After what turned out to be a decisive 13-point win, Kentucky coach John Calipari, as in-conference peers often do after eliminating someone, pressed the NCAA Tournament Committee to put UGA in the Big Dance.
“What I saw today. I do (think they should be in),” he said.
It was a nice parting gift from a coach who didn’t just survive the best game these Bulldogs have played against the legit foe this season… his team actually outperformed expectations at the end of the day. Kentucky comfortably covered Las Vegas’ 10.5-point betting line when the final buzzer went off.
An NCAA Tournament bid for the Dawgs?
It wasn’t even close as it turns out. No wins over a top 50 team on the season; not getting to 20 wins. Georgia didn’t really stand a chance heading into Sunday - no matter how well it has played the last few games, and they did play well.
The Kentucky game, specifically, was as good as Georgia has played this season. And yet the Dawgs still lost. Nothing about what I am writing today is anything other than harsh.
Georgia did not do enough to get into the NCAAs.
The Dawgs left too many wins on the table - one-possession losses vs. Chattanooga (No. 48), vs. Kansas State (No. 90) and at Ole Miss (No. 95) would have gotten them one step closer. The head-scratching debacle at Auburn (No. 175) remains the black eye of the season.
The wins? The best win(s) are over a South Carolina team that was left out in the cold as well. No news yet on if Frank Martin’s head has exploded. This weekend was not a good look for the SEC. Kentucky is a four seed, which is strange. The league only got three teams in. And, worst of all, LSU is apparently just quitting playing basketball all together.
Back to Georgia, and where it chooses to go from here. The end of this season makes me wonder if the ceiling for this program under Mark Fox is the semifinals of the SEC Tournament and the first round of the NCAAs.
I’m fairly certain no one else will write that today, or maybe this week. I get it. I don’t blame them. The way this team fought against Kentucky; the coaching decisions and schemes Fox employed Saturday; just the SEC Tournament in general… it was a good ten days for the Dawgs.
But ten days don’t make a season. And one season doesn’t make a career. Today might be the wrong day to ask it, but… and I’m writing this with as much respect as possible:
Is this truly the ceiling for the Bulldogs with Fox? If yes, the next question is if this is truly the ceiling is that good enough?
We’ve seen seven full seasons of basketball under Fox at UGA with three losing seasons, two NIT appearances and two NCAA appearances. Both times the Bulldogs have gone to the NCAAs they have been on the bubble. Both times they have been one and done.
There is an argument to be made that Fox has stabilized the program. That’s true from my vantage point. What is unmistakably true is that UGA hasn’t won at SEC title (regular season or tournament) or NCAA Tournament game while Fox has been here. And, frankly, doing either of those things isn’t too much to ask considering Kentucky, Florida, Vanderbilt, Ole Miss, Texas A&M, LSU, Tennessee, Arkansas, Vanderbilt and Missouri have all done at least that much in the last seven years.
Where Fox has failed in a major way is in recruiting. It is the lifeblood of any college athletic department. Folks tend to confuse coaching and recruiting. Coaching IS recruiting, and recruiting IS coaching. And recruiting, or lack of recruiting, catches up with you and the most inopportune times.
Kentucky, it doesn’t have that problem.
“The more weapons you have - foul trouble and stuff like that… its not going to trip you up,” Calipari said after the game. He knows a thing or five about recruiting.
I read tweets where fans say: “Imagine if Fox had what Cal or XYZ had…”
He’s allowed, actually he’s encouraged, to go and sign the same prospects anyone else does… it just doesn’t happen. That’s been Fox’s No. 1 problem from the get go at UGA. Before you let anyone start with the nonsense about recruiting AAU players… every single player at UGA played AAU basketball, so that’s a false argument based on ignorance. It also suggests that college basketball is much dirtier than college football, which is pure fantasy.
The truth is that without better recruiting what we’ve seen for the last seven years is very likely to continue. When the Dawgs need to step on the peddle at the end of a game often there are very limited resources to draw from.
When that happens firm ceilings start to form. My question, once more, is as follows: Seven years later, is this truly the ceiling for the Bulldogs with Fox? If yes, the next question is if this is truly the ceiling is that good enough?