The Georgia basketball season has only two regular season games remaining. But that doesn’t mean the end of the season is all that close. After a home game against LSU Wednesday and a trip to Tuscaloosa this weekend the team still has a few weekends (plural) to play.
With a sweep of the final two games (which isn’t entirely out of the question), Fox’s dawgs would wrap up the SEC slate with a 10-6 record. At worst, the team will finish at even .500, 8-8. And a 9-7 finish may be the most likely outcome. That’s a significant improvement from last year. Or any year since the Harrick era. What Mark Fox has done in a mere two seasons is outstanding and even he recently admitted that things are ahead of schedule. A team that couldn’t win on the road to save their lives last year seems comfortable away from home. They haven’t been blown-out a single time all season. And the game doesn’t run entirely through any one (or even two) players.
But the team isn’t great yet. They have blown a frustrating number of leads. They rarely play a complete, consistent game. They have no bench depth and even the starters don’t play with the consistency you hope for from you stars. Fox’s work is by no means complete.
Winning one of two remaining games and getting a win in the SEC tourney should land Georgia in the NCAA tournament. You’ll recall the Dawgs visited the tourney just back in 2008, but we all have enough distance now to realize that was pretty much a fluke. A really exciting, fun fluke, but a fluke nonetheless. So this is no small accomplishment. With a few more strong games the Dawgs could sneak into the top half of a regional bracket. Even with a mediocre finish the Dawgs would probably land with a seed between 9 and 11.
A small amount of the credit for this great success does belongs to Dennis Felton for signing the likes of Trey Thompkins, Travis Leslie and Jeremy Price. But it would have been infuriating to watch Felton squander all that talent, draining shot clocks with no set offense and stomping his foot through the floor as the defense broke down time and time again. Fox has turned them all into impressive players though. And he hasn’t just benefited from Felton’s kids. He’s shown himself to be quite the recruiter as well- he has a McDonald’s All-American committed in this next class and got Mr. Georgia Basketball last year.
When Damon Evans hired Fox he was a relative no-name (at least in these parts), and maybe even a slight disappointment for folks who wanted Anthony Grant or someone else with SEC ties. But he has turned out to be worth every penny he’s been paid. The only problem is that after another great season other schools may come offering a lot more pennies than Georgia has been paying. Schools that value basketball, aka the ACC and Big East, have surely noticed his success.
If Greg McGarity and the Georgia athletic department value having a great basketball team they need to secure Fox for the future before anyone else has the chance. Winning in the SEC East doesn’t appear to be getting any easier. Calipari is now in the division and it will take the NCAA a couple years to follow him to UK. Billy Donovan doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. Bruce Pearl may get himself in enough trouble to have to leave, but at the moment he’s still leading talented squads. And Kevin Stallings is one of the most underrated coaches in America.
What gives me hope on the administration side is McGarity’s years at UF. He knows first-hand the value of a dominant basketball program and how well football and basketball can benefit one another. Not that smaller sports aren’t important, but basketball can generate funds and broad fan interest that tennis and equestrian can’t
The only question is about Fox. Since arriving in Athens he’s said all the right things- that Georgia is a place that should win, with the facilities and in-state talent any coach would envy. But he’s never made any Richtian statements about wanting to end his coaching career in red and black. If a great offer came we can’t be sure what he would do. But if Georgia can secure him with a long-term contract and top tier money you’d hope he might feel some obligation, even desire, to stay.
Here’s hoping McGarity plays this one aggressively.