ATHENS — The SEC’s strong run in the NCAA Tournament serves as some validation for Georgia’s season, but not an excuse. That seemed to be the message Mark Fox conveyed in a radio interview on Monday.
Fox was a guest on the Bulldog Roundtable on Athens’ 680 The Fan. Host Chuck Dowdle pointed out that eight of Georgia’s 14 losses this season ended up coming to teams that made the Elite Eight.
“I’m not pleased with the fact we came up a couple possessions short in some games. That’ll be something we focus on all offseason,” Fox said, alluding to overtime losses to Florida and Kentucky, a 2-point loss at South Carolina, and other close losses to Kentucky and South Carolina. “But we obviously learned a lot about our team. And you see how close that we are.”
When Dowdle and Fox were talking about the weekend’s games, Fox ruefully mentioned: “Kentucky came up a bucket short, and unfortunately we know that feeling.”
Georgia finished the season 19-14, the top-rated SEC team not to make the tournament, with an RPI rank of 52. It subsequently bowed out in the first round of the NIT to Belmont, in a game starters Yante Maten and Juwan Parker missed because of injuries.
After many years of struggles, the SEC had the best run of any conference in the NCAAs, with South Carolina making its first ever Final Four, Kentucky and Florida making the Elite Eight, Arkansas losing a close game to North Carolina in the second round, and Vanderbilt losing a heartbreaker to Northwestern in the first round.
Fox said that should “prove the point that our league was strong this year,” after not getting the respect it deserved beforehand. Then he brought up what that meant about his own team.
“This group is close. We’ve got to get over the hump,” Fox said. “And we’ll spend the offseason working to do that.”
A few other team-related notes from Fox during his appearance:
- Maten, dealing with a sprained knee, won’t require surgery, but will not return to basketball activities until mid-April. Fox didn’t mention or indicate how that affects any decision the junior power forward has on exploring the NBA draft.
- Parker’s latest Achilles injury, which required surgery last week, isn’t as serious as the previous Achilles problem, which was in his other leg. “He should fully recover and be as good as new here in a couple months,” Fox said of Parker, who has one year of eligibility remaining.
- Incoming recruit Rayshaun Hammonds, rated a top 50 recruit, was described by Fox as “a very versatile small forward” who was big for his position. Said Fox: “He’s a big wing who I think can make plays off the dribble. He’s a very instinctive passer. He’s going to be somebody who offensively can make a very immediate impact on our team.”
- Nicolas Claxton, the team’s other fall signee, was described by Fox as “ultimately” a stretch-four, as in a power forward who can go outside and shoot 3s: “Nic’s got a very good shooting touch, and he’s very good with the ball. … He almost has the skills of a small forward.”
- When it comes to replacing J.J. Frazier’s minutes at the point, Fox pointed at Turtle Jackson only having 26 turnovers and Tyree Crump only having 14 turnovers. (Fox didn’t mention that part of the reason for that is playing time, especially in Crump’s case.) Said Fox: “They’re both going to need to take a step forward. But I think they’re both probably excited about being able to gobble up some of those minutes.”
- Finally, Fox had a few updates on next season’s schedule. The SEC schedule isn’t in yet, so it’s only known that Georgia will have two games apiece against its three permanent rivals: South Carolina, Auburn and Florida. As for the nonconference, Georgia goes to Marquette and UMass, and has Georgia Tech at home. A scheduled return game by Oakland will probably be moved back a year at Oakland’s request, because of a scheduling conflict. The rest of the slate is being worked on, with Fox saying that after this season — when the Bulldogs were in the top 20 in schedule strength, but failed to get the needed wins for an NCAA bid — that he would be weighing “what’s strong versus what’s too strong.”