It is still too early to make exact predictions for UGA this coming season.
The schedule is not exactly finalized as the SEC slate has to be determined, but the opponents are known. Even though the opposition is known, when Georgia faces the opposition and what circumstances lie ahead matter. Team identities and rosters are still incomplete!
You might be wondering: So what can be said about next season?
Well, there are still expectations. Even without exact predictions for UGA, we can still have expectations.
Every program has expectations from fans and they vary. Almost every SEC Football program’s set of fans expects to win a National Championship and they are wrong, in fact, very wrong the past two seasons. Football season for instance is 7 Saturdays away and nobody has a real handle on what the Georgia Football team is really going to be as far as the way the team plays until September 19. However, there is a lot of talk from pundits, coaches and the message board insiders. The mystery feeds the hype.
Basketball operates the same way, but there is a marked difference. Yes, there’s some jawboning on the part of coaches and pundits, but with more players in football, there are far more variables involved and then there is also the matter of the Secret Scrimmage and exhibition game. College Basketball teams evolve, but the team you learn about in the Secret Scrimmage is the team you should expect to see in November. The Secret Scrimmage takes a lot of the mystery out of it. All it takes is one person to report back findings from this game and then see how the team plays in an exhibition game to get a clear idea of what the team should be like during the early season.
Possibly the most backward way to look at it: Setting expectations in the offseason is not based on what happens in the previous season’s SEC Tournament or NCAA Tournament. Rather it requires knowing how the team will change over the course of the season. In NASCAR terms, College Football is the Coke Zero 400 as it is quick and one mistake midway through can be extremely costly. College Basketball is like the Coca-Cola 600, as it goes through different phases and conditions can change drastically.
Expectation Setting for Georgia Basketball
There is no hype, no mystery and certainly nobody looks forward to a particular game in February and circles it on the calendar in College Hoops during the offseason. The season is not in a vacuum and every game matters, but there is enough flexibility for a team to improve or completely fall apart. Unlike College Football, which has two seasons (regular season and bowl season), college basketball can segment the season in a far easier fashion.
Unlike college football, conference games are not typically interspersed with non-conference games. In 2015-16, the Big XII-SEC Challenge will be that exception and it will push the beginning of the regular season in SEC Conference play backward by likely 4 days. Also unlike college football, the schedule is completely mixed up and there are no traditional dates upon which two teams would face each other. The turnarounds during conference play definitely matter as teams may play two back-to-back road games on a Thursday followed by a game on a Saturday.
Here’s the key: Take into account the seasonal segments and what it entails to play during that part of the season. Then think about how past teams progressed and factor in the talent that is on the team for the current year.
Fall Preseason Practice Season
Georgia will hold practice sessions in October through the Secret Scrimmage to get everything established. This is a critical time for the Class of 2015 to practice the offensive sets and learn to play the required defense that is expected. The type of style the team plays has already been dictated, but this is subject to tweaks. Major changes cannot be made during the season as there is simply not enough time to install a new offensive or a brand new defensive philosophy. Everything must branch off the style of play that is learned during these crucial Fall Practices.
This season consists of an open-to-the-public exhibition game and a Secret Scrimmage game. This part of the season is when we all find out what our respective teams can do out there against a peer program. Secret Scrimmages are not open to the public and score is kept unofficially. Secret Scrimmage opponents typically are out-of-conference programs that will not scheduled to face each other in the Regular Season as a whole. For example, Georgia faced North Carolina State in their secret scrimmage last season.
The information gleaned from this game will be from more “insider” sources. Nobody will really talk about the Secret Scrimmage game. Check message boards for someone to spill the beans on what happened.
Exhibition games are open to the public and depending upon the school, free to attend. These exhibition games are against D-II, D-III and NAIA programs. Usually, the exhibition game opponents lose in spectacular fashion as they are just a warmup for what is to come. However, one or two teams will slip up in these games and all hell breaks loose as far as the media and fan reaction.
This game will confirm a little bit about what the team can do on the floor. You are not necessarily looking at the scoreboard as a fan, but if the game is close, there is EVERY REASON TO BE CONCERNED.
November Non-Conference Season
This part of the season is scary because new rules go into effect, new teammates are to be relied upon, new offensive and defensive identities and new tempos are being used IN GAMES THAT ACTUALLY COUNT! These games matter and losing them in the case of UGA is a bad thing because they can be used against them by the NCAA Tournament committee. These games factor into the team’s RPI, which is a measurement that is used heavily by the NCAA Tournament Committee. ESPN’s “BPI” is a measurement that only ESPN uses and exists only in their particular world.
