Around these parts, we believe strongly in the need for quality men’s basketball, but, after being lulled into a false sense of hope repeatedly, we are starting to lose faith, despite being pleased that the Hoop Dogs now are coached by a fiery librarian rather than by a clothes horse. Well, don’t look now, boys and girls, but Mark Fox’s Georgia Bulldogs have won six of their last ten outings, taking two of their latest three contests in SEC play.
Naturally, we are hesitant to read too much into recent wins over the likes of the LSU Tigers and the Texas A&M Aggies, both because our belief that the Gym Dogs might have turned a corner was followed by a fourth-place finish in a five-team meet and because this Georgia hoops squad (unlike another such team I could name) cannot beat the Florida Gators. Here on the 228th anniversary of the chartering of the University of Georgia, however, we are going to permit ourselves the small indulgence of the slightest scintilla of Red and Black hope. Is even that minor measure of confidence warranted, though?
Honestly, probably not. Though Coach Fox has had ample opportunities to upgrade the Bulldogs’ talent from the available pool nearby, the reality remains that the dearth of McDonald’s All-Americans on his team is glaringly evident after a series of high-profile whiffs on the recruiting trail. Even if we assume, almost certainly unsafely, that the most minutes on the floor routinely are being given to the most talented players on the team, those Athenians not named Kentavious Caldwell-Pope generally lack the ability, experience, and understanding of opposing players from teams in the Classic City Canines’ weight class.
Speaking of said weight class, Georgia’s eight wins came against the teams currently ranked 96th, 97th, 103rd, 125th, 189th, 292nd, 309th, and 330th in Ken Pomeroy’s ratings. It’s probably a bad idea to repose too much faith in any team with no wins against the top 95 teams in the sport, particularly when that team’s three games against Pomeroy’s first- and second-ranked squads produced an 0-3 record by a combined margin of defeat of 63 points.
Moreover, it’s no mystery why the Bulldogs are getting blown out by top-tier teams. Through January 24, Georgia ranked 323rd nationally in scoring offense with 59.4 points per game. That average was not improved by Saturday’s performance, in which the Fox Hounds managed only to match their rounded-down regular rate with 59 points.
Nevertheless, all is not lost for the Hoop Dogs, as their next five games are against the Auburn Tigers, the South Carolina Gamecocks, the Tennessee Volunteers, the Texas A&M Aggies, and the Alabama Crimson Tide. Three of those teams must travel to Stegeman Coliseum, three of them are ranked in the bottom half of the SEC Power Poll, two of them are ranked 165th or worse in Pomeroy’s rankings, and one of them already has lost to the Red and Black. If you can’t make the uphill trek to the mansion, you can at least take advantage of the folks heading downhill to join you in the outhouse.
If ever there was a team that had no choice but to take its season one game at a time, it is this Georgia men’s basketball team, so I by no means presume victory in the Bulldogs’ next two games. (Losses in either, or both, would be devastating, but wins would matter relatively little.) If we assume wins over Auburn and South Carolina next week, if only for the sake of argument, though, the season could come down to the three-game stretch featuring a meeting with Tennessee in Knoxville, the rematch with Texas A&M in Athens, and the showdown with Alabama in the Classic City. Georgia’s next five games all are winnable, but they all also are losable, so they will let us know whether even a modicum of hope is justified.
The smart money says that even a modest level of confidence is not appropriate at this juncture. Even a highly improbable 4-1 run through the next five games likely would not mean much, given the poor quality of SEC basketball played outside of Gainesville this season and the Red and Black’s penchant for dragging opposing clubs down to their level, where the contestants are able to bludgeon one another with their badness. In the final windup, even a virtually inconceivable late-season surge would not resolve most of the program’s lingering issues.
Still, our situation may be something less than utterly hopeless, which represents about as close to a silver lining as anyone lately has been able to discern forming the filigree that frames the billowing boundaries of the immovable dark cloud spreading ominously across the skies over the Stegosaurus like the growing shadow cast by an oncoming meteor. Were I a betting man, I would wager that our range of options runs from persistent disappointment to impending doom, but, then again, even an only incremental improvement would allow the Bulldogs to exceed what by now are the most meager of expectations.
Really, at this point, the best a Georgia hoops fan can do is to echo Lloyd Christmas: “So you’re telling me there’s a chance.” For what it’s worth, though, the Red and Black have twelve games remaining on their slate, six of which will be played in Athens. The next six weeks might not be a bad time to show up in Stegeman Coliseum to display your support for a team that lately has demonstrated at least some capacity to leave its boosters pleasantly surprised even in games in which those fans also were proven correct.