DawgsOnline
Since 1995 - Insightful commentary on the Georgia Bulldogs

Post Stegeman work to begin, and they mean it this time

Wednesday April 16, 2014

The protective scaffolding around Stegeman Coloseum has been an eyesore for more than two years as the school bickered with contractors over the costs of securing the glass panels installed in 2011. We’ve been teased with a resolution before, but it looks as if work will finally begin to correct the flaw that had marred a showcase renovation.

The Red & Black reports that “Stegeman Coliseum…will be undergoing construction to retrofit the glass panel installation and eventually remove the scaffolding.”

The project was supposed to have started on Monday and should be finished July 31.


Post You’re not helping, NCAA

Wednesday April 16, 2014

Shot:

In order to adapt to a game that has become more up-tempo, the Bulldogs are emphasizing getting lighter at all defensive positions. Pruitt thinks his defense as a whole is “too big” and needs to cut down.

Chaser:

The NCAA’s legislative council approved a proposal Tuesday to expand the meal allowance for all athletes….The proposal would allow Division I schools to provide unlimited meals and snacks to all athletes, including walk-ons. The measure still must be approved by the board of directors, which meets April 24.


Post G-Day 2014

Monday April 14, 2014

A perfect day for a spring game, an entertaining game, and no long-term injuries. We’ll take it.

  • If I dare to take one conclusion from G-Day, it’s this: Georgia’s going to go as far in 2014 as its offensive line and secondary allows. That’s not a surprising development – those two areas have seen the most attrition and turnover from the 2013 team. In a way, it was a bit of a relief to see things play out that way. It would have been more of a concern to have seen deficiencies pop up in unexpected areas that were supposed to be strengths.
  • Georgia’s going to have a good problem at receiver this fall. We didn’t need much of a reminder of Bennett’s sure hands, but his incredible catch did the job. Conley also didn’t have much to prove, but he looks every bit the polished upperclassman. It’s going to be interesting to see how Mitchell works back in to this group and who Mason settles on as his favored targets. Add back in JSW after a likely suspension, and Mason’s options increase. Richt and Bobo do like to rotate in receivers, so there will be opportunities for the catches that went to Wooten and McGowan last season. Reggie Davis looked most ready to join that next group of receivers. Rumph, a star of the 2013 spring game, had a couple of unfortunate drops. Towns seems more comfortable this year, and he’d get the nod ahead of Tibbs or LeMay.
  • Can’t mention the receivers without a nod to walk-on Clay Johnson who led the black team with 5 catches for 75 yards. Johnson takes the Ronnie Powell Award.
  • This depth at receiver leads me to think that Tramel Terry might be left to sink or swim on defense. Yes, it’s been a struggle for him. I can see the frustration – as a gifted receiver, it might not be as natural to “become a defensive player.” Moving back to offense would be a long view. It would be tough to get on the field this season even for the most talented newcomer, but Georgia does need receivers for 2015. Does the short-term need at safety trump that? Terry didn’t look as behind the curve on Saturday as his frustration might have led us to think.
  • We didn’t see much from the running game, and that’s fine – we were more interested in getting a look at the quarterback depth. We know what we have at tailback with Gurley and Marshall, and Gurley’s few touches were enough to give you the warm fuzzies. His catches out of the backfield are an added dimension to an already-loaded passing game. Douglas will continue to be a factor, and it was a nice debut for Turman. The only question for August is whether Turman and Douglas give the team enough to consider a redshirt for one or both of the prized incoming tailback signees.
  • The pass rush is going to be fun to watch. Floyd and Jenkins were as active as we all hoped, but it was also encouraging to see pressure and plays along the line from the next group – Deloach, Bellamy, and Dawson. We also saw a glimpse of what coaches hoped for from Toby Johnson – his agility and size along the line will help make up for the loss of Garrison Smith.
  • The offensive line had its hands full with a good pass rush, but it had its moments. Left guard continues to be the biggest question.
  • The attrition and injuries in the secondary make it tough to get a read. That said, there were still a few regulars to watch. Moore was active and made a couple of impressive hits. Swann, as we saw last season, seems to be more of a natural fit in the nickel “star” spot. Wiggins and Dawson (not to mention Swann) drew pass interference flags. I suppose the positive is that at least they were in the neighborhood to battle for the ball. As Pruitt continues his work on technique, hopefully those plays will turn into deflections or turnovers. Getting to the spot is a starting point.
  • As for the defense overall, it’s still a work in progress. What we’ll see in a few months will depend on how fast some recover from injury while others join the team. An early focus on fundamentals is paying off – we were impressed by the tackling and pursuit. The success of Mason and the first team shows how much work remains, but that’s the core of a very good offense. Finding those missing pieces in the secondary will be the biggest challenge Pruitt faces before his first season as coordinator.

That’s what I saw. How about you?


Post A eulogy for CSS

Friday April 11, 2014

Saturday’s broadcast of G-Day will be the last time you see live Georgia football on CSS. The AJC reported last month that the cable-only network will be shutting down on June 1.

The channel started out as something barely a step above local public-access that happened to show replays of football games. Production was spotty and HD wasn’t an option. Over the past 15 years the station grew its inventory of live events but also added team-specific shows like the Dawg Report that fell into a niche between the IMG-produced content and what the larger networks could carry.

The introduction of the SEC Network will take most of the best live content from CSS, and that’s why CSS is packing it in. Most of the games you used to find on CSS will likely be on the SEC Network in the future. We’d expect Comcast to just swap one for the other in the channel lineup when the SEC Network starts broadcasting in August.

