Georgia poses a threat in SEC tournament

Win or lose in the SEC tournament, Mark Fox has Georgia pointed in right direction. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

Mark Fox said, "We're going that way," and his players followed. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

Is this where Mark Fox pops in the video of “Hoosiers?”

Maybe he invokes the name, Eruzione?

Or does he venture a little further back to David? What kind of odds was he getting against the Philistines, or anybody else in that Mideast tournament?

Georgia will play in its first SEC tournament under Fox beginning Thursday night against Arkansas. The Bulldogs have the second-worst conference record in the field (5-11). They are coming off a loss to the only team below them (LSU, 2-14). So as a general rule, Georgia does not define “smart money” in Las Vegas.

So why is it things don’t seem so hopeless?

“I’ve told our players to pack for a week,” Fox said.

This is not a prediction that the Dogs are going to run the table in Nashville. They’re packing neither a tornado, nor Sundiata Gaines. But there certainly is a more positive feeling around Georgia hoops today than there was two years ago when the team entered as the sixth seed from the SEC East and reeled off consecutive upsets over Mississippi, Kentucky, Mississippi State and Arkansas.

“No, I don’t think I’ll be showing any movies,” Fox said when asked about the “Hoosiers” motivational tape. “But obviously we have some players who’ve had the experience of winning the tournament. So I’m sure that they’ll share that with their teammates.”

It happened two years ago, when Dennis Felton was about to get fired. It certainly can happen this week, when Mark Fox is being celebrated. He has done more with less than any coach in the conference.

Most NCAA tournament projections have the SEC getting four teams in. Georgia has beaten three of them: Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Florida.

The other is Kentucky. The Dogs led the then-third-ranked Wildcats at halftime in Lexington and threatened an upset before losing, 76-68.

Where’s the hopelessness?

“I don’t need to tell our players anything, I think they understand what’s possible,” Fox said. “I think they feel like they can beat any team in the conference if they play well. There’s not a team they can’t beat. But the other side of that is, if we don’t play well, there’s not a team that can’t beat us, either. We have no margin for error.”

No. But they have direction. Also their shoes.

When he first took over in the spring, Fox recalled how one player asked him, “Do you really think we can win?” He was stunned. No player had ever asked him that before. There were the needed disciplinary measures of having his players run steps in Sanford Stadium in the August heat.

Most famous of all was the first road trip. Three players forgot to pack their sneakers. Fox recalled early in the season: “I was like, ‘OK, now I know why we’re having some issues here.’”

From there, the Dogs went on to upset Georgia Tech (ranked 17th at the time), Tennessee (eighth) and Vanderbilt (20th). They’re a team with two good players, sophomores Trey Thompkins and Travis Leslie, and a bunch of guys who really just try hard. They’re next-t0-last in the SEC in offense and middle-of-the-pack in defense, but first in three-point field percentage (37.3 percent) and second in free-throw percentage (71.9), two areas that can tip the scales in tournaments.

“I think we’ve made progress,” Fox said. “I think we’ve moved our program forward. Obviously, our season is not over yet. But we’ve established that our program is coming back.”

And that turnaround makes this week a little more interesting.

Also posted today: Tuesday Countdown ($160 for a Tim Tebow autograph?)

Follow me on Twitter @JeffSchultzAJC and on Facebook.com/JeffSchultzAJC

87 comments Add your comment

NBA'er

March 9th, 2010
9:51 am

They will be one and done. Horrid offense and as you said, middle of the pack defense. Save your back and pack for a day.

Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

March 9th, 2010
9:52 am

JS- where’s the tuesday countdown?? My day will suck if i don’t have my fix for the day. Please help!! Go Dawgs!!

gdawginkalamazoo

March 9th, 2010
9:53 am

Go Dawgs! Play hard and congrats on good season. Thanks Coach Fox for a great job so far.

Jeff Schultz

March 9th, 2010
9:55 am

Dr. Kenneth — The Count is feeling under the weather today but is determined to get a Countdown up later. Check back!

Kdawg

March 9th, 2010
9:55 am

The turnaround in the first year under Fox has been heartwarming to watch. I’m being a realist and hoping for an NIT birth. Get some tourney experience/exposure and build for next year. Their lack of depth and having to play games on consecutive nights will doom them. 2 wins would be the most we can expect.

I am still not sold...

March 9th, 2010
9:56 am

…on this coach – sure, things appear to be headed in the right direction, but, then again, as pointed out in the article, Felton had a four day run that kept him around for another half season, Pee Wee Hermann beat UF, Felton had some opportune moments to get things turned around – and FAILED BIG TIME, and now this team loses to LSU (that team is really lousy) and to Aubarn by 20 (and that team is really bad).

