Since 1995 - Insightful commentary on the Georgia Bulldogs

Post Spring hoops recruiting starting to heat up

Wednesday March 31, 2010

Dan McDonald of UGASports.com reports that Georgia picked up their first commitment of the spring period on Tuesday evening. 6’9″ Lithonia (Miller Grove) forward Donte Williams picked Georgia over East Carolina and UAB after an official visit to Athens last weekend. West Virginia was also showing strong interest in Donte. The Georgia Sports Blog has much more on what Williams could mean for the program.

Williams joins 6’8″ forward Cady Lalanne in this year’s incoming class. Lalanne committed and signed during the early period last fall. The two should help fill out Georgia’s frontcourt with the departures of Jackson and Zlovaric.

Georgia is still actively recruiting for the spring periods, and there are two names on the radar right now: SG Sherrard Brantley and Los Angeles SF Dwayne Polee who is considered a taller Travis Leslie type of player and is rumored to be down to Georgia and UNLV.

The spring signing period begins April 14th and runs through May 19th.

Post Mayfield and Zlovaric to leave Hoop Dawgs

Friday March 26, 2010

I don’t think the news surprised anyone. Mayfield and Zlovaric struggled to find playing time on a team that wasn’t terribly deep to begin with, and both had been rumored transfer candidates for several months. Their departure nominally hurts Georgia’s depth for next year, but the impact won’t be that severe if neither was expected to play much. We wish both of them well – no one I’ve heard from has anything but good things to say about them as people.

The departures free up two scholarships of course, and Chip Towers takes a look at what Mark Fox might do during the late signing period. Chip’s device of adding Zlovaric and Mayfield to a long line of attrition casts an unfairly negative tone on these departures though. It’s true that attrition has been an almost annual problem for Georgia (and many teams). But the orderly postseason departures of Mayfield and Zlovaric are a lot closer to the Troy Brewer level of rather than analogues to the disruptive loss of key contributors like Takais Brown, Humprey, Mercer, and Singleton. These weren’t troublemakers getting booted; each expressed a desire for more playing time, and it wasn’t going to come at Georgia.

It’s a fact that Fox’s challenge is to fill the remaining roster spots with a higher level of talent. Towers chides Fox by writing, “The late period, by the way, is not when you want to be doing the bulk of your recruiting.” Yes, of course – most of the top talent commits and signs during the early period, and that’s when Fox was still unproven at Georgia and still getting his feet wet in the area. The fact that he has to be so active in the spring is an unfortunate consequence of only being here a year. If he can make some headway in recruiting this spring, he has some tangible results from last season and an energized fan base to take into some very important recruiting battles over the next few years.

Here’s next year’s roster by class, assuming (hoping) that Thompkins stays. The Dawgs could still add freshman or JUCO transfers. You can see that the Dawgs are poised to lose 7 of these 10 after two more years which is why Paul calling the 2011 class “positively enormous” is an understatement. If Fox can’t build continuity in his third and fourth seasons with the upcoming recruiting classes, he’s going to run into many of the same problems escaping the cycle of losing that his predecessor did.

SR: Barnes, Price
JR: Leslie, Ware, Thompkins, Robinson, Nolte
SO: Anyaorah, Williams
FR: Lalanne

Post Richt and Meyer illustrate how to disagree with the media

Thursday March 25, 2010

Last week, Mark Richt, somewhat surprisingly, made it a point to respond to an AJC blog post that was critical of the philosophy behind using Logan Gray to field punts in certain situations. No wriggle room here – this was a direct criticism of the head coach.

Though the absence of the author during Richt’s response made a personal confrontation impossible, Richt still focused on the specific disagreement and countered by taking a few minutes to explain his position. Though there’s still quite strong disagreement on the use of Gray as a returner, the tone from author and coach has remained respectful and professional, and we all held hands and sang while the sun set.

At the time, Blutarsky wrote (quite presciently, as it turns out), “First off, kudos to Richt for responding – and responding in a respectful way. I can think of several of his peers (as well as countless anonymous bloggers/commenters) who wouldn’t have been nearly so decent about that.”

