ATHENS – By now, no one should be surprised: Slow starts have been the norm for the Georgia men’s basketball program.
In some years, it doomed Mark Fox’s team: Both two years ago and three years ago the Bulldogs likely would have made the NCAA tournament, or at least would have had a good shot, if not for starts of 1-4 and 2-7. The year before it was a 4-5 start.
In some years they’ve overcome it: Last season the Bulldogs made the NCAAs despite a 3-3 start, which included a season-opening loss at Georgia Tech.
This year again started with a loss, this time at home to Chattanooga in overtime. That was just the start of a deceivingly tough schedule: While the first month-and-half is dominated by home games against mid-major teams, many of those teams are projected to contend for their conference title and thus an NCAA tournament bid.
Chattanooga, loaded with experience and 3-point shooting, was one such case.
Murray State, the second opponent, is another such team.
“Very similar,” Georgia senior guard Kenny Gaines said. “They’re an athletic team, fast, and they also shoot the 3 well. They’ve got a couple of shooters on their team, so it’s gonna be kinda like the same plan – except we have to bring it ourselves.”
Georgia lost to Chattanooga for two main reasons: Poor free throw shooting (28-for-45) and poor 3-point defense (Chattanooga made 12 from beyond the arc.) The free throw shooting will just require practice and hope. As for 3-point defense, Fox said the emphasis this week in practice was “moving your feet,” to get better at switching to defend the 3-point shot.
“We obviously didn’t defend like our team’s have defended for a long time,” Fox said. “So that’s certainly a point of concern.”
The slow starts of past years had different reasons. There were injuries, a suspension, and adjusting to a new roster. This year’s team returns experienced guards (Gaines, Charles Mann and J.J. Frazier), but did suffer a couple key injurie to other players.
In any case, Fox was asked if, while it was only one game, the opening loss raised the specter of yet another slow start.
“We lost our first game of the year last year. We’ve had some years where we didn’t play as well out of the gate,” Fox said. “We’re focusing on the next game. We have a lot of areas where we need to get better. We’ve gotta get better at both ends, and that’s really the only thing I’m worried about.”
Freshman forward Derek Ogbeide (shoulder) is likely to miss a second straight game. There’s no timetable for his return, per Fox, who said Ogbeide has “benchmarks” he has to hit.
The outlook for junior small forward Juwan Parker (Achilles) is more bleak. Parker will miss “significant time,” as Fox said. Parker missed half of last season with the injury and had offseason surgery, but it hasn’t healed yet and he sat the past eight-to-nine days in order to rest it.
“It didn’t show great results,” Fox said.