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Post 2013 NFL Draft Day One: Georgia contributes to strong SEC showing

Friday April 26, 2013

The SEC had a record 12 players selected in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft, and Georgia had two of them:

  • LB Jarvis Jones: Selected with the 17th pick by Pittsburgh
  • LB Alec Ogletree: Selected with the 30th pick by St. Louis

Georgia’s first defensive players selected in the first round in eight years came as no surprise. Jarvis Jones and Alec Ogletree were the stars of a talented defense, and both were projected as high draft picks well before the 2012 season.

It might’ve been a mild surprise that both dropped into the bottom half of the round, but each had areas of concern. Jones is a little undersized, he didn’t test well during workouts, and there’s the longterm uncertainty over his neck injury. Ogletree had plenty of off-field issues from the suspension to the poorly-timed DUI leading up to the draft, and there’s a twinge of doubt about a converted safety thriving as an NFL middle linebacker. Still, those concerns pale against the obvious talent and production each of them showed at Georgia. They’re the best prospects at their positions, and each should expect to play right away.

For an organization so closely tied to its defensive identity and 3-4 scheme, Jarvis Jones had to leap off of the Pittsburgh draft board. Jones was drafted to replace James Harrison, a veteran Pro Bowl linebacker and team leader that was released earlier in the offseason. With Harrison’s role open, Jones has the opportunity to become as important to the Pittsburgh defense as Hines Ward was to the Steeler offense. Jones joins former Georgia punter Drew Butler in Pittsburgh.

Ogletree’s immediate future is a little less clear. The Rams might be set at middle linebacker with former Buckeye James Laurinaitis. Ogletree would be a big speed upgrade at the position, but it’s also possible that he could move to a weakside linebacker role in St. Louis’s 4-3 system. He’ll be the only Dawg in St. Louis.

Orson Crowded Out?

One of the picks with implications for a former Bulldog was Cincinnati’s selection of Notre Dame tight end Tyler Eifert. Eifert was the top tight end on the board, but the Bengals already have Pro Bowl TE Jermaine Gresham and, of course, Orson Charles. The selection of Eifert doesn’t mean that Charles is on his way out; teams carry at least three tight ends. But with Gresham firmly established as the starter and a highly-paid first round pick coming in, it’s going to be a fight for Charles to remain on the roster, let alone find much playing time. Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden wasn’t terribly reassuring. “Orson (Charles) was coming along, but we need another tight end.”

What’s Next

Round 2 kicks off Friday night at 6:30 p.m. with Round 3 to follow. The draft concludes on Saturday with Rounds 4-7 beginning at noon. Several other Georgia defenders, including John Jenkins and Cornelius Washington, could be selected on Friday evening before the end of the third round.

Post Mark Richt’s go-to academic recruiter

Tuesday April 23, 2013

I try to avoid linking most paywall content here, but in addition to Dasher’s interview with McGarity below there’s another piece from ESPN ($) I hope most people are able to read. It’s fantastic.

Certainly most of the recruiting process comes down to athletics – will I play, will I go pro, will we win titles? For some prospects that might even be enough. But most prospects, and especially their families, have a lot more on their minds. They’ll be going off to school for three or four years where they’ll be expected to take classes as well as play ball. To help families understand that environment, most schools have prospects meet with professors and other people outside of athletics. Georgia is no exception.

What is exceptional about Georgia is one of the people Mark Richt prefers to seek out for that role. As Radi Nabulsi puts it, associate professor Dr. Gary Green of the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources is “a high school dropout from England with zero knowledge of football.”

He’s also, according to parents, prospects, and current players, “genuine.” Prospects can get their fill of football from their contacts on the coaching staff. Green’s role is to prepare the prospects for success in the environment in which the student-athlete will be immersed for the next several years – whether or not it’s at Georgia. Green points to Mark Richt’s open and honest style and has tried to incorporate that both into his teaching and in his dealings with recruits.

Give the whole thing a read if you can, and you’ll see why one of the more important people in the recruiting process wore yellow to his first Georgia game.

Post McGarity on…just about everything

Tuesday April 23, 2013

It was Anthony Dasher’s birthday yesterday, but he gave us a present with a lengthy interview with athletic director Greg McGarity ($). The interview is behind the paywall, but it’s really worth a read if you’re a UGASports.com subscriber.

The questions come from UGASports.com subscribers and touch on everything from the future of the baseball program to shuttered concession stands inside of Sanford Stadium. Will Georgia join the football staffing arms race? What are the expectations for the competitiveness of the basketball program? It’s a comprehensive survey of topics of interest to Georgia fans.

If you’re itching for an indoor facility or want to see Georgia’s drug and alcohol policy scaled back, you might not like McGarity’s answers. I give him credit for his candor – some of the questions are fairly pointed, and McGarity doesn’t avoid them.

