ATHENS – Derek Ogbeide, it turns out, was not replaced in the starting lineup for Georgia’s last game because his scoring was too low, or because it was hoped Mike Edwards, his fellow freshman, would provide a spark.
Ogbeide was just sick.
“So that made it easy,” head coach Mark Fox said of the decision.
Fox still wouldn’t say that Ogbeide, who struggled through nine minutes in the win over Missouri, would return to the starting lineup on Saturday against Arkansas. That will be a decision made earlier on gameday, Fox said.
Either way, this much is obvious: Georgia needs something out of that fifth spot, and the bench too.
Say what you will about Georgia’s veteran backcourt, but the trio of J.J. Frazier, Kenny Gaines and Charles Mann, along with standout forward Yante Maten are in the whole pulling their load in the scoring column. It’s what comes after them that may be holding back the Bulldogs, who have arrived at the mid-point limping along at 10-6 overall and 3-3 in the SEC.
There’s a major drop-off from Georgia’s fourth-leading scorer (Mann, 9.9 points per game) to the fifth (Ogbeide, 3.9 points per game). Outside of the top four scorers, Georgia has only gotten two double-digit scoring games from someone else. (Kenny Paul Geno at Seton Hall and Edwards against Oakland).
“The season will only go as deep as your team will,” Gaines said. “So for us to have a couple, four or five guys coming off the bench that will sustain offense, sustain defense when the starters come out, will definitely be a key thing.”
Ogbeide was supposed to help once healthy, and his rebounding has been great. But his offensive game remains raw, as he is obviously not comfortable yet in the paint.
Last year, on its way to an NCAA tournament bid, Georgia knew it could count on seniors Marcus Thornton and Nemanja Djurisic in the paint, with Maten averaging 5.4 points off the bench.
“What we need – and this is not meant to put pressure on our bench – we’ve replaced a lot of the production of Marcus and Nemi, with Yante, but we’ve not replaced the production of Yante last year,” Fox said. “We’ve gotta get a little growth from that group. They hit the wall as freshmen, but they’ve gotta push through it. And we need to develop those guys a little bit.”
It’s produced issues in rebounding too. Georgia is 9-0 this year when it has more or the same amount of rebounds as the other team, but has been out-rebounded in each of its six losses.
“Our rebounding had been a great strength of ours for a couple years, and it has not been this year. And it’s slowly getting better,” Fox said. “It needs to be a strength of this team, and a consistent strength.”
Ogbeide and Edwards are both talented, and appear likely to help the program. But this is an adjustment for each of them. They were the focal point on their teams in high school, but now they’re having to learn a different role, and what to do when they’re often the last scoring option in a half-court offense.
“In high school I was doing everything, pretty much, and now I have a specific role to help the team win,” Edwards said. “So it’s different.”
This is a game that Georgia badly needs considering the schedule ahead. Arkansas (9-9, 3-3) will be followed by a trip to LSU (which has star freshman Ben Simmons), No. 13 Baylor, home games against No. 24 South Carolina and Auburn, and a trip to No. 23 Kentucky.
Georgia’s strength of schedule – which has been in or near the top 20 all season – doesn’t need padding. It needs wins, and they’ll be hard to come by over the next few weeks.
Especially if they don’t get more stability and production out of their fifth starter and bench.
“We’ll be at our best when we get two or three of those guys playing well at the same time,” Fox said.