In anticipation of tonight's Legends Classic semifinal between Indiana and Georgia, Mr. Sanchez of Dawg Sports and I have exchanged some questions about our respective programs. His answers are below; mine are posted or will be posted at Dawg Sports.
1. Based on what I have read on your site, it seems there is some discontentment with head coach Mark Fox, who led Georgia to the NCAA Tournament in 2011 but took a big step back last season. What ails the Georgia program, and do you think Fox has a good chance of turning things around?
What ails Georgia basketball could take a long, long time to go over. Short summary, we used to play in a horse barn (literally, it was open air and used for rodeos). The administration has been historically extremely unsupportive and self destructive on a repeated basis. It's just a lot. What's ailing right now is playing basketball without a lot of players who can dribble, shoot, or pass. Mark Fox has done some good things, but his recruiting has been a nightmare. Our big men signees have all been of the "project" variety. Some have panned out as solid players, and some haven't. He's landed two perimeter players out of high school over his first 3 recruiting classes, one of whom was last second filler on arrival (and it's not like the position had good depth when he got here). There are questions about the coaching, particularly a read and react triangle offense that needs veterans who have spent considerable time in the system and learning how each other react to different looks, but a big problem is simply having players capable of the basics: dribbling, passing, rebounding, and most of all, shooting. I've been a huge fan of Fox since his arrival, and think there is still hope if recruiting issues can be solved (the state of Georgia produced around a dozen top 150 players last year depending on whose recruiting list you like, and Fox signed not a single one of them), but the doubts are growing by the minute.
2. More generally, what do you expect from the basketball program? How invested are fans at such a football-mad school in the basketball program?
Fans in general aren't that invested, and that's a problem. Attendance is woeful, and apathy is high. If you regularly go to games, it's pitifully easy to spot the handful of others who are regularly attendees too. I was among those regulars before life forced me to move too far away from town, but still get back for games whenever possible, so my expectations aren't in line with the general Georgia fan you might meet. But when you look at a recruiting back yard as plentiful as Atlanta, at the signature state school, in a solid conference with lots of TV time, with quality academics, all the money you'd care for to invest, and solid facilities that were built to be amongst the best a few years ago, there is a lot of positives for Georgia basketball. I expect a program that CAN (if it has the right coach) make yearly trips to the dance and occassional forays deeper into March if not April. That potential is there although it's been hibernating for a long, long time. Whether it's ever realized consistently or not remains to be seen, but my expecations for Georgia's basketball is extremely high once they stop tripping over their own feet.
3. The Bulldogs return four starters from last season. Which guys are you most excited about?
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. The other starters have issues (F Marcus Thornton has been decimated by injury after injury the last few years, F/C Donte Williams missed the first two games as a disciplinary measure, and Montengro native Nemi Djurisic has shown some promise but also the ability to go 0-9 shooting from exclusively within 5 feet as he did vs. Youngstown.), and KCP is the absolute star of the team. He was a McDonald's All American, led the team in rebounding as a freshman last year from the SF spot, and is about the only offensive threat Indiana needs to worry about. His shot can be off at times (2 of this season's 3 games he's shot worse than 25% from the field), but he also has little help from teammates and a lot of focus from opposing defenders. In spite of the shooting struggles, he's still scored 17 or more in all 3 games, and scored almost 1/3 of our points this year (61 of 184 total).
4. What went wrong in your losses to Youngstown State and Southern Miss?
Bad offense. As said above, Djurisic missed countless shots from near the rim against Youngstown St, as did his teammates. Have him hit say 4 of the 9, and his teammates score on some of their point blank misses, and that game would have been a W instead of a L. But if ifs and buts were candy and nuts as they say. Against Southern Miss, there seemed to be carry over from the Youngstown loss. The crowd was nonexistent; the team looked flat and dejected; and after taking a 3-2 lead, they didn't lead the rest of regulation, and didn't seem to really wake up until the last few minutes. After that, it was too little, too late, and they couldn't get over the hump in overtime. The main problem is as said above, we struggle passing and dribbling, and can't shoot. Our offense has far too often devolved in to passes around the perimeter for 25 seconds until someone fires an off balance, contested 3. Aside from Pope, there is no reliable outside shooter,and no one who can effectively drive and score or drive and distribute. There is no legitimate low post scoring threat. It's just not a good basketball team right now.
Thanks, Mr. Sanchez, and good luck tonight, or at least tomorrow night.