No miracles for Georgia, but direction is established

It was a happy night for Georgia coach Mark Fox but the sting of the season being over should end quickly.

It was not a happy night for Georgia coach Mark Fox. But the sting of Friday's loss shouldn't last long. (AP photo)

NASHVILLE – They did not come into the week with some delusion that this SEC tournament was about fattening up their RPI or maybe gaining a swing vote on the selection committee. Because the only way Georgia was making it into the NCAA tournament was by shocking its conference brethren again.

That didn’t happen this week. But that’s OK. Two years ago, when the Bulldogs won the SEC tournament, it sent out inaccurate signals of the program’s direction. We learned that when they lost seven straight the following year, and Dennis Felton was drop-kicked with two months left in the season.

Georgia didn’t need to go on another miracle run in this week’s SEC tournament to convince us of direction. We already have a sense where things are headed. The only thing that was affirmed Friday night was that there’s still a ways to go. After giving Vanderbilt fits in two games this season, the Dogs were drilled by the Commodores 78-66 in the SEC quarterfinals.

Thursday’s win over Arkansas: a step forward.

Friday’s loss: not necessarily a step back.

Mark Fox: not getting fired. Direction is established.

When asked if the big picture negated the usual empty feeling associated with a season-ending loss, Fox said: “I’m upset we lost. We didn’t plan on losing. We planned to be here [Saturday] afternoon. [But] I am proud of this team because when I came here, everybody kept telling me how terrible we were.

“We still at times maybe weren’t a great basketball team. But we beat some people who maybe we were not supposed to beat, we’ve given our program some momentum and we earned some respect back. In rebuilding, those were some steps we had to take. So I don’t feel empty. But I am angry that we lost.”

That’s the reaction you want: A sense of satisfaction about progress, even while not accepting defeat.

Travis Leslie skied to 34 points, but that was the lone offensive highlight for Georgia.

Travis Leslie skied to 34 points, but that was the lone offensive highlight for Georgia. (AP photo)

“We never short-changed ourselves [because of] the fact we were inexperienced with coach’s system or we were a young team,” said Trey Thompkins. “We came out to fight just like all of our opponents. We expected to win just like any team would.”

But this game was a reality hit. Travis Leslie’s 34 points notwithstanding, there was a significant gap between Georgia and Vanderbilt. The Commodores held an eight-point lead despite cold shooting in the first half. But they blew it open in the second, going on a 23-9 run that increased a tw0-point lead (40-38) to 16 (63-47). Thompkins, the star of game one and the focus of Vanderbilt’s defense, started the night 0 for 6 and finished with 13 points. It was clearly early this would not be repeat of the title run of 2008.

By the time they had beaten Arkansas, Georgia players already had grown weary of stories about the 2008 conference tournament team. Can’t really blame them. Only a few players on this roster even played that year in Athens.

“As a team we really never thought about [2008] because we’re not that team,” Thompkins had said following the win over Arkansas. “That’s just the truth. They were a different group of guys. We want people to talk about us the way they talked about that team.”

They’re talking about these Bulldogs now. The 2008 team overcame a last-place finish (4-12), a tornado, a change of venue, an embattled coach (Felton) and the residual scars of the Jim Harrick era to win the tournament. While that figures to be a reference point for several years, it’s clear the Dogs of the Mark Fox era are gaining their own identity.

In his first season, Fox has gained a reputation among other SEC coaches of fielding a tough and smart team. After the win over Arkansas, Razorbacks coach John Pelphrey said, “[They’re] obviously well-coached, good players.”

Nothing much was expected this season. But the Dogs upset three-ranked teams.

Nothing much was expected this week. But then came the win over Arkansas (even if that wasn’t a major upset).

This is his how reputations are built. This is how identities are formed.

“I told them tonight I respected their efforts,” Fox said. Appropriate words.

Previous posts

We’re LIVE and Thompkins says, ‘We want to win it all’

These Dogs are tired of talking about 2008 Dogs

Georgia drills Arkansas — and could it happen again?

We’re live from Nashville: Is it miracle time for Georgia?

The T-shirt of the decade (whether you love or hate Kentucky)

Trey Thompkins will be an early NBA draft pick (but likely in 2011)

Bruce Pearl heaps praise on Dogs, Fox (and then quickly stops)

About Arkansas, and did Calipari get jobbed for SEC coach of the year?

How big a threat is Georgia in this tournament?

