Tuesday Musings: Billy Donovan's calm, Florida's title odds, Gators' "barnstorming"

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Florida's steering toward a national title, and the right guy's at the helm.

Tuesday Musings is shorter than usual today. C'est la vie.

One thing I feel really good about, three days after Florida's win at Kentucky, is the idea that Billy Donovan trusts this team to do what is necessary to win games. That didn't feel like the case on Saturday, when Donovan uncharacteristically called timeouts to stave off Kentucky runs, but those timeouts were probably more about keeping the Rupp Arena crowd quiet, now that I think about it, than about bailing his Gators out — something Donovan's been loath to do for years and years.

Donovan spoke at length in his postgame presser on Saturday — it's embedded in The Differences — and then spoke at length in his Monday press conference, and sounded very calm and candid in both meetings with the media. The calm isn't strange, but it's unusual to hear Donovan be calm and loose, and his joking with the media about his players saying the things he says — informed that his Gators "parrot" his phrases, Donovan half-deadpanned "They do?"; asked about practice being fun, Donovan all but said "It's not supposed to be" — is evidence of looseness.

He, and Florida, will have to be loose over the next month or so. The pressure is coming, now that the college basketball world has almost fully awakened to the idea that Florida is a national title contender, and the best ways to deal with pressure involve being able to smile at it.

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Speaking of Florida's national title odds: The Gators are the co-favorites, along with Syracuse, right now.

School Odds on 1/7/2014 Current Odds
Florida Gators 20/1 6/1
Syracuse Orange 10/1 6/1
Kansas Jayhawks 15/2 15/2
Michigan St. Spartans 6/1 17/2
Arizona Wildcats 11/2 9/1
Duke Blue Devils 12/1 9/1
Louisville Cardinals 10/1 12/1
Kentucky Wildcats 7/1 14/1
Wichita St. Shockers 28/1 14/1
Michigan Wolverines 50/1 22/1
Creighton Bluejays 66/1 25/1
Iowa Hawkeyes 40/1 25/1
Virginia Cavaliers 100/1 25/1
Wisconsin Badgers 16/1 25/1
Villanova Wildcats 40/1 28/1
Oklahoma St. Cowboys 10/1 33/1
San Diego St. Aztecs 50/1 33/1
Cincinnati Bearcats 100/1 40/1
Iowa St. Cyclones 50/1 40/1
Ohio St. Buckeyes 12/1 40/1
Saint Louis Billikens 100/1 40/1
Connecticut Huskies 50/1 50/1
North Carolina Tar Heels 25/1 50/1
Texas Longhorns 200/1 50/1

Y'all should've listened to me.

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I don't want to gloat too much about that win at Rupp, because Kentucky gets a shot to do what the Wildcats did in just over two weeks, and I wouldn't be shocked to see the Wildcats win that return trip, but, man, it seemed to me like Florida broke Kentucky, at least a little, in that game.

Julius Randle, after the game:

He clearly didn’t want to be there, trapped in the throng of cameras and microphones.

But Julius Randle slouched in a Kentucky blue director’s chair and reluctantly complied with the interview requests that followed his team’s 69-59 loss to Florida on Saturday. The No. 3 Gators had lost six straight at Rupp Arena and the No. 14 Wildcats had won 22 in a row at home.

His responses were brief but telling.

"It’s just basketball."

"Yeah."

"I don’t know."

Sometimes, there were no words, just shrugs.

At one point, he rested his head against the concrete wall behind him and stared at the ceiling. The slumped posture of a dejected young man conveyed the frustration of a program and the entire Big Blue Nation.

Aaron Harrison, on Monday:

Assistant coach John Robic, on Monday:

And John Calipari, on Sunday:

A Sea of Blue's Glenn Logan has bristled at the word "rationalize" and its variants this year, but Randle, Kentucky's best player, was mute after the game on Saturday, and three of the 'Cats who spoke to media in the two days since have been in full rationalization mode. It's okay that Florida beat Kentucky; Florida is good, and Kentucky can learn from this. It's okay that Kentucky wilted down the stretch; the Wildcats put Florida in a position to have to come back late. It's okay that the most-ballyhooed, best-regarded recruiting class in the history of college basketball is looking more and more like Randle and a bunch of streaky players; they're learning from their losses.

I get that it's painful and feels like a cheap shot for a fan of the team that won to be saying these things about Kentucky, but Kentucky is to college basketball what the New York Yankees are to Major League Baseball, and any season under Calipari, with virtually hand-picked thoroughbreds in his stable, is almost fully a failure if Kentucky's not in position to win a national title by mid-February. This one, coming one year after one massively important injury sideswiped another Kentucky team with a great-cum-underwhelming recruiting class, has to be exquisitely painful because of how embarrassing Kentucky finishing a season by losing in the first round of the NIT to Robert Morris was — imagine Florida's 2013 football season finishing with the loss to Georgia Southern.