Fans might be frustrated with the lack of a grandiose facilities construction plan or impatient over the direction of the baseball and basketball programs, but McGarity stresses that the lines of communication are open. This quote was in response to a question about the football game day experience, but it applies to just about any concern a fan might have. McGarity, in our experience, is often quick to respond.

But it’s important for fans to let us know where they are experiencing problems. We want to be responsive. If someone is having a problem with a certain area, let us know and we’ll certainly try to address it. We may not be able to solve it, but it will certainly have our attention.

Post Richt on nine conference games and incentives

Wednesday April 17, 2013

There’s an interesting item from Marc Weiszer in which Mark Richt touches on both sides of the debate over adding a ninth conference game.

At the macro level, the money says to go to nine games. The fans want it, and the TV contracts will demand it. The payouts will more than make up for any home games lost. Richt realizes this and admits, “If we go to 16, I can’t imagine us not going to less than nine games. I think we would have to go nine.”

But there are incentives at the individual level, too. Richt is a coach who gets to keep his job by winning games. His incentives reward wins and titles, not impressive schedules. He’s likely to resist things that make his job tougher, so it’s reasonable that he resists supporting an additional conference game.

I voted against it because if we have nine, plus Tech and then if we want to do something like Clemson like we did this year, you’re talking about 11 out of 12 games that are pretty stout.

We know that even the head coach answers to someone, and the larger interest will eventually win out. The coaches will come along reluctantly. Still, some of those same incentives that govern Richt matter for the school. More wins mean better bowls, larger payouts, and happier fans who donate more money. How do you get there while taking on an additional conference game? Your conference schedule might be set, but you still have three games with which to play. As Richt noted, an out-of-conference rivalry game leaves you with little flexibility.

Unfortunately I expect that it will come at the cost of aggressive nonconference scheduling. There is little incentive to play anyone of note in those remaining games because an SEC team is still going to end up with a respectable strength of schedule, especially with an additional conference game. There are a few things that could make teams go against their best interests in scheduling those remaining games:

  • Rules: The Big Ten is doing away with games against FCS teams. Similar steps by other conferences or even at the NCAA level would affect scheduling (or cause a rush by under-qualified FCS schools to join the FBS.)
  • TV Money: Networks, who are now in partnership with several conferences, will put a lot of pressure on schools to schedule games that provide attractive matchups for programming.
  • Neutral site games: Did you notice the price of Georgia-Florida tickets this year? They’re not done rising. Neutral site games are money-making machines for top-level teams.
  • Ego: Remember who the decision-makers are. As silly as it is to attach notions of manhood to schedules perceived as weak, it works.

Is the Tech game untouchable in the world of nine conference games? I’d like to think so, but let’s ask the Aggies and Longhorns. If it came down to it with nine conference games, would you prefer to keep the Tech series so that interesting nonconference games are less frequent, or would you rather drop the series if it meant a larger variety of quality opponents?

Post Lady Dog trio drafted by the WNBA

Tuesday April 16, 2013

While Georgia’s men’s basketball star announced for the draft yesterday, the senior class of the women’s program had three players selected in last night’s WNBA draft. Jasmine Hassell was taken in the second round (21st overall) by defending champs Indiana. Jasmine James (Seattle) and Anne Marie Armstrong (Atlanta) were selected back-to-back in the third round.

Hassell, James, and Armstrong were part of an accomplished senior class that played in four NCAA Tournaments. They reached the Sweet 16 twice and were an overtime loss away from the Final Four this year.

These three draft picks make 16 Lady Dogs drafted in the last 13 years. Georgia’s three draftees are the most for the program in a single season since 2001 when Kelly Miller, Coco Miller, and Deanna Nolan were all selected in the first round.

Post KCP moves on to the NBA

Tuesday April 16, 2013

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope has decided to take the plunge and enter the NBA Draft. We enjoyed watching him develop and play, and he’s given us no shortage of great moments in his two seasons. He’s been an ideal representative for the University. Selfishly I would’ve loved for him to stay another year. Not that it matters, but I think he made the right call.

Would Caldwell-Pope had improved with another year? He definitely had things to work on. His ball-handling sometimes caused him problems. He could be better at driving rather than settling for the jumpshot (but if you could shoot like he can, you’d take the jumper too.) He wasn’t much of a threat to leave after his freshman season, but his decision to stay paid off: he became a much more complete player with improved defense and patience to go along with the shot that was there from the beginning. I can believe that it was a tough decision. If he improved this much from a year ago, what would one more year do?

It’s not as clear that another season would have paid the same dividends. He’d be working on growth in some specific areas against defenses whose first priority would be to deny him the ball. We had already started to see some of this by the end of the season, but it didn’t take much scouting to figure out that you could dedicate one or even two defenders exclusively to locking down KCP. To his credit, and to our amazement, he still put up impressive numbers. Still, that defensive strategy led to stretches and entire halves in which KCP struggled to score, and it was all the rest of the team could do to stay in the game until KCP found his stride.

