ATHENS – The long-term goal for Juwan Parker is to be an athletic director. So he was asked Tuesday night, minutes after his Georgia basketball team registered another tough loss, what he might say about the state of this team and this program right now.
Parker smiled and took a deep breath. He gave it a thoughtful answer but understandably evaded any big-picture analysis.
“We lost four of five, but now is not the time to get down,” said Parker, a fifth-year senior who already has a master’s degree, and is pursuing a second one.
He also has an unofficial degree in being correct where Georgia is at this point, once again: The Bulldogs are good enough to be in the discussion for the NCAA Tournament but not good enough to be comfortable. Never good enough to be better than that. And now, after two straight losses in which Georgia led by 16 points, the Bulldogs are reeling.
“If you don’t want the season to be a bust it’s not the time to quit,” Parker said. “You’ve got, what, 10 more games left in the conference? And we’ve got the conference tournament. Anything can happen. I feel like we’ve got a good team. The SEC has gotten better. I still feel confident in my team and my teammates.”
There is still is plenty of time left, but the Bulldogs need to hurry up. This team should be better than 12-7 overall, 3-5 in the SEC. It should be a lot better. This is probably the most talented team Mark Fox has assembled in his nine seasons at Georgia. He has some pretty good pieces.
He just hasn’t figured out how to best use them.
Behind Yante Maten, one of the best players in the SEC, Georgia has yet to develop a consistent pecking order to help him. No one else is averaging in double figures. And that hurts the team when it arrives in the dreaded (all caps for emphasis) HALF-COURT OFFENSE.
The ball goes through Maten. That’s the offensive identity. Problem: Other teams know that, so they double and sometimes triple him. But then what? The easy pass out? Sometimes. Or sometimes players just don’t seem to know who’s supposed do what. The result is an offense that is stagnant.
At one point during the double-overtime 80-77 loss to Arkansas on Tuesday night, as Georgia tried to craft a possession, fans could be heard yelling: “Move!”
Point guard Turtle Jackson has emerged as a threat as an outside shooter, leading the team with 35 3-pointers. He hasn’t been as consistent as a ball-handler, but Georgia also needs to get better at slashing and outside shooting, at stretching the defense and at getting Maten open.
Rayshaun Hammonds could help. But the highly touted freshman, who according to the rankings is the second-best recruit of the Fox era, is in a funk. He went scoreless Tuesday night and was on the bench during the end of regulation and both overtimes.
Tyree Crump could help. But the sophomore, an instant-offense shooting guard and the team’s best shooter, didn’t play at all Tuesday, and he has seen his minutes continue to dwindle during SEC play. For all the points he could provide, he’s not sound enough in everything else, including defense, to make Fox comfortable enough to play him.
“He’s got to play a little bit more consistently, really at both ends,” Fox said earlier this week. “He’s got the ability to make a shot, from time to time, where we certainly could use that. But he’s got to be able to guard a position, run a team, and there’s a future for Tyree that hopefully we can find him more minutes and be more and more successful.”
Well, perhaps the other things need to be sacrificed: Crump has 89 points in 184 minutes this season.
Nicolas Claxton and Jordan Harris could help, and they did in the second half and overtime periods against Arkansas. Claxton can shoot and Harris can drive. Perhaps the offense can be better utilized to set up their opportunities.
Let’s not write off the Bulldogs quite yet. This time last week they were still in the projected NCAA brackets. They have 4 wins over teams currently in the RPI top 50 (No. 35 Alabama, No. 40 St. Mary’s, No. 46 Temple and No. 47 Marquette). They also have three true road wins, which the selection committee will like. And Georgia’s own RPI rank is still a respectable No. 54.
But the SEC is tougher now, and if Georgia can’t get things together, the losses will pile up. Much like their offense, they can’t just keep dribbling and hoping for the best.
It’s time to move.