Tuesday, March 22, 2016

NIT: post mortem

Due to car troubles, I was unable to attend the Belmont game.  That was disappointing as I knew it would almost certainly be the last chance to see Kenny Gaines and Charles Mann in the Steg.  As it turns out, it was also a chance to see Yante Maten hulk smash a truly helpless opponent.  I suspect we'll see more of that over the next two years:
  • These two games were really about Yante Maten, weren't they?  Against Belmont, a team with no chance of guarding Maten, he had his way all evening.  He showed the full repertoire, and the Bruins had no answer.  Against St. Mary's, a team which also had no chance of guarding him, nothing would fall, and it was the difference in the game.  That's not to lay the loss entirely on his shoulders - he didn't get much help - but if Maten has even a normal night, Georgia is probably in the quarterfinals.
  • Much more will be written about Charles Mann and Kenny Gaines, but they can hold their heads up high as they ride off into the sunset.  Three postseasons is nothing to be ashamed of, and while I know they both wish it was one NIT and two NCAAs, they've helped change the culture a bit in Athens.  The fact that many of us are left feeling unsatisfied by this season is, in many ways, attributable to the work they've put in.
  • Teams like Belmont and St. Mary's drive me insane, and it's not entirely their fault.  St. Mary's, in particular, moved the ball beautifully, and thanks to some poor defense, ended up with quite a few layups, but both of those teams are going to live and die by the 3-point shot.  Threes are the great equalizer, and they are often at the root of Cinderella success in March (*ahem*MTSU*ahem*), but I have long been in favor of moving the 3-point line back even farther.  I suppose I'm old-fashioned, but watching a team jack up 30 3-pointers isn't my idea of a good time.  However, until the line moves, teams like Belmont and St. Mary's can, will, and should continue firing away.
  • I don't want to make excuses for Mark Fox (he's pretty good at that himself), but I suspect jet lag played into the result Sunday night.  I have a hunch we won't see many more 6-22 nights out of Maten.
  • Here's hoping all four freshmen put in some work this summer.  Each one has shown great promise at times.  The talent is evident.  If even one or two can make the kind of leap Maten made last summer, Georgia should be wearing white in the first round of the NCAA Tournament next year.
  • Also, here's hoping announcers practice pronouncing "Ogbeide" all summer.  They'll need to know that name next year.
  • The coast-to-coast dunk by Yante was great.  Turtle losing his mind (and his footing) might have been even better.
  • Maten's 3-point shot is going to make him almost impossible for most teams to guard next year.
  • Can Kenny Paul Geno improve his range over the summer?  If he can add just a little more scoring to everything else he does on the court he's going to be a huge asset off the bench (hopefully).
  • Chalk me up as excited to see any lineup with J.J. Frazier and Turtle Jackson in the game together.  They could be a dynamic pairing.
  • Houston Kessler has quietly regained a little confidence in his shot over the last few weeks.  I still hope the depth improves to the point where he's not counted on for 12 minutes per night, but when he's in, having the jumper as a threat is key.
So that's that.  A disappointing season?  That's a hard question to answer.  It certainly could have been better had the team gotten a few more breaks...but it probably should have been better regardless.

There will be plenty of time to analyze that.  For now, congratulations to the team on another postseason berth.  Now it's time to put in some work this summer and prepare for a deeper run next season.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

SEC Tournament: post mortem

Georgia will come up one game short.

