Since 1995 - Insightful commentary on the Georgia Bulldogs

Post Dropping graduation rates for womens hoops

Friday January 27, 2006

Ray Melick of the Birmingham News wonders why graduation rates are dropping across women’s basketball. It’s not a huge decrease. Among the reasons offered are 1) more pro opportunities and 2) an increase in transfers looking for a chance to play.

My guess? As womens basketball becomes a bigger and bigger economic engine and more national attention is paid to the sport, the pressures to win are increasing. The sport is no longer dominated by the same group of ten programs, and a good group of players can make a big impact quickly (see Baylor). As a result, teams are willing to take bigger risks on marginal students in order to land players who might help their program make a splash. This isn’t the case of course at the major programs where schools still cherry pick from among the best, but for a mid-major or a lower-tier member of a big conference desperate for that breakthrough player, taking a risk on a poor student might be a risk-reward tradeoff more schools are willing to try now.

Post Step it up, guards

Thursday January 26, 2006

Following last week’s lackluster loss to Kentucky, a lot of people were justifiably down on the frontcourt. No points, no rebounds, not much of anything but fouls and turnovers.

As poor as the frontcourt was in that game, the guards were worse last night at LSU. Worse? Yep. Oh, they scored – eventually. I say their performance last night was worse than the frontcourt’s 0-fer last week because the guards are supposed to be the strength of this team. Georgia’s forwards and centers are either projects or injured. We know that, and most sane observers have accepted that reality with the hope that in a year or so 1) the projects will get better, 2) the wounded will heal, and 3) help is on the way from recruits. Production from the frontcourt is supposed to be better than it was last season, but it’s still more or less gravy this season.

So we know that as the guards go, so goes the team. And last night, they went nowhere. Georgia went 36 minutes of the game without a three-pointer. Levi Stukes didn’t score in the first half and has been slumping since his game-winner in Columbia. Mike Mercer led the team in shot attempts again and missed all but one. Billy Humphrey showed early in the season that he can be a sharpshooter, but he can’t seem to get open and find a shot in 2006.

Five assists. For many point guards, that’s a decent night. That was Georgia’s team total on Wednesday night. You have to make the shot in order for someone to get credit for an assist, and Georgia shooting 30% for the game didn’t help the assist column. Still, a grand total of five assists indicates a complete offensive logjam and an unholy union of poor shooting, turnovers, and forced shots.

The problems followed to the defensive end of the court. LSU shot over 50% overall and over 60% from beyond the arc. Georgia had no answers for LSU’s hot hand of Darrel Mitchell. The strong frontcourt led by Davis had some success as expected, but LSU’s success on the perimeter made their job much easier.

Usually you prefer to forget about blowout losses. Things aren’t that bad, these things happen, and so on. Georgia should not be so quick to get over this loss though. We saw just how dependent this team is on guard play. On most nights, someone is on (lately it’s been Mercer), and you adjust to find that player. When the frontcourt as a unit has a bad night, the team struggles but can sometimes overcome it against lesser teams. When the backcourt has a bad night, Georgia will beat no one and will usually lose pretty ugly.

The relative inexperience of the guards is understood, but the unit does need to step up its level of play if the postseason – even NIT – remains a goal. Georgia’s greatest concentration of scoring power and athleticism is at the guard position, and the team’s success going forward will depend on this unit to find some consistency.

As an aside, kudos to Dave Bliss for his second-straight game scoring in double-figures. I don’t know if the back is getting better or he’s doing anything differently after being shut out by Kentucky, but that’s a very good contribution from a role player who should be able to find some success inside if the guards can draw some defensive attention.

Post Richt’s contract

Wednesday January 25, 2006

News outlets are buzzing that Mark Richt will soon sign a contract extension that includes a nice raise for winning the SEC title this year. Now please understand that I don’t begrudge him his raise or recognition for a job well done. I also like Mark Richt, respect him as a man and a football coach, and hope he continues at Georgia for as long as he likes. I’m in his corner. It’s a great sign on the eve of Signing Day that Mark Richt isn’t going anywhere.

This mini-rant has less to do with Richt and more to do with the notion in sports that you deserve a new contract and significant raise for actually doing your job. Coaches get paid to win, professional athletes get paid to perform. Richt won the SEC in 2002 and his contract value doubled. The other side of the coin is that had he been another average 7-4 coach, he’d be looking for a job now. There just seems to be no medium and no end in sight.