We’ll still be losing a bit when CSS goes away. We don’t know how the SEC Network will operate, but Georgia will be competing with 13 other teams (not to mention generic conference-wide programming) for time on the new network. We don’t know if we’ll get replays of all of the games or just those produced by SECN/ESPN. We’ll miss the Dawg Report and some of the other shows that had a local touch. It was even nice to catch the occasional G-Braves game while working around the house.

CSS was also an anchor keeping many (a few?) people from switching to satellite from cable. Georgia content found only on CSS made it worthwhile to hold onto the cable subscription. That value was eroded slightly as more and more content became available on ESPN3, but the presence of CSS was still a consideration for those folks. That presence and motivation to stick around are gone now. No, we won’t see millions leaving Comcast, but it’s reasonable that the cable network will lose a small number of subscribers.


Post Nice little run for Georgia baseball

Wednesday April 9, 2014

Scott Stricklin’s team got off to a slow start this season, but they’ve since recovered with five wins in their last seven games. Georgia has won two straight SEC series, and they knocked off #14 Clemson on the road last night. The Diamond Dawgs are now 19-13-1 on the season and are 5-6-1 in the SEC after starting 1-4. They’ll try to get the conference mark up over .500 this weekend when they host Tennessee.


Post Dawgs and Domers

Wednesday April 9, 2014

Georgia officials confirmed yesterday that they are in talks with Notre Dame for a home-and-home football series. Details, including the dates, aren’t finalized, but the 2018-2019 seasons are a possibility.

The key stumbling block would be the future of the SEC schedule. As Greg McGarity noted, “First of all, we’ve got to determine how many games we’re playing in the SEC down the road (eight or nine). That’s the first order of business.” If the SEC slate went to nine games, Georgia would be left with only two open nonconference slots each year and would be much less likely to fill those slots with marquee opponents. Notre Dame could also face scheduling pressure as they begin to work ACC teams into their schedule.


Post Bauerle, men’s swimming under NCAA investigation

Wednesday April 9, 2014

Nearly three months of curious silence came to an end Friday when Georgia announced an NCAA investigation into the men’s swimming and diving program and the immediate suspension from “all job-related responsibilities” of coach Jack Bauerle. The investigation alleges violations of NCAA bylaws and UGA policy by Bauerle concerning the fall semester course schedule of swimmer Chase Kalisz.

Bauerle had been under a soft suspension since early January when both he and Kalisz were disciplined. Kalisz was reinstated for competition, but Bauerle’s suspension remained through the end of the season. Bauerle was not allowed to coach the team during meets and did not travel to the NCAA championships, but he was still allowed to conduct practice, perform all other duties of the job, and even pass messages to the team during competition. It was this odd state of limbo that lasted for months that led us to wonder what was going on.

These facts don’t seem to be in dispute: Kalisz was allegedly added to a fall semester course between the end of classes and the start of final exams. Though Kalisz completed no course work, he received a passing grade for the course.

According to the allegations, Georgia claims that the passing grade was a “clerical error” and that an incomplete grade should have been given while the coursework was completed over the next several weeks.

I’m trying to wrap my head around how a student gets added to a course at the point in the semester between the end of classes and the start of exams. Even if that were possible and permissible according to University policy (how could it be?), Bauerle going directly through the professor is a no-no at Georgia. I still don’t see how it gets done without assistance from the academic side – surely professors aren’t able to bypass the Office of the Registrar and adjust their course rolls as they please.

Another odd fact is that Bauerle attempted to go through proper channels first. “Athletic department personnel gave ‘repeated instructions’ to Bauerle not to have a course added to Kalisz’s schedule,” reports Marc Weiszer. I know that athletics sometimes goes to lengths we’d rather not discuss in order to preserve eligibility, but what made this seem like an idea that had a prayer of getting the stamp of approval? Had someone used this technique before? Though athletics administrators gave “repeated instructions” not to follow through on the plan, it still happened – no one on either the athletic or academic side stopped it.

We’ve only read the allegations, and Georgia has up to 90 days to respond. The response will come with the aid of a firm familiar with NCAA minutiae, but we can’t imagine how the substantial facts would be disputed. The nature of the response will be interesting since Bauerle seems to have gone around the administration that will be representing him.

While we wait for that response and the subsequent investigation and finding, Bauerle will be suspended. In a contrite statement following the announcement of the allegations, Bauerle acknowledges a “mistake” and takes full responsibility for the incident. Bauerle “do(es) not agree with the charges in the way the NCAA has framed them,” and I suppose that distinction will be the substance of Georgia’s response.

At one pole of interpretation, we have a coach who went around his administration to work with a complicit professor in order to maintain the eligibility of a star team member. Kalisz went on to win an individual national title, set an American record, and contributed to the program’s second-best showing at the NCAA Championships. Looking through a more charitable lens, the coach pushed the boundaries of a questionable but legitimate method to get some additional credit hours for the student-athlete, and the professor added to the mistake by recording a passing grade rather than an incomplete.

Some have suggested the role of an overzealous compliance department in this story. Georgia’s institutional approach might look like another case of being too quick to fall on its own sword, but schools are also now operating under a new enforcement paradigm. If the allegations are correct, I can’t fault the compliance department for raising the red flag.

Bauerle regrets “that I have placed the University of Georgia, an institution I dearly love and have given my heart and soul to for 44 years, in this situation.” Bauerle has proven that he’s no renegade when it comes to academics; his men and women have been some of the most decorated student-athletes produced by the university. It’s an unfortunate consequence that such an accomplished career and reputation could be tarnished by these allegations, and one of Georgia’s legends will spend the next several months fighting for his position and legacy.