It didn’t take long for one of Richt’s peers to prove the Senator right. Urban Meyer’s confrontation with Jeremy Fowler bordered on threatening and intimidating, and it’s being pretty universally condemned today.

The point isn’t that Meyer is an awful human being or that a reporter is beyond reproach. We all know Meyer is an intense man with fierce loyalty. The thing is that Meyer went off about a piece that was actually somewhat positive about Deonte Thompson. I’m still trying to figure out whom Meyer is defending.

Let’s look at the piece that has Meyer so upset. Thompson, through Fowler, described a Florida offense that involved a lot of scrambling with improvised passing. And, as Fowler points out, nearly half of those passes went to just two favorite targets – Cooper and Hernandez. Nothing about that was vicious or really all that inaccurate. Thompson felt that he might be more productive with a quarterback that relied more on timing and rhythm. Fine.

The use of the term “real quarterback” of course is at the center of this whole blowup. As Chris Brown tweeted last night, this would have been a non-story had Thompson used a label like “traditional” or “dropback” instead to describe Brantley. Thompson wasn’t wrong or even malicious and just hoped a few more passes would come his way with a different type of quarterback.

Fowler even ends his short piece with a supporting and positive quote from Thompson’s new position coach. If Meyer is taking issue with an article that claims that Thompson hasn’t lived up to his billing yet, he also has an issue with Zach Azzanni. Fowler also adds a quote from Azzanni about Thompson’s humility and eagerness to be coached.

There was only one person who could come away from Fowler’s original piece in a less-than-positive light, and that’s the guy who is, by implication, not the “real quarterback.” Chris Low has it right (h/t GTP). When Meyer threatened, “If that was my son, we’d be going at it right now,” did he mean Tebow?

Post NFL overtime reform goes halfway, college is just fine

Wednesday March 24, 2010

Doc Saturday asks for thoughts about the NFL’s new overtime rules and what it means for college football. As for the NFL policy itself, it’s not very smart to just go halfway on this. A team only gets possession in overtime if they allow a field goal but not a touchdown? If you’re going to call the current system inadequate, just do the simple thing and allow each team a minimum of one possession regardless of what the other team does with theirs. Will it take Favre watching his defense give up an overtime touchdown before they see this all the way through?

Turning to the college overtime system, I kind of like it the way it is. It’s true that it’s a little too easy to score, and I do like the wrinkle of requiring a two-point try in later rounds of overtime. That one change has prevented a lot of the endless overtimes that we saw during the first few years of the system, and those marathons are much less of a concern now (and truly the exception). If I’d endorse one change, fine – start them at the 40 instead of the 25. But leave the format unchanged otherwise. I don’t mind that it condenses the game down to more of a shootout; you had four quarters to impress us with your punting game and mastery of field position.

Post Anderson on the move

Wednesday March 24, 2010

I have to admit that Justin Anderson falling into the Kiante Tripp black hole was the first thought I had when I heard that Anderson was moving from the offensive line to defense.

Look at it this way: Anderson was at one point a starter on the offensive line. The same attributes that make him a good candidate to anchor the defensive line at the nose position served him as an offensive lineman. Depth on the offensive line might make a move like this possible, but he’d have to be a sure thing on defense to cost the team a possible upperclassman starter or key reserve along the offensive line. And let’s be honest about that depth: we’re talking about guys like Sturdivant whose return from multiple knee injuries would be considered a “luxury” by the coaches as well as underclassmen with much less experience than Anderson, a rising redshirt junior.

The staff have already invested several years in Anderson’s development on offense, and now, thanks to an injury that has held him out of spring practice, he’ll be behind the curve and far down the depth chart when he begins working with the defense this summer. There’s the possibility that Anderson could be called back to offense if injuries strike the OL (that never happens, right?), and any hedging there would only slow his development on defense with the clock ticking on his eligibility.

