Mark Fox can save this season from being the most disappointing in over a decade.
Saving this season for Georgia Basketball would require changes, but there are major misconceptions about the Georgia Basketball program that need to be explained because a large segment of the fan base does not get it. Most regular readers understand where the problems lie, but those just starting to pay attention to Basketball on a more passive level do not understand it and place blame on things that are not the case. There are plenty of misconceptions concerning Georgia Basketball and they have been refuted. However, addressing one big misconception is important because fans think that the season should have been conceded anyway because of it. Once this misconception is debunked, then we can get into how this season can be saved.
Biggest Misconception: Georgia doesn’t have talent
Georgia has talented basketball players, but there were major recruiting misses made prior to Michael Adams leaving the University of Georgia. Georgia recruiting has changed drastically over the course of the last few recruiting classes and each recruiting class is a step above the previous recruiting class. The talent level is drastically different in 2011 and 2015, but the coaching staff has changed as well. However, going further back to the very beginning of Fox’s tenure will show a clear delineation. Some individuals like to cite Verbal Commits’ rankings, but they are not necessarily accurate because they do not adjust star ratings for recruits that burst on the recruiting scene or have had a big Summer or Winter.
Class of 2009
- Vincent Williams – PG: 3 stars from Rivals, 2 stars from Scout, 102nd ranked PG by ESPN.
- Demario Mayfield – SG: 3 stars from Rivals, 2 stars from Scout, 20th ranked PG by ESPN.
Class of 2010
- Sherrard Brantley – SG (JUCO): Unranked by Rivals and Scout (JUCOs typically unranked), 2 stars by 247
- Marcus Thornton – PF: 3 stars from Rivals (121st Nationally, 26th PF), 3 stars from Scout (34th PF), 4 stars from ESPN (26th PF), 3 stars from 247 (121st Nationally, 25th PF)
- Donte Williams – PF: 3 stars from Rivals, 2 stars from ESPN (44th PF) 3 stars from 247 (73rd PF), 2 stars from Scout.
Thornton’s offer sheet: Clemson (signed LOI), Alabama, Florida, Georgia Tech, Kentucky, Texas, UTEP.
Williams’ offer sheet: Arkansas State, Auburn, Georgia State, Tennessee Tech, Western Carolina, UCF.
Class of 2011
- Kentavious Caldwell-Pope – SG: 5 stars from Rivals (12th Nationally, 3rd SG), 4 stars from ESPN (24th Nationally, 6th SG), 5 stars from Scout (12th Nationally, 3rd SG), 5 stars from 247 (12th Nationally, 2nd SG).
- John Cannon – C: 3 stars from Rivals, 2 stars from Scout, 2 stars from ESPN (47th C), 3 stars from 247 (246 Nationally, 26th C)
- Tim Dixon – C: 3 stars from Rivals, 2 stars from Scout, 3 stars from ESPN (29th C).
- Nemanja Djurisic – PF: 3 stars from Rivals, 2 stars from ESPN (62nd PF), 3 stars from Scout, 3 stars from 247 (182nd Nationally, 39th PF)
- John Florveus – C (JUCO): 3 stars from Rivals, no stars from ESPN, unranked 247, unranked Scout.
KCP’s offer sheet: Florida State, Tennessee, Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, Oklahoma State.
Cannon’s offer sheet: Appalachian State, UNC-Asheville, UNC-Wilmington, Northwestern, Old Dominion, Princeton, Richmond, Western Carolina.
Dixon’s offer sheet: Alabama, Auburn, Florida State, Oklahoma State.
Djurisic’s offer sheet: Arizona State, East Carolina, North Carolina State, Oklahoma State, Utah.
Florveus’ offer sheet: Washington State, Marshall, UTEP.
Class of 2012
- Kenny Gaines – SG: 3 stars from Rivals (127th Nationally, 29th SG), 3 stars from ESPN (24th SG), 3 stars from Scout (23rd SG), 3 stars from 247 (125th Nationally, 30th SG).
- Charles Mann – PG: 3 stars from Rivals, 3 stars from ESPN (21st PG), 3 stars from Scout (23rd PG), 3 stars from 247 (182nd Nationally, 32nd PG).
- Brandon Morris – SF: 3 stars from Rivals, 3 stars from ESPN (39th PF), 3 stars from Scout, 3 stars from 247 (184th Nationally, 41st SF)
- Houston Kessler – PF: Unranked by Rivals, 2 stars from ESPN (86th PF), unranked by Scout, 2 stars from 247 (280th Nationally, 68th PF)
Gaines’ offer sheet: Alabama, Auburn, Arkansas, Charlotte, Clemson, Colorado, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Iowa, Iowa State, Marquette, Miami, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas Tech, VCU, Virginia Tech, West Virginia, Wichita State.