Post Marching bands playing Joan Baez?

Thursday March 27, 2014

On Wednesday the NLRB ruled that “Northwestern football players qualify as employees of the university and can unionize.” The ruling itself doesn’t end things – it’s fairly narrow in scope (the NLRB doesn’t have jurisdiction over public schools), and there is an appeals process. What it does do is move things from the abstract to the “this could really happen” phase.

How one responds to the news is likely to reflect their outlook on labor unions and also their level of sympathy for the student-athlete (or, I guess, “employee”). Those who distrust unions aren’t going to like them meddling in college sports, and those who consider the Gene Smith bonus obscene are encouraged to see at least some threat to the current system. There is of course overlap between those groups (starting right here).

We’ve only begun to understand the implications of a victory for the Northwestern players. Are there tax consequences for scholarships if they’re considered employees? Would Title IX still apply? Do public schools and schools in right-to-work states gain an advantage or a disadvantage? Are walk-ons who aren’t compensated with a scholarship eligible for union membership? There will be some time to sort through the considerable intended and unintended consequences of this ruling. I’m interested in more of the particulars, but I don’t think most of us follow sports to become experts on labor law. That doesn’t mean that the concerns of the student-athletes aren’t valid or worth our time. So for now I’ll just add some knee-jerk reactions.

  • As we learned when the unionization effort got underway, this isn’t so much about paying players. Many of the points seem reasonable and have to do with player safety, long-term health, education, and mobility. There are a couple we can quibble with, but this isn’t a crude money grab – yet.
  • That said, I wonder how many student-athletes saw yesterday’s news and saw dollar signs. People who reflexively oppose the idea of unionization aren’t the only group who need to read a little deeper.
  • I also doubt that the United Steelworkers are backing this effort without a financial endgame in mind. That could be via a direct cut for their representation (Will there be dues? Where will they go?). The NCAA and its member schools control billions of dollars. With labor facing setbacks in private industry and public coffers drying up, this could be a new frontier. At the very least, organized labor sees an opportunity to improve its image among a nontraditional age group. Involvement with a high-profile and popular activity like college sports could make young people and fans of college sports more receptive to organized labor as they head out into the labor market – that’s the hope, anyway.
  • In other words, who gets paid? It might not be the student-athlete, but it might be enough for some that it won’t only be the schools either.
  • It’s worth noting, as the Red & Black reported, that this issue doesn’t affect Georgia due to state laws that prohibit public employees from forming unions. Georgia players would be more likely to benefit from NCAA reforms brought on by unionization efforts at other schools.
  • Unionization is a clumsy solution. There’s the public/private school split, involvement of disparate state labor laws, and the unnecesary politicization of college sports.
  • We’re forced to deal with this clumsy solution because the schools and NCAA have been slow to prioritize the student-athlete as revenue has exploded. They’re being forced to the table to deal with issues they had plenty of time to consider while the arms race escalated.

Post Georgia’s coach-in-exile

Thursday March 20, 2014

Let’s start with a hypothetical:

Mark Richt and a prominent starter on the football team are suddenly suspended during the middle of the season “pending an academic eligibility review.” A few weeks later the student-athlete is allowed to return to competition, but Richt remains suspended. Well…sort of suspended. He is allowed to run practices, travel with the team, attend games, but he can’t coach the team from the sideline during a game.

This continues for one month. Two months. The football player in question has been competing for the past several weeks since being reinstated, but Richt’s suspension-lite continues. Georgia has a great season regardless, and the SEC Championship comes around. Georgia wins with Richt in the press box and not on the sideline. Assistant coaches represent the triumphant team in interviews. Georgia starts preparation for the BCS, and the coaching situation is no less clear.

The lingering suspension raises some eyebrows, so naturally athletics director Greg McGarity is asked about it several times. McGarity does little to resolve the questions and speaks in vague generalities. “I don’t know what the end date’s going to be on that…hopefully that will all come to an end very soon,” he says one month into the suspension. We never get an answer whether the suspension is the result of internal, SEC, or NCAA action.

Contrary to McGarity’s hopes, the matter doesn’t end very soon or at all. The media can’t file FOIA requests until whatever investigation is going on is deemed complete. There is no hint of NCAA interest or inquiry. It looks increasingly likely that the season will end without resolution or illumination.

It sounds implausible because the outcry from football fans would be deafening after one week, let alone after two months. Neither Richt nor McGarity would be able to walk across the parking lot without facing the media. But what I laid out above is exactly what’s gone on with legendary Georgia swim coach Jack Bauerle. Anyone vaguely familiar with Georgia athletics knows the name. Bauerle has been involved with Georgia swimming since 1979. He’s won multiple national and SEC titles, coached the US women’s national team at the 2008 Olympics, and has produced scores of All-Americans and Olympians.

Bauerle and men’s swimmer Chase Kalisz were withheld from the January 4th meet with N.C. State. Kalisz was reinstated later in January, but Bauerle remained barred from meets. That’s the way things have stayed in the two months since, and despite McGarity’s statement in early February that “hopefully that will all come to an end very soon,” it hasn’t. Georgia hosted the SEC Championships in late February with Bauerle watching from the stands and assistant coaches handling the press.

The media haven’t got very far in trying to find answers. As the Banner-Herald explains, an open records request is pointless because “under state law, documents cannot be released until 10 days after the investigation of a state employee concludes.” Coaches and team members have embraced an Omerta-like silence about the suspension, and McGarity has been reticent. The suspension will apparently continue through the end of the season: the women’s NCAA Championships take place this weekend, and Bauerle won’t make the trip. As Mark Richt said on Tuesday, “At Georgia, we’ve never tried to hide things. If somebody makes a mistake, we clean it up. We don’t hide it.” I would hope that McGarity is following the same principle here.

