NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Mark Fox didn't necessarily do anything he hasn't already done.
Georgia hasn't had a fifth scoring option all season, which has led Fox to send his sixth man in at the first possible opportunity. Pros and cons exist with this strategy. One pro is rotating bodies to keep role players fresh down the stretch. The con is risking offensive chemistry or disrupting the potential flow for a player by taking him out so early in a game.
And then, of course, what if that fifth starter appears poised to break out and shows signs of doing what he hasn't done all year?
As mentioned following Saturday's 80-67 loss at Vanderbilt, Fox took center Derek Ogbeide out of the game after just 1:57 had elapsed from the start of the game. Ogbeide, however, had just blocked a shot and scored the game's first bucket.
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Reporters observing the game -- and by no means is this meant to claim reporters know more about basketball than a college head coach earning $1.7 million -- were flabbergasted at the move. Ogbeide himself seemed surprised when he was asked to come out of the game for junior forward Houston Kessler.
The decision to remove Ogbeide didn't directly cause Vanderbilt to go on a 10-0 run. But you do wonder what could have happened in that span if Ogbeide was left in the game and Georgia's starting five was allowed to play longer together than the almost-two-minute span. Ogbeide, the widest-bodied big man Georgia has at 6-foot-8 and 250 pounds, has far more potential defensively than any of Georgia's other options. But perhaps Fox wanted fresher bodies to rotate against Vanderbilt's two 7-footers in Luke Kornett and Damian Jones.
Sure, keeping players fresh through the entirety of a game is important. Most observers of the game understand that. But Ogbeide, an 18-year-old freshman who is long removed from the shoulder injury that's often referenced with the stunted growth he endured early, should be in great shape at this point of the season. If he's not, that's reflective on the coaching staff. Ogbeide should be able to withstand more than just a few three-minute-or-less stretches before getting extended time on the court.
The same goes for any other player on Georgia's roster. Barring foul trouble, Georgia shouldn't have only one player seeing more than 30 minutes in a game. This isn't the 2014-15 Kentucky team with seven NBA draft picks. Georgia needs to play its best players for longer stretches at a time. Vanderbilt had four players see more than 30 minutes on the court, and each one scored in double figures.
Sophomore Yante Maten, along with Ogbeide, finished the game playing 29 minutes. Maten, one of Georgia's top two players this season, shouldn't be sitting 10 minutes, especially in must-win opportunities. Vanderbilt's players didn't seem too fatigued during its win. So the notion Georgia's players were dealing with fatigue, or that Vanderbilt's Memorial Gymnasium was a little too hot, doesn't hold up much at all.
Entering this week, Georgia was not in the position to take chances or mess around with what it knows is available. The Bulldogs have had four fairly consistent scoring options and have been waiting for Ogbeide to emerge. Those five players need to spend more time together during games.
After the game, Fox seemed somewhat surprised for the first few questions to be about his substitution pattern. He emphatically answered, "No," before additionally saying his players needed a better "competitive spirit," when asked if he was concerned early substitutions could disrupt the flow or momentum of his offense.
Prior to this game, it didn't seem like too much of a big deal to see a player come out for the sixth man two-to-three minutes into a game. But over the past two games, it would seem clear this is an adjustment Fox needs to make moving forward.
If Ogbeide, who's the likely fifth starter here on out, starts a game strong, he needs to stay in. There's no need to substitute players as frequently as Fox has done at times, highlighted by the Vanderbilt game. Quite honestly, Georgia isn't a team that should be going 10-deep due to the risk of putting an offensively hindered group on the court.
Georgia's chances of an NCAA Tournament at-large berth are all but gone. Sure, the possibility of winning out in the regular season and taking two SEC Tournament games could ultimately change the narrative. As of now, the Bulldogs are out, and there's nothing to suggest they'll get in barring a conference tournament championship run. Because let's face it: What has Georgia done lately to suggest it will win all four of its remaining regular-season games?
With that being the only course of action for Georgia to take to keep its NCAA Tournament hopes alive, it's time for Fox to rethink this particular strategy. There's no reason not to ride the hot hand when something positive is clicking.
Ogbeide deserved to stay on the court past the first substitution. With the second season soon to start, Georgia must begin focusing on a new substitution pattern that involves less disruption to the flow of the game and more consistency and chemistry for those who have a greater chance at contributing to much-needed wins that Georgia was unable to come up with this week.
Contact Jason Butt at firstname.lastname@example.org