Let’s take a quick look at the last three games of Georgia’s basketball season, and y’all broefly about what we’ve learned.
Last Saturday Tom Crean’s squad fell behind 13-0 to Florida before battling back to make it a game. They ultimately fell by 7 on the road to a Gator team that stands a decent shot of making the tournament. Not the worst showing in the world.
Especially when you figure they followed it up with a double digit midweek victory over LSU. In that game sophomore point guard Sahvir Wheeler recorded the first triple-double in UGA history, notching 14 points, 11 rebounds, and a career-best 13 assists. In taking down a Bayou Bengal team that came in at 9-4 in the SEC the Hoop Hounds picked up the type of quality win that might, just might, convince someone in the room to make their case as a bubble team for NCAA Tournament consideration. But that would be if, and only if, the ‘Dawgs continue to play solid basketball down the stretch.
That’s why it was both disheartening and familiar to watch the Red and Black get pile-drived into the mat last night in Athens by 21 points by a South Carolina team that came in losers of six straight games. A South Carolina team that entered the contest 5-12 overall and a miserable 3-10 in SEC play.
This is what UGA basketball does. Whether Dennis Felton or Mark Fox or Tom Crean is at the helm. Like the antagonist of The Foundations’ Classic soul hit, they build you up just to let you down.
Mate there promising signs? Sure. Wheeler has grown into a more complete player as the season has progressed. Toumani Camara could become a solid high/low player, and KD Johnson, when he’s on, is the type of scorer Crean’s offense needs. The building blocks are there for a good basketball team.
But then, I’ve been saying that more often than not in this space for most of the last decade. It rarely comes to anything. At this point there really is no logical reason why the University of Georgia remains pretty awful at men’s basketball despite success in most athletic endeavors and at least respectability in the rest. To repeat, there’s no reason Georgia should remain this bad at basketball. Regression to the mean alone would lead you to believe Georgia should at least be a .500 basketball team most years.
I’m not saying it’s time to move on from Crean. I can’t name anyone who I’d trust to put a better product on the court right now. And even a chronic Hoop Hound skeptic such as myself has to admit he’s recruited at a level no UGA coach since Hugh Durham has managed.
And to be fair (I can’t believe I’m writing this again), Crean has shown some forward momentum. His inaugural team was a putrid 2-16 (.111) in SEC play. Last year’s team improved to 5-13 (.278). This year’s, after early struggles, has clawed forward to a 7-10 (.412) record. Even a liberal arts major like me can spot the mathematical trend there. It looks like next year just might be the light at the end of the tunnel.
Though with UGA basketball, the light at the end of the tunnel is usually an oncoming freight train.
The odds are, I think, decent that before Wheeler, Camara and crew leave Athens they will earn a March Madness invite. Depending on the amount of depth and cohesion when it comes together, they might even make a run. And no right-thinking person could reasonably expect a Georgia team that missed the tournament field with the top pick in the NBA Draft to breeze into the field the next season, even those who (like me) felt this season’s squad would be better on a sum-of-its-parts basis.
But that sort of logic is cold comfort on the morning following yet another dud of a loss to the kind of team that good basketball teams beat. I’ve tried not to get emotionally invested in UGA basketball, and they almost pulled me in this year. Almost.