With Georgia’s outlook and personnel for next season roughly unchanged, it had to be easy for Caldwell-Pope to envision an entire season that looked like the last month of the 2012-2013 season. He’d be harassed as the primary target for every opposing defense – nothing new, but also not particularly fun. It’s reasonable that he’d put up similar numbers, but that’s not the kind of growth that would elevate him from his current draft outlook to a sure lottery pick. It’s hard to focus on specific elements of your game when the team finds itself in survival mode night after night and needs you to score by any means necessary.

Caldwell-Pope leaves Georgia as the reigning SEC Player of the Year. With even a comparable season it’s less likely that his stock would be as high as it is now. He’d have the benefit of instant name recognition, but the competition might be tougher to repeat as SEC POY. Eight SEC schools have signed members of ESPN’s top 100 prep players, and Kentucky’s class alone will produce several likely candidates. He’s going out on top, at least individually.

Of course his departure will affect next year’s team. The Dawgs struggled to put points on the board even with KCP on the court. The funny thing is that his position, shooting guard, is one of the deeper and more talented spots on the roster for Georgia. Kenny Gaines had his moments as a freshman, and incoming guard Juwan Parker is a 6’4″ scorer. But while we can expect important contributions from both Gaines and Parker, it’s asking a lot for either to become a 15+ PPG player right away. Georgia must still deal with a limited skill set on offense among the frontcourt players, and that’s where the biggest gains would have happen. You need guys like Morris, Williams, and a healthy Thornton to step up. You need Djurisic to be more consistent. The Dawgs can still sign up to two players during the spring, and they might even dip back into the JUCO ranks as they did with Florveus.

Post Athletics under Adams

Thursday April 11, 2013

As Michael Adams’ time as the University of Georgia’s president draws to a close, there will be no end of retrospective pieces. The Red & Black has an overview of Adams’ influence on the football program and specifically his role in hiring Mark Richt.

There’s mention over the struggle between Adams and Dooley, and Dooley avoided the opportunity to score a shot on the outgoing president. Dooley provides some perspective on Richt weathering the storm of 2010 and 2011, and both he and Richt have positive things to say about Adams’ replacement, Dr. Jere Morehead.

Post G-Day Wrapup

Thursday April 11, 2013

A perfect day for football brought out a record G-Day crowd, and they got a show. Even with the shuffling of lineups and the unfamiliar reserves filling out the rosters, G-Day for once turned into a somewhat compelling game. The black team (largely the retooled starting defense) made things difficult for the red team, and they were able to make a couple of late plays to pull off a mild 23-17 upset of the red team. I admit that I wanted to see Murray come out for red’s final possession as he did in the first half and try to win the game with a 2-minute drive.

I wanted a chance to watch the broadcast before writing this up and finally got a chance to do it. Enough has been written by now that we’ll hit just a couple of positions and finish with some other notes.


Give me Mitchell, Bennett, Conley, and Rumph as the first four receivers, and I feel about as comfortable with that position as I do with Marshall and Gurley at tailback. Rumph needn’t have a Cordarrelle Patterson type of impact – he’ll be a tough matchup for anyone as a 3rd/4th receiver. The combination of size, decent speed, and the ability to fight for a few extra yards after contact give Georgia a nice option even if he might not yet be polished enough to be a starter.

The receivers were a big question that lingered into the season as we wondered whether King and Brown could handle larger roles. As we learned that they could, the position became a strength, and the offense prospered. Replacing those seniors was the question entering this season, and we seem to have the answer much sooner this year.

With a nervous eye on Bennett’s recovery (on track) and Mitchell’s meniscus surgery, we also saw last season that the depth has to go beyond just the first four. I’m fairly comfortable with the next group – Wooten and McGowan are seniors who are more than familiar with the offense, and Murray seems to have confidence going to McGowan. Justin Scott-Wesley continues to develop and had some nice catches on Saturday; I doubt the coaches will hesitate to call on him during the season. Tibbs had a rough start – a bad drop followed by a personal foul out of frustration. We heard enough about Tibbs in practice last season to want to see more, but the depth is solid enough for now that he won’t be thrown into the fire yet.

Defensive Line

It wasn’t so much that a defensive lineman was dominant. It was that several players look ready to contribute. That was the main concern – after losing Jenkins, Geathers, Jones, and Washington, there had to be more than one player emerge to help Garrison Smith. That’s what happened at both tackle and end. Thornton and Mayes were active inside, and Mayes looks like he will be the second JUCO (after Rumph) to see a fair amount of playing time. Ray Drew seems to have found a home at defensive end, and every time we looked it seemed as if he was chasing quarterbacks in the backfield. We were interested to see how Taylor’s size would affect his move to defensive end, but he thrived there with two sacks and seven tackles in the G-Day game. Taylor has earned the attention of his coaches, and it will be tough to keep him off the field.

