It seems like a Regular Season Summary is due…
Now is as good a time as any for a season summary of the 2016-17 Georgia Basketball season. For those that wax nostalgic, the list of seminal accomplishments during the eight seasons of Mark Fox directed Men’s Basketball at the University of Georgia would appear pretty slim. The tournament championships, wins over rivals, post season success, national rankings and relevancy in Athens and on a national stage are few and far between. Massive recruiting hauls have been missing as well – with Fox often settling for incomplete classes that have resulted in open scholarships left unused or giving scholarships to those who have proven not to be SEC caliber players. On the recruiting front at least, there would appear to be a flicker of hope, as Rayshaun Hammonds, Nicolas Claxton and Teshaun Hightower seem like the basis for a solid class for 2017, with perhaps one or two more players to be added this Spring. This class follows up several good classes in recent years.
As for results on the court, there was hope for great improvement by some for the 2016-17 season that, in the words of the great Bob Dylan, “the times they are a changing” would be the new mantra for Mark Fox in Year 8.
Fox’s Dawgs are habitually slow starters in his 8 years (first 5 game summary):
Year 1: 3-2
Year 2: 3-2
Year 3: 4-1 (and then lost next 4)
Year 4: 1-4
Tear 5: 3-2
Years 6-8: 3-2
But, as we look back on the season from our vantage point here on March 5, 2017, that has not been the case. This year’s team – believed by many to be the best roster Fox has ever assembled in Athens (note even Fox’s boss agreed) – has been sputtering from right out of gate. After a summer trip to Spain – where the team got in at least 15 extra practices and three games – the hope was the annual early season slow start would be corrected. Instead, Bulldog Fans got an opening night stinker at Clemson – made palatable only by everyone realizing (so we thought) that this Clemson team shot extremely well as they opened their new arena and was surely to be NCAA worthy. The prevailing hope was that the loss would be no big deal at season’s end.
Well, as the season concludes, part of that prognostication played out. The loss to Clemson really won’t matter for UGA, not because the loss to the Tigers was a good one and UGA is safely in the NCAA conversation, but because UGA is nowhere near any sane bracketologist’s bubble, and Clemson is languishing near the bottom of the ACC with their Head Coach Brad Brownell on the “hot seat” facing a likely end to his run in Tiger Town. A huge missed opportunity vs. Kansas in Kansas City was viewed as no big deal – just a loss against a great team – something the program habitually has done in the Mark Fox era.
But things would get worse. Some nondescript wins over mid majors, like Furman and Gardner-Webb, were largely offset by poor efforts at home against Marquette and a horrific second half at Oakland. Though a 17 point trouncing of arch-rival Georgia Tech in Atlanta was perhaps the highlight of the season, Year 8 produced a similar November-December outcome as nearly every season since Fox arrived in Athens, which resulted in UGA playing catch up again heading into league play because they let games slip away that they needed to win.
SEC Season Summary
A very tepid SEC regular season has followed, complete with a final W/L tally of 9-9. Georgia sprinkled in some success against lower division teams and a series of losses against the upper half of the league – including suddenly resurgent Alabama. As usual, there have been a few tight losses, including the herculean, shorthanded effort at home against Kentucky. There have been “tough break losses” for Fox and the Dawgs at Texas A&M (arguably attributable to a faulty clock but best described as meltdown in the final minutes) and two tough losses apiece to both South Carolina and Florida. Good ole “moral victory Mark” still indeed leads the program. The 2017 squad – plagued with the inability to make three point shots consistently – did show its grit with a come from behind win in Knoxville, Tennessee – when Fox wisely utilized newcomer Tyree Crump, who scored 13 points to stir an impressive comeback bolstered by three point shooting. Strangely, Crump saw little playing time prior to the Tennessee game and has seen only limited action since. But this should surprise no one – year after year, the inability to settle on a rotation, keeping certain freshmen on the bench and strange substitution patterns have been a trademark of the eight years Fox has been calling the shots.
The final couple of weeks of the season were marred by a knee injury to big man Yante Maten and a gallant effort by JJ Frazier to practically single-handedly win 3 games for Georgia in Maten’s absence. But that effort proved insufficient in the season finale at Arkansas, who drubbed UGA in an 18 point loss. The Dawgs had no answer for the balanced attack of the Hogs on defense, and the absence of Maten’s interior offensive threat doomed UGA practically from the start.
But it would be a mistake to judge Fox – or any coach for that matter – on a “season gone bad,” where injuries, poor personnel decisions or just plain bad luck can create an anomalous result. One must look at the full body of work, and we have a pretty extensive body of work to consider for Fox. Ineffectiveness, at least in terms of overall results, spans the full 8 year tenure.
Those results include no NCAA wins and only 2 appearances – not even NIT appearances in our 2 years with a transcendent talent like Kentavious Caldwell-Pope where we managed to churn out losing records.
Those results include last year’s senior rich club that split a pair of NIT games, including a season-ending drubbing at St. Mary’s.
Those results include a losing first year where Bulldog faithful hoped bigger things were on the horizon, and an inexplicable timeout that cost UGA a win in the SEC tourney against Alabama in fox’s second season.
Those results include the Charles Mann/Kenny Gaines sophomore year that saw Georgia clip Vermont in the NIT first round game in Athens, only to see a full court pressing, Mike White-led, Louisiana Tech team boat race UGA in Athens under a sea of turnovers.
And those results include this year’s whiffs – complete with several bungled late game efforts at Kentucky, at Texas A&M and at Florida. (Will we ever get the sight of those turnovers at the end of the A&M game, replete with in-bounding the ball over and over into the corner only to be trapped, out of our minds?)
The two NCAA tourney appearances (losses to Washington and Michigan State) – where UGA was a 10th seeded “bubble in” team that sweated out selection Sunday, only to leave the tourney after a cup of coffee – represent the high water (M)ark under Fox. Eight years have yielded some good students who have rarely gotten in any trouble, several twenty win seasons, a clean program and two NCAA bids with no wins. UGA is not sniffing national relevance or anything resembling a national ranking. The belief here is that’s not good enough.
Worse yet, what hope can the fans have that it will get any better with Fox calling the shots? Fox’s record against top 25 and top 50 RPI teams is abysmal and well documented, as are our struggles against Kentucky and Florida (and even Ga. Tech under Gregory). The SEC has been historically weak in the 8 years of Fox’s tenure, as evidenced by the struggle the conference has in getting even 4 teams per year in the NCAA tourney. Yet, the Dawgs trend in conference is not good. UGA’s recent SEC record by season:
To Fox’s credit, he seems to be perhaps more in tune with the fan base’s frustration. The coach, who typically never misses a chance to articulate how hard the UGA job is (he told AJC columnist Jeff Schultz) and how long it will take to build a relevant program, has been singing an unusual tune of contrition during the course of the season.
This season Mark Fox went on an apology tour of sorts…
After the Clemson – he took accountability for “not having the team ready”.
After a home loss to Alabama, Fox blamed himself for a “hangover loss” after the Texas A&M loss.
After the home loss to Florida, he apologized for a poor effort.
Even after the close call against Kentucky at home, he took to Twitter to thank everyone for coming and apologizing for not getting the win.
Perhaps it is a sign of a man with a renewed sense of self-awareness. Soul searching…. Reflection…. One can only guess where that will lead. But the trends do not seem to give hope to Georgia fans, alumni and students that just want Men’s Basketball in Athens to just mean more.