Georgia mailbag: Future of the Georgia hoops program, spring practice questions

semerson@macon.comMarch 26, 2014 

Men's basketball head coach Mark Fox and football head coach Mark Richt talk before a Georgia football preseason practice in 2013.

STEVEN COLQUITT — UGA sports communications

Where do you see the (Georgia) basketball program in 4 years?
- Chandler Lyles, Lexington, Ky.

That’s a very good question, and one that is pretty impossible to answer with much confidence now. Ask me again after next season, when it should hopefully be a lot clearer.

Next year will be a critical one for the direction of the program: The high-water mark would be making the NCAA tournament, and potentially winning a game or two, and retaining all the non-seniors, while adding some high-impact players through next year’s recruiting cycle. That’s a lot of momentum for the program and something to build on.

Otherwise, there are a lot of other dynamics that come into play. I highly doubt that Greg McGarity will give Mark Fox an “NCAA-or-bust” ultimatum. That’s not his style. He will just want to see continued upward progression in the program – as occurred this year on the court – but other factors are involved, such as recruiting and attendance.

This also doesn’t preclude Fox from bolting for another job at any point. Fox’s reputation nationally is pretty good. And if he perceives his ground won't be secure anytime soon at Georgia, you can't blame him for looking around.

In any event, next year is critical is because for the first time in awhile you can really see progress – but it could easily stall again.

Should we expect preseason buzz (relative to UGA norm of course) for the basketball team next year?
- Kyle Lebet, via twitter

If everyone does indeed return – other than Donte’ Williams, the lone senior – then my early guess is Georgia will be picked to finish in the top five in the SEC (rather than 11th before this season) and will get a few top 25 votes (rather than just from Fox.) It will be very similar to the run-up to the 2010-11 season, which began with the expectation it could get to the NCAA tournament, and proceeded to do so.

Why is it we have ZERO players signed this year in Basketball? Seriously, we had a good shot at Norense Odiase, but he chose to stay close to home, play with his brother and be coached by Tubby Smith. People keep knocking Mark Fox for his recruiting, but isn’t most of that work done by assistants? Who is Mark Fox’s Bryan McLendon? Palmore/Pearson/Hayes? All of the above? How do you evaluate their performance?
- Robert Burnham

The fact they only had one open scholarship until two weeks ago is a big factor. John Cannon’s sudden transfer made it two. But with the NCAA limit still at 13 overall, they’re still going to be careful not to throw it away if they think they can use it wisely for the 2015 class. But yes, they’ve struck out on everyone they’ve offered thus far. They couldn’t get the highest-rated stars they pursued in the fall, and couldn’t get Odiase, a more lightly-regarded prospect.

What’s the problem? Well, maybe it's telling them they can only have one girlfriend. Or something.

It’s not a matter of not trying hard enough. Fox and company just haven’t been able to close the deal on most prospects. One criticism I’ve heard is that they’ve spent too much time targeting the higher-rated players, thus falling behind on the second-tier guys they had a more realistic shot of getting. Of course that doesn’t quite explain the core of this year’s team – Gaines, Mann, Morris, Frazier – who would seem to fall into that second-tier category.

Pearson and Palmore came to Georgia with a good reputation for recruiting Atlanta and the Southeast. Jonas Hayes, promoted last year, knows the area too. Fox didn’t have those connections when he came here five years ago, but people should know him now.

A lot of it boils down to the factors that Georgia basketball coaches have battled forever: Kids grow up in this state wanting to play Georgia football, but not Georgia basketball. It holds no special allure.

Do you thing the athletic department will look into the general admission for basketball games?
- Brady Shirah

Short answer: Yes, they’ll look into it. Will they do it is a different question.

After the first NIT game, I went up to McGarity and said (almost off-handedly) they oughta try that during the season. And McGarity, a bit to my surprise, seemed to agree. Perhaps he was just caught up in the moment, and the practicalities of it during the regular season will prove too much. But I also know McGarity cares deeply about attendance and realizes they have to get creative. So I’m sure he’s going to explore it.

Considering it was only the NIT, the atmosphere of those two games was remarkably exciting. Other than the Ole Miss game, which was a sellout, it was the best atmosphere this season despite being two of the lowest-attended. Packing people close to the court has that effect.

That’s why I’d pursue the idea next season if I were UGA. Unfortunately, it’s been shown that even when the team is winning (such as 2011) you’re not going to fill the place on a consistent basis. So perhaps what’s needed is a consistently exciting atmosphere. From my experience, that is just as likely, if not more likely, to draw in additional fans.

Do you think the men’s basketball team genuinely performed better this year in the SEC, or sneakily benefitted from not playing any of the three teams making tournament runs twice, while playing the last place teams twice for four of our wins?
- Blaine Seabarts

The schedule certainly helped, in terms of only having to play Florida, Kentucky and Tennessee twice. Of course Fox's reply to that is that Georgia had to play all three on the road. Would any of the outcomes been different had they been in Athens? Not Florida, I'd guess, but the other two might have depending on when they were played, as Kentucky and Tennessee struggled at times.

But I don't think the 12-6 record was a mirage: Georgia went 5-1 against the other three teams that made the NIT (LSU, Missouri and Arkansas), and beat Ole Miss twice, including the SEC tournament. I think that's enough evidence that Georgia was legitimately the fourth-best team in the conference, with Arkansas also having a case.

What are the top two-to-three position battles you are looking forward to seeing in the spring; do you see any incumbents who are in real danger of losing their spots?
- Scott C. Davis

I’ve written about the No. 2 quarterback battle, and I think how the three open offensive line spots shake out (both guards and right tackle) will be very interesting.