In Georgia’s case for 2015-16, there are no neutral site tournaments and this means that the Strength of Schedule will be reliant on the matchups that they scheduled for themselves. Georgia only leaves Athens, Georgia once prior to Conference play. This is the time when they do so.
Based on Georgia’s track record in November, there is reason for apprehension. However, Mark Fox scheduled a much lighter schedule in November. The game at Seton Hall (technically Prudential Center) will be Georgia’s biggest challenge during this time and the way Georgia plays in this game may dictate how the Pre-Final Exam Non-Conference Season goes. How Georgia played against Minnesota in the second half carried over into the game against UT-Chattanooga last season. In 2012-13, a very poor effort against USF carried over into the games against Georgia Tech and Iona.
Key takeaway: Georgia’s identity will not be known. Past teams under Mark Fox have no clear direction on both offense and defense. Georgia teams that are more offensively oriented during this period under Coach Fox tend to have better seasons. Watch to see if Georgia can score efficiently and control the tempo to their liking. You’d rather see Georgia play horrific defense and score with ease rather than the opposite. Defense is much easier to fix than offense during the course of a season. Georgia can go 4-0 in November if the team plays competently on offense and plays average defense at best.
Pre-Final Exam Non-Conference Season
Georgia’s Basketball Team is comprised of student-athletes, they are students too! Final exams will certainly be on the players minds leading into Reading Day and Finals Week. They probably will not be camped out at the Miller Learning Center (it’s still the SLC to me!) like the Biology majors panicking over their Organic Chemistry Final.
Over the course of nine days, Georgia will play three home games against Oakland, Kansas State and Winthrop. The last time Georgia played three games in December prior to Finals Week, it was 2009 and it did not turn out so well for Georgia as the Dawgs lost 2 out of 3. In fact, this time of the season has historically been tricky and possibly the best way to know if UGA is NCAA Tournament ready is if UGA sweeps these three games.
How much will Georgia change during this time as compared to November? Fans will see whether Georgia can gel together as a team on both ends of the floor. The Oakland game will Game #5, will this team have enough chemistry? The backcourt will carry this team until the frontcourt can catch up and contribute. That is the way it was when Travis Leslie, Trey Thompkins, Jeremy Price and Chris Barnes left. The only way to project forward with the identity of this team is that it will be backcourt oriented on a temporary basis. The frontcourt never emerged in 2011-12, but things are different as there are better players in the post.
The competition appears to be weaker, even with Kansas State coming to Athens. Getting through this stretch 3-0 would at least put this team on par with last season’s team. Last season’s team developed chemistry during this time of the season and made a further commitment to tighten up the defense.
Interesting fact: Only two Mark Fox coached teams made the NCAA Tournament, they both happened to be his only teams that swept through December.
Christmas Break Non-Conference Season
How many Home Games During the Christmas Break has Mark Fox lost at UGA?
The answer is surprisingly JUST ONE. On December 15, 2012, Georgia lost to Iona 81-78 in Overtime. Georgia will not play any road games during this period this season.
The three games played are a bit on the ambitious side as the Dawgs will take on Georgia Tech and Clemson in back-to-back games and then follow it up with a game against Robert Morris. Tech represents the first game after Final Exams that the team will play. Assuming that Finals go by smoothly and the team has some meaningful practice time prior to the Tech game, it could be an opportunity for further growth.
The recurring theme this upcoming season will be the timing as to when the frontcourt steps up to complement the backcourt. It should be a matter of ‘when’ rather than ‘if’.
This is also the time of the year where Georgia either experiences that heartbreaking upset or escapes to win a game against an overmatched opponent. Mercer (2014), Western Carolina (2013), Iona (2012), Winthrop and Delaware State (2011), Mercer and Eastern Kentucky (2010) are all examples of these sorts of games. To expect that this will not happen would be naïve.
Key takeaway: Georgia should make the breakthroughs during this time. This is the second best slate of teams that Georgia would face under Fox during the Christmas Break. An undefeated UGA Basketball team facing Tech and Clemson would generate packed crowds at Stegeman Coliseum. History says Georgia wins these games, but the Robert Morris game on December 29 will likely be poorly attended as Georgia fans will either be on vacation or attending a bowl game that day or the next day.
The first twelve games of Conference Season are a source of new hope for some teams, a cruel reality or a continuation of the non-conference play. The Big XII-SEC Challenge on January 30 can be a springboard of confidence for many SEC teams, including Georgia. However, the Conference Season is a grind and there are two familiar foes on the sideline that the Dawgs will face twice and another that knocked Georgia out of the NIT with his prior school.
With the influx of new coaches, the familiarity factor is not as high as it was last season. Alabama, Tennessee, Florida and Mississippi State all bring in new coaches. Only Florida is certain to face Georgia twice next season out of those four.
