ATHENS – This could have been the year that Mark Fox, in what’s usually not a good sign, is still mentioning players from last year’s team, belaboring what they did well and how it’s missed.
And yet here we are.
Georgia’s basketball team, always magically better when the calendar turns to the new year, is experiencing another November and December of missed chances. The latest, and potentially the costliest, came with Sunday’s 89-79 loss to Marquette.
It was supposed to be different this year, with the return of its two leading scorers, a summer trip to Spain that helped build cohesion, and a deep enough roster that two highly-touted freshmen aren’t playing much.
Instead, Fox’s team is 5-3, and after this loss – when his team’s defense failed abysmally – brought up the two seniors from last year’s team.
“We have some serious areas to work on. I think we knew that,” Fox said. “One of the things that Kenny Gaines and Charles Mann did, they were terrific defenders. We haven’t replaced that. We haven’t replaced the defense that walked out of here with a degree. We haven’t done that. That’s disappointing to lose a game because you don’t defend, like we need to. But that’s obviously a deficiency in our team right now.”
Fox is right. And his track record shows that by the second half of this season that defensive problem will be largely fixed. So might the rebounding problems that have suddenly arisen, and the “deadly turnovers” that Fox rightly belabored after Sunday’s loss.
The problem is Georgia’s first eight games are exposing its flaws through losses, rather than building on its strengths by winning.
Perimeter defense is one thing. So is the fact that nobody has yet emerged as the consistent third difference-maker on this year’s team. That’s not necessarily scoring – it could be a different player every night and the team would be fine. But when a play needs to be made, and it’s not by J.J. Frazier or Yante Maten, somebody else needs to make the play.
Sophomore forward Mike Edwards has had moments. So has sophomore guard Turtle Jackson. But they’ve not been huge leaps yet. Sophomore forward-center Derek Ogbeide can do more in the paint. He only had one rebound in 11 minutes on Sunday. That can’t happen. The minutes or the rebounds.
Then there are the freshmen: Shooting guard Tyree Crump, whose reputation is that of a great shooter, has just two 3s so far, both in the win over Division II Morehouse. Crump didn’t even play against Marquette.
“I didn’t feel comfortable putting Tyree in the game just yet,” Fox said. “And (fellow freshman) Jordan (Harris) had a couple key errors, a couple key turnovers when he got in there. Those were costly mistakes.”
Every season, Georgia plays better in the SEC, but has usually been in such a hole after the non-conference season it costs the Bulldogs an NCAA bid. When they did do a bit better two years ago, they squeaked into the tournament as a No. 10 seed. This time around, it looks like Georgia may have to really rack up the SEC wins.
Maten was asked if he could see any particular reason for the early-season struggles.
“I don’t know the reason we lose, because if I knew the reason we’d win,” Maten said. “I can tell you, when adversity hits, we fight back, and every year that I’ve been here when adversity hit.”
But it would sure be nice if Georgia didn’t have to do that basically every year. It appears it will have to again.
“I’m frustrated whenever we lose,” Frazier said. ‘We’ve got, what, 25 more games. We’ve got 25 more resume’ games.”