On the beat: Spring football, basketball and other thoughts

semerson@macon.comMarch 3, 2014 

In a recurring feature, a trip around Georgia sports, with thoughts, analysis and notes.


Yes, it’s been all quiet on the football front. This time of year, that’s a good thing for a program.

The start of spring practice is slated for two weeks from Tuesday, which is later than usual. This year the team elected to wait until after spring break, rather than hold a couple practices then take a long break.

But like last year, the team will hold two practices after the G-Day game (which is April 12). Some might opine that the reason for that is to work on a couple things that eminate out of the G-Day game. I’m not so sure. In fact, I’d say it reinforces how little stock you should put in the spring game.

Remember last year, when the defense clearly had the better G-Day game? How’d that turn out? And remember how Jonathan Rumph was an offensive star? Again, how’d that turn out?

Some programs elsewhere are actually eliminating their spring games, replacing it with a practice, which they feel would be more productive. I doubt Georgia would go that way, as G-Day has become an ingrained part of the spring, and a nice event for fans. …

Just three years ago I remember interviewing Thomas Brown when he returned to Georgia to serve on the strength and conditioning staff. And just recently he was announced as the new running backs coach at Wisconsin.

It’s a speedy rise for Brown, who left Georgia’s strength staff after one year to become the running backs coach at UT-Chattanooga. Then he left for Marshall, and now it’s on to Wisconsin.

Bryan McClendon is now entrenched at Georgia as the running backs coach and recruiting coordinator. And although it’s not been announced yet, it would be surprising if he didn’t also receive a nice raise from his current $235,000 salary. …


Georgia’s loss at Arkansas was really nothing to be ashamed about, as the Bulldogs ran into a team that’s playing its best basketball of the season, and in a place that’s really tough to win. Georgia was actually competitive late, marking an improvement over the road losses at Florida, Kentucky and Tennessee.

But that loss should pretty much seal that Georgia will have to win the SEC tournament in order to make the NCAA field. Now, I’ve learned never to say never – let’s say Georgia wins out this week, then gets to the SEC championship, beating Florida or Kentucky along the way. Then it would be a matter of whether the rest of the bubble is weak or not.

For what it’s worth, Georgia does look solidly in the NIT field right now – and yes, I have projections to back that up. The web site nycbuckets.com has an updated bracket Monday that has Georgia as a No. 5 seed. (The NIT has four regions of eight seeds each.) And Syracuse.com, in its ranking of all the NCAA at-large candidates, lists Georgia at No. 56, which would put it also around a 4-to-6 seed in the NIT.

My own educated guess is that if Georgia at least beats Mississippi State and wins one game in the SEC tournament (whether it’s Thursday or Friday) the Bulldogs are in good position to go to the NIT. Anything less and they’re in trouble, anything more and they’re solidly in.

Scoff if you will, but getting into the NIT would be a positive step for the program, and given only one player graduating, would also be a good chance to further prepare for an NCAA run next season.

Meanwhile, the talk around Mark Fox’s job has gone quiet. Including from the man who will decide it, athletics director Greg McGarity.

Last week I reached out to McGarity to see if he wanted to say anything, and he declined. “Not commenting on anything like that during the season,” he told me. He has similarly demurred with other beat writers.

It is a bit interesting that McGarity won’t comment yet. It could be that he hasn’t quite made up his mind. It could be that the lesson he learned from the Mark Richt hot seat year was to not make anything official until after the season. In 2010, McGarity’s first year as A.D., he did confirm that Richt would return before the season ended. He confirmed it in the press box before the Auburn game. That also came out after reports that Miami, Richt’s alma mater, wanted to speak to him about its opening. A year later McGarity kept quiet until just after the regular season ended – when reports surfaced that Texas A&M was interested in Richt.

I keep going back to when McGarity was first hired at Georgia, and how he said he liked having his coaching staffs always being “on edge.” He said that several times. So when it comes to Fox right now, my guess – again, an educated guess – is McGarity has seen what the Bulldogs have done with Fox presumably “on edge,” and with some season still to go, feels there’s no harm in continuing things “on edge.”


It’s only March (barely), but if you’re a former Georgia golfer, chances are you’ve already notched a PGA Tour victory this year.

Russell Henley won the Honda Classic for the Macon native’s second-ever tour victory. (He won last year as a rookie.) Henley’s victory on Sunday was particularly impressive because this was no mere throwaway event: He beat Rory McIlroy, among others, in a playoff, and the field also included a guy named Tiger Woods.

Henley made it four former Bulldogs who have won on tour this year: Chris Kirk (The Gladrey Classic), Harris English (OHL Classic) and Bubba Watson (Northern Trust Open.)

In the case of Henley, who is only 24, we may be looking at the start of a very long and memorable career. He went through a major slump in 2012 – missing the cut at the Nationwide Stadion Classic – but he’s obviously well past that now. …


The SEC women’s basketball tournament begins this week, and Georgia will be the No. 9 seed, opening Thursday at noon against No. 8 seed Vanderbilt. Andy Landers’ team proved to be the reverse of Fox’s team: The Bulldogs were ranked after nonconference play, then went 7-9 in the SEC, finishing in a five-way tie for sixth.

If Georgia doesn’t make the tournament, it would be the first time that’s happened since 1994. Eight of the team’s 11 players were not born the last time that happened.

Georgia is ranked No. 46 in this week’s RPI, which puts the Bulldogs squarely on the bubble. But one win in Duluth might be good enough to get the Bulldogs in.

Georgia is a fairly young team, with just one senior and two juniors. …

Scott Stricklin is making good use of his first extended homestand at Georgia. The Bulldogs completed a sweep of Binghamton on Sunday to improve their record to 5-6.

It also helps Stricklin’s bunch that they’re back to full strength: Pitcher-outfielder Jared Walsh has returned from a season-opening suspension, and freshman shortstop Mike Bell returned to the lineup after an injury.

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