Georgia’s Frontcourt has the exact opposite problem as the Backcourt… what’s the catch?
It seems impossible to mess up, but we know who is Mark Fox is by now and the Georgia Frontcourt could be underutilized. Mark Fox’s tendencies will dictate how he approaches this team, he’s not going to change and thus the approach is not to encourage him to do that, but rather tell the future viewing audience who paid to see it what will happen. It’s a spoiler rather than a suggestion or optimistic pipe dream.
How much can be said that has not been said here or on message boards? More than one would think AND then there’s always the media who will push a polite “mainstream” narrative until it is no longer applicable.
Mark Fox is a Defensive Coach
As mentioned before, Mark Fox values defense over offense. He will bench talent who do not play acceptable defense, even if the student-athlete is named Yante Maten.
Fox prefers man-to-man defense in a half court setting over anything else. It pains him to use any sort of a zone or press defense. He’s not going to change his ways and the 2-3 Matchup Zone Fox uses can be leaky because the guys are not always aligned properly. The 2-3 Matchup Zone concedes the three point line to opponents and guards are too overzealous to pinch, which leads to easy opportunities. Yes, the guys forget where they are supposed to be and what defense they are in sometimes. J.J. Frazier did it too often and exhibited a Superman Complex on defense that compromised the 2-3 Matchup Zone.
Knowing what Fox does, he would be inclined to have lineups based on defense rather than offense. Putting in lineups that are inclined to defend in Man-to-Man situations rather than what may produce the most points or have the best chemistry is the priority. Tyree Crump and Turtle Jackson are the worst defensive Point Guards/Combo Guards Mark Fox has ever had in his coaching career. Perimeter defense was a major bugaboo last season for Georgia Basketball and it should be a problem this season. Fox’s best defenders were in the frontcourt and he could not get anything defensively out of an injured Jordan Harris at the end of last season. Fox had to turn to E’Torrion Wilridge after Yante Maten went down to injury and adjusted his defensive approach to put Wilridge on the top perimeter shooting threat of each opponent.
Mark Fox’s conundrum is that he has an undersized Combo Guard and a Combo Guard who have struggled to defend the perimeter. He has Jordan Harris and Juwan Parker coming off injuries. Parker’s lateral movement on the perimeter is his weakness as he is a target for cutters and is slow coming off the ball screen. Parker can rebound well, but he is a man without a position on the defensive end. He is not big enough to go down inside the perimeter and he is too much of a liability on the perimeter. Wilridge is the only proven perimeter defender at this point going into this season. This creates mismatches at what would be the 3 spot as Wilridge has proven he can defend Shooting Guards. A taller 3 who can play inside and out would cause difficulties on the defensive end because putting Tyree Crump, Jordan Harris, Turtle Jackson or Juwan Parker on the taller 3 would be a physical mismatch.
Fox has to have a pair of guards on the floor and once Pape Diatta is healthy (he’s on crutches currently), Fox has eight in the frontcourt who will helm the 3 through 5 spots. Isaac Kante, Derek Ogbeide, Mike Edwards and Yante Maten are not anticipated to be playing the 3 spot at any time, but there are four in the frontcourt who could play the 3 spot and if Mark Fox elects to play small, he could have two play the 3 spot from the backcourt. From a defensive perspective, the frontcourt is far ahead of the backcourt, but Fox will not just play a Point Guard and four members of the frontcourt.
This is unless Fox wants to send a message early in the season…
Georgia has turned their biggest weakness into their biggest strength and now Mark Fox and Jonas Hayes have the most dynamic and versatile frontcourt that they have ever coached in their careers. While the backcourt burns, the frontcourt thrives. There has been a consistency to the recruiting and development of the frontcourt. The backcourt has been inconsistent, passive, defensively challenged and lacking in a clear directive as far as the skills and physical attributes desired.