The defense, on the other hand, may technically be wide open, but realistically I’d say the secondary has the top spots to watch:

- Cornerback opposite of Damian Swann. Right now Brendan Langley is running first-team, but Shaq Wiggins, Sheldon Dawson, Reggie Wilkerson and incoming freshman Malkom Parrish should all be candidates as well.

- Both safety spots. Quincy Mauger and Corey Moore are running first-team right now, but Tray Matthews and Tramel Terry will push, as could others.

There could always be a surprise elsewhere, perhaps on the line. But rather than focus on position battles on defense, the bigger changes will be the different packages that Jeremy Pruitt uses, which will affect how many snaps players get.

If Gurley and Marshall are both healthy this fall do you believe Richt and Bobo should put in a package to have them both on the field at the same time?
- Ted B., Fleming Island, Fl.

I doubt it. Mark Richt has said that they have a few plays with them both on the field, but he’s also said that they prefer to have a blocking back out there, rather than a player who will essentially be a decoy – but only a decoy before the snap. It’s something Richt has been asked about a lot the previous two years, but he always downplays the possibility.

Can you briefly describe the construction activity going on at the practice fields? Seems like a lot of work for not building an indoor facility.
- David E., Athens

They’re basically just the replacing the two turf fields, which had been in place some time and were showing a lot of wear and tear. And in putting in the new turf they have to also put in a new foundation. That’s why it’s been completely ripped up. Richt said Tuesday he thinks the fields should be ready for use by May.

One other part of the project is putting in permanent stands for filming practice, to replace the mobile (and less sturdy) ones that have been used for years. Those are almost done and could be used before spring practice is up.

I’m told the cost of the project is well short of the estimated $15 million that will be needed for an indoor practice facility.

While Hutson Mason was at Lassiter High School, he ran an up tempo/no huddle offense. It has also been said that Mason doesn't have the arm strength of Murray, but does have a quicker release. Thus, is there any indication that Bobo might change the offense to an up tempo/no-huddle to better utilize Mason's skills and experience?
- Ray, Lawton, Okla.

They’re already a no-huddle, but I would expect it to be sped up more than during Aaron Murray’s time, and you already saw that begin to happen when Mason took over late last year. The only hang-up there was a) Mason was still trying to get comfortable, and b) the team around him wasn’t as used to playing at Mason’s preferred tempo. Now this is Mason’s offense, and presuming he’s more comfortable, I’m sure they’ll speed it up.

But it won’t be sped up to an Auburn or Clemson level.

I have just started hearing A.J. Turman in articles since J.J. Green has moved to cornerback, is that directly attributed to J.J.'s move or are the coaches liking his progress? It seemed he was about to get lost in the rotation with 5-star backs coming and would end up transferring like Ken Malcome.
- Kevin Williams

My guess is you’re hearing Turman’s name more now just because he’s not redshirting, and he’s healthy. His ankle was an issue at times last year, so he missed some practices, and besides that he wasn’t playing, so Brendan Douglas and Green got all the attention. Now the redshirt is off, and this spring will be critical for Turman: He needs to make a move and avoid being overtaken from Nick Chubb and Sony Michel when they arrive.

Turman’s size impresses me. There were a couple practices last year where he wore No. 3 because he was on scout team, and if you didn’t know better you would’ve thought it was Gurley out there. (Not in ability, per se, just size.) So I wouldn’t dispense with Turman just yet. But he has to show in practices and scrimmages that he offers something – explosiveness, reliability, hitting the hole – that’s worth giving him the ball in games.

Why does LSU Spring Practice produce videos videos like this while GA fans watch silent 480p videos? What's the harm in letting your fans see your players run through a hitting drill?
- Kyle Dix

Georgia's own film crew has actually produced some pretty snazzy videos, especially one about mat drills. But the program is limiting what the media can film, and is even ordering us to take the audio off anything we post. Whether they actually have the legal right to do that, and whether it has any practical meaning, is debatable, and discussions between the media and the program will continue on that in the future. But to be honest it's not on the frontburner because, at least in my case and the other beat writers, video isn't the first priority.

I was wondering why the current roster on the did not have all the signees. They only have 16. Players like Lorenzo Carter are not on the roster but Chubb and Michel are listed, thank God. Are the rest of the players we signed not eligible? Do they need to go through the clearinghouse to be on the official roster? Who do you think in the 2014 Class will not be eligible for the fall?
- Mike Mitchell

The roster thing was actually just a technical glitch that’s been fixed. The only new player on there now is Jacob Park, the early enrollee. As for academics, I haven’t heard of any players yet who will definitely be on the bubble, but there’s usually one or two.

Now that the new coaches have finally gotten to settle in, I'd like to think they've put their heads together to figure out how they can improve the program. I'm not a coach and, unlike many fans, don't profess to know more about X's and O's than Mark Richt and his staff. However, I do have one suggestion that that I think could help the program: using analytics. Is the program already doing this at all? If not, do you think they'd be open to making decisions in more data-driven ways? In an ideal world, I'd love to see UGA hire a director of football analytics, just as the Chiefs and Ravens, among others, have done at the pro-level. If nothing else, they could follow the lead of former Butler coach Brad Stevens, who gained a huge asset by hiring Drew Cannon, who had recently graduated from Duke with a statistics major, as a graduate manager.
- Lucas Puente

Are you volunteering? :)

I haven't heard any rumblings of this around the program. But periodically you will hear assistant coaches cite a stat – Todd Grantham seemed to do it more than most, usually in support of a point he was trying to make.

Football isn’t as much of a stats-oriented business, but if NFL teams are trying it then it’s sure to trickle down to the college ranks at some point.

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