I like Kentucky being good, good enough that the Gators are always using the Wildcats as a great measuring stick, because I love the Florida-Kentucky rivalry and want it to flourish; that will only help SEC basketball as a whole, which helps Florida. I can't say I mind seeing Donovan's players vindicate Florida's process while Calipari's players vindicate his critics, though.

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A couple weeks ago, I mentioned restarting the Assessing the S-Curve series I wrote briefly in 2013 to explain where Florida could end up in NCAA Tournament seeding. I really doubt it's going to be necessary now: Florida is almost locked in to a No. 1 seed, and that means the Gators are a lock for more than just that.

Friend of the blog Jake Sillick did a good job explaining what Florida's scenarios are at this point over at Only Gators:

If Florida...
" Finishes 18-0 in SEC play, regardless of performance in the league tournament, it will be a No. 1 seed.
" Finishes 17-1 in SEC play, it will be a No. 1 seed with only one SEC Tournament win needed.
" Finishes 16-2 in SEC play, an appearance in the SEC Tournament final will be necessary to achieve a No. 1 seed, otherwise it will finish with a No. 2 seed.
" Worst case: Even with seven-straight losses to end the season, the Gators would receive no worse than a No. 4 seed in the tournament.

But beyond that, Florida can be sure of where it's going for the first two rounds of games — just down the Florida Turnpike to Orlando, always the likely destination for the Gators this year, but a mortal lock given their No. 1 seed perch — and reasonably confident that it will end up in the South Region, which has its regional semifinals and final in Memphis.

No other region would be a just reward for a Florida team that is anything but the fourth No. 1 seed: The East's final three games in Madison Square Garden, which is cool, but that's earmarked for Syracuse if it's a No. 1; the Midwest finishes in Indianapolis, which seems like Wichita State's spot; the West concludes in Anaheim, and that's probably Arizona's or Kansas's or a Big Ten No. 1 seed's destination. And though Memphis isn't exactly close to Gainesville, it's certainly closer to most of Florida's fan base than the alternatives.

This will not be a dramatic Selection Sunday for Florida unless the Gators lose more than once in their games between now and then. Florida's work is largely done, and its fate depends more on other teams losing; there's just not that much Florida can do to gain ground from here on in.

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The "barnstorming event" that ESPN's Andy Katz reported/announced last week, featuring Florida, Michigan State, North Carolina, and Texas, is just about the coolest thing I have heard of for a non-conference event.

Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis has been an innovator in scheduling unique college basketball events -- most notably being the first to suggest teams play on the deck of an active aircraft carrier.

Now Hollis has done it again, creating a four-team barnstorming event with Michigan State, North Carolina, Florida and Texas agreeing to play three games, one each in New York City, Chicago and Los Angeles over an eight-day period in December 2018 while traveling together on a single chartered airplane.

Hollis told ESPN.com Wednesday that all four schools, their coaches and athletic directors have confirmed their participation.

...

The teams will arrive in New York City on Dec. 14, 2018, on their own. The first doubleheader, with matchups and times to be announced at a later date, will be at Madison Square Garden on Dec. 15. On Sunday, Dec. 16, the four teams will tour the Freedom Tower at the 9/11 memorial and also visit Wall Street. They will then see Motown the musical on Broadway, assuming it is still running.

The teams will then travel together to Chicago later that night. They will go to a Chicago pizza dinner on Monday, Dec. 17, followed by a Second City comedy show. The second doubleheader on the trip will be Dec. 18 at the United Center.

The teams will then fly to Los Angeles on Dec. 19. Once in L.A., the teams will head to Disneyland and a dinner. The teams will then tour Warner Brothers Studio and the Grammy Museum on Friday, Dec. 21.

The third and final doubleheader will be Dec. 22 at Staples Center.

This is already a publicity win, because fans will be talking about it for nearly five years before it happens, an absurdly long frame of anticipation in a sport that does the lion's share of its scheduling on a yearly basis, and it's a big win for Florida to be mentioned in the same breath as Michigan State and North Carolina, two of the most revered basketball schools in the country, and to share story inches with those two programs and Texas.

We will, in fact, overhype it, at least a little, because of how far away it really is — the only players we can project to play in this game are ones that will enroll in 2015, so, given the early Rivals and ESPN rankings for 2015, it's really just Florida commit Kevarrius Hayes and Michigan State commit Deyonta Davis, both of whom are no less than 23 months from enrolling at their chose schools.

But I'd imagine these schools wouldn't announce this plan this far out, and risk copycats sneaking knockoff events into the marketplace prior to this happening, without assurances that all four coaches — Donovan, Michigan State's Tom Izzo, North Carolina's Roy Williams, and Texas's Rick Barnes — are likely to be around. And, because Donovan's the only realistic flight risk in that group, if only a remote one at that, that's got to reassure Florida fans a little bit more than the others.

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I reserve the right to add a few more items to this post later. I swear I have thoughts about things other than basketball that I will put to Internet text box when I have a chance.

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