The talk about Anderson throughout his career never cast doubt on his physical gifts but rather questioned his ability to grasp the blocking schemes and assignments. If that’s the case, this move makes sense but not necessarily in a very positive way. It’s possible that the coaches contemplated the 3-4 and saw a perfect candidate to play the nose position on the other side of the ball. It’s also possible that the coaches saw the move as a chance to find a more suitable position for someone who just wasn’t getting it at his current position. I’m certain that the nose position is more involved than someone just trying to get a push and occupy a Cody-like space, but I also suspect it’s less complex than the assignments and techniques one has to master to be an effective offensive lineman.

We certainly hope that Anderson thrives on defense and that circumstances on offense don’t require moving him back and forth. Working in Anderson’s favor is the relative lack of candidates to anchor the three-man defensive front. Kwame Geathers is the only full-time nose with several other candidates with DeAngelo Tyson cross-training at both nose and end. Anderson does give the Bulldogs three guys with the physical attributes needed for the nose position.

Post Young and old combine to lead Lady Dogs to the Sweet 16

Wednesday March 24, 2010

After less than two days home to catch up on classes (not to mention laundry), the Lady Dogs will head back west later today to prepare for Saturday’s Sweet 16 showdown with Stanford.

Georgia advanced to the regional semis with Monday’s 74-71 overtime win against Oklahoma State. Georgia’s first tournament win against Tulane was all about the seniors, but Monday night’s win saw Georgia’s top freshman leave her impression on this tournament. Angel Robinson once again came up with big plays and clutch free throws, especially in the second half. Jasmine James, who hadn’t hit an outside shot all night, came up with two huge three-pointers in overtime and then drained eight straight free throws to give Georgia just enough margin to get past a tough OSU team.

It was a bit like Georgia’s January win over Kentucky – James shot just 3-12 all night and hadn’t scored from outside, but she had the courage to fire a three-pointer in overtime that swung the game Georgia’s way. Coach and teammates all credit James’s even keel and playing with “no fear,” and Coach Landers explains that her temperament gives her “the chance to have the kind of year she has had as a freshman.”

The upcoming challenge of playing Stanford can’t be understated. UConn has set the standard for dominant programs this year, but Stanford isn’t far behind. A loss at Connecticut is the only blemish on Stanford’s record, and the Cardinal have simply rolled over everyone else on their schedule. Familiar top programs Rutgers, Tennessee, and Duke were destroyed by Stanford earlier this year. On Monday night Gonzaga upset Big 12 tournament champion Texas A&M to advance to the Sweet 16. The Zags were 31-point losers to Stanford back in November.

Though Georgia is back to winning basketball, they’ll still have to tighten up in many areas to have a chance against a balanced Stanford team. The Lady Dogs got off to a quick start against Oklahoma State, but scoring droughts again caught up to them and nearly cost them the game in regulation. James did well in overtime, but hopefully she comes out of the gate firing as well. The Lady Dogs will also need better production from the rest of the frontcourt: Phillips and Armstrong were a combined 2-14 against OSU, and Jasmine Hassell hasn’t had much of an impact in the tournament yet (though her playing time has been affected by Robinson’s strong play). Georgia also left 13 points at the free throw line and probably could have put the game away in the second half with better free throw shooting.

Defense and rebounding were solid. It seems funny to credit defense when an OSU player went for over 30 points, but Georgia actually did a quality job frustrating and challenging Amber Riley. She went much of the second half without a field goal, and Georgia held her to 9-of-31 shooting. We knew she was going to take a lot of shots, and shooting under 30% wasn’t going to get it done whether she shot 10, 30, or 60 times.

Stanford doesn’t have just one or two players who will get the bulk of attention from the defense; they have about five. They have one of the most versatile frontcourts in the nation. Leading scorer Nnemkadi Ogwumike hits nearly 63% of her shots from the forward position. Wing Kayla Pedersen shoots more than anyone on the team and, despite standing 6’4″, a third of her shots have come from beyond the arc. Those two will be tough, tough matchups for Phillips, Armstrong, and Mitchell. As if those two weren’t enough, senior center Jayne Appel is an imposing presence in the middle who can score, rebound, and block shots.

