Bob Sparks - 5/63 - SaintPetersBlog

Bob Sparks

Bob Sparks is President of Ramos and Sparks Group, a Tallahassee-based business and political consulting firm. During his career, he has directed media relations and managed events for professional baseball, served as chief spokesperson for the Republican Party of Florida as well as the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Attorney General of Florida. After serving as Executive Deputy Chief of Staff for Governor Charlie Crist, he returned to the private sector working with clients including the Republican National Committee and political candidates in Japan. He lives in Tallahassee with his wife, Sue and can be reached at

Gators up to 13th, FSU down to 19th in AP Top 25 poll

Both Florida and Florida State remained in the top 20 in this week’s AP Top 25 college basketball poll. But they are heading in opposite directions.

The Gators (22-5) won their seventh and eighth consecutive games during the week to climb into the 13th position in the poll. They were 15th a week ago. Both of Florida’s wins against Auburn and Mississippi State during the past week were on the road.

The Seminoles, on the other hand played only one game last week and that was a double-digit loss at Pittsburgh. Despite losing their last five road games by at least 10 points, FSU (21-6) managed to claim the 19th position in the poll. They were 17th a week ago.

Florida again demonstrated mental toughness over the past week. Auburn gave them a strong effort, but the Gators wound up scoring the most points ever in an SEC game, posting a 114-95 victory.

After senior center John Egbunu went down with a season-ending injury in the Auburn game, Florida was ripe for an upset on Saturday. They shot only 38 percent against Mississippi State, but the Gator defense rallied together to pull out a 57-52 win.

“We’ve been able to find different ways to win different games,” said Florida Coach Mike White. “It’s been different guys night in and night out and (Saturday) is just another example.”

While White is pushing buttons to compensate for the loss of Egbunu, FSU Coach Leonard Hamilton has a different problem. His team is healthy, but they fail to show up on the road. They have two road games remaining, including a rematch at No. 10 Duke on Feb. 28.

Gonzaga, Villanova and Kansas claimed the top three spots for another week. The ACC and Pac 12 showed their strength with each conference having three schools in the top 10.

Arizona, UCLA and Oregon claimed positions 4-6 while Louisville, North Carolina and Duke were ranked seventh, eighth and 10th, respectively.

Virginia and Notre Dame joined FSU to make it six ACC teams in the top 25. Kentucky and Florida were the only two SEC schools to be ranked.


Leonard Hamilton has some work to do to save FSU’s season

The Florida State men’s basketball team reached new heights in January. That is why February has brought about a long fall.

What happened on Saturday, an 80-66 embarrassment at Pittsburgh, demonstrates some of the reasons why a once highly promising season could continue to go further south. It involves the two most talented Seminoles, Dwayne Bacon and Jonathan Isaac.

It also, of course, involves Head Coach Leonard Hamilton.

Bacon, a sophomore, was held scoreless for the first time in his Florida State career. In the first half, he took the grand total of zero shots. That’s zero with a “z.”

For those who have seen the future NBA first-round pick, that does not happen. Bacon can get his shots almost at will. Pitt, who was 3-10 coming into Saturday’s game, is not to be confused with a defensive juggernaut.

No one questions the defense played by ACC foes like Virginia and North Carolina, but Bacon personally destroyed the Cavaliers on the road on New Year’s Day. He also led the team in scoring at North Carolina on January 14 in a 96-83 loss.

Bacon got a bit more aggressive after intermission, getting off four misfires in the early part of the second half. After his turnover led to a transition three-pointer, Hamilton took a timeout with 16:24 remaining.

Bacon got off another futile three-pointer less than two minutes later, after which he was removed by Hamilton. Bacon remained on the bench for the remainder of the game.

Is there a problem with this team’s go-to guy?

“Every one of our guys will go through one of those nights when they don’t play particularly well,” said Hamilton. “This just happened to be his night.”

He’s the coach, but those watching the game did not see the Dwayne Bacon that we are used to seeing. Did I mention Pitt was 3-10 coming into the game?