I don’t have it in for Bauerle – his legacy at Georgia has been magnificent, and he’s been enough of a household name and likable personality to have been included on the spring circuit right alongside the football coach. I really hope this is much more smoke than fire. I am a bit concerned though the longer this drags out. Regardless of the sport and the personalities involved, it’s tough to recall a more bizarre story coming out of the Butts-Mehre building. We don’t even know the details behind the story yet, but the stone wall of information and comment has been as remarkable as the bewildering quasi-suspension itself.

We’re left in the same place we were two months ago: a nearly three-month investigation that leaves a head coach suspended indefinitely. Academics are involved. That’s not an encouraging combination.


Post Hoop Dawgs advance in NIT

Thursday March 20, 2014

Georgia used a career-high 29 points from Charles Mann to overcome a 9-point second half deficit and defeat Vermont 63-56 in the first round of the NIT on Wednesday night. The Dawgs led by as many as 11 at the start of the second half, but Vermont put together a 21-2 stretch to erase Georgia’s lead and build one of their own. Georgia, largely thanks to Mann’s penetration, began to chop away at the lead inside of 9 minutes remaining and eventually pulled ahead for good inside of three minutes remaining.

As impressive as Mann’s second half offense was, his ballhandling was a part of the reason why Georgia found themselves in a hole. Mann committed 7 turnovers, and the team turned it over 22 times. When Georgia got a shot off they hit over 50%, but generally sloppy play kept the visitors close. Vermont was effective at guarding the perimeter, but many of Georgia’s turnovers were unforced.

While Mann carried the team down the stretch, Marcus Thornton did the work in the first half. Thornton ended up with a career high 16 points of his own. Mann and Thornton combined for an impressive 20-21 from the foul line, and free throws on both ends were a big part of the outcome. Georgia rebounded much better towards the end of the game and opened up a 31-18 edge on the boards.

General admission seating filled much of the lower bowl of Stegeman Coliseum, and the crowd of only about 4,000 made plenty of noise to help Georgia’s comeback.

The #2 seed Dawgs will face #3 seed Louisiana Tech on Saturday morning at 11 a.m. (ESPN). La. Tech had a close game themselves against Iona but pulled out a 89-88 win on their home court. The ticket policy will be the same as it was for Vermont: students get in free, and seating will be general admission. Tickets can be ordered online at georgiadogs.com or by calling 888-542-1231.


Post Dawgs draw Vermont in NIT

Monday March 17, 2014

Georgia’s basketball season lives on. Saturday’s loss to Kentucky ended hopes of an NCAA bid, but the Bulldogs learned Sunday night that they had earned a spot in the 2014 postseason NIT. Georgia’s strong conference record and solid play down the stretch earned them a #2 seed in their 8-team group.

The Dawgs will host #7 seed Vermont in the opening round on Wednesday night at 8:00 p.m. in Athens (ESPNU will televise). The Catamounts are 22-10 this season and won the regular season America East championship with a 15-1 conference record. They fell to eventual tournament champion Albany in the semifinals of the America East tournament and earned an automatic bid to the NIT by virtue of their regular season title.

Vermont starts four seniors who have been a part of 90 wins over four seasons. The Catamounts have been to the postseason each year, participating in 2 NITs, the CBI last year, and the 2012 NCAA Tournament as a #16 seed. They’re a capable team from behind the arc – they still drilled 9 of 20 three-pointers in their loss to Albany. They’re not terribly effective inside, so Georgia should press its advantage on the boards on both ends of the court.

If Georgia advances, they’ll face the winner of #3 Louisiana Tech and #6 Iona on a date to be determined (between March 20-24), and Georgia could host that game as well. FSU and Georgetown round out the top four seeds in Georgia’s region.

The Bulldogs have one strong tie to the Vermont program. Tom Brennan played for the Dawgs and graduated in 1971. He became Vermont’s head coach in 1986 and stayed on until 2005. Brennan stepped down at the high point of his career after Vermont upset Syracuse in the 2005 NCAA Tournament, and he’s done national TV and radio work since. He’ll be making the trip down with the Vermont team.

Tickets

General admission tickets are $15 and can be ordered starting 9:00 a.m. Monday online at www.georgiadogs.com or by calling the Athletic Association ticket office 1-877-542-1231 between 8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. Monday through Wednesday. Seating will be general admission for the first round of the National Invitational Tournament and filled on a first-come, first-served basis.

Basketball Enhancement Fund contributors will receive the number of tickets requested to the first round of the National Invitational Tournament during the pre-order process and priority on seating in Sections D, E, F.

The first 500 UGA students will receive free admission to the game and must show their valid UGA ID Card at Stegeman Coliseum ticket windows to claim their free ticket. Once the free student tickets have been distributed, additional student tickets will be sold $4 each to all UGA students presenting their valid UGA ID Card at the Stegeman Coliseum ticket windows. UGA students can purchase their tickets with cash only.

The Bracket

Click here for the 2014 NIT Bracket


Post 8th Annual SEC Women’s Basketball Tournament Preview

Wednesday March 5, 2014

The SEC Women’s Basketball Tournament returns to the Gwinnett Arena in Duluth from Wednesday through Sunday this week. Since it’s right around the corner, we’ll be there for most sessions. Follow @dawgsonline for updates from the arena.

