Four straight days last week – Thursday to Sunday – my eyes were glued to the television, specifically the following channels: CBS, TBS, TNT and TruTV. I completely devoured the second and third rounds of the NCAA tournament as I spent what seemed like a solid 72 hours on my couch. As I watched game after game, I constantly found myself wondering how this year’s UGA team would fare against either of the schools playing. Was this season truly a failure for Coach Mark Fox’s team, or were they never really talented enough to begin with to even be considered for one of the 36 at-large bids?
One answer is that Georgia basketball came up short this year. With two First Team All-SEC players on the roster in J.J. Frazier and Yante Maten, one would think that this team would have been announced on the NCAA’s selection show rather than the NIT’s. Throw in the fact that Frazier and Maten were both upperclassmen and it stings a little bit more. Frazier finished his career in 7th place on Georgia’s all-time scoring list, and if Maten scores over 500 points next season – which he’s done the past two years – he will crack the top 10 of the same list as well. That’s a lot of talent to waste on a quick exit from the NIT. And before anyone shouts out, “Wait! Maten got hurt”, consider that Georgia was 6-7 in the SEC before he went down.
Another reason, which is maybe even harder for Fox and die hard fans to swallow, is that the Dawgs never really had a chance to dance this season. The Belmont game exposed a talent deficit on the Georgia roster that reared its head quite a few times this year. The Dawgs got to spend several weeks this summer in Spain playing exhibition games, which means that the team got to hold practices in the off-season, a luxury that most coaches are not afforded. This veteran-led squad should have been rearing and ready to go at the start of the season, and yet they weren’t. Georgia laid a dud in the season opener at Clemson. They also lost to Kansas, Marquette and Oakland. Other than a road win at Georgia Tech, UGA really didn’t have much to speak of regarding non-conference wins as they headed into the SEC slate. Once again, Mark Fox’s team failed to capitalize on early season opportunities to notch quality wins. Hopefully the Dawgs learned that just being on the court with tough competition is not enough; they do, in fact, have to win a few of those games, too.
One area of the court where Georgia really struggled throughout the season was from beyond the arc. The Dawgs made just 175 three-pointers to their competition’s 246. UGA’s opponents got an extra 6 points a game from the perimeter, which is significant for a team that averaged less than 72 points a game. The game of basketball has changed significantly over the past decade, and the three-pointer is an integral part of any good offense. Yet, Georgia continues to be content with having only a few three-point threats on the roster at any given time. Unfortunately, the Dawgs lose one of their more effective outside shooters in Frazier, meaning the team will get three’s next season from Tyree Crump, Maten from the top of the key, and where else? Fox has yet to win an NCAA tournament game at Georgia, and unless he’s going to turn the Dawgs into an athletically supreme powerhouse like UCLA, Louisville or Kentucky, it would behoove him to add more outside shooters like nearly every team playing in the big dance.
Whether we compare the Dawgs roster this year to an NCAA tournament team or Belmont, it’s clear that they just don’t have enough players to be an upper echelon program. Other than Maten and Frazier, who on Georgia would start for one of these tourney teams? Maybe Derek Ogbeide? Mark Fox likes to play 10 to 11 guys a game, and sadly, his 4 through 11 players would struggle to take minutes away from any of the Belmont players I saw in that NIT game.
Ultimately, this season has to be viewed as a disappointment for UGA basketball no matter how it is spun. Another trip to the NIT felt like a step backwards. Looking ahead to next season, there is a lot that Georgia fans have to be concerned about. If it felt like Georgia was missing something on offense this year without Kenny Gaines and Charles Mann, imagine what it’s going to look like next year without Frazier. Second, Yante Maten is not a lock to return to Athens. He is currently projected as the 48th pick in the 2018 Mock Draft on NBADraft.net, but that site’s owner said that should Maten leave early he would be a projected second-rounder this year as well:
— NBADraft.net (@nbadraftnet) March 16, 2017
After averaging nearly 20 points and 10 boards a game this season, what motivation does Yante have to come back? Statistically, the best he can do is match what he did this year, and that could be difficult with a less experienced backcourt. Should Maten bolt for the NBA, what does next season look like for this program?
Sorry for the long post, but sports wise, this is my favorite time of year, and the contrast between the teams I am watching now compared to the one I watched inside Stegeman this season could not be more stark.