Later in the second half, Xavier Rathan-Mayes could be seen in a “conversation” with the freshman Isaac during a timeout. Isaac’s reaction showed he had little interest in what the more experienced XRM had to say.

These are unmistakable signs that Hamilton needs to perform some basketball triage quickly. Comments coming via Twitter world talk about the Seminoles having lots of talent and zero heart.

While those are understandable, it is wise to remember we are dealing with teenagers. In basketball and life itself, “heart” is developed through experience.

This is where Hamilton can help them get through an important learning curve. Perhaps he was doing just that by sitting Bacon on the bench for most of the second half.

To be sure, the entire team is not handling adversity very well. To be kind, over the past few weeks they are simply not showing up for road games. To be fair, their opponents are playing their guts out against them.

As the double-digit defeats away from Tallahassee continue to mount (now at five in a row), Hamilton needs to step up himself. He needs to be the guy that youngsters like Bacon and Isaac will fondly remember once they are playing in the NBA.

Hopefully they will recall him as being a significant influence in building their character. Tough love builds mental toughness.

FSU (21-6) does not have long to regroup from Saturday’s fiasco. Boston College comes to the Tucker Center on Monday, before FSU hits the road again next weekend.

This team’s earlier 12-game winning streak seems so long ago.


Bill Nelson again talking the ‘centrist’ talk regarding Supreme Court nominee

Senator Bill Nelson does a good job of talking the moderate, bipartisan approach in the U.S. Senate. In the end, he nearly always votes with the liberals in his party.

To be sure, Sen. Marco Rubio votes primarily the same way as his Republican colleagues. The difference is Rubio makes no statements about being a centrist. He makes it clear he is a conservative and votes that way.

Nelson, who is up for re-election in 2018, has a high-profile vote coming his way. In the not-too-distant future, the Senate will conduct hearings involving Judge Neil Gorsuch, President Donald Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court.

No credible person can argue that Gorsuch is not qualified to be on the Court. Nelson and some of his colleagues will want to know where the judge stands on certain issues.

He mentions voter suppression and “unlimited money in campaigns” as two issues most important to him. Bewilderment over the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision in the Hobby Lobby case, in which Gorsuch participated, clouds Nelson’s opinion of the judge.

As usual, he is saying the right things.

“Whatever the pressure is,” he told the Tampa Bay Times, “I’m going to make up my own mind as to what I think is in the best interest of our country and Florida.”

No one who is aware of Nelson’s record expects him to do anything other than vote against Gorsuch. While Gorsuch supporters are open to pleasant surprises, Nelson telegraphed his intentions when asked whether he supported a filibuster against the nomination.

“You bet I do,” he said. “The filibuster has always forced the political extremes to come to the middle to build consensus.”

There is that “centrist” dialogue masking a liberal position again.

In this case, Nelson and the Democratic minority are picking the wrong fight if they try to filibuster this nominee. He does not need or want any advice from a conservative Floridian, but perhaps one of his home state newspapers might have more clout.

“Democrats are expected to vote against the nominee, likely with the dilatory move of a filibuster. They shouldn’t,” wrote the Miami Herald in a February 2 editorial titled “Don’t filibuster Supreme Court nominee.”

The paper goes on to recommend Gorsuch’s confirmation. It is safe to say the Herald does not fall into the category of a conservative organ.

A true centrist will take into account comments from people who know Gorsuch best. Jessica Greenstone, a former Gorsuch law clerk who is now a high-ranking official with the World Wildlife Fund, lays out the centrist case in a USA Today column.

Even if a Senator plans to vote “no” on a nominee, a true centrist will not participate in a filibuster in this case. The Herald editorial rightly points out that Republicans did not filibuster former President Barrack Obama’s nominees of Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.

While the Democrats’ outrage over the blockage of Obama nominee Judge Merrick Garland is easy to understand, it does not mean the vacancy should remain indefinitely. It was exactly one year ago that Justice Antonin Scalia died suddenly.

Trump could have picked a highly polarizing figure to put on the Court, but he didn’t. As a constitutional originalist like Scalia, Gorsuch will face stiff opposition from true liberals.

