It's that time of year to examine exactly where our basketball program is, and where it's heading. While I did this on a preliminary basis earlier, Paul Westerdawg has a great breakdown, and I'm not going to restate his analysis. He even uses, like, numbers and stuff. I highly recommend that you check it out.
Two things from Paul's number set jump out at you. One, there is significant improvement in shooting percentage (from 12th in the SEC to 4th). Paul rightly attributes this to Takais Brown's arrival and to Sundiata Gaines' significant improvement.
Number two? We still really, really need a true point guard. Right now. Our assists per game are too low, our turnovers are too high, and the ratio of one to the other is very discouraging. The on-court result of this imbalance was on display in Colorado Springs Monday night, when the Air Force Academy pressured and back-screened us into oblivion. While our current crop of guards rebounds the ball well, we really need someone who can distribute the ball without turning it over at the most inopportune times.
Like Paul, I'm still scratching my head over how our alleged "defense first" team has played so poorly on defense. Being 7th in the conference in points allowed is not a problem if you're coaching Loyola Marymount to 114-90 victories. But when you can only score 75 a game (and 69.1 in the SEC), you really have to be able to get more stops.
Not all of the defensive woes are a result of poor half court or transition defense however. Part of the problem (in my opinion at least) is the above-referenced guard play, which seemed to give up 6-12 points a game off easy turnovers. Cure that and you automatically lower the number of points you need to score, while giving yourself more productive trips down the court to score. It's simple to say, but oh so difficult in practice when you're running the offense through converted shooting guards and small forwards.
I also noted that a bit of a debate broke out in the comments section over whether next year is a "make or break" year for the basketball program. I think the answer is, unfortunately, yes. I'm not yet certain that Dennis Felton is Jim Donna's basketball counterpart. I am certain however that he has made significant progress with a squad that was largely made up of cast-offs and walk-ons only two years ago. I am also certain that UGA is not Kentucky in terms of basketball tradition. Heck, we're not even Tennessee.
But most importantly I am certain that to get somewhere you've never been, you have to do things you've never done. I have all the confidence in the world that Coach Felton can turn this program into a perennial tournament contender, which I believe is our communal aspiration. But I also understand that if it becomes clear that he cannot do that, he will probably be shown the door. I think we can also all agree that no one understands this reality better than Dennis Felton himself. That's why the man puts in the hours that he does.
Paul hit the nail squarely on the head when he said that the progress of a team that has this long a road back to success (ney, even respectability) is measured in years, not games. This team made significant progress this year. They will not make the same quatum leap next year, because the closer you get to the top of the mountain, the steeper the slope. However, I think that if this team doesn't make the tournament next year it would be a disappointment. But I also understand that it's been a few years since any of us were entitled to say that with a straight face. That my friends, is progress. Until later . . .