Mann’s offer sheet: Auburn, UConn, Florida State, Georgia State, Georgia Tech, Miami, Nevada, New Mexico State, Northwestern, Rice, South Carolina, Tulane, Virginia Tech.
Morris’ offer sheet: Alabama, Auburn, Arkansas, Florida, Florida State, Georgia State, Kansas State, Memphis, Missouri, Nevada, North Carolina State.
Kessler’s offer sheet: Air Force, American, Buffalo, Holy Cross, Louisiana, Louisiana-Monroe, Mississippi State, Navy, UNC-Asheville, Stetson, Tennessee Tech, Wofford.
Class of 2013
- Cameron Forte (JUCO, originally with Texas Tech) – SF: #14 JUCO recruit per JUCORecruiting.com.
- J.J. Frazier – PG: 3 stars from Rivals, 2 stars from ESPN (68th PG), 3 stars from Scout, 3 stars from 247 (211th Nationally, 52nd PG), 3 stars from Future150 (133rd Nationally, 41st PG).
- Kenny Paul Geno – SF: Unranked by Rivals, 2 stars from ESPN (78th SF), Unranked by Scout, 2 stars from 247 (316th Nationally, 62nd SF).
- Juwan Parker – SG: 3 stars from Rivals (142nd Nationally, 38th SG), 2 stars from ESPN (78th SG), 3 stars from Scout (29th SF), 4 stars from Future150 (85th Nationally, 20th SG).
Forte’s offer sheet: Auburn, Colorado State, Minnesota, Washington State.
Frazier’s offer sheet: Jacksonville, South Carolina, Auburn, Wofford, Mercer, Cornell, George Mason.
Geno’s offer sheet: Jackson State, Lamar, Mercer, Middle Tennessee State, Radford, Florida Gulf Coast.
Parker’s offer sheet: Baylor, Memphis, Minnesota, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Tulsa, Vanderbilt.
Class of 2014
- Osahen Iduwe – C: 3 stars from Rivals, 3 stars from 247 (333rd Nationally, 36th C), 3 stars from ESPN (46th C), Unranked by Scout.
- Yante Maten – PF: 3 stars from Rivals, 3 stars from ESPN (39th PF), 3 stars from Scout, 3 stars from 247 (221st Nationally, 55th PF), 2014 Michigan Gatorade Player of the Year.
Iduwe’s offer sheet: Memphis, Minnesota, Marquette.
Maten’s offer sheet: Michigan State, Indiana, Colorado, TCU, Virginia Tech, Utah.
Class of 2015
- Mike Edwards – PF: 3 stars from Rivals, 3 stars from 247 (351st Nationally, 37th C), Unranked by ESPN, 3 stars from Scout.
- William Jackson – PG: 3 stars from Rivals (124th Nationally), 3 stars from ESPN (48th SG), 3 stars from Scout, 3 stars from 247 (133rd Nationally, 25th PG), 3 stars from Future150 (133rd Nationally, 39th SG).
- Derek Ogbeide – PF/C: 4 stars from Rivals (91st Nationally), 4 stars from ESPN (24th C), 4 stars from Scout (24th C), 3 stars from 247 (170th Nationally, 18th C).
- E’Torrion Wilridge – SF: 3 stars from Rivals, 3 stars from 247 (192nd Nationally, 35th SF), 3 stars from Scout, 3 stars from ESPN (34th SF), 3 stars from Future150 (95th Nationally, 30th Small Forward).
Edwards’ offer sheet: Akron, Auburn, Boston College, Marquette, UMass, Kansas State, Nebraska, Missouri, Pittsburgh, SMU.
Jackson’s offer sheet: UConn (previous commit), Charlotte, Alabama, Florida, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Kansas, Louisville, Missouri, Ole Miss.
Ogbeide’s offer sheet: Houston, Memphis, Ole Miss, Murray State, Virginia Tech, Tulane.
Wilridge’s offer sheet: Oklahoma, Texas A&M, Iowa State, Marquette, Middle Tennessee State, Auburn, Rice.
Class of 2016
- Jordan Harris – SG/SF: 4 stars from Rivals (95th Nationally), 4 stars from 247 (124th Nationally, 21st SG), 4 stars from ESPN (26th SG), 4 stars from Scout (21st SG), 4 stars from Future150 (47th Nationally, 14th SG).