2014 SEC Women's Basketball Tournament

For the first time, all fourteen SEC teams will be involved in the tournament (Ole Miss held themselves out of the postseason last year.) With all teams participating, we’ll have two play-in games on Wednesday evening involving the bottom four teams to kick off a grueling five days of tournament play.

Call it parity or something less kind, but this has been a year of upheaval in the SEC. South Carolina won their first conference title. Alabama showed signed of life under a new coach. Preseason favorites LSU and Kentucky faltered – Kentucky dropped six games, and LSU finished the season losing 7 of 8. Eight of the fourteen teams have between 6 and 8 conference wins, and 8-8 was good enough for fifth place. Even Tennessee lost three SEC games, but they only finished one game out of first place and topped South Carolina on Sunday. It’s no surprise that this is the toughest conference in the nation, and the possibility of just about any of the top 10 seeds making a run should make for an interesting and entertaining tournament.

Few teams illustrate the turbulent state of the SEC better than Georgia. The Lady Dogs roared to a 12-1 start against a light nonconference schedule, but they dropped their first four conference games. They’ve spent the rest of the season fighting back to a .500 mark in the league but came up short. They found themselves in the middle of the pack with a number of tiebreakers against them – a win at Auburn a week ago would have earned them the fifth seed entering the tournament, but they spent Sunday afternoon sweating the possibility of falling into a Wednesday play-in game even after their impressive win.

Georgia’s Path Through the Tournament:

Wednesday: Bye
Thursday / First Round: #9 Georgia vs. #8 Vanderbilt: Noon ET. SportsSouth
Friday / Quarterfinals: vs. #1 South Carolina: Noon ET. SportsSouth
Saturday / Semifinals: Noon ET: ESPNU
Sunday / Finals: 3:30 p.m. ET. ESPN
Complete Bracket Here

The Field:

1. South Carolina (14-2, 26-3): Dawn Staley’s program has arrived. They made a Sweet 16 run in 2012 and made it to the Round of 32 a year ago. They navigated a fairly lightweight nonconference schedule and lost to their only ranked opponent, North Carolina. The Gamecocks rounded into form for conference play and dropped just one game in January and February – an overtime loss at Texas A&M. They had a number of close calls in January but won every game but one in February by double-digits as they reeled off a 10-game winning streak en route to the regular season title. Before falling at Tennessee to close the season, South Carolina was as high as #4 in the polls and a possible #1 NCAA Tournament seed.

The Gamecocks were picked to finish in the middle of the pack after losing some important seniors, but they’ve found success with a dominant frontcourt. Elem Ibiam and freshman Alaina Coates are outstanding posts, and junior forward Aleighsa Welch is the leader that has stepped up on a team with only one senior. Opponents can’t afford to focus only on the frontcourt; sophomore guard Tiffany Mitchell leads the team in scoring and has emerged as a go-to player. Staley’s teams have always been noted for the defensive toughness that mirrors the personality of their coach, and now they have a little bit of firepower to go along with the defense.

2. Tennessee (13-3, 24-5): Despite slipping from the national elite, Tennessee is still a high-performing, talented, and impressive team. South Carolina’s rise might’ve overshadowed a solid season by Tennessee, but this is a program that won the regular season title a year ago and just ended South Carolina’s winning streak. The Lady Vols know how to play under the pressure of a tournament, and they’ll have their usual army of fans to make the arena a virtual home court. There’s no reason not to consider them every bit as much of a favorite as South Carolina.

The Lady Vols look to their lone senior, guard Meighan Simmons, not only for scoring but also for the emotional intensity that fuels everything for which Tennessee is known. Tennessee’s identity is nothing new to SEC fans: they shoot well, play frenetic defense, and control the glass better than anyone in the conference. Starting point guard Ariel Massengale is doubtful for the tournament after missing the past ten games with an injury, but they’ve adjusted to life without Massengale just fine. Tennessee has won 10 of its last 11 games. Sophomore Andraya Carter has handled the point guard duties well. They can look inside to Isabelle Harrison for scoring and rebounding, and Burdick and Graves can be dangerous from the wings.

3. Texas A&M (13-3, 23-7): If it’s possible for a top-tier SEC team to be anonymous, this is the one. A&M won the national title a few years ago, won the SEC Tournament last season in the school’s first year of membership, are only one of two teams to beat South Carolina, and you have to remember to list them among the favorites to win this year’s tournament. They fell off the radar by losing four games – including some head-scratchers – in nonconference play, but in conference they’ve been as strong as anyone. There’s no shame in any of their three conference losses, and they have several quality wins.

Things have been a little tougher in the post-Kelsey Bone era, and the Aggies have survived a number of close calls. Senior Karla Gilbert has taken over for Bone inside, and JUCO transfer Achiri Ade adds some muscle and rebounding power to the frontcourt. A pair of Courtneys at guard, Courtney Walker and Courtney Williams lead the team in scoring. The team doesn’t shoot a lot of three pointers and hits under 30% from outside, so they rely a lot on penetration from the guards with PG Jordan Jones leading the league in assists. This is also a sound defensive team and can score in transition. They’ll be a tough out, and there’s potentially a Saturday game against Tennessee in a rematch of the 2013 semifinal that bounced the Lady Vols.