Stanford has a backcourt to keep anyone from paying too much attention to the forwards. Jeanette Pohlen leads the team in both assists and three-pointers made, and Rosalyn Gold-Onwude, averaging just 7.4 PPG during the season, erupted for 26 points in their most recent game. The good news is that, like Georgia, Stanford isn’t terribly deep. We’re not likely to be surprised by someone coming off the bench to have the game of their life. But the challenge of matching up against their starting five is plenty tough enough. For all that firepower on offense, they’re also allowing just 54.1 PPG by opponents.

Georgia will take on Stanford at 9:04 Saturday night in Sacramento. We’re lucky – that’s the early game…the second Sacramento game will be ending somewhere around 1:30 in the morning.

Post Seniors lead Lady Dogs past Tulane

Sunday March 21, 2010

22 Georgia turnovers allowed an upset-minded Tulane team to hang around for much of the night, but the Lady Dogs looked to their veterans down the stretch and secured a 64-59 win in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.  The fifth-seeded Lady Dogs struggled to put away the Conference USA champs, but they escaped with their first NCAA Tournament win since 2008.

Ashley Houts (22 points, 6 assists) and Angel Robinson (18 points, 13 rebounds) were instrumental during an 18-2 run that turned a brief 2-point deficit with nine minutes left into a 14-point lead with just under 2 minutes remaining.

After a Meredith Mitchell 3-pointer recaptured the lead for Georgia, Houts scored Georgia’s next seven points with several of those points coming off steals.  Robinson then had a dominating series where she got the offensive rebound following a missed free throw which led to a Houts basket, blocked a shot on the other end, collected the rebound, and then scored on a nice feed from Mitchell back on Georgia’s end.  That was typical for a night on which Robinson asserted her height advantage on both ends.

Unfortunately the play of Robinson and Houts was about the only thing going for Georgia in this first round game.  The other Lady Dogs who saw playing time shot a combined 8-29 from the floor.  Georgia shot out to a 10-0 lead but often committed key turnovers that fueled runs by Tulane and kept Georgia from putting it away.  Even with a late 14-point lead and things seemingly in hand, Georgia again got sloppy with the ball and saw their comfortable lead evaporate to just five, but Tulane was unable to pull any closer.

Georgia advances to face fourth-seeded Oklahoma State who had to rally from an 18-point halftime deficit to avoid the upset in their opener.  Oklahoma State was playing without suspended star guard Andrea Riley, and it took them a while to learn how to play without their leading scorer.  OSU exploded for 51 in the second half, and they’ll have Riley back for Monday night’s game with Georgia. 

Post The end of tailgating on North Campus?

Thursday March 18, 2010

Call it overkill, but UGA is pushing back against the tailgating problems on North Campus. New rules put into place for the 2010 season will all but eliminate tailgating on North Campus:

  • Tailgating on North Campus will be allowed beginning four (4) hours before kickoff.
  • The following items will not be allowed on North Campus on gamedays:
    • Tents
    • Kegs
    • Generators
    • Televisions
    • Amplified music
    • Grills or cookers of any type
    • Tables larger than 4 ft. long
    • Household furniture (folding chairs not included)

What’s considered “North Campus?” This area:

North Campus is defined as the area bounded by Broad Street, Lumpkin Street, Baldwin Street and Jackson Street (including, but not limited to, the quadrangle between Broad Street and Old College, the quadrangle between Old College and the Main Library, and Herty Field).

But it’s not just North Campus affected by new rules for 2010. These following changes will apply to “all parking areas” controlled by UGA:

  • No pull-behind items (trailers, cookers, etc.)
  • No golf carts or ATVs
  • No parking on sidewalks (expanded to include Carlton St.)
  • The ban on setting up tailgates (tents, tables, etc.) in parking spaces will be reemphasized, to include those areas controlled by the Athletic Association.

With so much of tailgating already pushed to the periphery of campus due to the Athletic Association, these additional changes will only serve to push people further off campus. Downtown can’t handle the crush of people. It’s not as if people are going to start waiting until 4 hours before kickoff to come to Athens – traffic won’t allow it. The one thing helping congestion prior to games was that arrival could be spaced out across the day, especially for later kickoffs. Compressing that down to a few hours will push people off campus and onto the streets which will not be able to handle the overflow.