A true centrist can support this nominee, but at the very least allow for an up-or-down vote.

What say you, Senator Nelson?

Gators playing the best basketball in the state right now

This week’s Associated Press Top 25 poll conveys a basic truth for basketball in the state of Florida. The Florida Gators are playing better as a team than the more talented Florida State Seminoles.

Following a tougher-than-expected challenge at home from Texas A&M, which Florida won 71-62, the Gators moved up two spots to No. 15. The Gators (20-5) also won on the road at Georgia during the week.

Amazingly, Florida State fell only three positions following a disastrous performance at Notre Dame on Saturday. One week ago the Seminoles (21-5) were feeling slighted after being ranked behind ACC teams they had defeated and who also possessed inferior records to Florida State.

The slip to No. 17 now seems justified.

Why does Florida appear to be the best team in the state? Saturday provided illustrative examples.

For most of the game, the Gators could not find the range. As baseball legend Tom Lasorda was fond of saying “they couldn’t fall out of a boat and hit water.”

But Florida’s intense effort on the defensive end kept them in the game. They shot only 39 percent, but forced 20 turnovers. This let them hang around until they started making enough shots at the end.

Florida State also could not make shots from anywhere, then lost their composure at Notre Dame in the first half and could never recover. Their normally intense defensive pressure was missing and the Irish took advantage. There were opportunities to stay close, but missing 15 of 22 free throw attempts sealed their fate.

While it is true Florida’s survival came at home, they also had to find something extra during their previous game at Georgia to prove they are among the top teams in the country. Florida State has now been deeply humbled in four of their last five road games.

When the preliminary seedings for the NCAA Tournament were revealed on Saturday, Florida State was seeded second in one region and Florida seeded third in another. ESPN’s Jay Bilas said before the Notre Dame game he did not believe the Seminoles warranted a two seed.

Plenty disagreed with him Saturday afternoon, but not Saturday night. Few can disagree with a three seed for the Gators, but they have a chance to earn a higher seed over the next month.

Both Florida’s Mike White and Florida State’s Leonard Hamilton still have some challenges ahead of them before their respective conference tournaments. FSU has a home date with Miami plus a trip to Duke (and two other road games) remaining, while the Gators face SEC leader South Carolina at home along with Kentucky and Vanderbilt on the road.

Both coaches and their fans will have a pretty good idea by then if their teams are ready for the March Madness spotlight.

Winning elections best way to achieve favorable judiciary

If you are one of those who are sick and tired of judges ruling against your policy preferences, the Florida House of Representatives is offering an elixir for what ails you.

Judges are in the news a lot lately. From the nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court, to the drama in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, many Americans are paying attention to black robes.

Florida is now adding to the conversation on the judicial branch. If HJR 1 is enacted, Florida Supreme Court and appeals court judges could serve no more than 12 years. While several states have term limits on the executive and legislative branches, Florida would become the first state to impose limits on the judicial branch

If approved, the measure would go before voters in 2018 with 60 percent needed to amend the Florida Constitution. While there is a chance it could pass the House, there is no companion measure in the Florida Senate.

Clearing the House is not a slam dunk. The measure barely emerged from the House Civil Justice and Claims subcommittee. Republicans George Moraitis and committee vice-chair Jay Fant voted with the five Democrats to provide a razor-thin 8-7 vote to move the bill forward.

Judicial accountability is said to be a priority of Speaker Richard Corcoran. Rep. Jennifer Sullivan, a Republican from Mount Dora, makes the case for her bill and for Corcoran.

“An accountability system that does not hold people accountable is not truly accountable,” she told the subcommittee. “This bill seeks to correct that and give the people of Florida another opportunity to implement the accountability they originally intended to place upon our judicial branch of government.”

All of that is well and good, but perhaps it is time to pause and reflect on a couple of important facts.

First, haven’t the Republicans been in charge of judicial appointments for the past two decades? Governors have appointed the members of the Judicial Nomination Commissions, who have forwarded candidates generally palatable to the governor.

With the appointment of Judge C. Alan Lawson to the Supreme Court by Gov. Rick Scott, Florida is now only one justice away from a conservative majority. That will come to a head near the end of Scott’s term.