FLASHBACK: Georgia upsets Tennessee

FLASHBACK: Mark Fox’s early reality check as coach

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

84 comments Add your comment

william cranman

March 13th, 2010
12:06 am

Spot on Jeff.

william cranman

March 13th, 2010
12:06 am

Was I rally first? That’s a first.

william cranman

March 13th, 2010
12:07 am

UGA fans are so ....

March 13th, 2010
12:11 am

Fox will not be in Athens for the long haul. If he wins big, he will move on to a big time program.

Jim Harrick

March 13th, 2010
12:12 am

At least we were winning games when I was there!

jim harrick, jr.

March 13th, 2010
12:14 am

how many points are scored on a 3 point shot?

MontyP

March 13th, 2010
12:15 am

I wouldn’t say that Georgia got drilled. The difference in the game was Jenkins getting hot in the second half and knocking down all of those big 3 point shots and Georgia just couldn’t get a wide open 3 pointer to fall tonight. If Georgia hits their season average it is a tied game. I know Georgia got to the foul line more but they should have went to the line a lot more. Couldn’t believe the touch fouls called on Georgia under the basket and the hard fouls committed by Vandy that were not called. They were hammering Trey in the first half and almost knocked Price off the court. Leslie was amazing. Why do they keep saying that he can’t hit the midrange and outside shot? He has done it all year long but only when he had too. Why shoot from outside when you are that good around the basket? Looking forward to next season. This has been a very exciting 14-17 team to watch. Go Dawgs!

Reality Check

March 13th, 2010
12:18 am

This season was definitely a success and the team can hold it’s head high. If we continue to play in one of the post season tournaments I hope we can continue our development. Either way, I look forward to next season. I honestly think we can make the big dance if Thompkins comes back and the Robinson kid is the penetrating guard we need. The whole team made GREAT strides under Fox.

heywood jablomey

March 13th, 2010
12:19 am

i thought it was brutal in the 2nd half at about the 14 minute mark
when we had nobody on the court that could score. even the sub-par
announcers recognized it: “where is the offense going to come from?”
a little depth and we’ll be fine. it’s coming.

atlfan

March 13th, 2010
12:25 am

jeff, what was your prediction on who between Jackets and Dawgs will win a tournament game?? Jackets are going to the Dance..how about the Dogs? you should be more balanced in coverage…

Not Disappointed

March 13th, 2010
12:29 am

<———–"Die hard Tech Fan!"

I've seen the dawgs play several times this year. They are improving. You have a good coach. I'm sure his family likes Athens. If he keeps winning the dawg nation should have him around for a while! ……………."Good post Jeff!"

Ramblin Wreck out!

14-18 is Arkansas' record

March 13th, 2010
12:35 am

“Thursday’s win over Arkansas: a step forward.”

“the opening-round upset of Arkansas”

“After the win over Arkansas”

“This is his how reputations are built. This is how identities are formed.”

“But then came the win over Arkansas”

Boy, you would never know Georgia lost to Vandy tonight. And you would think beating Arkansas (whose record is 14-18) was a huge upset.

Now its on to the NIT. Oh wait, nevermind.

14-18 is Arkansas' record

March 13th, 2010
12:37 am

Way to go dogs. You can lay claim to something only 17 other teams could do this season.

tuck fech

March 13th, 2010
12:38 am

jeff loves the trade school. get off of him.
maybe you should read the paper a bit more often.

ps. football: you lose
basketball: you lose again.

GOODBYE NOW.

Tim Donaghy

March 13th, 2010
12:38 am

I was allowed in the work release progam from prison to call the sec tourney game between UGA and Vandy tonight. They said I have the perfect qualifications to referee in the SEC.

tuck fech

March 13th, 2010
12:42 am

that’s what i thought, B!TCH.

Season's over

March 13th, 2010
12:44 am

Mark Fox completely exceeded all expectations. After all, we were picked to finish LAST in our division. We actually finished…well, nevermind.

Plus we pulled an “upset” over Arkansas, who has 18 losses. The future is bright.

Bryan G.

March 13th, 2010
12:45 am

Great take, Jeff. Georgia didn’t gave a good year by any measure, but they definitely have taken some steps forward. The question remains to be seen whether or not Fox can recruit and help make this UGA program step up into a team that competes for NCAA bids each year.

Paul's Johnson

March 13th, 2010
12:50 am

Yay for the Jackets being in the dance. That way my other buddy Paul can sign a contract extension and stay around for a few more years and we can continue having lunch together. So what that we both lost to UGA this year.

Hairy Dawg

March 13th, 2010
12:54 am

Agree with MontyP. Great season for Fox with what he was given and the turnaround he had to produce. Look forward to the future.