We’ve maintained that many problems could have been avoided with stricter enforcement of existing laws (underage possession and littering chief among them), but it sounds as if the University has gone with the nuclear option here. You can’t say we weren’t warned…North Campus tailgaters have been urged to clean up their act for several years now. I’m glad we tailgate off-campus, but it looks as if we’ll have a lot more company soon.

Post Motivated Lady Dogs headed to Tempe

Thursday March 18, 2010

Well, I was wrong. The NCAA women’s selection committee gave us a nice surprise Monday night when they awarded the Lady Dogs a #5 seed in the NCAA Tournament. I thought that a 6 or 7 seed was most likely, but Georgia’s impressive results outside of the conference must have weighed heavily in their favor. The #5 seed is Georgia’s highest starting position since 2007 when they were a #3 seed.

I can’t put my reaction to the seed much better than Angel Robinson did. "I was a little surprised about how high the seed was," the senior center said, "just because of how we played in SEC. I don’t know how they work it, but I’m glad the put us as a No. 5 seed and now we have to show that we’re worth it." I had expected the 10-8 record in the SEC to counter some of the goodwill built up earlier in the season, but hey – we’ll take it. It’s also possible that the committee considered the midseason injuries to Robinson and Ashley Houts as mitigating factors. Both senior leaders are back in good form for the postseason.

The #5 seed is the good news. The not-so-good news is that Georgia must head thousands of miles west to Tempe, Ariz. for the opening rounds of the tournament. That isn’t the end of the world (more on that below), but I’m sure Georgia or any school would rather be in the shoes of Tennessee who won’t have to leave their home state in order to reach the Final Four.

As the #5 seed, Georgia opens the tournament on Saturday night around 10:30 p.m. ET against #12 seed Tulane. The Green Wave have rebuilt their program after being displaced by Hurricane Katrina, and they won both the regular season and tournament titles in Conference USA. Should Georgia advance, they’ll face the winner of #4 Oklahoma State and #13 Chattanooga on Monday for the right to advance to the Sweet 16. I like the draw for two reasons:

1 – Georgia doesn’t have to face a team on their home court. The women’s tournament plays the first two rounds at or near the home courts of 16 host schools. Georgia will head to Tempe and the home court of Arizona State, but the Sun Devils didn’t make the tournament this year. Georgia’s possible first and second round opponents will all travel at least 1,000 miles to Tempe, so no one is likely to have much of an advantage. Contrast that with Georgia Tech’s situation – the Lady Jackets would have to beat Oklahoma in Norman in order to advance to the Sweet 16. It might suck for four teams from no further west than Stillwater, Okla. to have to go all the way to Tempe for their subregional, but at least all four teams will share the same experience.

2 – Georgia matches up well with Tulane and Oklahoma State, the likely second round opponent. Both are guard-oriented teams which should allow Georgia to assert its advantage inside. One of the most interesting matchups of the entire tournament could come in the second round when senior point guards Ashley Houts of Georgia and Andrea Riley of Oklahoma State face off. Riley is one of the nation’s most prolific scorers, averaging 26.6 PPG while still dishing out 6.5 assists per game. The second round would be Riley’s first game of the tournament. She’s suspended by the NCAA for the first round after throwing a punch at an LSU player in Oklahoma State’s last tournament appearance.

But first the Lady Dogs have to get past Tulane. Any team good enough to take LSU to overtime gets our full attention. Though a #12 seed, Tulane is up there at 41 in the RPI.  That’s ahead of teams like Mississippi State and four other SEC programs that beat Georgia this year.  Most successful tournament-bound teams can point to veteran leadership, and senior guard Chassity Brown fills that role for the Green Wave.  The load is balanced – five players average over 9 PPG.  They’re also effective on defense, leading their conference in steals and turnover margin. They played well down the stretch, winning 10 of their final 11 games.

If Georgia has an advantage, it’s inside.  Tulane has a single player on the roster taller than 6’1”, so the Lady Dogs will likely try to get their 3, 4, and 5 players as many touches as possible and look to clean up on the glass. Tulane was dead last in CUSA in rebounding margin.

Post Lady Dogs dancing, but where?