Second, perhaps the remedy is worse than the “disease.” Term limiting judges creates more problems than it solves. On this some conservatives are in agreement with liberals.

There are reasons judges and justices have lifetime appointments, or at least until the mandatory retirement age of 70. One of the best arguments against the bill comes from former Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp, who also served with distinction in the Florida House.

“Our founding fathers believed deeply in the independence of the judiciary, making sure that we protected our judges from the winds of change, from politics and from worrying about making an unpopular decision,” he told the subcommittee.

The Florida Justice Reform Institute, who advocates conservative, originalist judicial thinking, has a sound argument against the measure. He believes fewer lawyers will want to become judges.

“We want judges that are knowledgeable, experienced, diligent, and who are texturalists and originalists,” said the institute’s director, William Large. “And judges who can say what the law is, not what it should be.”

The bill now heads to the full House Judiciary Committee.

It is true that no Florida judge or justice has been removed under the current system of merit retention. Instead of changing the constitution, conservatives should ensure they elect another conservative in 2018 to continue making judicial appointments.

That will primarily achieve the results conservatives seek from the judiciary.


Hockey prepares Plan B if NHL players don’t go to Olympics

If the NHL doesn’t send its players to the 2018 Winter Olympics, the hockey tournament in Pyeongchang will look familiar.

It will look a lot like the Olympics in Lillehammer in 1994, Albertville in 1992 and Calgary in 1988.

Maybe even a little like 1980 in Lake Placid, site of the “Miracle On Ice.”

With a year before the opening ceremony, the league, players union, International Ice Hockey Federation and International Olympic Committee still don’t have an agreement to send NHL players to their sixth consecutive Olympics. There is still time – an agreement last time around came in July before the 2014 Games in Sochi – but everyone is forming a Plan B just in case.

Russia might have Alex Ovechkin if he makes good on his intention to go no matter what. But the United States, Canada and other countries are preparing for life without the best players in the world.

If the likes of Patrick Kane, Jonathan Quick, Jack Eichel and Ryan Suter aren’t available, USA Hockey will look mostly to the college ranks. If Hockey Canada can’t take Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews, Drew Doughty or Carey Price, it will try to defend the gold medal with a mix of European-based professionals, North American minor leaguers and players from the Canadian junior leagues and NCAA.

“It’s a big world, and we’ve got to make sure that we’re ready to go,” Hockey Canada president Tom Renney said. “Should the NHL choose not to go, we’ll make sure we’re ready, willing and able a year from now.”

The U.S. has a fresh set of heroes after shootout star Troy Terry, defenseman Charlie McAvoy and goaltender Tyler Parsons won world junior gold last month. Mix them with top college players like Notre Dame’s Anders Bjork and Wisconsin’s Trent Frederic and ex-NHLers Keith Aucoin and Nathan Gerbe who are playing in Europe, and the Americans will have plenty of youth and experience.

Dave Starman, a former coach in the minors and now an analyst for CBS Sports, said USA Hockey’s priority should be scoring, scoring and more scoring.

“You can’t win unless you can score,” Starman said. “It’s got to have a ton of speed, it’s got to have a really high skill level, it’s got to have defensemen who can get in the play. You need a little bit of dog on bone in your lineup, but I don’t think you can sacrifice skill guys for toughness.”

No problem there for Canada, which has plenty of big, tough skill players and hasn’t waited for the IIHF to set any 2018 parameters as it prepares its contingency plan. Canada’s team for the December Spengler Cup in Switzerland could serve as a blueprint: minor leaguers Cory Conacher and Zach Fucale and European recent NHL players Daniel Paille and Nick Spaling.

While IIHF President Rene Fasel would like a final decision sooner than later to plan for South Korea, Renney said Hockey Canada could put a team together quickly. Like USA Hockey, Canada can pull from its national junior team but has more veteran talent in Europe and the American Hockey League to choose from. Former NHL goaltender Ben Scrivens in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey league is an option, for example, as is journeyman Michael Leighton, who is in the Carolina Hurricanes’ system.