So, despite the 5 wins at home on consecutive Saturdays, this team is NOT any better than the predecessor coach’s team. And the new coach has not recruited anyone of note, so why all the savior talk?

Wake me when this team and coach does something about which to get excited…..

I am still not sold...

March 9th, 2010
10:01 am

…wasn’t it just 6 short years ago that Tech was annointing Hewitt as their saviour? At least he had a team that won more than they lost when touting him….

Blindog

March 9th, 2010
10:03 am

How sweet it would be for them to run off about 3 or 4 wins! Great job Coach Fox,better days are ahead. Jeff you’ve been doing a good job as well.

Paul (You doesn't have to call me Johnson)

March 9th, 2010
10:07 am

Ward, I’m worried about the Beaver!

Aw June, I’m worried about the Beaver too. It’s Spring Break !

NBA'er

March 9th, 2010
10:08 am

Hmmmmm. Turnaround. They won 12 games last year. 13 this year. Yes, the sweet smell of……a turnaround?

Blindog

March 9th, 2010
10:09 am

“not sold” whats your problem,do you not see the positive attitude the team has now,last year everyones head was hanging.This team is on it’s way up and that alone will bring in the good recruits!

DawgeatVol

March 9th, 2010
10:10 am

@I am still not sold…you obviously haven’t been watching any Georgia basketball this year, so your comments are meaningless. If you had watched Georgia this year you would see a team playing with a lot more heart and determination than anything that Felton put out on the floor. And I would say beating 4 teams in the top 25 (at the time of defeat) is an accomplishment for any program. Just worry about the Jackets making the tournament and pay no attention to the growing program an hour and fifteen to the E/NE.

Thirty Points to your Twenty-Four Points

March 9th, 2010
10:11 am

UGA also poses a threat whenever they play ANY team from North Ave.

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Dr. Phil

March 9th, 2010
10:13 am

Georgia has played surprisingly well at times, and Fox seems to be a good coach in spite of Evans’ ineptitude and Adams’ micromanaging. To suggest that Georgia might win the conference tournament is absurd.

MatthewH

March 9th, 2010
10:13 am

As much as I hate to say it, looking back, beating Tech doesn’t seem like much of an upset now.

Clay

March 9th, 2010
10:18 am

Not this year, Shultzie. Maybe next year when they get this road-game mental block thing cured. It has to be mental – the Dawgs led late in at least 6 road games only to give them away. Man, close those out and you’re in the “Big Dance” no matter what happens in the SEC Tourney …

cwb

March 9th, 2010
10:18 am

Count-less Tuesday just isn’t going to work for me. An immense gulf exists where there should be Count-ing. Penance, JS. Your public demands this.

Gen Neyland

March 9th, 2010
10:21 am

This will be considered a neutral environ. No home, no away mentality. If UGA can consider this anything other than SEC road game(s), they have as much a shot as LSU or Kentucky of winning this thing. Shoot, the UGA Men just ought to be glad Pat Summitt doesn’t have her Lady Vols in their bracket this week…

Paul (You doesn't have to call me Johnson)

March 9th, 2010
10:22 am

UGA has not won an SEC game outside of Stegman yet this year. They have beaten 5 teams that could “possibly” get in the NCAA tournament. Georgia Tech, Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Florida and Illinois.

Does the smiley face in front of Tennessee represent 8 ? I believe that is where they were ranked when Georgia beat them.

Hey, Blindog...

March 9th, 2010
10:23 am

..your name says it all when commenting on this UGA team…NBAer has it right – real big turn around when you go from 12 wins and a fired coach to all of 13 wins with a “real” coach…

And, DawgeatVol, what good is beating top 25 teams, in the “big picture,” when you lose to a 1-14 team, lose by 20 to another really bad team, and blow a 20point second half lead, AT HOME, to a really crappy AR team?

Dawg COLONEL

March 9th, 2010
10:28 am

A blind man could see the difference that Fox has made to the basketball Dawgs! You can not judge this team by wins and losses. Attitude is the measure here. There is a level of excitement in the program that has not been seen in many years.

They probably won’t win the SEC Tourney, but you can bet that NO ONE is taking them lightly. CMF has won the praise of this fellow SEC coaches for the job he has done with the least talent in the SEC. This team is 2 years away from greatness. Enjoy the ride.

Frank

March 9th, 2010
10:31 am

“Paul” They have won a game outside of Stegman.

ASHEVILLE DAWG

March 9th, 2010
10:36 am

Coach Fox make us proud, you already have.