I don't just mean the Kentucky game.  If you change any single loss on Georgia's schedule to a win, I believe they'd be dancing.  Instead it's a likely NIT home game as a 3 or 4 seed:
  • If you're tempted to get down, just remember: Yante Maten and J.J. Frazier are coming back next season.
  • Georgia played 30 minutes of great basketball against Mississippi State, followed by 6 minutes of garbage-ball, followed by 4 minutes of clinging desperately to a lead.  This team is a roller coaster.
  • The maroon Bulldogs really never had a chance.  They played well in stretches, and they hit some timely shots, but Maten just completely overwhelmed them.
  • The top of the key 3 is officially part of Maten's arsenal, arriving a year earlier than I thought it would.  That guy has 1st-team SEC written all over him next year.
  • As great as Georgia looked in stretches during the Mississippi State game, they barely played with a pulse for the majority of the South Carolina game.  Had the Gamecocks played with any sense of urgency they would have run the Bulldogs out of the building.  Instead it set up Frazier's heroics.
  • That sequence by J.J. at the end of the game was simply spectacular.  Splitting the double team was hard enough.  Hitting the floater over a seven footer?  High degree of difficulty.  Getting the steal and taking a foul?  Come on.
  • Have you ever seen Mark Fox so emotional on the sideline?  I haven't.  He knew what that game meant to his team.  Say what you want about Fox, but the man sure can coach with his back to the wall.  I'd like to see that same sense of urgency out of him in November.
  • The first half of the Kentucky game is as much fun as I've had watching Georgia basketball since...last year's Kentucky game.  That was big boy basketball, and Georgia hit them in the mouth, matching them punch for punch.  I didn't believe for a second it would hold, but I can handle losing when my team fights like that.
  • Are we seeing the emergence of Mike Edwards?  Listen, if Jonas Hayes can duplicate whatever he did with Yante Maten this summer, Edwards, Derek Ogbeide, and Maten are going to be an absolutely terrifying front court next season.
  • To state the obvious, the game turned when J.J. re-retwisted (intentionally redundant) that ankle.  I still think Georgia loses if it doesn't happen, but that sucked the life out of the team.  Frazier is clearly their emotional center.
  • Have I mentioned how much I hate Kentucky lately?  Or how pretentious and over-hyped "Big Blue Nation" is?
  • Jamal Murray, though...phew...go get your money, son.
  • It's not a stretch to say that Georgia would have beaten all but about 5 teams in the country with the game they played today, and they would have beaten Kentucky on most nights, too.  The Cats managed to shoot 50% and hit 9 3-point shots.  They're a great team, but someone with great defensive length and interior presence is going to send them packing sooner or later.
  • It may be Texas A&M tomorrow.  LSU...yikes...
  • Turtle: stay hot.
It wasn't the season we hoped it'd be, but there are reasons to love these Dawgs.  They will fight until there are no more games to play, and I will be right there with them.

Monday, March 7, 2016

The situation

The Numbers

CBSSports RPI: 72
RPIForecast.com: 72
CBS Bracketology: Out
ESPN Bracketology: Next 4 out
The Resume

Good Wins: Georgia Tech, South Carolina, Ole Miss, @South Carolina, Alabama
Bad Losses: @Auburn

The Schedule

Potential Top 50 Wins: Kentucky (neutral)
Potential Bad Losses: MIssissippi State (neutral)

What It All Means

Georgia is not an NCAA Tournament team.  Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

The fact that Lunardi has Georgia in his "Next 4 Out" category is a head-scratcher, and it may make you feel good, but despite being the most high-profile bracketologist out there, he's far from the most accurate.  Reality tells us that Georgia's resume just isn't very good:
  • 0-5 against the top 50 (that's bad)
  • 5-11 against the top 100 (that's very mediocre)
  • Loss to #162 Auburn (that's terrible)
  • Best wins against South Carolina twice (ok), Georgia Tech (resurgent, but not sexy), and Alabama (meh)
That's not to say the Dawgs can't play their way in - they certainly can.  I just don't want anyone thinking knocking off Mississippi State on Thursday or even South Carolina on Friday is enough to punch a ticket.  20 wins continues to be the magic number for this team, and that would almost certainly mean knocking off Kentucky in the semifinals in Nashville.

Possible, right?  Sure.  Probable?  Not so much.  As HeckWithTeck shows, Mark Fox is tough to beat in game 1, but has never won 2 games in the SEC Tournament, let alone 3.

It didn't have to be this way.  If you want to ruin your Monday, head over to the RPI wizard and play around a bit.  Had Georgia simply won at Auburn they'd have an RPI right at 60, and two wins in Nashville would probably have them dancing.  Had Georgia also won at home over Florida, the RPI would be in the 30's and a single win in Nashville would punch their ticket.

Or how about this?  Win the Chattanooga game (tons of missed free throws), the Kansas State game (blown lead and a missed goaltending call), and the Ole Miss road game (blown lead and missed travel call) and Georgia has an RPI in the 20's and is playing for seeding.  I'm going to stop before I bring myself to tears.

When you're a program like Georgia, every single game matters.  Last year a slow start cost Georgia a few seeds and left them matched up with Final Four-bound Michigan State.  This year it likely cost them a chance to play in the tournament at all.  It's something Mark Fox has to fix, or the ceiling on the program may be stuck in place.