Is Georgia really at a point where Small Forwards who can shoot and versatile Combo Forwards are the preference for spots 2 through 5? Does Mark Fox even want to “go there”?
Practice will provide opportunities for improvement as the talent level has risen and the number of minutes is rather finite. How Fox uses his frontcourt is quite unique as it is treated differently than the perimeter, especially for Freshmen since the 4 and 5 spots are interchangeable.
Pape Diatta: Can be used from the 3 to 5 spot on the floor.
E’Torrion Wilridge: Can be used from the 3 to 5 spot on the floor and defends Shooting Guards. He’ll play the 3-5 spot on offense and would play the 2 spot on defense in man-to-man.
Isaac Kante: Can be used for the 4 and 5 spot on the floor.
Mike Edwards: Can be used for the 4 and 5 spot on the floor. Could have been an oversized 3 if he developed his perimeter shooting, but he has not proven to be consistent from long range and has struggled defending the perimeter.
Rayshaun Hammonds: Can be used for the 3 spot this season. Will be able to play the 2 and 4 spot next season, if needed.
Nicolas Claxton: Can be used for the 3 spot this season, but could end up playing the 4 and 5 spot as well. Claxton is already getting comparisons to Sam Perkins.
Yante Maten: Will be used at the 4 and 5 spot. Is the surprise this season to see him switch and play the 3 spot in a “big” lineup and show NBA scouts that he is Brandon Bass 2.0? Bass had very similar metrics to Maten when he was at LSU.
Derek Ogbeide: Will be used at the 4 and 5 spot and is the truest low post presence UGA has.
This sort of depth makes Yante Maten more dangerous as he can play less minutes and be more aggressive. Maten can play fresher, faster and more intense than his opposition. Mark Fox should not need to feel like he has to play him 35 to 40 minutes like the way he worked J.J. Frazier or Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, unless he resorts to hero ball.
Hero Ball is what destroys Mark Fox coached teams. Mark Fox believes he needs a hero to feed on every offensive possession, the hero on the floor can try to do way too much on the floor on the defensive end and compromise the defense without repercussions. Yante Maten is the likely candidate to be Mark Fox’s hero this season.
What happens to anointed heroes at Georgia under Mark Fox? They are less hero and more martyr than anything else.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope: Mark Fox’s Original Hero
In the 2012-13 Season, Caldwell-Pope ascended to the hero role and became the focal point of the Georgia Offense. Charles Mann emerged eventually during the season to provide support through driving opponent foul counts up, but Caldwell-Pope was the heartbeat of the team and it was by-design.
The offense went through Caldwell-Pope and the team was rather unbalanced offensively. Georgia would end up with a 15-17 record and an inability to close out games defined the team. Caldwell-Pope left and the team would reach the postseason and have a 20 win season in 2013-14 when Georgia did not have a hero to turn to anymore.
J.J. Frazier: Mark Fox’s Damon Stoudamire-ish Hero
Last season, J.J. Frazier had free reign to play the role of Superman for Georgia. Regardless of Yante Maten’s health last season, Frazier could do whatever he wanted for better or for worse. It made Georgia Basketball less predictable, but the heroics did not necessarily make the team play better over the course of the year. Georgia did not make the NCAA Tournament and hero ball was one of the reasons why this past season would be considered one of the most disappointing and sour seasons in Georgia Basketball History. The positive is that it was interesting to watch as bizarre events unfolded, but that’s no consolation prize.
Frazier had his worst perimeter shooting season at Georgia and he had the green light even for shots that were ill-advised. The three point magic just was not there last season and he willed his way through sheer shot volume and drawing fouls to get himself points. The lack of a complementary guard with Frazier to give him a perimeter threat to kick out to in transition opportunities and a lack of trust in teammates put Fox and Frazier into a bind where Frazier had to carry the team.
