On the beat: Thoughts on Georgia basketball, and football rule proposal

semerson@macon.comFebruary 16, 2014 

This is the first in what hopefully will be a recurring segment on the blog. Some analysis of topics on the beat, some notes, and just general musings from the beat. Hope you enjoy it.

The basketball turnaround, and what it all means

- The SEC office must be secretly annoyed at the Georgia men's basketball program, which has followed the same script for the second straight year: A poor nonconference performance that doesn't help the overall conference RPI, and then conference play begins and Georgia proceeds to knock off bubble teams. Ole Miss now joins Missouri, Arkansas and LSU as SEC bubble teams with a potential "bad loss" to Georgia on their resume'.

Of course, at what point does a loss to Georgia stop being bad? The Bulldogs, after all, are four games above .500 and alone in third place. In fact, a few Georgia fans have started asking me about their own team's chances to make the NCAA. Well ...

No. Georgia's RPI rank as of Monday is 88 (per CBSsports.com), which is still about 30 spots away from being viable. The bad losses are too many (Vanderbilt, Auburn, Georgia Tech, Davidson, Temple) and the Bulldogs lack a win over a likely NCAA team. (Though the aforementioned Missouri and Ole Miss could play their way in.)

Realistically, what this run has done for Georgia is put the NIT on the table. That's no small accomplishment, as the NIT field has become harder to get into in recent years, with some pretty good teams being left out. I'll refrain from NIT bracketology, but the guess here is that Georgia would need to win at least three of its six remaining regular-season games, then win a game or two in the tournament to still have a shot.

Now I'm not saying the NCAA is completely out of reach. The Bulldogs could obviously win the SEC's automatic bid. (So could anybody). But the SEC is such a poor conference this year; take out Florida and Kentucky and it's a mediocre mid-major league. I'll make you a deal: If Georgia wins out this week - at Tennessee and at South Carolina - then I'll break down what it has to do to be on the bubble. But until then ... no.

- Still, what Georgia has done so far is pretty amazing. Even Kenny Gaines admitted Saturday that when his team started 1-4 he had no inkling it would be in this position now. Not only is Georgia alone in third place, but it basically has a two-game lead, with Ole Miss one game behind and Georgia owning the tiebreaker. Georgia still has four remaining road games (Tennessee, South Carolina, Arkansas, LSU), and the conference is bunched up enough that the Bulldogs could realistically finish anywhere from third to ninth. But a winning conference record is now likely, and that's remarkable.

- Let's also not ignore the elephant in the room, that being the seat under which Mark Fox has been sitting this season. Clearly the performance in SEC play means that seat has gone a lot colder. Greg McGarity isn't likely to come out and say anything until the season is over. But with only one senior on this year's team (Donte' Williams), it's hard to see a change coming, barring a complete collapse.

- Speaking of McGarity, he uttered the memorable phrase "society of the miserable" a couple years ago when talking about the small, but vocal, segment of fans who carped at Mark Richt. That term seems to apply now to a group that doesn't seem happy that the basketball team is doing well, because they want a coaching change. (I won't point to specific tweets or message board posts, but trust me, the sentiment is out there.) But most Georgia fans seem to be enjoying the moment, judging by the sellout crowd on Saturday. And if attendance is improving, that also helps Fox's case for a sixth year.

- The point seems moot now, but I have to laugh every time I've seen fans clamor for Georgia to hire Bruce Pearl. The ex-Tennessee coach is under a show-cause order from the NCAA until August, which means he can't recruit until then. And even if a school like Georgia were to decide it was worth the wait, consider this key point: McGarity and UGA take a lot of pride in the high ground they perceive themselves to hold. (This is the same athletics department that suspended its own recruiting coordinator for improperly sending in recruiting envelopes.) Hiring Pearl would cede a big part of that high ground, and would make it really hard for McGarity to face his peers in Destin. Pearl lied to the NCAA. That's a huge scarlet letter in the community, no matter what the NCAA's reputation. (And it's a low one, but it doesn't absolve what Pearl did.) At some point Pearl will go somewhere to try to rehabilitate his reputation, but it is much more likely to be at a mid-major.