[Georgia Basketball Blog]

Alabama: post mortem

This was a Mark Fox win through-and-through.  I don't mean for that to sound negative.  It's simply a statement of fact.  Consider these numbers, all of which Fox is likely thrilled about:
  1. Georgia held a 48-26 rebounding advantage(!).  Just complete domination on the boards.  Georgia had 19 offensive rebounds and Alabama had 18 defensive rebounds.  Amazing.
  2. Georgia held a 32-18 free throw advantage.  Georgia made 26 free throws and Alabama took 18.  Some of that was padded by J.J.'s free throw parade at the end of game, of course...
  3. Georgia attempted 15 3-point shots.  Had they hit their normal percentage, the game would have been a blowout.
  4. Alabama took 26 3-point shots, 4 more than their average.  Shannon Hale - a 30% shooter from distance coming in - took 7.  Justin Coleman - a 27% shooter from distance - took 4.
Fox has never been concerned with style points.  He wants you to take difficult shots, he wants to limit you to one shot per possession, and he needs just enough offense to win.  For one day at least it worked to perfection:
  • It's a shame that Senior Day occurred on the front end of spring break, but the folks that were there got loud for Kenny Gaines and Charles Mann.  They deserve it.  I'll write plenty more about them in the future, but they've helped put the program on a much firmer footing.
  • Houston Kessler had 5 offensive rebounds??  Well done, son.
  • In 2 minutes, E'Torrion Wilridge had a rebound and a beautiful assist into the post.  I have this feeling we'll be wondering in 2 or 3 years why we didn't see more of him during his freshman season.
  • Derek Ogbeide is a completely different player now than he was three months ago.  If he has a summer like Yante Maten had last year, Georgia is going to be lethal in the paint.
  • Maten - just awesome.  He needs to cut the turnovers a bit...and that's literally the only fair criticism I can lob his way at this point.
  • Seriously, though.  Maten running the break - two points.  Maten trailing the break - 2 points.  He makes stuff happen.
  • Mike Edwards needs to shoot 5,000,000 free throws this summer.  His ceiling is high, but he is going to be visiting the line more and more.  31% isn't even close to getting it done.
  • With that said, Mike also needs to keep running the floor the way he has been.  He routinely beats the defense down the floor.
  • Donta Hall was robbed.  That putback dunk was beautiful, and it was absolutely not an offensive foul.  The officiating was uneven yet again, and for once it felt like Georgia was the beneficiary of the bulk of the bad calls.
  • The crowd was not huge, but after Maten's fast break dunk, they sure were loud.  It sounded like a sellout for a few minutes there.
  • Georgia kept Alabama in the game with 15 turnovers, many of them practically unforced.  This has been a bugaboo for years, now, so I'm not holding my breath that it will get fixed...
Fun game.  That's all.  Put it in the rear view.  Everything is one game at a time right now.  The moment Georgia starts getting ahead of themselves, they'll get beat.  So credit to Mark Fox - he had them ready to play.  Let's hope we're saying the same thing Friday morning.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Game preview: Alabama

Let's hope Kenny Gaines and Charles Mann go out in style.

See you there.

South Carolina: post mortem

I won't allow myself to think the last two games represent Georgia taking a turn offensively.  There was still plenty to be concerned about tonight (like a million turnovers in the second half).  However, the lack of possessions ending in desperation heaves as the shot clock expired was very encouraging:
  • Biggest shot of the game?  For my money, it was Kenny Gaines hitting the transition three to tie the game at 55.  For some guys, that's not a very good shot.  It is for Kenny.  When he has hit feet set he's deadly.
  • Georgia really had no business being in that game, but South Carolina shot themselves right out of it.  In the lane, the Gamecocks were getting whatever they wanted, yet they hoisted 26 3-point shots.  A late flurry of makes made the percentage look better than it really was.
  • The Bulldogs had twice as many turnovers as South Carolina and they gave up 18 offensive rebounds.  The Gamecocks took 18 more shots, too.  So again, how did Georgia win?
  • 23-27 from the free throw line certainly didn't hurt.  Gaines nailing three of them early in the first half was a good omen.
  • Oh and by the way - Kenny Gaines is 15-30 from 3-point range in the last 3 games.  As long as he keeps that up, Georgia has a chance in every game they play.
  • And J.J. Frazier is 14-27...
  • 11 points off the bench.  That counts as a good night for those guys.
  • Michael Carrera is a warrior, but I bet he's hoping that's the last he's seen of Georgia.  The Bulldogs defense has a way of getting under his skin.  The one 3-pointer he hit was clutch, but the 9 he missed were important too.
  • Charles Mann continues to struggle his way through his senior season, but his strip of Sindarius Thornwell was huge.  HUGE.
  • Derek Ogbeide had 5 rebounds, and 4 of them were on the offensive end.  He and Yante Maten are going to terrorize some smaller teams next year.
  • I'm a little surprised Maten didn't get T'ed up for yelling at Carrera after his dunk.  Not a complaint.  Just an observation.
  • And while we're talking about Maten, good job selling the offensive foul on Silva.  That came at a big time, and Maten had his fair share of cheap ones go against him.
  • The officiating was choppy all night.  It was like a throwback game where the officials decided to let everything go in the paint.
  • Georgia's defense was really good.   Had Mindaugas Kacinas not shot out of his mind (he's a 32% shooter from distance but went 5-7) the Bulldogs may have run away with the game.  And remember, a flurry of threes after Georgia all but put the game away made things look way better for the Gamecocks.
The NCAA Tournament is a pipe dream, but the season is not over, and these guys are playing hard.  A win over Alabama on Saturday ensures the best possible seeding for the conference tournament at which point it's on Georgia to go make some noise.