Frazier’s efficiency ratings and productivity metrics the tale of a Point Guard who was scoring more points, but was simply not able to produce because he was expected to carry the load. It is not a complete surprise that his best seasons were 2014-15 and 2015-16 because he had Charles Mann and Kenny Gaines with him. Frazier needed help and Fox simply did not have the confidence in his talent nor style of play to get him where he needed to be. In fact, 2014-15 was Frazier’s easiest season because he was able to play as part of an ensemble cast where everyone on the floor was a threat to score and was capable of defending. It is no surprise that the past two seasons were NIT seasons for Georgia.
Frazier playing the role of hero like the way Fox had him play was probably not what Mark Fox wanted to do. Fox did not expect Jordan Harris to emerge early in the season, but he did and it helped to an extent, but not enough. Tyree Crump was expected to billed to be The Great Wiregrass Hope after whipping some ham-and-eggers (R.I.P. Bobby Heenan) in Spain, but his performances were largely disappointing on the defensive end and he was far too eager to shoot from the perimeter. Turtle Jackson also had the same problem as Crump and he was too passive on the offensive end, which meant that Fox had no choice but let his only backcourt catalyst do whatever he wanted and play nearly 35 minutes per game.
Stopping J.J. Frazier was the mission for opponents, but if Frazier was off the floor what would the team do? This team had very few minutes when both Yante Maten and J.J. Frazier were both not on the floor during meaningful minutes of a game. The team actually played like a team and it was a sight unseen since 2014-15. However, during those times when Frazier was not on the floor, Maten was unwittingly auditioning for his role as the next hero.
If Yante Maten is the next hero of Georgia Basketball, it will turn out horribly. Maten is a spectacularly skilled player, but he and the team are better off as an ensemble production where everyone is a threat. If opponents want to try to double Maten, they have to account for one of the others in the offense to make them pay for it. Unfortunately, Maten has been suckered into the idea of having to carry the team at times. His ability to handle double teams and anticipate the double team is problematic. To build around this idea that Maten can drag Georgia Basketball unwillingly to success would have horrible results.
Fox will push him into the hero role thinking there is more that he can get out of him, which would be rather difficult considering his figures from the past two seasons. Maten needs less undue pressure on him and more opportunities to be efficient on offense and keep himself out of foul trouble so that Mark Fox does not completely lose his mind and give Juwan Parker the green light to be the hero. Not every possession has to go through Maten, there’s enough talent to get it done on offense, but Fox needs to enable it and actually exhibit confidence. When Fox has the urge to micromanage the offense, he should focus his energy on the defense because surely that side of the floor probably is not doing so well anyhow.
Create a game plan around the team and the opponent, not around a particular member of the team.
History says Fox is bound to screw this up
The parallels are plain to see and while the 2012-13 Team was lacking in frontcourt capability, the team had a burgeoning backcourt with a hero (Kentavious Caldwell-Pope). Georgia now has the reverse in 2016-17 and the same coach who has a tendency to repeat the same mistakes. This frontcourt could be used to wear out opponents and get second chance opportunities, instead they will be handcuffed on offense and put into nonsensical defensive matchups and conundrums.
There’s no balance nor vision with this Georgia Basketball Team, but that is fine with The Powers That Be. The Powers That Be would be pleased with a win over Mississippi State this upcoming weekend and the SEC East crown, which is the equivalent of being a First Prize Pig among fellow pigs with Swine Flu at a State Fair. Has Georgia Basketball done anything to prevent Georgia Football from succeeding? No scandals and no problems under Mark Fox means “Mission Accomplished” for the program. “Mission Accomplished” means wasting talent now. Georgia Basketball does not need to rely on walk-ons or make sudden trips to sign unheralded, untested talent. Now, there is zero excuse for it and it is actually quite sad.
This is Year 14 of Mark Fox’s Head Coaching career, expecting him to change is unrealistic and this bounty of versatile talent is likely to be wasted. With all of this talent and future Dawgs being sold on a new versatile style of Georgia Basketball, when is it going to happen? Best guess is never.