One thing you couldn’t get a handle on thanks to the format of G-Day is how Coach Wilson will approach the rotation for the line. Garner was known for his doghouse and a very conservative approach to substituting. Georgia still isn’t especially deep along the defensive line, but its strength might be in a pool of at least six capable guys (depending on Toby Johnson’s recovery from knee surgery). We’re at least encouraged that Wilson, like Friend on the other side of the line, will have some options and choices at his disposal.

The rest…

  • Bobo wasn’t especially down on the offensive line, but it was hardly a dominant performance. This is the classic spring game conundrum, but it’s hard to imagine noticing the play of so many defensive linemen without some help from the OL.
  • Bobo put some of the defense’s nine sacks on quarterbacks holding onto the ball too long. I can’t remember ever seeing so many quarterback scrambles – the game’s leading rusher at halftime was Hutson Mason.
  • Speaking of Mason, the scrimmage did little to change the outlook at quarterback. Mason was shaky in the first half (and the interception he threw was just a bad decision), but at least he settled in. Mason eventually brought the black team back for the win and ended up completing 16 of 27 attempts. It’s a bit of a toss-up after that though. Ramsey is headed for a redshirt. Going just by this game, Welch seems to be the better option at #3. LeMay had a couple of passes (including the interception) that should have been caught, but those were his passing highlights.
  • Chris Conley has talked about adding some moves to go along with his speed, and he got the chance to show off a little shiftiness on a nice reception down the south sideline.
  • The order behind Gurley and Marshall is something that will have to be revisited closer to the season once the freshmen get here. It’s G-Day tradition to overstate a performance by a reserve tailback, but Karempelis at least saw the field in 2011. J.J. Green didn’t look lost in his debut, and that’s more than you can expect from an early enrollee.
  • A lot of eyes were glued to Matthews and Harvey-Clemons in the secondary, but Quincy Mauger quietly had a nice day with eight tackles. Mauger also made a very wise decision: he could have had the hit of the day on an unsuspecting Rumph but spared his teammate. Reggie Wilkerson was put in a tough spot as an early enrollee going up against the first team offense, but he looked surprisingly confident and capable.
  • As always, the most important thing about G-Day is getting through it with no serious injuries, and that looks to have been the case. Atkins sprained his knee, but that won’t be a long-term problem. Mitchell and Bennett should be ready to go by early summer, and we should have a fairly full and healthy roster ready to put in work over the summer.

One more thing…it was great to see a nice turnout for Rennie Curran’s book signing. The book had sold out by the time we dropped by, and they were adding to a waiting list. I’m looking forward to reading and reviewing it. You can find out more information and pick up a copy of the book by visiting Curran’s web site.

Post Spring storylines – defense

Friday April 5, 2013

With so much turnover on the defense from a year ago, almost every position has an angle for G-Day. If there’s been a theme so far, it’s been speed. “We’re much faster and quicker,” claims linebacker Ramik Wilson. That speed is a plus, but the faster players are also largely inexperienced and still learning the system. Here’s the state of the defense entering G-Day.

Defensive Line

G-Day is the public debut of new defensive line coach Chris Wilson. Wilson has a fairly blank slate with which to work – the only established player is senior end Garrison Smith. It will be hard to replace the size of Jenkins and Geathers at tackle, so Georgia will go with the combination of Mike Thornton and Chris Mayes. Mayes is a JUCO transfer who looks the part but might still be a little raw. Thornton played well in limited action last season, but he’s much lighter than the duo Georgia had in 2012. That lack of bulk isn’t necessarily a liability, and Thornton is counting on his agility and experience to make up for the difference.

With Smith established as one end, the other spot looks to be a competition between Ray Drew and Sterling Bailey. It’s unfortunate that Drew is already having to answer the “bust” questions at only the midpoint of his career, but this is his time. He’s long since moved from the outside linebacker spot that gave him trouble, and he’s more comfortable as a down lineman. Drew finished the 2012 season well, and I’m looking forward to seeing what he can do with a starting role. Bailey, also a converted outside linebacker, played sparingly as a redshirt freshman while nursing an injured foot but has had a promising spring. John Taylor has moved to end from tackle – a strange move considering his size, but playing at end might be a way to get him on the field with Thornton and Mayes set on the interior.


We know about half the picture at linebacker. Herrera is now the veteran on the interior, and Jordan Jenkins is already the next great outside linebacker. Fans at G-Day might want to keep an eye on the other two spots. James DeLoach has made a move for the other outside linebacker position opposite Jenkins, but TJ Stripling is another player to watch outside. The closest position battle on the defense is at inside linebacker where Ramik Wilson is a veteran trying to hold off newcomer Reggie Carter.


The biggest unknown on the team at this point is the cornerback position. Swann is established, but the other starter is very much unsettled. Sophomore Sheldon Dawson had been favored to hold down that spot, but he’s out injured for G-Day. Watch freshman Reggie Wilkerson, another early enrollee, in place of Dawson.

