ATHENS – It’s a big week for the Georgia men’s basketball team. Really, they all are big weeks from here on out for Mark Fox and his staff.
I don’t want that to sound too ominous. Fox is a good coach and the Bulldogs are a good team and it’s a solid program. I don’t know that anybody’s job is on the line necessarily. But I’m worried about them with regard to the ultimate goal, which is to earn an NCAA Tournament bid. If that’s to happen, they need to pick it up.
Never mind what you might’ve read in other places, even here at DawgNation; nothing has been determined. The Bulldogs’ fate is far from being decided. They’re not even to the halfway point yet with at least 17 games left to be played.
But where Georgia currently finds itself, at 10-5 overall and 2-1 in the SEC, is not where it expected to be. And now the Bulldogs enter the real meat of their schedule. The challenges will be plenty this week in particular, with road games tonight at Ole Miss (10-5, 1-2) and Saturday at Florida (13-3, 4-0). Georgia needs to come home with at least one W, and two would do wonders for its cause.
But it’s not really the record and rankings that have given me cause for concern. Really, it’s more about the eye test for me. I don’t really know what to make of what I’ve been seeing and hearing from this team.
Case in point: This past Saturday’s win over Missouri.
Yes, the Bulldogs got the home-court victory and, yes, the Bulldogs were spurred on by the halftime melee that erupted between players and opposing assistant coaches. Georgia, which trailed at the time, came out and played much more inspired ball in the second half. Ultimately, it won by five points a game that probably wasn’t really that close at the end.
What gets me is the lack of urgency with which the Bulldogs played before that incident lit a fire under them. It shouldn’t have taken a couple of aides wanting to throw down to energize this basketball team. Georgia is supposed to be one of the SEC’s upper-echelon teams, and it’s playing a league cellar-dweller at home. What seems to be missing from the Dogs is that step-on-their-neck competitive mentality. The disposition needs to be “you’re in our house and we’re not going to give you a glimmer of hope.”
I’ve watched enough of Georgia’s games this season to know it’s a flawed team. The Bulldogs are poor perimeter shooters – and defenders – and are desperate to find a consistent third scorer in addition to Yante Maten and J.J. Frazier. On the rare occasion that one asserts himself, they’re tough to handle. More often they’re a two-man team that makes it far too easy for opponents to defend.
That said, Georgia to some extent may be a reflection of their two scoring leaders. Both Frazier and Maten are unselfish by nature. They’re more than willing to share the ball and certainly have done their part in trying to get more of their teammates involved in the offense. But it appears at times that they’re doing that to the detriment of the team.
Against Missouri this past Saturday, Frazier had attempted just one shot until he made a runner with six seconds remaining in the first half. To his credit, he attempted 10 in the second half and made five of them as the Bulldogs surged to take control. Granted, Frazier has been enduring a bit of a slump here in the midseason. But he needs to take more of an NBA mentality and simply shoot himself out of it.
Same with Maten. Obviously he tries to let the game come to him and nobody plays with more controlled efficiency than the big man from Michigan. Officially, he was credited with nine field-goal attempts and 17 points against the Tigers. But that’s not enough shots for a player of that talent, even though he went to the line 14 times. Again, Maten can’t take too many shots in my opinion.
Georgia has plenty of time still to write its script, but it finds itself at a critical juncture. It needs to steal away at least one of these road wins this week to account for one of slip-ups earlier this season. Two games still await with Florida and Kentucky and another against South Carolina over in Columbia. Texas is coming to Athens as part of the SEC-Big 12 Challenge.
Now is the time and the time is now. The Bulldogs need to play with some urgency, and it shouldn’t take a meaningless melee to get them to show some fight.