The crazy, secretly-concocted football rules change

- The proposal to slow down offenses by making them wait 10 seconds to snap the ball has garnered a huge amount of attention. Plenty of people have weighed in. But Mark Richt hasn't been among them yet, mainly because of timing: None of the coaches are set to meet with the media until the beginning of spring practice in a couple weeks.

But I'll be very curious to hear what Richt has to say. (I've been among a few to inquire with Richt's spokesman to see if he'd like to weigh in.) Richt is in a unique position because, while his team doesn't run the type of offense the rule would stop, he did try to run a quick no-huddle when he first came to Georgia. But, according to Richt, SEC officials prevented that, so he adjusted. Now Georgia runs a version of the no-huddle, which does limit subbing at times.

My own sense is the proposal is a bad idea that won't be adopted. I get the desire to equal things up for the defense and not turn football into 60-53 affairs. The safety argument, however, has no resonance. If you want to decrease the amount of plays and thus chances for injury, there are other ways. And if you are worried about tired players getting hurt, then use a timeout. I do agree that if the offense gets a chance to sub then the defense sub should too. But requiring a certain amount of time between snaps isn't the way to accomplish that. I don't know exactly what is, but it's not that.

As this debate has ensued, I keep thinking back to the first time I ever heard a coach complain about the offense snapping too quickly. It was more than five years ago, when I was covering South Carolina, and it was Ellis Johnson, then the Gamecocks' defensive coordinator. Now Johnson is the coordinator at ... wait for it ... Auburn. I wonder what Johnson thinks about all this.

Most people I know will be surprised if the rule as proposed ends up passing. The fact it's controversial wouldn't kill it, as college football has adopted plenty of idiotic rules, only to quickly abandon them. (Remember the clock rule fiasco from a few year's back, where the clock started before the play began in an effort to save time? Yeah, that was perfectly awful and was gone after a year.)

What's going to kill this proposal, if it is killed, is the perception that it was passed behind closed doors and without enough debate. Reports are that at the AFCA convention in January it was debated, but Jeremy Fowler of CBSsports.com reported it was "50-50" on whether it was a good idea. But the idea that certain coaches, including Nick Saban and Bret Bielema, were allowed to lobby the committee when it met a month later rubs a lot of people the wrong way.

This and that

- Meanwhile, in case you didn't see it the same rules committee proposed a change to the targeting rule: If replay overturns the targeting call, the 15-yard penalty can be picked up as well. This change was the easiest to predict, and I've yet to see anybody defend that part of the rule. As soon as the SEC announced it would lobby to change that part of it, the rule was set to change. It's just a year too late, and you continue to wonder why the rule was set up like that in the first place.

- The Scott Stricklin era got underway this weekend. I'm actually filing this from the press box at Foley Field, which is close to full, despite not being ideal weather. Obviously much of that is due to curiosity about what Stricklin will do with the program. It's impossible to look too far down the road - the credibility of writers is littered with the corpses of failed coaches we praise their first year - but people in the baseball industry believe Stricklin will do well at Georgia. I'm just not sure it will be this year. I still don't see a lockdown ace starting pitcher, or a middle-of-the-order hitter to build the line around. They may develop, but they're not there yet.

- Finally, another football note, which I've neglected to pass along until now: The Bulldogs will not have use of all four practice fields for spring practice, as the bottom two are being renovated. (The fields as well as the walls, and the entire area.) So Richt's team will only be able to use the two upper grass fields, which isn't ideal, but most of the time the team only uses two anyway. Plus, there's a truncated roster in the spring, with the signing class not around yet.

Tweets I wish I'd written: (Olympic hockey edition)

Georgia player tweet you might have missed:

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