- Tyree Crump – PG/SG: 4 stars from Rivals (75th Nationally), 4 stars from 247 (74th Nationally, 10th CG), 4 stars from ESPN (75th Nationally, 23rd SG), 4 stars from Scout (88th Nationally, 12th SG), 4 stars from Future150 (61st Nationally, 18th SG).
Harris’ offer sheet: UConn, Florida State, Maryland, Oklahoma State, Stanford, Tennessee, Kansas State, Memphis, Davidson.
Crump’s offer sheet: Florida State, Wake Forest, Texas A&M, Memphis, Ole Miss, Tennessee, Auburn, Vanderbilt.
What can we learn from this?
Michael Adams stepped away from the University of Georgia as President on June 30, 2013. Georgia changed its recruiting approach upon the announcement of his retirement and took the next big step after he retired. Georgia has recruited much better in the past three classes and have been far more competitive on the recruiting trail.
The Georgia Basketball program benefits from having better quality student-athletes not only in the games, but also in practice to improve the younger talent. Future classes of Georgia Basketball will have an improved talent balance across classes to help further along the development of underclassmen.
It is evident through national recruiting analysts and offer sheets that Georgia Basketball is winning recruiting battles for far more talented recruits. From 2009 through 2013, there was a major disconnect not only in connecting the classes as far as development, but in terms of the type of student-athlete that was brought into the Georgia Basketball program. The 2014 Class going forward there is a clear shift in heraldry of recruits coming into the program. Georgia is not chasing after in-state recruits without building the proper in-roads with the AAU programs and High Schools as in years prior. Georgia is recruiting nationally and has been very effective at doing so.
The idea of “building a fence” around the State of Georgia is not only unrealistic, but it smacks of ignorance in three regards: 1) UGA is not a plantation and in-state prospects do not inherently belong to anyone. 2) Most of the recruits are transplants. 3) Recruiting is far less regional than in the past.
It is no surprise that with better talent and changes in the coaching staff, there has been an upward swing in the Georgia Basketball program. Talent is not the problem at Georgia. One can argue how the talent is used is the problem and that is a viable argument, but to say that Mark Fox and his staff have not recruited well is disingenuous.
How Can Fox Save this Season from Being a Rebuilding Season
1. Recognizing Defensive Strengths
Georgia’s physical tools are more suited to zone defense. Georgia’s enjoyed strong defensive possessions in zone defense and has length to challenge passing lanes and create small windows in the defense. Georgia typically runs 2-3 Matchup Zone, which is a zone defense that is in a 2-3 alignment, but the defense will defend in a Man-to-Man fashion within the zone. It’s a defensive style that was popularized by former Temple Coach John Chaney.
However, Georgia should employ another zone defense to throw off opponents and force turnovers. It is a defense that is not exactly known for defensive rebounding, but it makes opponents incredibly uncomfortable. The 1-3-1 Defense was the preferred zone defense of Dennis Felton and he used Mike Mercer’s length to force turnovers and fast break opportunities. Georgia has guards and small forwards with athleticism and length to force defenses to make mistakes and force the tempo in a direction that Georgia may want to go.
The 1-3-1 Zone should serve as complementary zone approach as it is best used in a sporadic fashion when opponents have started to figure out how to get more comfortable attacking the Man-to-Man or 2-3 Matchup Zone. Mixing up the defenses puts opponents on edge and takes them by surprise.
Georgia’s Man-to-Man approach worked last season when the referees were more subjective in foul calls and more willing to swallow the whistle. Now that the new freedom of movement and verticality rules are in place, Man-to-Man defense is just too hard as offenses seek to create contact and defenders are not as experienced defensively as they should. In Georgia’s case, the foul counts have hurt Georgia’s ability to have key contributors on the floor and softened Georgia’s approach to rebounding. Georgia’s offense and rebounding capabilities are strengthened by playing in a zone defense 80% of the time because this keeps the foul counts down and allows for better offensive opportunities.
What about rebounding? Georgia has played Man-to-Man the majority of the time this season and is struggling on the defensive glass, in a 2-3 Matchup Zone, Georgia can still grab rebounds and even force turnovers. More opportunities to get this team running and doing rather than thinking and reacting the better.