Monday March 15, 2010

When the Lady Dogs gather tonight to watch the women’s selection show, things will be a little less tense than last year when we were wondering if Georgia would make the field at all. Georgia has nothing to worry about this year when it comes to receiving an at-large bid to the tournament, and the only questions will be seeding and destination.

Georgia’s solid 23-8 record and RPI around 25 will earn them a bid, but their seed won’t be as high as we once might have thought. Georgia started the season 18-1, moved to the top of the SEC standings, and were ranked in the top 10. You can do the math and see that they finished the season 5-7. That finish dropped them to the middle of the pack in the SEC, left them just hanging on in the national rankings, and surely diminished the tournament seed they will receive.

So while the Lady Dogs might not have a head of steam going into the tournament, the start to the season will still count for quite a bit. It was no fluke, and that winning streak came at the expense of several tournament-bound opponents. Six of Georgia’s seven quality wins came during that stretch. Most teams below the top few seeds have some strengths and weaknesses working for and against their arguments for seeding, and Georgia is no different:

In Georgia’s favor:

  • The Lady Dogs have an impressive 5-2 record against the RPI Top 25. They have a total of 7 wins against the RPI Top 50.
  • Georgia has no truly bad losses. They swept their nonconference schedule, and Georgia’s worst conference loss came on the road against Florida – rated #87 in the RPI.

Working against Georgia:

  • The committee weighs how well a team played down the stretch, and the news isn’t good for Georgia. The Lady Dogs lost 7 of their final 12 games.
  • Georgia’s conference record of 10-8 is more indicative of a lower seed.
  • Georgia’s quality wins all came at home. Unless you’re a host school, you don’t get the luxury of your home court. The Lady Dogs were 3-5 on the road in conference.

Our prediction is that the Lady Dogs will end up with a 7 seed. Their ranking might merit a 6 seed, and the RPI makes them a borderline 6/7 seed, but I think the shaky end to the season drops them down a little. A 6 seed wouldn’t be a surprise, but we can’t see them getting anything higher than that. At any rate, Georgia will be underdogs to advance to the Sweet 16.

As for the rest of the SEC, Tennessee is likely to get a 1 seed. Kentucky, Vanderbilt, and LSU should be safely in. Mississippi State is a bubble team, and hopefully their women will get better news than the men. MSU finished 3rd in the SEC and made the conference tournament semifinals, but their RPI of 50 and lack of impressive nonconference wins could hurt them. The conference is looking at 5 teams in with a fair chance of getting 6.

The Lady Dogs might have limped into the SEC Tournament, but there’s some hope that this could be Georgia’s first Sweet 16 squad since 2007. Georgia fared well against unfamiliar nonconference opponents and should welcome the chance to play someone again outside of the grinding SEC. One of their biggest problems down the stretch was injuries, and they’ll have had two weeks to rest up and get their legs back under them. When Georgia was fresh earlier in the season, they were one of the best teams in the nation.

Post Dawgs play on

Friday March 12, 2010

Mark Fox’s Bulldogs picked a great time for their first win of the season outside of the state of Georgia. In fact, Georgia’s 77-64 win over Arkansas in the first round of the SEC Tournament was Georgia’s first victory in an SEC Tournament game outside of Georgia since 1997 when the Bulldogs made a run to the tournament finals in Memphis.

Georgia knew from experience that Arkansas was more than capable of making a second half push that could erase a Bulldog lead, but this time the Dawgs were ready. The Razorbacks’ Courtney Fortson dominated the game down the stretch in their win over Georgia in Athens, but Georgia’s duo of Trey Thompkins and Travis Leslie took over this time. With 5:27 left, Fortson hit a shot that cut Georgia’s lead to five. A Thompkins basket and a few free throws pushed the margin to seven, and then Georgia turned to its gameplan to put the game away. The Bulldogs exploited a size advantage by bringing the posts outside and letting Travis Leslie get position inside. Fox explained,

…we walked through that very set that we ran there in our shootaround today, and we felt like, if they played three guards, that we would have an advantage with Travis on the low-block area. And so those two kids were dialled in mentally and were able to take advantage of that.