How things will shake out based on history:
- One team will surprise and win 3 or 4 out their first 4 games. They will eventually fall back in the pack.
- One team will disappoint and there will be panic. Questions about a fraudulent schedule will arise.
- One team will carry over their terribleness into SEC play.
- One team will slump after an inconsistent nonconference season.
- One really shocking upset will happen in the first week of the conference season.
- One team will have two weekends of Thursday and Saturday back-to-back games and will suffer for it.
Desperation and Death Marches will not be evident yet. Based on the way the teams play, it is very clear what teams pass the so-called eye test and the numbers may even back up what teams are getting by on smoke and mirrors.
Freshmen can be exposed during this time and coaches are very willing to exploit weaknesses. Veterans that have weaknesses will be exposed as well. Teams do not make tweaks, they just evolve as far as their chemistry. However, at some point typically at around mid-Conference season, a team’s identity is not going to change anymore.
The schedules always look intimidating at the beginning of the season, but when conference season rolls around it becomes evident when the murderer’s row is happening and when the winnable stretch of games are. The winnable stretch of games are really “must win” because they are RPI damaging games.
Here’s a Weird Thing to Remember: Not all games necessarily matter. It is a long season and short-term injuries and flu do happen. Taking a dive on a mid-week game against a top team on the road to preserve a team’s energy for a Saturday game that is perceived more as a game that a team cannot lose does happen. There are no breaks in the SEC Conference slate.
Late Conference Season
This portion of season comprises the last six games of the season. During this part of the season, it is possible that a coach may have been fired. Interim coaches usually get one game where the team coalesces together to get a big win.
However, the Death Marches are certainly on and usually two or three teams are in that spot. Some other teams start to run out of gas or the magic starts to fade. Other teams start to find their stride and get really hot. The best example of a team that ran out of gas was a fraudulent Texas A&M team and Vanderbilt was very hot at the end of the season.
A few middle of the pack teams will lose to the one bad team that is really trying to build momentum for the following season. This is conference tournament positioning season and those losses hurt a lot.
Georgia has been the #3 seed in the SEC Tournament in back-to-back years. Seeding may not matter as much as matchups and the team’s overall health. Fanbases do get into the weird situation of rooting for lower seeding or rooting for favorable matchups.
Georgia has finished their Conference season strong and certainly can do so again. Teams that can win toward the end of the regular season typically fare well in the NCAA Tournament.
Conference Tournament Season
Coaches that had a weak season can use the Conference Tournament to bail them out. The teams that run out of gas in the Late Conference Season typically get knocked out early. The SEC Tournament is all about momentum. Teams that have positive momentum fare better than those that do not, unless a tornado touches down at Bridgestone Arena.
Momentum, adjustments and depth are the themes of the tournament. The SEC Tournament is not indicative of success in the NCAA Tournament for most programs. The SEC Tournament does have a main event sort of a feel starting on the Friday of the tournament as compared to the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament where the season can end suddenly and even sometimes anticlimactically.
All of those practices, games, starting lineup hyping, student section reactions, rivalries do not matter in the NCAA Tournament. It’s just survive and advance against whatever opponent. The matchups are rather random and venues are sterile arenas that are temporarily inhabited by pep bands, cheerleaders and lower bowl fan sections.
Mark Fox is 0-2 at UGA in the NCAA Tournament. He brought one team that had the claim to fame of “no bad losses”, but very few major wins and another team that beat what everyone thought were good teams at the time.
The key to a team that can go far in the NCAA Tournament is a combination of health, aggressiveness and a few players that make those resilient plays. For those that believe that Georgia will make the NCAA Tournament, who is it on this Georgia team that can spoil an opponent’s run, make the crucial old-fashioned three or gain the favor of the officiating crew?
This season strangely comes down to how Georgia handles the Seton Hall game. Nobody can look too far ahead into the SEC slate. Beating Seton Hall and achieving balance from both the frontcourt and backcourt in doing so will be this team’s bellwether. If Georgia passes that test, the development and confidence will follow. Seton Hall is similarly composed to Georgia Tech and that game weighs on these guys, it has been four straight seasons. Mentally, this team needs to beat Seton Hall to have the confidence to finally swat the Jackets and go into conference play undefeated. During the ten nonconference games of 2015, Georgia could be a 10-0 team or they could be a 7-3 team.
Georgia really is in a spot where they have to go at least 9-2 in the non-conference schedule to get an NCAA Tournament berth because of the way they scheduled. Going .500 in the SEC, 10-1 in all non-conference games and reaching the semifinals of the SEC Tournament SHOULD BE ENOUGH to earn the Dawgs a tournament berth. SEC RPI improvement will do wonders for Georgia’s tournament chances and seeding possibilities.