Entering Saturday’s home contest against the South Carolina Gamecocks at Stegeman Coliseum in Athens, the UGA Hoop Hounds were projected to be one of the final teams accepted as an at-large for the NCAA basketball tournament. Georgia had an RPI of 43, with the Southeastern Conference tougher than ever and probably more widely-respected nationally than at any time in recent history. Having reached the Big Dance in 5-of-13 seasons as a head basketball coach, Mark Fox earned berths his final three seasons in Nevada, then he only got in twice in his first eight seasons at the University of Georgia. And, both entrants were one and done in the initial round.
While Georgia has become a perennial bubble team, the bids have often felt to fans closer than they may have been in reality, as Georgia either faded down the stretch in key contests or came up short of overcoming tough season starts in November and December. Unlike football, which is generally orchestrated directly by athletic directors, college basketball scheduling is a key function of head basketball coaching, and Fox has historically used early high-RPI schedules to position his team to show the selection committee enough to have to consider Georgia. The teams haven’t had good enough records to ensure selection, and as Georgia is so far from a traditional power in college basketball, only playing far above average gets any national attention. While Fox deserves his reputation for developing players and getting the most out of limited high-end talents, there is no acceptable reason Georgia can’t be better as a program.
Starting this season 11-4 was Coach Fox’s best opening clip, and the Dawgs went on a good 4-of-5 jag before the road loss at Mizzou, their only other league defeat coming in the SEC opener on the road at Kentucky. Yante Maten leads the deep conference in boards and has hovered near the scoring lead all season. Missouri’s tough defense and perhaps the law of averages undid Maten and Georgia on the road, as he was held below double digits in points for the first time all season. His previous low was thirteen.
Then, the Dawgs slipped to scrappy South Carolina at home, falling to 11-5 and suffering their only home court loss of the season. It was also Georgia’s first time with back-to-back defeats. At 11-5, Georgia is a bubble team but no better at this stage. The penetration skills of J.J. Frazier are sorely missed late in games and SEC Player of the Year leading candidate Maten – who had a huge bounce back with twenty-five points and an all-around strong performance with blocked shots and rebounds – desperately needs more consistent offensive help to emerge. Or Fox’s Dawgs will again burst and be on the outside watching the show on television.
From the final play of the football national championship on, the pendulum has surely not swung in the favor of the red and black-clad faithful. Sudden hard times on the hardwood only adding to the agony of Georgia losing when it really mattered most…Dark clouds.
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