At least Richt’s compensation isn’t tied to some ridiculous index that requires him to be the highest-paid coach in the SEC or the NCAA. Pay him well – he does a good job in a stressful perform-or-else position, but it would be insane to peg his compensation to the whims of some free-spending AD in Tuscaloosa or Baton Rouge. Notre Dame’s Charlie Weis was rewarded with an unheard-of ten year contract this season worth about $4-$5 million per year. How long until that salary is viewed as sub-par and the contract renegotiated? I give it three years.

Post A tough way to lose

Monday January 23, 2006

A heady senior point guard, one of the most consistent and experienced performers the Lady Dogs have ever had, ignored the called play and instead launched a 25-foot prayer in the closing seconds of yesterday’s loss to LSU. This is up there with Leonard Pope deciding to freelance on the last play in 2004’s loss to Tennessee.

Down one point needing a basket to win, LSU found a way to get the ball to its All-American, Seimone Augustus. Augustus got a good look over Sherill Baker and nailed the go-ahead shot. Georgia’s All-American, Tasha Humphrey, had another monster game against LSU with 31 points, but she never got a chance to attempt the game-winning shot.

It was a classic battle, and there are many more what-ifs and plays that could be talked about than the final few seconds. Georgia missed several chances to extend a 60-55 lead and soon found themselves down 61-60 to begin the see-saw exchange of points in the final 90 seconds. Slow shooting at the beginning of each half put the Lady Dogs in holes from which they had to fight back. Overall, the feeling is one of a big missed opportunity to earn a signature SEC win.

The recent games with Tennessee and LSU show without question that Georgia, even after its devastating frontcourt losses, can play with anyone. Coach Landers had a brilliant defensive scheme to limit LSU, and it worked much as it did in last year’s SEC Tournament. Still, it would have been nice to steal one of these games. With Tennessee and LSU both on the schedule twice during the regular season, the losses put pressure on Georgia to play at a high level and win most of its other SEC games, including an upcoming road swing to South Carolina and Florida, if it hopes to finish among the top three teams in the league.

Post “This is one my best

Monday January 16, 2006

“This is one of the best wins of my career. The only thing I thought about when Sundiata gave me that great look was get it above the rim and hopefully give it a chance to go in.”

– Levi Stukes, on his buzzer-beating gamewinner at South Carolina

Post Georgia Bull_ogs

Monday January 16, 2006

What a relief to finally see the Georgia basketball teams rediscover their defense over the weekend.

The men had been giving up around 90 PPG in their SEC games to date, but they held South Carolina to 61 points to earn a rare win for the program in Columbia. It was Georgia’s first road SEC win since the 2004 season. South Carolina is a mediocre team this year. Most teams will beat them in and away from Columbia. Last year, Georgia was the team that couldn’t beat most teams regardless of the effort they gave.

Most impressive and important was that the defense made plays when it had to. I made a big deal out of this in my “go-to guy” post below. Good stats are nice, but good stats at the right times win games. At the end of regulation and the end of overtime, Georgia used a defensive play to create a turnover to set up one possession to win the game. The final shot didn’t fall in regulation; it did in overtime.

You rarely hear Dennis Felton gush. There’s always something to work on, and the guys could always give more effort. He’s hungry for improvement. But his comments on Saturday showed how much this win meant not only to the current season but also to Felton’s turnaround of the program. “I would have felt good even if we would have came up a possession short in this game, because we got back to really playing with passion on defense and it was our best performance of the year so far in terms of staying tough and composed in a game where nothing was easy,” he said postgame.

You make years of investment in effort and faith, and eventually you hope to see some results. At this stage of the program, the results won’t always be consistent. Even on Saturday, Georgia did enough things poorly on offense to be in a position to lose. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who found myself constantly yelling, “TWO FREAKING HANDS ON THE BALL!!!”. The signs of progress are unmistakable though. Georgia has already beaten three teams they lost to last year (WKU, Clemson, and South Carolina). Who’s next?

The women didn’t use defense to survive a close game. They used defense to put a stranglehold on a dangerous opponent and pull away. Miami isn’t a great team, but they are athletic and quick enough to cause problems for lesser teams. With early foul trouble on Tasha Humphrey, the Lady Dogs weren’t able to build much of a comfortable lead. During the first ten minutes of the second half, Georgia held Miami to eight points and one field goal. The lead grew to over 20 points, and Georgia was able to close out the game with an easy win despite a rash of turnovers and sloppy play.