Few stories have taken off this spring like Tray Matthews at safety. His hitting has become the stuff of legends, and, more importantly, he seems to be an answer at one of the two vacant safety spots. Corey Moore has, much more quietly, emerged as a likely option along with Matthews. Don’t count out veteran Connor Norman who saw lots of time early last season during the suspensions.

The plan for Josh Harvey-Clemons has been a story since the highly-touted defender arrived on campus last year. Thanks to him we learned about the “star” position, but it wasn’t something we saw much of last season. Then as Georgia prepared for option teams, we heard about Harvey-Clemons deployed at outside linebacker to attack those unique offenses. Again, the talk never materialized on the field.

The stories have started again, though Harvey-Clemons still doesn’t have an established position. The hybrid safety-linebacker “star” position is back in vogue. The trouble with the star, especially last year, is deciding who comes off the field. Do you sub out a safety or a linebacker? Georgia coaches may have an answer – at least for the first part of the season.

An alignment that looks more 3-3-5 than the traditional 3-4 would open up a place for Harvey-Clemons – not necessarily as a typical nickel back but definitely the fifth defensive back. Knowing Grantham’s history of unconventional fronts (remember the Jenkins-Washington-Jenkins look last season?), a 3-3-5 look doesn’t necessarily imply three linemen and three linebackers. Keep an eye on the alignments Georgia shows at G-Day, especially when Harvey-Clemons is in the game.

Top Three Things to Watch

  • How does Chris Wilson plan to rotate and shuffle defensive linemen?
  • Can Tray Matthews announce himself to Georgia fans (without injuring a teammate)?
  • How will Harvey-Clemons be used, and how will his presence on the field affect the defensive alignment?

Post Spring storylines – offense

Friday April 5, 2013

I’ve been somewhat detached from spring practice this year, mainly because we’ve learned how the messages will be predictably positive. Nothing wrong with that in the spring – we’re still undefeated – but it doesn’t make for much in the way of interesting discussion. Do you buy into the hype and start framing the next season through that lens, or do you play the pessimistic contrarian? You’re not on solid footing either way. But G-Day, itself heavily scripted, at least gives us the chance to see live football.

(G-Day is only one of the events going on this weekend in Athens. Football, baseball, softball, and tennis will all be in action. You needed an excuse to drive to Athens? For the run-down and for travel tips, check this post over at Bernie’s.)

We’ll start with the offense.


There’s no mystery about Aaron Murray, though I wonder if we’ll see evidence of the things he’s worked on during his much-discussed spring studies.

After Murray, fans will be eager to see who establishes themselves as Murray’s successor. Hutson Mason is back from a rare junior redshirt season as the top backup, and he’ll receive the most scrutiny at G-Day. True freshman Brice Ramsey is an early enrollee, and he’ll be competing for the #3 spot with Christian LeMay and Parker Welch. Coaches will have a decision to make about Ramsey’s freshman season, and I imagine we’ll spend the season with a provisional redshirt on him as we did with Mason a year ago. Unfortunately redshirt freshman Faton Bauta has been limited by tendinitis, and I’m not sure we’ll see him at G-Day.

Offensive Line

With the entire starting offensive line returning, you’d think there wouldn’t be much to talk about. One development is starting to gain traction: competition at the tackle position. John Theus, who started 2012 as a true freshman at right tackle, has worked at left tackle…and he wouldn’t mind staying there. A move by Theus could create some decisions along the rest of the line.

Does Gates flip to the other side? We started to hear about Xzavier Ward towards the end of last season, and he has apparently continued his development into spring. Will he content to start at right tackle? If Ward can win the job, does Gates move back inside to his more natural guard position where he played in 2011? There’s room for Gates at guard now with Burnette out injured, but would Gates displace Burnette or Lee at guard in August? That says nothing of the Long brothers or Dantzler who have been in the program long enough now to expect to contribute. Depth is a great problem to have, but it still presents a few decisions for Will Friend: does he stick with the combination that did so well a year ago, or does he shake things up to try to turn a very good line into one of the best in the nation?


The loss of King and Brown opens the door for younger receivers to step up, but our picture of the receiver position is still incomplete. Two top options, Bennett and Mitchell, are out for the rest of spring. Some familiar reserves like Wooten, Scott-Wesley, and McGowan will have plenty of chances to impress. If one player has stepped up this spring, it’s been Chris Conley. Conley, last seen sprinting 20 yards clear of the nearest Nebraska defender, is hardly an unknown, but he seems poised to take the step King did from nice role receiver to primary target.

I’m most interested in seeing what JUCO transfer Jonathon Rumph can do. At 6’5″ he’s a big target, and he’s going to be plugged in right away to help with the depth issues at this position. He’s earned comparisons to Marlon Brown, and we’ll see if he’s ahead of where Brown was as a junior. Coaches considered taking the redshirt off freshman Blake Tibbs last year, and this will be his first chance to make an impact on the fans.