Bob Horner had a sweet compact swing

March 9th, 2010
10:36 am

One game at a time….we need to beat the Hogs Thurs. nite if we don’t the seasons over…no NIT bid…that would suck but if you’re a dog fan you’re prepared for it….still can’t believe LSU beat us that hurt our NIT chances…go dawgs…

SimpleDawg

March 9th, 2010
10:37 am

Watching the end of the LSU game, I thought there was no way we were going to lose that game……

But with the Foxhounds, all things are possible….good and bad.

Concentration and focus seem to wane when the game gets tight or when the boys are tired…like at the end of the game. We have a difficult time sustaining success all of the way through the end of games.

Hopefully Coach Fox can recruit as well as he seems to coach. Talent sure makes coaching easier.

Oh yeah, let’s be sure to take our basketball shoes with us to Nashville.

Eddie Money

March 9th, 2010
10:37 am

SEC Champs 2008 and 2010!!!!!!!!

RJM Dawg

March 9th, 2010
10:37 am

I love the dawgs and think Fox is a great coach! I’ve watched nearly every game this year since SEC play started up and for the most part we have shown major signs of improvement(not counting LSU game). However, I think we are a year or so away from making a legitimate run in the tourney. That being said, anything is possible considering what happened two years ago.

DawgeatVol

March 9th, 2010
10:44 am

@Hey, Blindog- You’re right. I forgot that Georgia was picked to do great things this year. You’re also right that beating four top 25 teams when you had absolutely no business doing so is no accomplishment. Again, if you watched Georgia basketball this year you would see a team with highs and lows, but playing above the talent level of the team for most of the year. When you look at Tech you see a team with loads of talent playing below their potential all year. I’ll take an overachieving team of regulars over an underachieving team of 4 and 5 stars any day of the week.

BAMA STAN

March 9th, 2010
10:59 am

13 NATIONAL TITLES – 22 SEC TITLES!!!

SEC is down in basketball – and UGA does have a good chance to beat ARKANSAS – - beyond that – our conference is pretty bad – and after watching UGA play LSU – well – this team stinks…… and Bama is with them as well. Bring on Football!

ROLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL TIDE!!!!

Engineer 03

March 9th, 2010
11:08 am

Georgia will go out in game 1 against arkansas–bank on it! Another miserable season for the dogs—didn’t even make the lowly NIT.

austindog

March 9th, 2010
11:08 am

Is Florida really going to the NCAAs on the basis of 75 foot chuck at the buzzer against NC State? Without that shot, they’re 19-12 and not even on the bubble.

Cuz

March 9th, 2010
11:28 am

Baskettball Jones…
I got a basketball Jones…
I got a basketball Jones oh baby oooh oooh oooh………

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xiBR6NC8pT4

kyblue

March 9th, 2010
11:46 am

Yes they beat Vandy, Fla and UT at home….but once they left the barn like facilities in Athens Vandy FLa and UT beat them…and order had been restored. They never beat the good teams….and when they do it is a rarity. So the last worst team in the SEC (GA) lost to the worst team (LSU) last week…so does this make GA the new worst team in the SEC. I would hardly pack my bags for a week. An overnight bag seems in order here. Go Blue!

Rick

March 9th, 2010
11:49 am

You’d have to be deaf, dumb, or blind (or all three) not to notice the change in attitude with UGA’s b-ball program. Yes, the records are similar, but the results were not. We had some extremely disappointing games this year, but we also had some incredible games which showed our promise. Beating Tennessee, Vandy, Illinois, Tech, Florida, and almost beating Kentucky at Rupp was light years better than last year. We got killed by those teams last year. And, most importantly, almost every coach in the league agreed that we were a difficult team to beat. As long as everyone comes back, I think we will be even better next year. As for this tourney, I think we will lose early even though we are as talented as Arkansas. No one is going to take us for granted like they did 2 years ago. I hope I’m wrong.

BG

March 9th, 2010
11:52 am

Ask UF,UT,GT and Vanderbilt what the Dawgs can do.

Atlanta Vol

March 9th, 2010
11:55 am

Ask Ga what UT did to them when they visited the Vols a few days ago. As a matter of fact…ask Ga what the Vols have done to them 10 out the last 11 times. That would be beat Ga…just like lowly LSU did a few days ago.

dawgdude

March 9th, 2010
11:58 am

BG I don’t think just because we beat a few teams qualifies us to think we are relavant yet. Those same teams beat us this year too. It is great that we have won a few more games and been more competitive this year. But we don’t have bragging rights for anything yet. Until my dawgs can go to the NCAA again I will hold out judgement and hope that we can win a game in the SEC tourny for starters. The LSU lose just made basketball seem too familiar for me to get excited yet.