Though Leighton firmly believes NHL players will go, the 35-year-old said he would “train as hard as I possibly can to get that job” if they don’t. AHL president and CEO David Andrews expects his league to be open to allowing players to go to the Olympics as long as NHL teams give individual minor leaguers permission.

“I think it’ll be an interesting question, though, for a lot of general managers because the player that is going to be asked for is going to be probably their No. 1 player outside the NHL club,” Andrews said. “They kind of face that question of, ‘Do we want our No. 1 call-up to be in South Korea for two or three weeks?'”

Some NHL owners might even give their elite players permission to go, and Ted Leonsis of the Washington Capitals has said repeatedly he’d let Ovechkin, Swede Nicklas Backstrom and Canadian Braden Holtby represent their countries, though Holtby said he would never leave the Capitals midseason. The IIHF might set roster parameters to prevent NHL players from participating, too.

“We want to have that opportunity,” two-time U.S. Olympian Justin Faulk said. “If that’s taken from us and we don’t have that right anymore, at least it gives other guys an opportunity.”

Hall of Fame defenseman Mark Howe would be fine with that. After winning a silver medal playing for the U.S. in 1972, he supports amateurs because he feels the 1980 “Miracle On Ice” victory over the Soviet Union had a greater impact on the sport than professionals playing in the Olympics.

“Probably the greatest victory I think I’ve ever seen in hockey was when the 1980 team beat the Russians,” Howe said. “There was some guys on that team that never had a chance to play in the NHL or impact the NHL. That was their two weeks of fame. A guy like Mike Eruzione, Jimmy Craig – they’re phenomenal stories.”

True, but 1998 and 2002 U.S. Olympian John LeClair is worried about a talent discrepancy next winter if Russia put Ovechkin and dominant KHL players Pavel Datsyuk and Ilya Kovalchuk against American college kids.

“You get different variations of who’s playing and who’s not,” LeClair said. “You’re getting back to what it used to be where Russia had all their pros. You want everybody on an even (playing) field.”

Republished with permission from the Associated Press.

Gators rewarded, Seminoles dissed in AP Top 25 poll

For those paying attention to polls, Florida Gators fans should be glad while Florida State Seminoles followers should be mad. The Gators surged to the No. 17 position in the AP Top 25 poll, while Florida State moved up one spot to the 14th position.

Both teams won their two games since the last poll, but only one appears to have impressed poll voters.

The Gators had two huge wins over the week. A 39-point win over Missouri and a 22-point blowout of former No. 8 Kentucky facilitated Florida’s seven position climb in the poll. They are still two spots behind the Wildcats.

Florida is on an incredible run of four straight wins of at least 22 points, three of which were by more than 30. They are playing like a strong NCAA Tournament contender.

Florida State, on the other hand, was not rewarded for an impressive week. An 18-point blowout at Miami, followed by a nearly-perfect 48-point dismantling of Clemson, apparently made the voters yawn.

Despite having a better conference record (8-3 vs. 7-3), overall record (20-4 vs. 19-5) and a victory over Louisville, the Seminoles are ranked 10 spots below the Cardinals! Despite having a better conference record (8-3 vs. 7-3), overall record (20-4 vs. 17-5) AND a victory at Virginia, the Seminoles are ranked two spots below the Cavaliers!

Virginia also lost at Syracuse this week.

Gators’ Coach Mike White and Florida State’s Leonard Hamilton both understand they have outstanding teams and further understand polls will take care of themselves as long as they keep winning. Hamilton, however, may have the better short-term motivational tool with the obvious lack of respect shown for his team.

Gonzaga shot to the top of the poll followed by Villanova and Kansas. They Jayhawks maintained their position despite losing at home to unranked Iowa State.

Florida State is one of five ACC teams ranked this week while Florida is among only three SEC teams in the top 25.  The Big East had four teams, while the Big 12, Big 10 and Pac 12 had three each. The West Coast Conference and American Athletic Conference each had two.

The Top 25 poll can be found here.

