With Auburn and Georgia set to square off at Stegeman Coliseum Wednesday night, I exchanged questions and answers on the game with MaconDawg of SB Nation's Georgia blog, Dawg Sports. My answers to MaconDawg's questions can be found here.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is second in the SEC with 17.3 points per game this season, but only one other Dawg is averaging more than 5.8 points per game. Would you say the lack of balanced offensive production is what's holding Georgia back this season? Why are so many Dawgs struggling to score?
It's primary among the things holding Mark Fox's squad back. Georgia currently ranks 326th in the nation in scoring. Did you even know there were 326 college basketball programs? In the words of Brad Paisley, me neither. Right now Pope is the only Bulldog averaging double figures in scoring. It's been 50 years since Georgia didn't end the season with multiple players averaging 10+ points per game. In this era of college basketball, that feat is almost impossible. Yet here we are.
As with all numbers there's a story behind it, however. The story in this case is that Fox began the year with a veteran lineup that was just terrible. Great kids, all of whose mothers should be proud individually. But collectively they just weren't playing smart basketball. He's started going with some younger guys in the past three weeks or so, however, and things look to be coming together. By the end of the season we may have some players. But it's going to be a bumpy ride.
After starting 0-3 in SEC play, Georgia has won two of three. Have the Dawgs improved in any particular facets of the game, or are those two wins just a product of playing other bottom-of-the-barrel SEC teams (LSU and Texas A&M)?
The answer to that question lies in the result of the game sandwiched between those two wins: a 17 point home loss to Florida. After early season losses to Youngstown State and Iona, the middle of the pack in the SEC sounds heavenly. And I think that's about where this Georgia team slots in. They played UF and Mizzou tough in the early going, but simply cannot play long enough stretches of consistent basketball to hang with the top quarter of the conference.
To me, Mark Fox looks more like an office supplies salesman than a college basketball coach. How do Georgia fans feel about their head coach? He led the Bulldogs to the NCAA tourney in 2011, but a 58-57 record in Athens isn't too inspiring? Has Fox worn out his welcome?
Fox was kind of an out of left field hire to begin with. He came from Nevada, where he'd done an excellent job of player development, but had no real ties to the southeast in general or the Atlanta area specifically. He's proven to be a pretty good developer of talent, first turning Travis Leslie and Trey Thompkins into NBA level talents, and molding Caldwell-Pope into the kind of player everyone knew he could be.
But, and there's really no delicate way to put this, his recruiting has absolutely sucked. Recruiting rankings are an inexact science, but just for perspective, since 2010 Georgia has produced 9 players ranked in the top 50 nationally by Rivals. Caldwell-Pope is the only one to play in Athens. This year alone there are four top 150 players, none of whom seem to have given the 'Dawgs a serious look. That's a lot of talent headed to the airport, and it's become a real sore spot for Bulldog fans. You can't win 'em all, but you should at least win some.
The problem with inconsistent recruiting is you get a cyclical program in which a guy here or there develops and you see success, then you have to start all over again with a new batch of kids. That's a lot of what we're seeing at Georgia now.
When Georgia's offense is working properly, what does it look like? Is it four players watching Caldwell-Pope take on five defenders, or are other Dawgs getting involved, too?
If I ever see it work properly, I'll let you know. Truly, it is essentially KCP getting open for jumpers and either hitting them or going ice cold. That will be the story until someone else figures out how to score. Some offenses have trouble with shot selection. Sometimes offenses just can't get good shots to drop. With Georgia it's both, mixed with a healthy dose of turnovers.
How about the defense? What strategy does Fox employ to keep opponents off the board?
Fox isn't really a presser, and he likes to be "multiple" on defense, as they say in football. Georgia has actually played decent defense in stretches this season. The problem is a lack of depth that just eventually takes its toll, as we saw in the Florida and Missouri losses.
How do you think this game plays out? Care to offer a final prediction?
There will be blood. I'm guessing tonight will be one of Pope's good shooting nights and Georgia wins 61-57. Really this Auburn squad could just as easily get some stops defensively and win it. Such is life in the squishy middle of the SEC.