“We realize after the Tennessee game that we’re not real effective defensively,” said Coach Landers. I hope that realization came before the Tennessee game; the defense hasn’t been effective for most of the year. We’re not going to beat that nor the reasons for it into the ground. But what has been effective this year is the pressure and the ability of guards, Sherill Baker in particular, to steal the ball. That’s what Georgia turned to in the second half. They had the speed to keep up with and frustrate Miami, and the result was a lid on the basket for the Hurricanes. After a draining game at Tennessee on Thursday, Georgia survived a potential let-down game with relative ease, though it wasn’t pretty.

I don’t mean to overlook (yet another) great performance by Chambers and Baker, but Sunday’s game was perhaps the best of the season for Hardrick and Bostice. Bostice had to step up after Humphrey’s foul trouble, and she did. Good positioning led to good rebounds and scoring chances, and she was effective defensively. Hardrick might have had better games on offense, but she hasn’t shown that kind of fire and effort on defense in a while. She made a living on the floor and was a key to Georgia’s decisive second half run.

Post Hoops/Gymdog Practice Facility

Monday January 9, 2006

Welcome Georgia Sports Blog visitors!

The next big capital project for the Athletic Association will be a multi-purpose facility for mens and womens hoops as well as the gymnastics program.

The first thing to notice is the size relative to Stegeman itself. It looks just about as long and tall as the Steg. That’s a lot of volume. All three programs should have ample room to spread out.

Another thing to note is that the building just won’t be a practice facility. It will be the public face and showpiece of these three programs. The main entranceway will be a museum-like area to greet and impress visitors (ever been on the main floor of the Butts-Mehre building?) and make a very nice first impression on recruits.

It’s built-to-order. All three coaches were very involved in specifying what will go into the facility. Basketball offices will overlook the practice courts – a small detail that meant a lot to a coach. As with many of Georgia’s capital projects over the past decade (Ramsey Center, Rankin Smith Center, Gate Six, Milledge Ave. Complex, and so on), we should expect a first-rate facility as a result.

Of course once this gem is completed, it will be contrasted immediately with the dinosaur of a coliseum adjacent to it. What’s the future of the Stegoseum? Clearly it isn’t Bud Walton or the new John Paul Jones arena at Virginia. It’s not a pit either after the improvements that have taken place in steps since 1994.

The discussion over the future of Stegeman Coliseum won’t be confined to the context of basketball or gymnastics. There will be consideration of the debt load of the entire Athletic Association. Spending for a new or refurbished arena will draw vocal criticism from an academic community facing tough cuts. It will be a discussion that involves much of the University and likely local and state governments, and it will be a big leadership challenge for Damon Evans in about twelve months.

Post Grand Larceny

Monday January 9, 2006

There are athletes who make names for themselves by excelling in statistics other than scoring. Dennis Rodman made an NBA career out of the rebound. Tim Duncan differentiated himself in college by blocking every shot taken in his ZIP code. There have been dozens of great point guards, but no one was a better assists man than John Stockton.

A steal in basketball is a sign of individual defensive effort. You must have yourself in position, be alert and react instantly to the opportunity, and you must intercept or tip the ball away without creating contact and fouling the opponent. The reward is usually a transition opportunity and often easy points – defense creating offense. In a pressing or trapping defense, a steals specialist can help fuel game-changing runs or get that crucial late-game defensive stop.

Last Thursday, Sherill Baker became the career steals leader for Georgia womens basketball. Baker passed by Teresa Edwards – one of the biggest names in the history of the sport. It was very cool that Edwards was on hand Sunday to present the Ole Miss game ball to Baker during player introductions. Though she doesn’t seek out the spotlight, this was a very well-deserved moment in the sun for Baker, and kudos to Georgia for coming up with a unique and memorable way to recognize her achievement.

In typical Sherill style, she responded by stealing the ball in Florida’s first two possessions, setting the tone for a good team defensive outing that led to a rout of the Gators. It seems silly that Tasha Humphrey’s 26 points and 15 rebounds are considered another day at the office, but it’s her 20th double-double in a season and a half in Athens. Just incredible. After dominating inside, she stepped out to the left wing during the second half and knocked down three-pointers on consecutive possessions almost just to show she could.

Oh, Baker isn’t doing so poorly in the scoring column either. She reached 20 points against Florida – the third time in four games she’s reached 20 points.