4. Kentucky (10-6, 22-7): It’s been an inconsistent season for what has been one of the SEC’s stronger programs. They have wins over Baylor, Tennessee, A&M, and Louisville, but they’ve also been swept by Florida, lost to Alabama, and sweated out wins over Auburn and Mississippi State. There’s no question that the team misses A’dia Mathis, the sparkplug during Kentucky’s rise to prominence. Scoring can be at a premium at times, especially from the backcourt. Guard Jennifer O’Neill comes off the bench to lead the team in scoring, but it’s tough to wear the go-to label that Mathis wore so well. The Cats have a pair of long, athletic forwards in DeNesha Stallworth and Samarie Walker who seems like she’s in her 9th season. The trademark frenetic Kentucky defense is still a factor, but this team’s ability to advance will depend on their offense. Awaiting them on Friday could likely be a team that’s already posted two wins over Kentucky this year.

5. Florida (8-8, 18-11): A sweep of Kentucky was enough to separate Florida from the rest of the pack in the middle of the standings and into the #5 seed. Aside from a trip to the NCAA Tournament in 2012, Florida has been a perpetual bubble team. They’re back in that position again in 2014. Their finish in the SEC helps their case, but it hasn’t helped that they’ve lost 5 of 7 down the stretch. Florida’s games are likely to be high-scoring. They can get up the court on offense and don’t play especially great defense. Senior and leading scorer Jaterra Bonds personifies their style: she prefers not to shoot from outside but is very effective scoring and creating off the drive. It’s not a given that they’ll get past their opener, but if they do they might have to beat Kentucky for a third time to end any bubble talk.

6. Auburn (7-9, 16-13): Tiebreakers move Auburn to the front of the 7-9 pack. Terri Williams-Flournoy showed progress in her second season, but they’re still not to the point where a spot in the quarterfinals is a sure thing. The Tigers dropped four in a row to end January, but they won 5 of 7 before losing the season finale to Ole Miss. Auburn features tall guards that create both matchup problems on offense and a defensive press that’s tough to break. As a result of that press, Auburn leads the league in steals and relies on transition to create much of their offense. Senior forward Tyrese Tanner leads the team with over 17 points per game, and she gets help from freshman guard Brandy Montgomery.

7. Alabama (7-9, 14-15): It’s quite an achievement to see Alabama back in the top half of the standings. The Tide had been at or near the bottom of the conference for several seasons before gaining significant ground this year. Bama brought in accomplished coach Kristy Curry after successful stints at Texas Tech and Purdue, and the results have been immediate. The season started off slowly, but the Tide broke through in a big way with consecutive upset wins over Kentucky and Georgia. They’ve since added noteworthy wins over Venderbilt and LSU and have won 3 of 4 entering the tournament. Senior Shafontaye Myers leads the way, but it’s a balanced attack with two other players averaging in double figures. They’re punching a bit above their weight – Bama is at or near the bottom of most SEC offensive stats – but to their credit they’ve found a way to get to seven wins. Now can they get past a desperate LSU team in the tournament?

8. Vanderbilt (7-9, 18-11): SEC fans by now are very used to Vandy’s pesky, annoying, and very effective style. It’s no surprise that Melanie Balcomb’s roots go back to the Princeton system; other SEC teams like to run, but Vandy executes a disciplined and precise halfcourt offense. That offense is paced by two senior guards, Christina Foggie and Jasmine Lister. The two are among the tops in the SEC in both scoring and minutes played. The load on those two guards will be even greater now that sophomore forward Heather Bowe has been suspended for academic reasons. Bowe only scored 5 points per game but was second on the team in rebounds and started over 20 games. Even without Bowe, Vandy was still almost able to win at Kentucky in the last game.

In the SEC opener against Georgia, Vanderbilt broke open a close game in Nashville with a late run. Georgia led with just over 6 minutes left, but a 14-5 run put the game away. Georgia has been hit-or-miss in close games for much of the season, and the play down the stretch by the seniors Lister and Foggie in that meeting provided a sharp contrast in poise. Vandy will be hurt by the hit to their frontcourt depth, but will they have the mental advantage again in another close game?

9. Georgia (7-9, 19-10): With losses to three of the four other teams that finished 6-9, the Lady Dogs slid to the #9 seed. The four losses to start the season dug a deep hole, and the team could never find enough momentum to claw back above .500. That job was made more difficult by the team’s performance on the road. The Lady Dogs won just 1 of 8 conference road games (Florida), and the 6-2 home mark wasn’t enough to overcome it. That lack of focus on the road might be the sign of a young team; there are only three regular players who are upperclassmen. Finding the leadership and go-to players under those circumstances has been an ongoing experiment made more difficult with the loss of an accomplished senior class from last season’s Elite Eight team.

When Georgia is at their best, they are hitting jumpshots within the flow of the offense, getting contributions from the forwards, and creating transition opportunities with stifling defense. When they’ve struggled, they rush shots, become stagnant around the perimeter, and commit scores of unnecessary fouls. Fouls on both ends have been an adventure for the team all season – they are at the bottom of the SEC at free throw shooting, and forwards in particular have been prone to a rapid accumulation of fouls.

While forward Merritt Hempe certainly can have the occasional big night (she just outplayed Mississippi State’s Alwal), Georgia’s identity on offense rests with the guards and wings. Shacobia Barbee leads the scoring, but on a given night the team is just as likely to be led by Erika Ford or Khaalidah Miller or Tiaria Griffin. Miller spent her first three years as an outside specialist, but she’s had to take over point guard duties as a senior. Ford has emerged as a clutch scorer, and the team has started to look to her down the stretch when they need a basket. Barbee isn’t just the team’s leading scorer; she leads in rebounds, steals, and is just one off the team lead in assists. Griffin comes off the bench but is capable of instant offense and quick hands on defense.

