HOOVER, Ala. – Georgia men’s basketball coach Mark Fox insists he was disappointed when the SEC schedule came out and showed, for the first time in almost a half-century, no game at Kentucky for the Bulldogs.
“We’ve got to go to Arkansas; we’ve got to go to Missouri; we’ve got to go to Tennessee; we have to go to Florida; we have to go just about everywhere,” Fox said. “I mean, why not send us to Rupp (Arena), too?
“We like to play there. It’s a fun place to coach and play. So I was a little disappointed.”
You might have expected a different reaction, given that the Bulldogs’ all-time record against the Wildcats in Lexington, Ky., is 5-57.
The SEC schedule format is different than in the past because of the league’s expansion from 12 teams to 14 and from 16 conference games to 18. Each team has one designated opponent that it will play twice every season — South Carolina in Georgia’s case — while other home-and-home opponents will rotate from season to season.
This season Georgia will have two games against Alabama, Florida, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas A&M, but only one game against each of the eight other SEC opponents. (Like last season, the standings will be league-wide and not broken down by divisions.)
Georgia’s lone game against Kentucky, the defending national champion, will be March 7 in Athens, the Bulldogs’ next-to-last game of the regular season. This is the first season since 1963-64 that Georgia doesn’t have a road game against Kentucky.
In general, coaches at the SEC’s annual Basketball Media Day here Thursday expressed satisfaction with the increase to 18 league games.
“Certainly it’s going to be more of a grind, but I also think it’s going to be better for us as a league,” Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said.
Lady Bulldogs ‘real good’?
The Georgia women’s basketball team was picked to finish second in the SEC in the annual preseason media survey this week — an evaluation that didn’t surprise coach Andy Landers.
“I suspect people thought we were going to be really good because we have returning players,” said Landers, who lost only one starter off last season’s team. “I didn’t know what I expected us to be until we practiced with our freshmen.”
And after a couple of weeks of practice, what does he expect?
“We’ve got a chance to be real good,” Landers said.
Entering his 34th season at Georgia, Landers has been thoroughly impressed by his freshman class.
“I knew our seniors and upper-class kids would come back and work hard,” he said. “I’ve got five freshmen who walked out there in sync [with them]. I haven’t had to say anything to them about effort. That’s crazy. That never happens.
“Our seniors gave them that, and they embraced it, like that’s the way it’s supposed to be. … Now they are giving something back to the seniors — competition that they haven’t had before. … These kids, when I tell them something, walk right out there and do it. … Our freshman class is unusual.”
In the preseason survey, Kentucky was picked to win the SEC women’s championship; Vanderbilt was picked third, Tennessee fourth and Texas A&M fifth. Two Georgia seniors were voted preseason all-SEC: forward-guard Anne Marie Armstrong on the first team and forward Jasmine Hassell on the second.
‘Upper echelon’ addition
The Texas A&M women’s team will immediately join the “upper echelon” of the SEC, Landers said.
Asked what A&M brings to the league, Landers said: “Crazy quickness. Right now this year, really really good talented young guards, as good as there are in the country, and a big strong post player that when she graduated from high school was ranked the No. 1 post player in the country (Kelsey Bone).”
Fox said junior forward Marcus Thornton, rebounding from two knee surgeries, “looks as good as he’s looked since he came to our campus.”
Said Fox: “He played through such great pain last year that I have so much respect for him. He’s worked unbelievably hard to get healthy and return to form, if you will, athletically. He really looks good.”
Fox continues to hold Thornton out of some drills as a precautionary measure. “He gets mad at me,” Fox said.
Point guard competition
There’s an interesting point-guard competition unfolding in the Bulldogs’ practices between Vincent Williams, who started 10 games last season, and freshman Charles Mann.
“As a senior, [Williams] has got the experience on his side, and he’s probably been the most efficient player the first couple of weeks (of practice),” Fox said. “But that being said, Charles Mann — he’s a big point guard with natural point-guard instincts — has practiced very well. So I’ve been pleased with the battle we see every day there. It’s a position we’re going to have to continue to evaluate who’s going to get most of the [playing] time, but I think right now they’re both doing a pretty good job.”
Missouri men’s coach Frank Haith on his team’s new league: “This summer I started watching tape of the SEC. One thing that really stands out is the athleticism in this league. They also play a style in terms of tempo defensively a little different than the Big 12. There’s more pressing, more aggressive play, more extending your defense, than there was in the Big 12. That’s something we’ve got to get used to.” … Haith will be coaching in his third league in three seasons: the ACC in 2010-11 (his final season as Miami’s coach), the Big 12 last season (his first at Missouri) and the SEC this season. … The media picked Tennessee’s men’s team fourth in the SEC, but Florida coach Billy Donovan thinks that is low. “I think they are as good as anybody in our league and certainly as physical and tough as anybody,” Donovan said. … Fox on his fourth UGA team: “It’s the deepest team we’ve had, and we do appreciate the fact that we have some depth, finally, and a roster that is a little more physical than a year ago. … We still have a young flavor to our team, but we’re a better basketball team.”
– Tim Tucker
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