ATHENS — Do you care? If not, why not?
I ask this about Georgia basketball because, believe it or not, the season is about to start. The men’s team, which already played some games in a late-summer exhibition tour of Spain, begins practice on Sunday for the 2016-17 season.
And Mark Fox’s Bulldogs are going to be good. Or, at least, they should be. You could even say, “better be.”
But I bring up the concept of expectations only from the standpoint of intrigue. And this team is very intriguing.
Led by dynamic point guard J.J. Frazier and smooth-scoring forward Yante Maten, the Bulldogs have a deep and versatile roster and have added some nice pieces since last year. Hence, they are expected to build on three straight seasons of 20 or more wins and earn an NCAA tournament bid.
“We feel like we’ve got another good team,” Fox said Tuesday. “Can this team be better than last year’s team? That’s what we want it to be. Hopefully consistently performing better and better each year will be the norm. I do think this team is as balanced and as deep as we’ve had in a while. Will they all perform at the level we need them to? That’s the goal.”
But, again, do you care?
It’s a legitimate question, and it’s one we here at DawgNation are seriously having to consider right about now. We’re having to make some decisions based on how much you care.
As you all know, we now live in the digital age. Data on just about everything is readily available. So we have digital analytics that tell us exactly what people are clicking on, how long they’re reading, from where, and all that.
It will probably come as no surprise to know that you guys, readers at DawgNation.com and UGA fans and alumni in general, are massive consumers of all things football. We can report on a backup left guard’s ankle injury and you’ll click on it. Write something about Nick Chubb, Jacob Eason or Kirby Smart, and you’re on it like an ant on a Jolly Rancher. There isn’t a doubt there will always be a high level of engagement.
Basketball? Not so much. Without getting into specifics, I’ll just say that it doesn’t it simply doesn’t generate nearly the readership.
Now that’s not unusual in the SEC. Pretty much any place not named Kentucky, especially this time of year, basketball always takes a backseat to football. Just as the Hoop Dawgs are getting ready to crank up practice, the football team is entering the meat of the conference schedule. There’s Tennessee this week and South Carolina next and Vanderbilt and Florida after that.
Meanwhile, the basketball team has put together a very attractive schedule this year. The Bulldogs open the season at Clemson on Friday, Nov. 11, the night before Georgia plays Auburn in football. In late November, they play in the CBE Hall of Fame Classic tournament in play in a tournament in Kansas City. If things go well there, they’ll meet mighty Kansas in the second round. Meanwhile, Hugh Durham and Dominique Wilkins are being inducted into the College Basketball Hall of Fame that weekend.
It’s a big deal. It’s also Thanksgiving that week and the Bulldogs meet Georgia Tech on the gridiron that Saturday.
There are indications overall interest in hoops is on the rise. Season-ticket donations are at an all-time high this year, according to Fox. Renovations at Stegeman Coliseum continue and, I kid you not, they’re genuinely transforming the old place. It looks good. This time next year they will have added a multi-million dollar, center-hanging score and video board.
“It’s like the drive-through line; it never goes fast enough for anybody anymore. But we’re making progress,” Fox said. “And once the arena’s done, it’ll be done right. Fan support keeps growing. Hopefully it will continue to grow.”
Of course, there always remains the winning piece. And while the Bulldogs are winning more consistently than ever, they’re still not recording program-defining wins. They’re making the postseason, but that’s been the NIT two of the last three years and one-and-done the last time in the NCAA tournament. They’re playing Kentucky tough, but not beating them.
Will that make a difference for you if and when they do?
“That’s the next step for us; there’s no question about it,” Fox said. “The one thing we have to do is continue to win and compete in the league and we have to continue to graduate (players). You just can’t have the tradition of being up and down. We have been more successful the last couple of years, but the dip of the league probably has cost us to a degree. You know, maybe we didn’t see that challenge coming. We’ve got to find a way over it.”
To answer my own question, I care. I like college basketball. I enjoy covering the game. I like that games get over in less than three hours and they play more than once a week. And I love that the Bulldogs are competitive right now.
But I don’t cover these games for personal enjoyment. This is a business. Ultimately, DawgNation readers will decide how much we write, how far we travel, etc., to cover Georgia basketball.
Do you care?