It’s tough to read Georgia’s chances in the tournament, and that’s been the story of the season. They haven’t done all that well against their neighbors in the standings, yet they swept Florida, beat Kentucky and LSU, and took A&M to overtime. Is that a focus thing? If they need motivation, their tournament opener against Vanderbilt is a must-win: it would get them to 20 wins and add another quality win to the ledger. But they’ll have to overcome their lack of success away from home and find a way to contain the most experienced guard duo in the league.

10. LSU (7-9, 18-11): No team heads into the postseason with worse momentum. LSU defeated West Virginia, NC State, and Tennessee early in the season, started SEC play 6-2, but have since lost 7 of their final 8 games. It’s usually the case for LSU that there are strengths at a couple of positions and a weak supporting cast, and this team falls into line. Forward Theresa Plaisance is versatile enough to do damage inside or outside. Jeanne Kenney is a dangerous streaky shooter. After that, there’s just not much consistent production. Freshman guard Danielle Ballard has faded. Defending Plaisance and Kenney is easier said than done, but teams have figured out that they’re in good shape if they can limit the damage to those two. The team has plenty of fight and nearly came back from big deficits against both Georgia and Tennessee. They ended the season with a bad 78-60 loss at Alabama, and they’ll get a chance to get that taste out of their mouth with their first round rematch against the Tide. They’re still a darling of the computer metrics, but they really could use another win to feel a lot more sure about their postseason chances.

11. Arkansas (6-10, 19-10): How soft was Arkansas’ nonconference schedule? They went a perfect 13-0 and didn’t merit a spot in the polls. That’s not to say that this isn’t a dangerous team. As the SEC’s leading scoring defense, they’re often able to keep games close enough to have a chance to win. They went 2-6 to start SEC play but lost those games by an average of just six points. Since then they’ve finished 4-4 but haven’t been able to put together consecutive wins. It’s rarely a good sign when your leading scorer is a freshman, but wing Jessica Jackson has had an outstanding freshman season and averages over 16 points per game. Senior Keira Peak sets the tone for the team’s formidable defense.

12. Missouri (6-10, 17-12): Missouri lives and dies with the three-pointer. Last year they set a school record with 253 made three-pointers. They eclipsed that total this year with 277. They attempt over 25 three-pointers per game and are knocking them down at a 37.6% clip. That’s been enough to carry them to wins over Georgia, Vanderbilt, and Florida, but it hasn’t moved them further up the standings. Watch for Bri Kulas, Morgan Eye, and Morgan Stock to bomb away.

13. Mississippi St. (5-11, 18-12): When you watch this team play, you’d expect them to finish higher than they did, but the wins never came. There were some successes against Georgia and Vanderbilt, and they came within four points of Tennessee. Martha Alwal is one of the better post players in the conference and can score as well as block shots on the other end. MSU is at their best when the inside-outside game is working well, but they need more consistent perimeter play. If their press defense is working, life can be difficult for opponents.

14. Ole Miss (2-14, 11-19): Following a year of turmoil that left them ineligible for the 2013 tournament, the Rebels are back. First-year coach Matt Insell has a rebuilding job ahead of him, and he’s trying to import some of the Kentucky philospohy to Oxford. They have the speed to get up and down the court with anyone, and an overtime win over Auburn is a nice way to head into the postseason. Senior Valencia McFarland is a creative guard, and Tia Faleru leads the conference in rebounding. They’re not an automatic out in the play-in game.


Post At least no one is suggesting cowbells

Wednesday February 26, 2014

The issue of attendance – especially student attendance – seems to be on a lot of minds. We’ve been critical of student support for the football team, and we’ve been encouraged by some of the steps taken. The school has reduced the size of the student section but also introduced a well-received Young Alumni program to help bridge the transition from student to a lifelong fan.

But the issues of attendance persist. It’s not just a Georgia problem. Games are all televised now, and often there are one or two games that are as compelling (or more so) than the one going on in town. It’s tough to drag someone away from the HDTV, climate-controlled environment, and refreshments to sit in the elements with spotty cell coverage for four hours. Short of playing the game in the backyard, you’re not going to overcome the advantages of watching from home. The in-person experience needs to press its own advantages rather than trying to duplicate the amenities of home.

Granted, it’s a tough problem. The macro nation-wide trends aren’t going away anytime soon. I have to question the wisdom of any program investing in additional seating in this reality. We know why they’re doing it, but the arms race doesn’t make much financial sense in the short or long term. That’s not to argue against facilities improvements that address the fan experience (see Gate 6 or Reed Alley); you just can’t convince me that more seats is a good idea for anyone right now.

So faced with the job of trying to swim against the current, I don’t blame administrators for taking small bites around the edges. It’s not a problem that’s going to be solved in one swallow. Some of these ideas will be minor successes, and some will prove to be horrible.

This doesn’t seem like one of the good ideas. SEC rules have been relaxed to allow schools to pump in music between plays. Schools may already use recorded music during breaks; we’ve seen that at Sanford Stadium for years. The relaxed rules would apply, say, before a big third down play.

SEC administrators, including Georgia’s Greg McGarity, are optimistic about this rules change creating “more excitement across the conference” and enhancing the fan experience. Is this really what’s been missing from Georgia home games? Is the jock jam genre the siren song that will fill the student section?

McGarity cites the Clemson game last year. I admit that I wasn’t paying much attention to the in-game experience around me. There was a matter of a close game of national importance between two highly-ranked rivals to keep my focus. You know what really got the Clemson crowd going? Watching the team ride a bus around the stadium and rub a rock. Has Georgia considered exploring the entire spectrum of human-rock contact in order to fill and engage the stadium? Whatever Georgia is lacking relative to Clemson didn’t seem to detract from the experience against LSU. On the other hand, when you welcome three non-conference cupcakes to Sanford Stadium, anything short of a live Outkast concert isn’t going to bring people in.

