced Linder’s hiring Sunday.
Linder played high school ball in Lafayette, Colorado, and college ball at Mesa State and Western Colorado State. He began his coaching career under Colorado head coach Ricardo Patton.
In a statement, Linder said, “I look forward to returning home to the state of Colorado and continuing to build this program into something everyone can be proud of.”
Hill was 86-98 in six seasons at UNC.
STORRS, Conn. (AP) Azura Stevens, the leading scorer and rebounder for Duke, has decided to transfer to UConn.
The 6-foot-6 sophomore center from Raleigh, North Carolina will sit out next season and will have two years of eligibility remaining when the 2017-18 season begins the school announced Saturday.
Stevens averaged 18.9 points and 9.6 rebounds a game and was named to the ACC’s all-conference first team.
She was second in the league both scoring and rebounding.
UConn coach Geno Auriemma said Saturday that he normally doesn’t get involved in transfer situations, but Stevens convinced him that Storrs would be the right place for her going forward.
SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) Forward V.J. Beachem has withdrawn his name from the NBA draft and will return to Notre Dame for his senior season.
Beachem made the announcement Sunday night on Twitter, writing that he was thankful for the opportunity to experience the NBA draft process and invitations to work out for teams, “but now I’m ready to lead [Notre Dame]. #IMBACK.”
The 6-foot-8, 200-pound forward finished third on the team in scoring, averaging 12.0 points and 3.9 rebounds as the Irish finished 24-12. He was at his best in the NCAA Tournament, when he averaged 17.5 points as the Irish advanced to the Elite Eight for a second straight year.
Coach Mike Brey sent a Tweet saying he was thrilled Beachem will return.