Georgia basketball team bounces back

dshirley@macon.comJanuary 24, 2014 

South Carolina Georgia Basketball

Georgia head coach Mark Fox gestures to his players during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against South Carolina on Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2014, in Athens, Ga. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

JOHN BAZEMORE — AP

A couple of weeks ago, there were whispers (or maybe more than whispers) that Mark Fox’s tenure as Georgia’s basketball head coach could be coming to an end after this season.

Now, there is talk focusing on a possible run through the SEC for the Bulldogs.

The Fox talk was warranted before SEC play started. After all, the Bulldogs stumbled through a 6-6 non-conference record, and that schedule was one of the weakest around. There were a couple of losses that weren’t so bad -- to Colorado and George Washington -- but there wasn’t a signature win among those six. Wofford, Appalachian State, Chattanooga, Lipscomb, Gardner-Webb and Western Carolina aren’t going to scare many top programs, or many middle ones, for that matter.

But just like last year, when the Bulldogs were 6-7 in the non-conference and 9-9 in the SEC, something has kicked in for the team in conference play. Wins over Missouri and Alabama got things started in the right direction, although the win over Missouri doesn’t look nearly as strong as it did at the time. The Tigers were 14-1 and ranked 21st in the nation before that 70-64 game, but they have gone 2-3 in the SEC.

An expected loss at Florida came after Georgia’s win over Alabama, but the Bulldogs responded to that with home wins over Arkansas and South Carolina to sit tied for second in the conference with Kentucky.

Who is next on the Bulldogs’ schedule? Those same Wildcats in a matchup Saturday, and like the game at Florida, it’s road test against the conference’s elite.

Can Georgia pass that test? That’s still to be seen. The Bulldogs certainly have played better since jumping into conference play, but Kentucky is on a different level (much like Florida). It will be a good chance to see just how far Georgia has come. Have the Bulldogs improved from their .500 non-conference performance, or are they just taking advantage of a weak SEC?

Win or lose, Georgia should be in good shape after Saturday’s game. The schedule the rest of the way is manageable (no more Kentucky or Florida) with games against the rest of a conference that is laughably bad. Road games against Tennessee and Arkansas might be difficult, but the Bulldogs already know they can beat the Razorbacks.

Still, this team isn’t talented enough to just expect to win any game. These Bulldogs have to be focused and prepared for every opponent, and they have done all the right things so far against the conference teams they should beat. That needs to continue the rest of the way, and if it does, the Bulldogs could make some real noise in the conference.

Can they compete with Florida and Kentucky, easily the two best teams? Probably not. But there’s no reason Georgia can’t be in the mix behind those two.

It took the Bulldogs some time to figure out how to play without Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, but they have had other players step up. Charles Mann is the leading scorer at 13.1 points per game, while Kenny Gaines and Nemanja Djurisic are also in double figures. Brandon Morris is right below double figures, and Marcus Thornton has fought off his injury problems to finally live up to his potential, while Donte’ Williams and Juwan Parker are also contributing.

Georgia is a team that is finding its footing as the players are figuring out their roles, and those things are happening at just the right time of the season.

Contact Daniel Shirley at 744-4227 or dshirley@macon.com.

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