Patriots motivated by hope of humiliating Commissioner Roger Goodell

Several storylines surround Sunday’s Super Bowl LI between the New England Patriots and the Atlanta Falcons. The Patriots are going for their fifth Lombardi Trophy while an Atlanta victory will give them their first.

After the commercials, the halftime and, of course, the game, even more intrigue possibly awaits viewers still sober enough to care. Just the mere ritual of handing off the trophy could be yet another contest.

If the Falcons prevail, Commissioner Roger Goodell and owner Arthur Blank will have a photo op full of smiles showing natural elation for Blank and relief for Goodell. If it’s the Patriots, owner Robert Kraft will surely exult in taking the trophy from the man who prosecuted the Patriots and quarterback Tom Brady through the Deflategate controversy.

New England fans may want this trophy more than the other four. They believe, as does Kraft, that the team and Brady did nothing wrong and were unfairly punished.

They want to see Goodell squirm as he hands off the expensive hardware before hundreds of millions of viewers around the globe. This presentation is usually between the Commissioner, the owner, and the coach, but no one will be surprised if Kraft brings Brady to the ceremony should New England prevail.

There is precedent. In the 1980s, Raiders’ owner Al Davis and then-Commissioner Pete Rozelle grew to loathe one another.

Davis wished to move his team from Oakland to Los Angeles, but Rozelle and fellow owners blocked the move. Davis sued the NFL, but despite losing the lawsuit, wound up in LA a few years later.

While the Kraft/Goodell disagreement abides by the Marquis of Queensbury rules, Davis and Goodell feuded in public.

As the 1981 Super Bowl between the Raiders and the Philadelphia Eagles approached, Oakland players were obsessed with seeing Rozelle in their locker room handing over the trophy to Davis.

“I want to see Rozelle in this locker room,” said Hall of Fame lineman Gene Upshaw. “I guarantee when he walks in our locker room, he’s going to get booed. And I will lead it.”

The Raiders swamped the Eagles 27-10 leading to the iconic Associated Press photo of Rozelle doing what he did not wish to do. Davis can be seen with a clenched fist totally relishing the moment.

New England is not only thinking about the post-game locker room, they have next year’s season opener on their mind. They want to force Goodell to attend their season opener to be played on a Thursday night in Foxborough, Mass. The Commissioner traditionally attends the Super Bowl Champion’s first game the following season.

If Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Devonta Freeman and company do their thing, all of this will be moot. As for the Patriots, winning another ring is solid motivation, but they will be playing for that extra motivation of seeing Roger Goodell in their locker room after the game.

Should that happen, much more commentary will come from that exchange instead of any of the Doritos or Budweiser commericals.


Gators becoming state’s second basketball powerhouse

For the past month, talk of college basketball in the Sunshine State has been dominated by the Florida State Seminoles. Over the past two weeks, the Florida Gators have emphatically joined the conversation.

Saturday’s convincing 88-66 win over No. 8 Kentucky will lift a few eyebrows just a few weeks before March Madness begins. It is no exaggeration to say the Gators, ranked at No. 24 for now, overwhelmed the Wildcats in ways many thought not possible.

Kentucky came into the game averaging 91 points, but was held 25 points under that average by a swarming Gator defense. The Wildcats managed to shoot only 38 percent from the field and earned precious few second-chance points because they were outrebounded by Florida by a staggering 54-29 margin.

“Florida outplayed us, outcoached us, they did everything sideways and deserved to win,” said Kentucky Coach John Calipari.

Yes, they did, but they are far from alone. For what it’s worth, Kentucky came the closest to beating Florida during the last four games.

Since an inexplicable 68-66 home loss to Vanderbilt on January 21, Florida has beaten their last four opponents by a combined score of 371-243. Included are 35 and 32-point road wins over LSU and Oklahoma, respectively.

Following the Vanderbilt debacle, Florida’s second consecutive loss, Coach Mike White called a team meeting to lay everything on the table. At the end of what was described as a “long meeting,” White described it in positive terms.

“I think it was productive at this point,” White said. “We’ll see how much carryover it has.”

They committed to defense, but the only evidence White could provide was from practice. The proof would come, and continues to come, over the last four games that brought about complete dominance.