Congratulations to GT on their two wins. We look forward to next year against you.

We have been abysmal under Felton except for the guys playing their hearts out and winning the ‘08 tourney. We have a great young coach, have committed to supporting the basketball program, and have shown definite improvement. Why do slugs who support either no one or another team feel compelled to come on here and put them down? You guys are so afraid we will become good. Why not stick it up your A$$.

Jeff Schultz

March 13th, 2010
12:58 am

Folks — just finished adding some quotes from the post-game.

Jeff Schultz

March 13th, 2010
12:59 am

William Cranman — Thanks.

Jeff Schultz

March 13th, 2010
1:00 am

Atlfan — The question was, “Which team is more likely to win a game in their conference tournament,” not the NCAA.

Jeff Schultz

March 13th, 2010
1:02 am

By the way, Atlfan, that obviously was a huge win for Tech against Maryland, far more significant than the one over North Carolina. Jackets should be congratulated for that.

Jeff Schultz

March 13th, 2010
1:02 am

BrianG — Thanks

Hairy Dawg

March 13th, 2010
1:10 am

Jeff,

Very good article and appreciate your covering the game/team in a positive fashion.

Can you or your colleagues give us some idea of targets or how recruiting is stacking up for the basketball program. As most, football is first, but all this hoopla over Feb, 2011 is a bit much (especially how these guys love the publicity and many are so fickle).

Jeff Schultz

March 13th, 2010
1:16 am

Hairy Dawg — Thanks. Going to be completely honest: Haven’t followed hoops recruiting. I’m sure Chip Towers could fill your notepad. But my sense is Fox has not had any great catch yet. I think it’s going to take a while for the ripple effect.

Chuck Uga

March 13th, 2010
1:20 am

Mark Fox is a significantly better coach than Paul Hewitt. But Hewitt doesn;t deserve to be fired.

Fox may be among the best coaches in the SEC. If he can find a way to recruit and overcome the absolute hatred of Georgia basketball by many of the AAU gang in this State, he can win 18+ games a year perpetually. I hope he is able to sign some players, but it is going to be very, very tough in Georgia for several years. Proof of this is the out-of-State recruiting he is having to do. He still can;t get many top players in-State to consider UGA despite his exceptional coaching and a brand new basketball facility.

Not Disappointed

March 13th, 2010
1:22 am

Jeff, you know I’m a Tech fan/alumn for life and I give credit where it’s do……….That being said, “Coach Fox will have this team competing in a couple of years. He’s the right Coach for this team! He won at Neveda. NEVEDA! Much better talent in the south!” Great Article!

Ramblin Wreck out!

atlfan

March 13th, 2010
1:24 am

Seasons over and 14-18 is Arkansas’ record, great points…we should be honest and fair with ourselves with these atl teams if we wanna be a good sports town..

atlfan

March 13th, 2010
1:26 am

you kidding me? Fox is a good coach? no wonder UGA sucks in both f-ball and b-ball. i guess you worship Ritch as well

Band Kid

March 13th, 2010
2:51 am

atlfan,
Why wouldn’t we “worship” one of the winningest active coaches in the NCAA? I guess that must seem ridiculous lol.

oh yeah, by the way,
30-24
and you only beat us like twice in the past decade… calculate some percentages nerds.

Reality

March 13th, 2010
6:38 am

Are you kidding me??? 14-17 greaT SEASON?? UGA sux. Get ready for Athens 2010 45-42!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Karl

March 13th, 2010
7:34 am

The question is are you ready you big dummy?

[...] Despite losing, Georgia’s direction is established, so writes Jeff Schultz of the AJC. [...]

Yellow Fuzz

March 13th, 2010
7:37 am

Tech pulls upset; Dogs out
Georgia Tech reaches the semifinals of the ACC tournament while Georgia is eliminated from the SEC tourney.

Hahaha. Some things never change. Tech advancing while georgia is cleaning out their lockers.

Michael Scharff

March 13th, 2010
7:41 am

When two-thirds of our three major point producers are having an off night, even a super-human game by our most exciting athelete is not enough to save us against a good opposing squad.

TommyP

March 13th, 2010
7:43 am

The best part of yesterday was Tech winning, securing Hewitt’s job. :)

Gonna be awesome watching Georgia dominate Tech. Tech could be so much better with a good coach. :)

UGASlobberknocker

March 13th, 2010
8:02 am

I took two things from yesterday’s games. 1/Georgia is going to be OK, Fox just needs some players 2/Tech has really good players and are really deep. future NBA players abound. How is it they lost so many this year?. Hewitt is not getting the most out of his team..not even close. As a Dawg fan I hope he stays but if Im a Tech fan I want him gone .