2. Not letting opponents define pace. There’s a pace that works for Georgia.
Georgia works best at a fast pace as the team is much more able to score and plays with energy. A slow pace saps this team of energy and the cuts, screens and passes are easy to predict and not as sharp. Georgia’s offense sets the tone for the defense. This is an extremely athletic basketball team that thrives on making plays on the fly. There’s greater chemistry in transition than in a half court set. Consider how often J.J. Frazier has to bail Georgia out in the half court when the set goes sour, those are tough shots he’s taking. An offense that relies on tough shots to win games is not exactly an efficient offense.
Last season’s team was afflicted by injuries and had a very experienced starting five that was more comfortable within the half court offense. Georgia was in transition when they had the opportunity to do so and it was set up by a good defensive possession. Georgia was able to grind down opponents, force opponents to play undisciplined and foul frequently. Last season, Georgia was 14-2 in games that had less than 65 possessions. This season’s team is composed differently as there’s less experience and rebounding prowess to create second chance opportunities.
This Georgia team is the most athletic and skilled Georgia Basketball team in over a decade and there’s a failure in this slower paced offense to take advantage of these abilities. Basketball is supposed to be fun and this team is clearly enjoying themselves in faster paced games compared to grinders. Georgia plays at a below average pace and the adjusted offensive efficiency is currently at 103.3. Georgia’s creeping back toward adjusted offensive efficiency seen in 2011-12 and 2012-13 rather than 2013-14 and 2014-15.
When Georgia plays a pace that is below their average pace of play, Georgia has a 97.4 offensive efficiency. When Georgia plays a pace that is above their average pace of play, Georgia has a 101.8 offensive efficiency. Georgia does not have a preferred pace, but when the pace is fast, Georgia is a much more comfortable offensive team. With a slow pace, Georgia scores 63.5 points per game and with a fast pace scores 77.71 points per game.
When Georgia plays a pace that is below their average pace of play, Georgia has a 92.45 defensive efficiency. When Georgia plays above their average pace of play, Georgia has a 98.34 defensive efficiency. With a slow pace, Georgia gives up 60.25 points per game and with a fast pace allows 75.14 points per game.
Naturally, Georgia would give up more points and score more points with more possessions in a game and vice versa. Georgia is 5-3 in a slow paced game and 4-3 in a fast paced game. Georgia has extremes in terms of possessions per game. Georgia has eight games between 62.6 possessions and 67.3 possessions and seven games that are between 72.9 possessions and 77.6 possessions. This is the problem with being a team that is pace agnostic, it lets the opponent control the comfort level of Georgia’s offensive contributors.
Perhaps, the biggest justification for a faster pace is the total rebounding percentage. In games that Georgia has had a total rebounding percentage below 50%, 68.18 possessions per game. In games that Georgia has had with a total rebounding percentage above 51%, 72.17 possessions per game.
3. Giving more rest to vets.
Giving more voluntary rest to backcourt stars will allow Georgia the ability to better build up depth and allow for stars to be fresher later in games. Taking the pressure off four main contributors helps when a few of these contributors are off the floor on offense because it prevents opponents from keying in on only just those four. It is about empowering Turtle Jackson, E’Torrion Wilridge, Mike Edwards and Kenny Paul Geno on offense as they are all very capable.
The offense is easy to disrespect and more opponents will defend anyone not named Kenny Gaines, Yante Maten, J.J. Frazier or Charles Mann with a completely different intensity expecting them to not do something. The usage rates even bear it out! Giving bench players the ability to have the same opportunity to score and make plays happen will allow the top four contributors the ability to improve their efficiency.
The rest would be needed since the team is playing at a faster pace and with a greater sense of urgency in the half court.
4. Objective should be not to run the set to perfection, but rather get the first good shot.
Far too often, the sets are broken by ball pressure and pressure on those that are clearly supposed to receive a pass. Also far too often is the offense too slow to getting the ball into the paint area. Making it a point of emphasis to getting a shot off within 15 seconds of a possession is crucial because the longer the possession takes, the more likely it is that the shot taken will be of a challenging nature.
“Hero ball” defined Georgia during the 2011-12 and 2012-13 seasons until the dribble drive became the emphasis. The dribble drive has become de-emphasized in this iteration of the Georgia offense as the shot distributions bear out. Georgia is not drawing as many fouls and not drawing as many Free Throw Attempts as one would think with this new era of freedom of movement.
