ATHENS — Georgia plays Vanderbilt in basketball Saturday at noon in Nashville. It may win. It probably won’t.
It’s a big game, as they all are this time of year really. But it doesn’t go beyond what it means to the SEC standings, the Bulldogs’ RPI or their postseason resume.
If you listen and read a lot of what’s being said about Mark Fox and his program, one is left to think that every game Georgia plays these days is a referendum on whether he should be allowed to continue as the team’s coach.
I was standing in one of the tunnels on the floor level of Stegeman Coliseum this past Tuesday night as the Bulldogs were falling behind in the waning moments of their game against Florida when I heard a man shout loud enough for everyone around him to hear: “Greg McGarity’s gonna have to fire Fox just like he did Mark Richt!”
I didn’t engage the man, but I wanted to say back, “no, he’s not!”
Because McGarity is not. At least that’s not the way I’m reading the tea leaves.
If you broach this subject with either of these men, Fox or the AD McGarity, you’ll get a similar answer from both.
From Fox: “I’m just focused on trying to beat Vanderbilt on Saturday.”
From McGarity: “We’ll talk about the basketball program after the season is over.”
But barring a wheels-off-the-wagon finish to the season — and maybe not even then — I suspect Fox’s employment as Georgia’s head coach will continue. As it should.
If you’ve observed Georgia basketball as long as I have — and I started watching closely when Hugh Durham was the coach — you realize that everything is relative when it comes to this program. And it’s probably important about now to provide a little context.
The Bulldogs (14-10, 7-6 SEC) are in the midst of a pretty impressive run in their history. Did you realize that with two more conference wins this season, Georgia will have finished with a .500 or better record in SEC play for the fourth season in a row? Big deal, you say?
That, my friends, has never before been done in school history. Like, ever.
The Bulldogs finished 11-7 and tied for third in the SEC last season. That followed a 12-6 record in 2013-14 when Georgia tied for second in the league and a 9-9 effort during the 2012-13 season. These 32 wins over the past three seasons and 23 during the past two campaigns represent UGA’s most ever in 83 seasons of SEC play.
Meanwhile, the Bulldogs are one of only two teams to secure a top-four seed to each of the past two SEC tournaments. Kentucky is the other. Georgia and the Wildcats also are the only two teams to advance to the SEC tournament semifinals in both the 2014 and ’15.
Now that’s not to say the Bulldogs should just rest on their laurels and stick with the status quo because it has had three or four relatively good seasons. The point, after all, is to out-track ones history and contend for championships.
And nobody wants Georgia basketball to do that more than Fox.
“I’m not happy with the way the season has gone,” the Bulldogs’ seventh-year coach said before a practice on Thursday. “We need to do better. We’ve got to do better.”
There’s not much time left in this season for Georgia to change its fortunes. Just five regular season games remain, three of them are on the road and two of them are at home against Ole Miss and Alabama, each a formidable foe. Then they’ll have the SEC tournament in Nashville to make whatever case they may have to be included in postseason play.
But regardless of what happens over these next three weeks, a wide-angle look tells us that this should again be a good competitive bunch next season. Forward Yante Maten, a bona fide star in the making, will be back for his junior campaign. Freshman forward Derek Ogbeide has overcome the early-season shoulder injury to become a regular starter and is averaging 12.6 rebounds per 30 minutes of SEC play. J.J. Frazier and Turtle Jackson are set to return in the backcourt, along with athletic 6-foot-9 forward Mike Edwards in the frontcourt. With a little more refinement and seasoning, the high-flying freshman E’Torrion Wilridge should become a regular part of the rotation. The two incoming guards that are already committed come highly-recommended.
So there is evidence that Georgia is not about to slip off into the abyss if it doesn’t get it done this season. But there is a way that it could.
The Bulldogs could decide to jump in there with Georgia Tech and Okahoma State and Memphis and the other dozen or so Division I schools that are going make a coaching change after this season.
That’d be crazy. That’s not going to happen.
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