Tight Ends

Lynch and Rome are established as the two top tight ends, and this is about the most drama-free position on the team. We should get to see more of sophomore Ty Flournoy-Smith.

Running Back

Gurley and Marshall are set, but we haven’t heard much about what comes next. Malcome is gone, and a couple of possible contributors are freshman who haven’t enrolled yet. At G-Day we’ll see a steady stream of walk-ons and reserves like Harton and Karempelis, and newcomers J.J. Green and A.J. Turman will make their Georgia debut.

Fullback is also up in the air. Ogletree is gone. That leaves Merritt Hall, who saw lots of time in 2012 but is slightly banged-up, and Quayvon Hicks, who looks the part but has yet to win the job.

Top Three Things to Watch

  • Which offensive line combinations are used?
  • Which quarterbacks look most ready to back up Murray?
  • With Bennett and Mitchell out, which young receivers will make the most of G-Day?

Post What’s next for the Lady Dogs

Wednesday April 3, 2013

Georgia’s deep tournament run was the crowning accomplishment for the career of a successful senior class. The group played in four NCAA Tournaments, reached three Sweet 16s, and of course played in last night’s regional final. But as this class moves on, the program will be hit hard by graduation. In all, seven seniors will leave the program including three starters and reserve forward Tameka Willis. Only eight scholarship players return, and there will only be one senior.

The frontcourt will take the biggest hit. Merritt Hempe will be the only returning post player with significant experience. Kaelyn Causwell, a 6’4″ freshman, played sparingly this season but will get a chance to contribute more next year.

The situation in the backcourt will be a little better. Tiaria Griffin should continue to develop into one of the SEC’s better scoring guards. Shacobia Barbee is already a force as a wing, though the lack of depth up front next year might force her to play more as a forward. Krista Donald could also help in the frontcourt, but her chronic knee issues will limit the ceiling for an otherwise very talented player. Reserves Erika Ford and Khaalidah Miller will step into larger roles next year. Marjorie Butler is poised to take over at point guard, though Miller can help there too.

Georgia has signed three players so far including two top-100 prospects. There are two post players in the class, and Halle Washington especially will get an opportunity to become the replacement for Hassell. Point guard Sydnei McCaskill could be brought along behind Butler. It’s possible that Georgia could add someone else during the spring signing period, but Andy Landers has gone into a season with fewer than 11 players before.

It will still be a very young team next year. With five sophomores and three incoming freshmen, there will only be three upperclassmen (Ford, Donald, and Miller). We’ve heard a lot over the past week about the effort Landers made to impress upon the outgoing seniors the tradition that had been built at Georgia and the standard that had been set. The biggest challenge heading into next season will be passing that understanding on to this next group of underclassmen. Landers commended Barbee and Griffin for their willingness to buy in from the outset, and they’ll need a similar response from the incoming class for Georgia to avoid a rough rebuilding year.

Post Lady Dogs’ season ends in regional final

Wednesday April 3, 2013

If you hadn’t watched much of the Lady Dogs before last night’s regional final against Cal, you might’ve wondered how they got this far without consistent scoring, rebounding, and interior size. But that was this year’s team in a nutshell – they went as far as their defense could take them, scrapped for what points they could score, and much more often than not they came out on top.

Against Stanford, that formula was just enough for the upset win. Last night against Cal, the same approach came up just short. Georgia led for most of the game and even built a ten point lead with under seven minutes remaining, but a combination of stagnant offense, foul trouble, and defensive breakdowns led to a Cal comeback, overtime, and eventually a 65-62 heartbreaking loss in the Spokane regional final.

Georgia countered Cal’s up-tempo offense with an effective 2-3 zone. The defense frustrated Cal, and Georgia was able to open up an early 9-2 lead. The Golden Bears plugged away and eventually took the lead, but Georgia closed the first half on a run and went into the locker room up by five.

Cal’s offense was a little more fluid against the zone early in the second half, but Georgia also put up some points. Cal made a few pushes to get to within two or three points, but Georgia usually answered an extended their advantage back to around six to eight points. A pair of free throws inside of seven minutes left put Georgia up 49-39, but things went sour from that point. Cal brought the deficit back into single digits immediately with a three-pointer. They quickly followed with another basket to close to within five. Georgia got a couple of points down the stretch from the foul line, but Cal kept coming and even re-took the lead. Georgia continued to miss shots, but Cal couldn’t seal the win in regulation. A missed one-and-one free throw set Georgia up to tie the game at the end of regulation, and Anne Marie Armstrong scored on an offensive rebound inside of ten seconds left. Armstrong’s basket was Georgia’s first field goal in the final eight minutes of the game.