What Georgia is doing unfortunately is shooting far too many shots that are not in the restricted arc. Georgia has de-emphasized this and is taking more shots that are typically considered lower percentage shots, which are of course shots between 4 and 20 feet from the basket. It is rather outrageous that Georgia has taken 40.3% (13th highest in the nation) of their shots between 4 and 20 feet from the basket and often times these are jump shots. Opponents welcome the long range two point jump shots as they provide the same score value as a layup or dunk, they do not draw fouls and are much tougher to shoot. Georgia’s degree of difficulty when shooting on the floor has soared. How is Georgia shooting in this zone? 34.3% (229th highest in the nation). That should be enough to make Mark Fox want to tweak things.
Maybe the carrot is more enticing than the stick: Georgia makes 66.2% of shots in the restricted arc (38th in the nation). However, Georgia only shoots 26.7% of their shots in this area. Georgia’s offense is not exactly setting up good shots for this team, but yet a season ago the shot distribution was a bit different as Georgia attempted 37.1% of their shots in the restricted arc. None of the past four Georgia Basketball teams have been as unable or resistant to shooting in the restricted arc.
Most do not understand how Fox’s offense works and the thing is that it is quite complex. It is of a similar vein as Kevin Stallings’ offense at Vanderbilt in that ball handlers and those without the ball have a set of finite options. The various combinations of activity will not make every half court possession the same as the options used will likely differ each time. When the half court offense works, it is tough to stop.
When it does not work, there are ten seconds left and a guard is left to improvise while teammates are clearly not on the same page. There’s no element of continuity in the offense once the set is figured out and there’s no contingency preparation. Either the set works or a guard attempts to make a big shot. When the shot is made, the fans go wild, but the offense was actually rather ineffective. Opponents will dare Georgia to try it again.
On offense, Georgia will not usually be in attack mode after a basket. Typically, the points will come and a Georgia player that is inbounding the ball has to wait to pick up the ball for a Point Guard to come while the defense sets OR Georgia is unimpeded going up the floor and the offensive players get into the half court set at a leisurely pace. There’s no urgency nor willingness to set the tone. It helps explain why Georgia takes so many shots that are not at the rim. The offensive set has to create the play rather than any effort to beat an opponent down the floor or take advantage of any early positioning. Any interruption in the set caused by ball pressure, sagging defenders or bad passes causes the set to break.
Georgia’s offense is fragile and while the chemistry is there when it is a full court situation that is completely improvised, it is not there in the half court. Georgia has the talent though to make plays happen, but it does not have to be formulaic in the half court. The offense cannot be fundamentally changed mid-season, but there can be tweaks to help this offense play less robotic and lethargic.
- Threat of the back door cut must exist since opponents are overplaying on defense.
- More cross screens and down screens. Cross screens when executed right have drawn fouls and create for shot opportunities in the restricted arc.
- Give Kenny Gaines the green light to attack the basket hard. He’s feared from beyond the arc, if he pump fakes and drives with the intention of dunking it something good will come of it.
- The weaving action is not exactly working in the face of ball pressure whether it be at the top of the key or on the wing. Instead, screen and roll with the intention of going toward the basket must be the rule. If the defense sags to help, kick out for a shooter upon getting into the paint. Force defenses to have to pinch in. If there’s an opening attack the rim full force and not be afraid of an offensive foul. Charles Mann is not attacking strong enough because he is afraid of charging calls, all he has to do is move just a tad laterally and not bury his shoulder to get the beneficial call.
- When immediately getting into the offense, if Yante Maten has inside position and a free hand, get the ball to him.
- Putting non-credible threats on the perimeter on the perimeter gives defenses permission to attack passing lanes, pressure offensive players that are outside of their comfort zone or sag down and negate the offensive inversion attempt. Inverting the offense worked last season because Nemi Djurisic and Marcus Thornton were able to shoot three point shots with confidence and handle the basketball. Houston Kessler, Mike Edwards and Derek Ogbeide are not perceived as credible on the perimeter to opponents and this keeps the action out of the paint. Georgia wins when the action flows in and out of the paint.
- It is amazing how moving without the ball with authority can change the complexion of an offense. Run up, stop on a dime and set that screen (and stay stationary!) or move without the ball to break away from a defender in a fast fashion. This team has speed, but the team plays slow within the half court. Half court offense is not a casual grind, it is supposed to be fast action within a tighter space.
Doing these things is not exceptionally difficult as far as adjustments are concerned. Fundamental changes come during the offseason and preseason, but tweaks win games and championships during the season. Georgia has plenty of talent to compete against any opponent on the schedule, it is just a matter of how the talent is used. Mark Fox has adapted in the past and he has to adapt again, but the big difference is that this time he just received an extension with a raise and may not necessarily feel the pressure to make the necessary changes.