Gatorfan

March 9th, 2010
12:03 pm

Hey BG. I just asked Fl and they said they beat you guys when the dawgs visited Gainesville. Just asked Vandy and they said we just beat the dawgs in Nashville. UT just got back to me and said to pass on they just beat you guys in Knoxville. Seems that order has been restored in basketball….flukes do happen and they favor was returned by each team. Glad to update on you the dawgs losing to these teams last time they played. Oh and you forgot to ask what LSU thought…they said they just beat the dawgs for the battle of last place. All is well BG.

LAKE OCONEE DAWG

March 9th, 2010
12:06 pm

I am still not sold…
Come on, the guys has 2 players and is playing and beating some of the best teams in this conferance, and with Kentucky, the country…..This guy has done more with less than any coach in the ACC….Take you a couple lukewarm enemals and get over what is bothering you…..

kyblue

March 9th, 2010
12:13 pm

I will say that the new coach has Ga playing better than years past. You can’t really judge him on one year so either you can say he got more out of alittle talent or next year will be the same ole thing for ga. Fact is I know Ga is putting some money into upgrading the facilities there but that is not enough. Look at what KY and UT have to offer. Only the best facilities around. Attendance that is top 5 every year in the country. And Ky and UT coaches that excited recruits and the fanbase. Look at KY and UT recruting classes for next year…then look at Ga. What programs would you rather play for if you are a top recruit. I guess the recruting classes speak for themselves.

scott

March 9th, 2010
12:17 pm

still not sold,

hey moron, you seen any games this year? other than 3 or 4 games UGA had big leads in all of them, or cold have won half of them. Nothing like last year, peace bro!

LSUinAtlanta

March 9th, 2010
12:17 pm

Guys I just want to thank the Dawgs for at least letting us win 2 games this year. Basketball at LSU is terrible as everyone knows. But at least we can say we won the battle of the worst two teams in the SEC. Go Tigers!

F-105 Thunderchief

March 9th, 2010
12:31 pm

I know the Count trends to photos of hot, younger babes. But, I think this week the gorgeous Kathryn Bigelow might be in order. Don’t know what kind of sports tie she has, but anyone who looks that good at her age must be getting exercise somewhere.

blazerdawg

March 9th, 2010
12:32 pm

kyblue- you midwesterners are the class of the SEC in bball, no doubt, but you are way too proud of Rupp Arena – that place is like a cheap version of the old Omni.

aubietiger

March 9th, 2010
12:34 pm

This tiger says…not so fast. Auburn is not a good team at all this year….although better than Ga. We beat Ga by 19 in Feb, Arkansas also not good beat GA. Wow, LSU (which is terrible) beat Ga. You got a good win over Fl in Feb and a win over another lowly SEC program in Al. But also in Feb UT beat you guys. You may have won a game earlier but got paid back…they own Ga. Vandy paid you guys back..and they own GA. And ofcourse KY gave you guys their typical beating. It is good that you guys are not quite as bad as years past. But in the SEC East and West for that matter…it is KY, UT and now Vandy.

austindog

March 9th, 2010
12:35 pm

inAtlanta, LSU was in the final four in 2006 and won the SEC last year. I don’t know what happened to you guys this year but basketball at LSU is not terrible.

Michael Scharff

March 9th, 2010
12:38 pm

To kyblue, you guys got rid of a man of high class and high caliber and brought in a man who has had trouble trail behind numerous times in his other programs. I like what I’ve seen so far from Coach Fox. That being said, recruiting will be a steep uphill climb precisely because we have never consistently been able to field a quality program for more than two or three years in a row.

Tailback U

March 9th, 2010
12:46 pm

Jeff
I think this firt game comes to down to one single question.
Does the team truly believe in itself ? I know Fox has them
believing they can get the job done in Stegman but how
about anywhere else ? never mind road games.
I laud the coach’s ability to get the home mojo working and
you are right there are only two players here. If he can
get the team to play with confidence I think they end up
with one win in the tourney . I can’t speak for other Georgia
fans but I know for myself I will be pleased if they are not
one and done. Beyond Arkansas would be too much for me to
expect given their limitations.

GEORGIA97

March 9th, 2010
12:50 pm

If the tournament was in Athens I’d give the DAWGS a fighting chance but let’s face it, there gonna get beat like a rented mule in Nashville. The future does look a little brighter though.

Matt

March 9th, 2010
1:02 pm

The problem with UGA being relevent in SEC hoops is its division. Stallings has a top 20 team in Vandy that is almost entirely freshmen and sophomores. Calipari and Pearl will have UK and UT at the top just about every uear, and at least Billy D has a couple rings to flash at recruits. UGA is going to be 5th or 6th in the east just about every year, so maybe we should just wait until football season. Oh yeah, we suck at that too. Not a good time to be a Dawg. Mediocre as always.