Georgia started overtime with a Khaalidah Miller three-pointer, but Cal took over from there. The Golden Bears forced turnovers, and Georgia lost sight of Hassell fighting for position inside. Cal left the door open for a miracle by missing free throws, but Georgia let too much time elapse before starting to foul. The Lady Dogs had just two seconds to heave a desperation shot to tie the game, but the shot never came close.

If this were midseason, there would be several things to take from the game. Georgia’s gameplan gave them a reasonable opportunity to win. The zone was effective and held Cal to 52 points in regulation. But at this level, getting the gameplan generally correct only puts you in a position to win. Several not-so-little details kept Cal in the game and ultimately led to the loss:

  • Georgia’s zone was effective out of the gate, but Georgia missed an opportunity for an early knockout blow. A solid double-digit lead was within reach by the time Cal started to figure things out, but Georgia couldn’t build a lead greater than seven points.
  • Georgia’s 12-of-18 from the foul line looks relatively good next to Cal’s 12-of-24. But those six misses, four of which came in the second half, loomed large as the game got tight.
  • Georgia was willing to concede defensive rebounds in order to get back and set up the defense. 22 Cal offensive rebounds were not part of the plan. One of the disadvantages of zone, especially when you don’t practice it often, is that rebounding becomes about improvisation as you aren’t assigned a man to block out. Georgia struggled to rebound on both ends, and they weren’t aggressive about establishing position even when they did find someone to block out.
  • The foul trouble of the seniors cost Georgia their poise down the stretch. James quickly went from three to five fouls, and Hassell was neutralized with four. Miller had filled in admirably at point guard when foul trouble set in for James in a hostile environment at Kentucky, but she was tentative when called on in this game. Georgia’s offense came unglued, and good defense wasn’t enough to overcome that.

And yet with all of that, the team went to overtime in a regional final with a very strong opponent. As I said at the start of this post, that’s this year’s team. You can nitpick the details and come away frustrated, but there they were: near the top of the SEC and as close as you can get to the Final Four. That’s the legacy of this team and its seniors – more often than not they found a way to overcome their flaws and ended up elevating the program.

Post Cal presents a different challenge for Lady Dogs

Monday April 1, 2013

Georgia’s upset win over Stanford earned them the right to celebrate for a short while, but one big hurdle remains before the program returns to the Final Four for the first time since 1999. 2-seed Cal broke open a game that was tied at halftime to beat LSU 73-63. LSU gave up 47 points in the second half as their upset bid fell short. Georgia will meet Cal on Monday night at 9:30 ET on ESPN with a trip to New Orleans on the line.

Cal will be every bit the challenge that Stanford was. They’ve only lost three times all season, and they were co-Pac-12 champs after beating Stanford during the regular season. The Golden Bears considered themselves Stanford’s equal and had anticipated a rematch in the regional finals before Georgia crashed the party.

But while Cal might be comparable to Stanford in quality, it’s a completely different style of challenge for Georgia. The Iowa State and Stanford games were big tests of Georgia’s ability to grind against two very good halfcourt-minded teams. Neither opponent liked to push the tempo, and they presented Georgia with few opportunities to run. Not so with Cal.

The Golden Bears are quick and athletic and are scoring around 72 points per game. It could present Georgia with a chance to push the tempo a little more, but there’s also the danger of getting into a shootout with a team that can get out and run themselves. It will be an extreme test of Georgia’s ability to control tempo with its defense. Georgia’s offense will also have to limit the turnovers and long rebounds that let Cal’s outstanding transition offense get going the other way. If you need an SEC comparison, think Kentucky – especially on offense.

Cal is led by senior guard Layshia Clarendon. She averages over 16 points per game, and she fueled Cal’s explosive second half against LSU with 16 points and 6 steals after intermission. Brittany Boyd handles point guard duties. She has 145 assists on the year but can also score with over 12 points per game.

Forward Gennifer Brandon averages a double-double and will be a tough matchup inside. Georgia’s posts can’t afford too much attention on Brandon because center Talia Caldwell gets over 9 PPG. The defensive assignments will be interesting – does Hassell match up against the better scorer or rebounder in Brandon, or does she get the true center in Caldwell? How will Armstrong fit in this post defense?

Cal, as any good transition team does, draws fouls and gets to the line. The Golden Bears have attempted at least 24 free throws in each tournament game so far and earned an amazing 41 trips to the line in their win over LSU. Georgia must be disciplined with their fouls. Hassell got into trouble against Stanford with some unnecessary fouls away from the basket, and those need to be avoided against a team that knows how to draw contact and get to the line.

If Georgia can avoid sending Cal to the line and force the Golden Bears into playing a lot of halfcourt offense, the Lady Dogs could have the advantage. Cal shoots only about 30% from outside, and LSU held them to 3-11 from beyond the arc. Even in victory, Cal is giving up over 71 points per game in the tournament. That speaks to both the tempo at which they like to play and the opportunities that should be there for Georgia’s offense.