Leslie found himself in that position on consecutive possessions, and he converted two easy baskets that iced the game. The Bulldogs held on the defensive end, cleaned up on the glass, and made sure that their lead would not evaporate again. Thompkins finished with an impressive 23 points and 14 rebounds, and Leslie added 21 in one of his best games in weeks.

The win earns Georgia another shot at Vanderbilt. The Dawgs handled the Commodores in Athens, and we still have a pretty fresh memory of that heartbreaking last-minute collapse in Nashville and the overtime loss just a few weeks ago. Georgia matches up well with Vandy, but we know that the Commodores are a quality veteran team that has to be tired of hearing about how well Georgia has played them. The Bulldogs will have to continue to own the glass, be a bit more judicious with fouls among the frontcourt players, and continue to reduce those “November turnovers” as Fox called them. Thompkins and Leslie will have to show up big again of course, but the ability to defend Jermaine Beal and John Jenkins could be the biggest key for the Bulldogs in tonight’s game.

Clay Travis made note of the disappointing turnout by the Arkansas faithful, and that was pretty apparent on TV too. I guess it is kind of sad. I also remember some of those great tournaments in the 1990s when Arkansas and Kentucky, led by Richardson and Pitino, were slugging it out in the years after Arkansas joined the conference. We know all about the “Catlanta” phenomenon these days when the tournament comes to the Dome, but Arkansas fans turned the Memphis Pyramid arena into the “Pigamid” in the years that the tournament was held on the banks of the Mississippi. It was surreal experience for fans of other schools for the Kentucky and Arkansas fans, who basically shared about 90% of the arena, to go back and forth between “GO BIG BLUE” and calling the Hogs in the middle of a game that involved neither team.

It seemed that Georgia had to face Arkansas every year in the quarterfinals. The Dawgs would get by a team like LSU on Thursday, and then Thurman and Williamson and 10,000 fans in a different shade of red were waiting to send Georgia home the next day. Arkansas hasn’t been that scary in a long time, and as Travis writes, those once-fearsome and omnipresent fans aren’t buying what John Pelphrey is selling.

Post Or maybe he just wasn’t that good of a QB to begin with

Friday March 12, 2010

The subject of Tim Tebow’s draft status continues to take shots from all sides, and many are getting a chuckle from LSU quarterback receiver Russell Shepard’s admission that Tebow’s struggles played a role in Shepard’s decision to move to wide receiver.

Shepard observed that in college “you can get away with being an athlete sort of like what Florida did with Tebow,” deftly claiming Tebow’s plight as Shepard’s own cover for not hacking it at quarterback. The key words there are “sort of.” Shepard wasn’t remotely anything like Tebow either as a quarterback or as an impact freshman in the SEC. To say Tebow “got away with being an athlete” is a bit like saying that Bill Gates got away with being a college dropout.

Tebow, though mainly used as a change-of-pace in short yardage situations, still managed to complete 67% of his passes, throw five touchdowns against a single interception, and finish his freshman year with a quarterback rating over 200.

Shepard, despite playing in 10 games as a true freshman, didn’t attempt a pass. Oh, he was just in there to run? Even on the ground Tebow had a better freshman season with nearly 200 more yards than Shepard. Shepard had a long way to go before he started earning comparisons with Tebow – try Kodi Burns or Randall Cobb first.

Tebow might or might not stick in the NFL – far be it from us to make the case for him. The backlash though is to the point now that even this Georgia fan is starting to hope he does. Tebow might thrive or flop or become a serviceable role player in the pros, but but none of that has anything to do with Russell Shepard just being a good football player who runs fast instead of being an SEC quarterback.

Post Tournament time

Thursday March 11, 2010

A mid-March Thursday in this part of the world means the start of the ACC and SEC basketball tournaments – those ghastly, unenjoyable events. Four days of competitive hoops with rivalries, upsets, outrageous individual performances, and triumph. Awful, awful stuff.