The formula remains simple: play defense like you're capable of, limit turnovers, and let the shooters shoot.  By my estimation, any Frazier or Gaines shot is a good one right now.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

A thought experiment

Mark Fox is a flawed coach.  Also, the sky is blue and yes, a bear does take its morning constitutional in the woods.

This is not a revelation.  Every coach is flawed to some degree.  The question, now, is twofold: is Mark Fox willing to change, and is the administration willing to give him the time to do so?

So let's play a little game.  I am going to list what I perceive to be Mark Fox's greatest weaknesses right now.  My question to you is this: if you could instantly fix one and only one of these things, which one would it be?
  1. Ineffective offense.  The highest points/game ranking a Mark Fox-coached Georgia team has ever finished with is 153rd in the country.  Let that sink in.  This is year 7, and despite coaching scorers like Trey Thompkins, Travis Leslie, Dustin Ware, Gerald Robinson, Yante Maten, Kenny Gaines, and J.J. Frazier, dead middle of the pack is the most dynamic offense Georgia fans have seen in almost a decade.  There is little evidence that Fox is going to change, either.  Despite having his most athletic team in years, and despite promising a more up-tempo approach on offense, this season has just been more of the same.
  2. Refusal to take graduate transfers.  Here's an exercise for you: as you watch the NCAA Tournament later this month, count how many times an announcer references a graduate transfer making a big impact on one of those teams.  Your blood may start to boil a bit.  For whatever reason, Fox has refused to be a player in that market, and it has hurt his teams (see White, James).
  3. Misuse of freshmen talent.  In Fox's tenure at Georgia, there has been exactly one freshman allowed to make a big-time impact: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.  Charles Mann, likely out of necessity, also saw a lot of minutes his freshman year.  Kenny Gaines?  He was stuck on the bench behind Sherrard Brantley.  E'Torrion Wilridge is currently riding the pine behind a game but less-skilled Kenny Paul Geno.  Mike Edwards and Derek Ogbeide had to wait in line behind Houston Kessler, and both have still logged less minutes than him.  Yes, freshmen make mistakes, but there is too much roster turnover in college basketball to avoid using them.  If the scheme is too complex, that's not their problem.  It's yours.
  4. Lack of roster depth.  I was going to call this one "recruiting," but in many ways Fox has righted that ship.  Last year's class was as talented as any class coming to Athens in many, many years.  However, roster depth has still suffered.  Georgia's points/game fall off a cliff after the big 4 of Frazier, Maten, Gaines, and Mann, and some of that is a shocking lack of quality depth.  Depth is created by good recruiting, and it's nourished by proper use of young talent.  Fox has struggled in both areas.  The 2016 class currently consists of two guards.  So does the graduating class.  In other words, expect more of the same.
  5. Drawing up out-of-bounds plays.  Ok, I'm being snarky now.  But really, could our out-of-bounds plays be any more uninspired?
Many of these things are intertwined.  I get that.  Fixing one may go a long way towards fixing another.  But you have to pick one.

I'm going with number 1.  I'll get into the offensive numbers in another post, but they are not pretty.  Even with the talent as it is (little depth, no grad transfers), a little bump in offensive efficiency would have this team in the tournament instead of playing for their lives.  That's how thin the margin has been.  Fox can coach a defense.  That is for sure.  But it's time for him to look in the mirror, realize his shortcomings, and turn the offense over to an assistant.