Jasont13

March 13th, 2010
8:13 am

UGA was not only picked to finish last but to loose nearly 25 games. One publication predicted them to finish 0-16 in conference play. I truly believe they exceeded expectations. With the moves that are forth coming (Leslie to the 2 and Gerald Robinson will be able to play) the future looks bright for the dogs. I truly do not understand how GT lost as many games as they did this year and especially lost to UGA.

Gen Neyland

March 13th, 2010
8:17 am

It’s hard to dole out golden plaudits for a 14-17 team but I’ll try…Good run. As good as any other team that wins a game and loses a game in a Tourney. For going in the right direction, I’ll only say UGA needs some gravy to go with their potatoes. TT and TL are legit but they need a couple more players on the floor to compliment them. A tad more smothering and dominate defense is needed to take the next step which is close but still just out of reach. If those complimenting players don’t show and produce next season then they may have to do it without TT and TL in 2011-2012 cause I think we see the writing on the wall for those two. UGA has a shot at finishing 2nd or 3rd in the East next season if they can put a more complete team on the floor…I do hope UGA gets a bid to play on somewhere.

[...] Despite losing, Georgia’s direction is established, so writes Jeff Schultz of the AJC. [...]

UGASlobberknocker

March 13th, 2010
8:37 am

How is it Auburn can afford a $90 M new arena but UGA cant? Fortune magazine reported last year that Auburn’s Ath. Dept. was showing losing money while UGA was #2 in profit. With apologies to Alan Iverson..we’re talkin Auburn. Auburn! Auburn!. Not a real school..Auburn!.

As a Dawg fan that is embarassing. I know Stegasaurus is getting ANOTHER facelift, but that’s just lipstick on a pig. The next thing you know Tech will replace Alexander McNuggett Arena and we will really look bad.since that is one place that is worse than ours.

Gator On The Loose

March 13th, 2010
8:54 am

“How is it Auburn can afford a $90 M new arena but UGA cant? ”

Their programs are progressing.

“Auburn!. Not a real school..Auburn!.”

Pot calling the kettle black.

“Tech will replace Alexander McNuggett Arena and we will really look bad.since that is one place that is worse than ours.”

Highly unlikey, great attendance, nationally famous arena, team on prime time playing semifinal today.

“As a Dawg fan that is embarassing”

Yes it is, but what else is new

GT Dad

March 13th, 2010
9:13 am

Congrats Dawgs on building on a good foundation for the future. I realize your overall record may not have been what you desired, but you have the nucleus of a good team and a coach that can actually coach.

Dawg Fan

March 13th, 2010
9:49 am

UGA Slobberknocker,
Maybe Auburnis losing money because they are building a $90 million dollar arena. Doesn’t take rocket science to figure that out. The UGA Athletic Department is very frugal with their money and that is why they are so profitable. They only invest money where they see it as a good investment. I think a facelift for the Stegasaurus is the appropriate move in this economic climate. If we were building a $100 million dollar arena while the University is laying folks off, I would be a little upset about that. Come on Slobberknocker, you are smarter than this.

Bob

March 13th, 2010
9:53 am

Good season, men. Dawg Nation is proud of you!

DawginOH

March 13th, 2010
10:06 am

Gator on the Loose, y’all are also out of the SEC tourney, oh by the way, and have pretty much no chance of making the NCAAs, thanks mostly in part to a loss to the Dawgs at the Stegosaurus. But on a more serious note, those who follow Georgia basketball have every reason to be proud of the team this year and optimistic for the near future. Fox was definitely able to build a perfect foundation for future success and will turn things around quickly. Expect great results once he has a full recruiting class in place in Athens.

hop

March 13th, 2010
10:11 am

fox is a awesome coach who had little to work with,but made uga a competitive team this year.
I do like his recruiting approach of being selective and going after the players that fit the system.

the state is blessed with great players and he will recruit his share of georgia talent.

next year the dawgs will take it to another level.

Monticello Dawg

March 13th, 2010
10:31 am

To the poster that said Fox will leave UGA if he wins big, I will just say what another Dog fan, who has his own blog said- that is, Georgia has lost two coaches it wanted to keep (in all sports)- Tubby Smith, who turned down Ohio State, but took one of the most prestigious jobs in college sports, and Ron Polk, who returned to the school where the baseball stadium is named for him.

Expect Fox to be here a long time.