Kasey Hill is finally living up to the massive hype surrounding his recruitment to Florida four years ago. He has become a playmaker with a little scoring mixed in.

When Hill hits jumpers as he did on Saturday, the Gators are very dangerous. His marksmanship produced a less-than-humble response from Calipari.

“That happens against us. Guys have beer muscles,” said Calipari. “All of a sudden, they are better than they are.”

While Hill is making some outside shots, Florida would still be winning if he were shooting at 35 percent. The reason is because he is getting plenty of help from teammates at BOTH ENDS of the court.

Remember, the twin objectives of basketball is scoring and keeping the ball out of the other team’s basket. Over the past four games, the Gators are fulfilling those objectives in big ways.

Playing as hard and as well as they are makes them a threat to win the SEC regular season and tournament titles. They are now playing for a high seed in the NCAA Tournament.

A huge test comes their way on Tuesday when they go to Athens to face the Georgia Bulldogs. In the first meeting in Gainesville on January 14, Florida came from behind to take an 80-76 win in overtime.

Florida is now tied for second place in the SEC with Kentucky at 8-2. South Carolina, who comes to Gainesville on February 21, leads with a 9-1 conference mark.

The Gators, now 18-5 overall, will finish the regular season at Kentucky on February 25.

If they are playing as well at the end of the season as they are now, they could be primed for a deep run into the Big Dance.


Will Saturday’s loss to Syracuse lead to jumps from FSU bandwagon?

The Florida State bandwagon is becoming lighter today. After Saturday’s demoralizing 82-72 loss to an average Syracuse team, some within Seminole Nation will look toward Wednesday’s National Signing Day for football.

It is certainly not every year that No. 6 Florida State has an 18-4 record and is a lock for the NCAA Tournament. That information stays in the background as the newest basketball supporters are certain to become the first to jump ship.

Good teams lose two games in a row, just as the Seminoles have done. It is the way they have gone down, set up by disastrous first halves, which will prompt the exodus.

Those that look for the first opportunity to criticize Coach Leonard Hamilton will take Saturday’s result as the go-ahead to resume the assault. They will talk about FSU falling behind by 26 and 18 points by halftime in their past two games as proof Hamilton cannot lead his team through adversity.

While it is true a coach’s job is to have his team ready to play, his players have to score and defend, especially in the first half. The Seminoles simply did not have an answer to the 2-3 zone employed by the Orange.

The best way to bust a zone is to make some shots, which is what FSU finally starting doing in the second half. Helped by some sharp three-point shooting, they trimmed 44-26 deficit to three points with about 13 minutes remaining.

Despite some chances to get even or pull ahead, they were never able to get the key stop or make the key shot. In the latter stages of the game, some ill-advised shots went up from multiple Seminole players.

“We cut the lead to two several times, but could not get over the hump,” said Hamilton.

Star forward Jonathan Isaac and guard Dwayne Bacon struggled in the first half, but caught fire in the second half. Still, their twin 19-point performances were not enough.

In the last three minutes and the game very much in doubt, the defense could not prevent Orange guard John Gillon, who scored 21 points, from penetrating into the lane. The result was either free throws (11 out of 12) or a layup.

Florida State’s defense, which enticed even more onto the bandwagon, has the reputation for wearing opponents down. Syracuse seemed ripe for a collapse as Coach Jim Boeheim used only seven players in the game.

Tyler Lydon and Andrew White III played all 40 minutes. The five players who were on the floor for 33 minutes or more still had enough in the tank to pull out the win.

For the second straight game, FSU seemed to lose their poise at certain points of the game. Playing with a lead can certainly help in that regard.

Hamilton is at the point where his team needs coaching. There are the Xs and Os of basketball, as well as the mental aspect. His team needs both.

If they are to break their two-game losing streak on Wednesday, they will have to beat a Miami Hurricanes team in Coral Gables that throttled No. 9 North Carolina on Saturday. Will this year’s basketball players generate as much excitement as next year’s football players on Wednesday?

Leonard Hamilton and the true believers certainly hope so.

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