Georgia opens tonight against Arkansas (9:45-ish – you know how these tournaments get). The Hogs were one of the few SEC teams to beat Georgia in Athens this year, and their comeback win hopefully still chafes the Dawgs. Georgia is again a long shot to win the tournament (200-1? Wow.), so we’ll take it game by game and hope for at least a surprise or two. Meanwhile, we can always enjoy this:

Post Will Witherspoon, Titan

Wednesday March 10, 2010

Former Georgia and NFL veteran linebacker Will Witherspoon has signed with the Tennessee Titans. The 29-year-old Witherspoon signed a three-year deal worth $11 million with $5 million in guarantees.

Witherspoon was selected by Carolina in the third round of the 2002 NFL draft and has since played for St. Louis and Philadelphia.

Post SEC honors Thompkins – what about Leslie and Calipari?

Wednesday March 10, 2010

Congratulations to Trey Thompkins – he’s Georgia’s first All-SEC first-teamer since Jarvis Hayes. He’s made the transition from promising freshman to legitimate SEC star, and he’d be in position to challenge for SEC player of the year honors if he returns next year.

I wondered why Travis Leslie didn’t make the second team, but I’m not bent out of shape about it. Leslie had his breakthrough season, and he’s positioned to be one of the league’s most visible players as long as he chooses to remain at Georgia. I think that visibility might have worked against him later in the season. Leslie’s eye-opening performances at Kentucky and against Tennessee in January set expectations as high as they were for anyone including Thompkins. It’s unfair to say that Travis faded down the stretch, but three of the four games this year in which he didn’t score in double figures came in the last weeks of the season. It also doesn’t help that his best late-season performance, at Vanderbilt, ended in a loss in which Leslie had a chance to win the game in regulation. There are an awful lot of quality players on that second team, and I can’t really quibble with any of those selections. Leslie would have been as good of a choice as most of them but not a heads-and-shoulders better choice.

I should also say something about the coach of the year selection. Chris Littmann smells a rat, and I’m finding it hard to disagree with him. Kevin Stallings and his team had a really nice season, but John Calipari turned in the best coaching job of the season.

The only argument to be made against Calipari is this: well of COURSE Kentucky finished first. My [sports-averse female relative] could have coached that bunch to an SEC title.

There’s something to that – the best coaching job isn’t necessarily done by the coach of the team that finishes first. Pat Summitt did another fine job leading Tennessee back to the top of the SEC on the women’s side, but the biggest accomplishment belonged to Matthew Mitchell who led Kentucky from a preseason forecast of 11th place to a solid second place finish. That was an exceptional coaching job, and – though Kentucky didn’t win the league – Mitchell was deservedly named the coach of the year.

It’s unwise to automatically dismiss a successful coach from a team loaded with talent. To begin with, it discounts the role of the coach in assembling that talent. We think of great coaches as those who could get the most out of any bunch of players, but championships are won by those who can teach the game and attract the highest quality of players. Wooden would have been a success anywhere, but you don’t have a dynasty without bringing men like Alcindor and Walton into the program. There’s a tendency for a coach with so much talent at his disposal to be disregarded as a caretaker with a just-don’t-screw-it-up mandate.

Even after you assemble a loaded roster you still have to get that talent to perform, understand roles, and buy into a system. It’s not a given. There is no shortage of analysis of what has gone wrong with the 16-15 North Carolina Tar Heels, but you don’t have to search very long to find a common theme: for whatever reasons a team loaded with 7 McDonald’s All-Americans was almost uncoachable. Calipari brought in a great recruiting class, meshed it with returning players like Patterson, and got a roster with one eye on the NBA committed to winning a title. As we discussed last week, Kentucky’s turnaround has been as much about defense as it has been about the entertaining offense. Changing a program’s culture in one season and persuading so many key newcomers to embrace the work and sacrifice required by high-level defense is a tremendous coaching job.

Vanderbilt had a good season probably highlighted by a sweep of Tennessee. I don’t want to diminish anything they’ve accomplished. They were picked to finish third in the SEC East. They finished second with a roster that returned its top four scorers and didn’t exactly feature scrubs – four Commodores earned some sort of postseason mention. Good results, good coaching, but hardly up to the level or impact we saw from what Calipari was able to accomplish in his first season.

SEE ALSO: Complete list of SEC basketball postseason honors