As a former Redcoat, I admit that a large part of my concern here is the marginalization of a great spirit organization. The band is no small budget item – both in terms of its expense and also the opportunity cost of several hundred unsold seats. In this day of the arms race and the number crunchers, every dollar is on the table. I should note though that the athletic association (not to mention Coach Richt) has consistently been a big supporter in both words and funds of the Redcoats, and I’m assured that the Redcoats have a place at the table in these discussions to improve the in-game experience at Sanford Stadium. They too have a duty to keep their stands repertoire fresh and entertaining, and they’ve done so over the past several seasons. You never get optimistic when it looks as if the consultants are in charge, but it looks as if we’ll see Georgia try to take advantage of this new rule.


Post 2015 non-conference football schedule finalized

Friday February 21, 2014

Athletic director Greg McGarity announced on Friday that a 2016 game with Georgia Southern would be moved up a year to 2015. The move fills a hole in the 2015 football schedule and completes the non-conference portion of the slate. After a couple of years with some high-profile non-conference opponents early in the season, 2015 will be much less ambitious.

A game against Georgia Southern has recently provided the Dawgs with an opportunity to work on the triple option in advance of the Georgia Tech game, and new coach Willie Fritz will keep some version of that offense in Statesboro.

Tech preparation aside (assuming they are still running the option), it’s a fairly lackluster non-conference schedule lined up for 2015. November in particular will offer no compelling home games. The only appealing non-conference game, Tech, will be on the road. Here’s the lineup:

  • Southern University (Sept. 5)
  • Louisana-Monroe (Nov. 7)
  • Georgia Southern (Nov. 21)
  • @ Georgia Tech (Nov. 28)

The SEC portion of the home schedule doesn’t look terribly hot at the moment either. Following the current scheduling rotation, Georgia should expect to see South Carolina, Missouri, and Kentucky from the East. There should also be a game against an SEC West opponent, but the SEC is still setting the schedule as it goes year-to-year.

The quality of the 2015 home schedule will depend a lot on that final unnamed SEC West opponent. It’s not likely to be recent visitors LSU or Ole Miss. Will it be a return visit from Arkansas? A game against Alabama or Texas A&M’s first SEC visit to Athens would improve the home slate. It’s also a remote possibility, but one worth noting, that the SEC could come out with a 9-game schedule by then. If so, which of the three non-conference games gets dropped?


Post Signing Day Wrapup

Friday February 7, 2014

Georgia signed 20 student-athletes on Wednesday to join early enrollee Jacob Park in the incoming 2014 class. The group was rated #7 nationally by Rivals.com, #12 by Scout, #9 by ESPN, and #8 by 24-7. As usual, a Top 10 class in the SEC means that you’re only keeping up – ESPN had 7 SEC schools among its national Top 10.

The class met some important needs – the tailback depth looks fantastic, the QB pipeline is replenished, the tight end position got some needed attention, there’s another outstanding pass rusher, and there is a much-needed injection of talent at cornerback. Georgia even took the interesting opportunity to sign a player specifically targeted as a return specialist.

It was a relatively small class (no SEC school signed fewer), but we expected that given a light graduating senior class. In fact, Georgia oversigned slightly and will have to have some attrition to meet the NCAA limit of 85 scholarship players. Mark Richt wasn’t concerned about that problem, and the numbers always work themselves out. 21

There wasn’t much drama on Signing Day – at least as far as the big announcements went. Georgia got their most important Signing Day target, defensive end Lorenzo Carter, and they missed out on another uncommitted prospect with whom they became involved with late.

While Signing Day itself was fairly calm, Georgia had a flurry of activity in the 10 days leading up to the big day. Georgia added nearly a quarter of its class during this late push.

  • On January 27th, Tucker defensive back Dominick Sanders committed.
  • On February 3rd, Shaquille Jones announced his flip from Louisville to Georgia.
  • Georgia added three more to the class on Signing Day.
    • We had heard about return specialist Isaiah “The Human Joystick” McKenzie earlier in the week, and he put speculation to rest early on Wednesday.
    • If there was one big Signing Day Surprise, it was the unexpected flip of in-state tight end Hunter Atkinson from Cincinnati. Atkinson is a big, physical tight end who has the frame to develop into an offensive lineman (Adam Meadows for those old enough to remember), but Atkinson has the receiving skills to be an imposing tight end at his current size.
    • The announcement of Lorenzo Carter was the most anticipated of the day, but most pundits felt confident in Georgia’s chances. The uncertainty about Georgia’s defensive staff gave Carter a reason to seriously consider LSU, but the hirings of Jeremy Pruitt and Tracy Rocker were enough to keep Carter in-state.

Those hirings helped to smooth over what could have been a very rough time for the staff. Despite turnover of the entire defensive staff, it didn’t cost Georgia a single commitment. Not only that, the newcomers to the staff solidified Carter’s preference and helped to sway Jones and Sanders at the 11th hour. Some additional effort didn’t bear fruit, but it shouldn’t go unrecognized that the new staff made up tremendous ground with a handful of additional defensive prospects.

When you have a small class, there will necessarily be areas that come up short. That’s most evident up the middle of the defense. Georgia signed one defensive tackle, one interior linebacker, and its only safety commitment signed with Marshall. That would be a concern if those positions needed immediate help in 2014, but they don’t. It does make those positions a little more important for the 2015 class, and top defensive prospects like DT Trent Thompson become high priorities.