By Fletcher Page
Well, here you are again Georgia basketball fans, opining over another 0-2 SEC start. But don’t rush to negativity. Yes, some people, like coach Mark Fox, say there are no moral victories. A loss is a loss. Two losses can lead to mounting frustration and anxiety.
But I digress.
This Bulldogs team is not getting conference victories. But I tend to add "yet" to the end of that sentence.
And here’s why.
Let’s get this out of the way. Kentucky and Ole Miss are better teams. There aren’t many programs in the country on the rise like the Wildcats. They've got talent and depth. Great young players (Wall, Cousins, Dodson and Bledsoe) and experienced veterans (Patterson, Stevenson). And Ole Miss has turned a potential weakness, predominately playing four guards due to a lack of frontcourt depth, into a lethal mismatch for opponents.
Yet, Georgia played right with these two teams. And lost. Not the other way around. Don’t take this 0-2 start at face value. See what’s taking place.
A season-high 6,743 people watched the 80-76 loss in Stegeman last night. And at one point down the stretch, I told myself, ‘the fans are buying into this. They’re becoming emotionally attached to this program. These players.’ If you were in attendance, I give you my props. Stegeman doesn’t give me goosebumps like Sanford can, but last night was as close as I’ve come to experiencing that feeling during a game yet.
Georgia is so young.
It’s been discussed, so I won’t beat the topic further. And since the season has moved into January, the new system, new coach, new attitudes point is becoming moot. But Ricky McPhee and Albert Jackson are the lone senior contributors. Jackson, probably the most likeable guy on the team (my opinion, he’s always been a great interview) will be missed sorely in the locker room. Remember he voluntarily ditched his dreads for coach Fox. McPhee is stepping into that treasured “I’m the white dude who can hit dagger threes and sometimes come through with another awesome play here or there and everybody f’n loves me” role.
But both can be replaced. And will have to be before next season.
Fox said his team was emotionally fatigued after suffering the loss in Lexington.
“After a hard fought game on the road against a nationally ranked team, that is often the case,” he said. “When you have to dig down so deeply to compete and hang in there on the road, a lot of times your tanks are real empty the next time out.”
I can’t attend practice, so I’m not sure if the drain was evident the past few days.
But here’s the thing about SEC basketball, or any major conference for that matter. The losses have to stay in-between the lines of the court played that night. And the wins too, because in less than four days, another game has to be played. Say it with me, those of you on the cliché panel, one loss must not turn into two losses. And so forth. Yes, much can be learned from each game. Watching tape is essential. But the peaking emotions shouldn’t last longer than one restless night tossing and turning in bed.
But that’s where youth comes in. If you’re 18 or 19 years old, played your heart out and came up just short to Kentucky in Rupp Arena, then chances are you’re going to be bummed. And then if you narrowly lose to another ranked SEC team, then frustration could set in. I know I’d wallow.
Anyway, Kentucky and Ole Miss, as of now, are better. And Georgia is young. For those who believe in Fox, c’mon I’ve seen your Facebook status, those problems are being worked on every day in practice. And hopefully through recruiting.
I truly believe that Fox has a solid starting five. Trey Thompkins is the alpha male. Travis Leslie is playing the role of super athletic, I could be the alpha male if Trey wasn’t here, scorer who just absolutely mug-janks people with dunks. Mcphee throwing daggers and keeping the fans in the game, if nothing else than to make that whoooshhhh noise when he blasts from deep. Dustin Ware is the steady point guard who can occasionally light up offensively just when you forget he can score and won’t make many mistakes. And Jackson is on the court for defensive purposes. Tell me this isn’t a good starting five.
The problem? Players 6-12 just aren’t as good as Kentucky’s and others around the conference. And again, I add "yet."
Chris Barnes played an excellent first half against Ole Miss. He dunks. Well. And he works hard. Jeremy Price could flourish in a scoring role off the bench. He just hasn’t. He’s scored double digits four times this year. His career high is 22, back in ’07. He can score. He just isn’t. And he hurts Georgia defensively at times, but last night he pulled down eight rebounds. Perhaps this is a sign that he’s ready to work harder. But at least Fox has options, with players who have different talents and skill sets down low. On the perimeter, it’s different. When Fox looks down his bench, he sees three players who are hungry, will get after it, play hard defensively and may make mistakes but in a “I see what you were trying to do” kind of way. Freshmen Vincent Williams, Demario Mayfield and Ebuka Anyaorah are a coach’s favorite kind of guy, hard workers with tremendous upside. They just can’t score consistently. Yet. They have a combined 59 points this year. But they’re learning.
So the problem is…if Leslie needs a breather there is no slasher on his level to replace him. If McPhee needs a rest, there is no, and I mean absolutely no three point threat to float out there in his place. Trey’s scoring can be replaced at times by Price, but not consistently. I put it likes this; it’s just not Trey out there. There is certainly nobody to replace what Ware does at the point.
The end result: Against Ole Miss, Leslie, Thompkins, McPhee and Ware logged over 34 minutes apiece. Yikes. They did the same versus Kentucky. Uh oh.
And they will have to do it all over again against Mississippi State this weekend.
But things are on the upswing. Last season’s losses were double-digit laughers, with no real reason to think change was coming.
Last night is good example of how far Georgia is progressing. The Bulldogs outrebounded Ole Miss and committed just 13 turnovers. 14 assists were dished out. They shot nearly 50 percent from the field in the second half. The shooting numbers decreased in the final period, due to the Rebels’ zone defense pushing the offensive execution further from the basket. But at the end of the game, Ware had a wide-open three and if that shot goes, the outcome could have been different. And when Ware shot, it looked like it was going in from all angles. It went in-and-out. Fox said he was more than happy with that shot selection, and that he would have Ware shoot that again. I agree.
So stay positive. This team can win in the SEC. It just hasn’t happened.
Thursday, January 14, 2010
By Fletcher Page