On paper, it’s a mismatch in terms of coaching experience. Andy Landers has coached in 11 regional finals while second-year Cal coach Lindsay Gottlieb is coaching in her first regional. But Gottlieb’s two seasons have been packed with success. Cal finished second in the Pac-12 a year ago and advanced to the NCAA second round. This year her team was conference co-champs, and she has them playing deep into the tournament. Neither team’s players have played at this stage of the tournament before, so Georgia will hope that Landers’ experience can be a calming and deciding factor.

Baylor’s upset loss to Louisville on Sunday night opens things up on Georgia’s side of the bracket. One of Georgia, Cal, Tennessee, or Louisville will play for the national title. Georgia’s win over Stanford made bigger things possible, but Cal stands in the way of the road to New Orleans and the Georgia program’s sixth Final Four. This is new territory for the Cal program, but they expected to be here. Can Georgia put aside the success they had against Stanford and get up again to play a favored and determined opponent?

Post Lady Dogs upset Stanford

Monday April 1, 2013

The Lady Dogs fought back from deficits in both halves to earn a 61-59 upset win over top-seeded Stanford Saturday night in the Round of 16 at the NCAA Women’s Tournament Spokane Regional.

Georgia hadn’t advanced beyond this round since 2004, and they had lost their previous three trips to the Sweet 16 by an average of more than 30 points. It looked early on as if we were headed back down the same path. Stanford jumped out to a quick 9-0 lead, and the Lady Dogs didn’t score until a Krista Donald offensive rebound with 14:23 left in the half. Despite the slow start, Georgia managed to keep the deficit in single digits and made their first run more than midway through the second half. Jasmine James scored a quick eight points to key a 13-4 run that gave Georgia their first lead at 22-21. Stanford recovered and went on another tear to close the half on a 13-5 run.

Georgia started the second half within striking distance but couldn’t make much progress. The defense was having better success, but the offense couldn’t capitalize. The score remained 39-32 in favor of Stanford for nearly four minutes, and the teams combined for just 15 points over the first ten minutes of the second half. Georgia began another push with about nine minutes left. Tiaria Griffin hit a jumper in transition and followed it with a three-pointer. The Lady Dogs scored nine straight to take a 44-42 lead with eight minutes remaining.

The teams traded punches for the final eight minutes with neither leading by more than three points until the final minute. Jasmine Hassell, held to just seven points for most of the game, scored on three consecutive possessions, and her drive with 1:05 left gave Georgia the lead for good. Stanford committed a costly turnover, and Georgia milked their next possession before a pair of free throws gave them a four-point lead with 23 seconds left. Georgia’s defense forced Stanford to burn a lot of clock, but the Cardinal hit a deep three-pointer with five seconds left. Georgia, as they did against Iowa State, executed a long inbounds pass and ran off all but one second of the remaining time. Shacobia Barbee hit one of two free throws, and Stanford was left with just a desperation heave as the clock ran out.

Beating a #1 seed is a tremendous accomplishment, and it’s something that Georgia hadn’t done since 1996 – when they faced Stanford in the 1996 Final Four. The win is a big step forward for a tradition-rich program that hadn’t been able to get over this hump for nearly a decade. It’s a legacy for a celebrated senior class who all contributed at key moments in the game. It’s also a small amount of redemption for Andy Landers. Facing long odds to break the team’s string of Sweet 16 futility, he kept calm and trusted in his team’s ability to hang in. The team reflected that calmness and never let the deficit become unmanageable even during scoring droughts.

Landers also made one important adjustment. Stanford’s star forward, Chiney Ogwumike, scored 18 points in the first half. Georgia was content for Ogwumike to have some success, but it was coming far too easily. Georgia dropped another forward, often Anne Marie Armstrong, to help contain Ogwumike in the second half. That freed up some opportunities outside, but Georgia’s guards adjusted well and forced Stanford to settle for difficult jumpers rather than an easy look inside for Ogwumike. Ogwumike still scored eight points in the second half, but the rest of her team couldn’t do enough to make up for the loss in production.

Georgia’s defensive adjustments gave the offense just enough slack to overcome its struggles. “If we can just hang in there until somebody hits a shot, we’re going to be OK,” Landers explained. We knew it wasn’t likely that Georgia would repeat its success from outside that they enjoyed against Iowa State. Early on, Georgia had trouble even finishing at the rim. They got their points in spurts, often with one individual leading the charge. In the first half, it was James. Griffin got hot in the second half. Whether Stanford wore down defensively or Hassell found another gear, Georgia’s senior forward came up big in the final minutes.

Though no one Georgia player was as dominant as Ogwumike was, enough players hit shots at the right time to keep Georgia close enough for the final push that got them over the top. As Landers put it, “I think the thing that’s so good about the comeback and going ahead is that each one of those five players did something that was really significant as we did that. And they did something really significant on each end of the floor.”