If you want to find the reason why the Georgia Bulldogs are 3-5 in SEC play and putting up the lowest point total (64.1) in league games, look no further than the UGA guards. The Dawgs have the worst turnover margin (-4.9) in conference games along with the lowest assist-to-turnover ratio (0.8). Successful teams are built around strong guard play, especially at the point guard position. If you watch this year’s NCAA Tournament, you will notice a theme that emerges among the advancing teams: solid guard play. Not to beat a dead horse, but Georgia’s guard play is its glaring weakness. It’s Achilles heel, if you will.
UGA’s wins away from Athens over Saint Mary’s and Marquette seem like distant memories at this point. But looking back on each of those games, I have a theory as to how the Dawgs managed to pull off those upsets. Both the Gaels and the Golden Eagles understood that they had to double Yante Maten, and they did. However, what these teams did not do (that all the SEC teams are doing now) is relentlessly pressure Georgia’s backcourt. Anyone who has watched UGA’s recent string of games has probably noticed that they are seeing a lot more full-court press. When Georgia does cross the halfcourt line, opponents are pressing the Georgia guards well past the three-point line with aggressive man defense. This increase in pressure is making it difficult for the Dawgs to get into their offensive sets, and even if they manage to there is generally not a whole lot of time remaining on the shot clock. While SEC teams are still by and large doubling on Maten when he receives the ball on the block, they really don’t have to stress it quite as much because Georgia’s guards are struggling to get the ball to him.
All that being said, fans should not be overly frustrated with the play of Turtle Jackson and Juwan Parker. Both of those players were 3-star recruits coming out of high school, according to rivals.com, and I’d say that each of them has met and exceeded expectations. Turtle, who is scoring 6.5 ppg in SEC play, is not going to break anyone down off the dribble and take guys to the rim; that’s just not who he is; it’s not in his skill set. He does get the ball up the court and where it needs to go most of the time, and he’s turned into a fairly reliable three-point shooter this season (36%), although his SEC numbers have been less gaudy (26%). Parker is getting 9.4 ppg in conference games, and he’s hitting a robust 50% from beyond the arc, which is by far the best outside shooting he’s done during his time in Athens. If Parker can bump his scoring average up by just 0.6 ppg, the Dawgs will have another player averaging in double-figures in SEC contests (along with Maten).
Jordan Harris and Tyree Crump were expected to shore up some of the scoring load vacated by J.J. Frazier’s departure, but that hasn’t gone according to plan. They are COMBINING for just 7 ppg in league play. The fact that these two players haven’t developed more to this point means either they were slightly overrated as 4-star recruits, or they haven’t been given the opportunity to grow in their first year and half in Athens. Multiple times this season Mark Fox has lamented not having J.J. Frazier to bring the ball up or to be that catalyst for the offense. But being that Frazier was a college athlete, Fox knew from the day J.J. set foot in Stegeman that his time with him had a limit.
Last year was one of Georgia’s best teams talent-wise under Coach Mark Fox considering he had two All-SEC players in J.J. Frazier and Yante Maten. I thought for sure that team would make the NCAA tournament, and I was wrong (my punishment was having to endure the Belmont NIT game). Before anyone says that Maten got hurt, remember that UGA was 6-7 in the conference BEFORE the game with Kentucky in which he sprained his knee.
With J.J. gone, Maten has tried to take on more and he’s played admirably, scoring 19.5 points and grabbing 9.5 rebounds in league contests. He’s on the Wooden Award Midseason Top 25 list. But he’s leaving after this year. Take Maten off this year’s team, look at what’s left and that’s the team that UGA is going to begin the year with next season.
I am in no way attempting to be derogatory about any of the current Georgia players. It is on Mark Fox to figure out how to bolster the UGA backcourt by either recruiting and/or developing better. I am aware of the “Mark Fox runs a clean program and he recruits the right way” argument, but to those people I say this: Vanderbilt has been to the NCAA tournament 5 times since Fox took over in Athens. Vanderbilt does not pay its players or have a recruiting base anywhere near Georgia’s (see Atlanta). How does Georgia create a culture of basketball success comparable to what the ‘Dores have cooking in Nashville?