Erik Murphy

No. 8 Florida falls to 0-4 in close games this season


Florida went into Tuesday night’s game at Tennessee with just six healthy rotation players, a Will Yeguete is battling a knee injury and Michael Frazier out with a concussion.

They left with just five, as Casey Prather took a shot to the head that looked like it left him woozy and opened up a faucet of a cut over his left eye.

And Tennessee — a physical, veteran team that always plays well against Florida and is currently playing their best basketball of the season — came in desperate, playing for their NCAA tournament lives.

All of that played a significant role in Tennessee’s 64-58 win over No. 8 Florida, as did Jordan McRae’s performance — 27 points, seven boards, four assists, two steals and two blocks — and Jarnell Stokes’ physicality — 14 boards.

But all of that also belabors a larger point: Florida is still winless in close games.

Florida has played four close games this season, all of which came on the road, and lost all four of them.

– They blew a six-point lead in the final minutes at Arizona, losing 65-64.

– They lost a 67-61 dogfight to Kansas State in Kansas City two games later.

– They lost at Missouri last Tuesday, 63-60, after blowing a 13-point second half lead.

– And they lost at Tennessee on Tuesday, in a game where Florida’s execution down the stretch left much to be desired.

Should I mention the 11 point lead that Florida blew against Louisville in the Elite 8 last year?

That’s a trend. A problematic one, at that. And now it’s essentially cost the Gators a shot at getting a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.

At this point, it’s fair for us to start asking whether or not this Florida team is truly a national title contender, isn’t it? Unless you consider beating Missouri (without Laurence Bowers), Ole Miss or Kentucky (in the game that Nerlens Noel got injured) in Gainesville a quality win, the Gators have really done nothing of note since beating Marquette by 33 points (again, in Gainesville) back in late November.

Florida fattened up on mediocre SEC opponents, but do they know how to compete and win in close games against quality competition?

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

Syracuse receives mixed news on sanctions appeals

Jim Boeheim
Associated Press
Leave a comment

Wednesday the NCAA made its ruling on two appeals of sanctions made by Syracuse University, with the news being mixed for the men’s basketball program.

On the positive side the NCAA ruled that Syracuse will be docked two scholarships per season for the next four years, as opposed to the original ruling of three. As a result Jim Boeheim’s program only has to account for the loss of eight total scholarships, meaning that they’ll have 11 to fill in each of the next four seasons as opposed to ten.

One scholarship may not seem like a big deal, but in a sport where you only get 13 (when not dealing with sanctions) getting that grant-in-aid back really helps from a recruiting standpoint.

As for the negatives, they both concern Boeheim. Not only has there yet to be a ruling on Boeheim’s appeal of his nine-game suspension that goes into effect when ACC play begins in January (that appeal is being heard separately), but the appeal to reinstate the wins that were vacated as part of the sanctions was denied. As a result Boeheim officially has 868 wins instead of 969 (not counting today’s game against Charlotte).

And with Mike Hopkins set to take over as head coach in 2018, the denial means that college basketball will have to wait quite some time before anyone threatens to join Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski in the 1,000 wins club.

While not having the wins officially reinstated does hurt, getting a scholarship back for each of the next four seasons is a bigger deal when it comes to the long-term health of the Syracuse program. Also of great importance will be the ruling regarding Boeheim’s suspension, as a suspended coach is not allowed to have any contact with his players or coaching staff while serving the penalty.

And with the original ruling due to take up half of Syracuse’s league slate, not having Boeheim (or the chance to speak with him) is a big deal when it comes to this current team.

St. John’s forward Kassoum Yakwe cleared by NCAA

Chris Mullin
AP Photo/Rick Bowmer
Leave a comment

St. John’s forward Kassoum Yakwe has been cleared by the NCAA to play this season and will be eligible immediately, the school announced on Wednesday.

Yakwe is a 6-foot-8 forward that reclassified and enrolled at St. John’s this fall. He attended the same high school as Kansas forward Cheick Diallo, who was also cleared by the NCAA to play today.

St. John’s played in the Maui Invitational this week, and Yakwe did not take part. His first game with the Johnnies will be on Dec. 2nd against Fordham if the program plans to play his this season.

The question that must be asked, however, is whether or not he will suit up or simply redshirt. The Johnnies are in the midst of a serious rebuild and will be without their other elite recruit this season, Marcus Lovett. Lovett was ruled a partial qualifier. Would it make sense to burn a year of eligibility on what make amount to a wasted season, or will head coach Chris Mullin opt to save that year for down the road?