Death Smiles at Us All: Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda Defines UGA Tourney Exit Yet Again
There is no question that Mark Fox has silenced most all of his former critics…including me. Fox has strung together back to back 20 win seasons, two top 5 conference finishes, and produced the most electric one-game atmosphere the program has seen in a very long time. Program momentum seems undeniably increasing.
Yet once again the UGA basketball team produced a head-scratching, hair-pulling, and overall exasperating performance against Michigan State on Friday morning. The Dawgs are one and done yet again in the NCAA Tournament.
I suppose we should not be surprised. Fox’s boys were handed, by all accounts, an automatic death sentence when they drew Tom Izzo and the Spartans in the first round. There are some teams that expend most of their energy getting to the tournament only to crash out of the first round. Georgetown is a perennial example of this inertia, though not this year.
Michigan State is just the opposite. The Spartans will seem non-existent in November. Fire Tom Izzo rumors will begin to pick up speed in December. In January some will wonder if MSU will even be in the tournament. Yet, come March, the Spartans will find themselves in the Sweet 16 as if there were never even a question of their merits.
UGA is not a team like that, and it showed on Friday.
In the first few minutes of the game UGA had every opportunity to get out to a very comfortable early lead. Note, no one really thought they would be able to keep it, but there was no doubt that all the momentum was there for the Dawgs if any of the close looks had gone down. Hardly any of them did. The Spartans finished the first half on a 25-8 run, and the game seemed all but over.
The long and the short of it is that UGA is tougher than most any team they just aren’t very talented. UGA looked nervy, young, and out of their depth. I’m not sure what else we could expect from a team that has minimal experience in games that really matter, but if we are going to continue to call the basketball program “improving” performances like Friday’s are going to have to change.
The Dawgs certainly did not quit, to be fair. It felt like a dream to look up at a clock under 30 seconds with just 3 points separating UGA and a program like Michigan State. That would have been a moral victory for the Dawgs had it stayed that way.
But it didn’t.
Michigan State made their free throws and UGA just couldn’t get anything to fall, capped off by a missed layup by Mann in the final seconds of the game. Sure, you probably won’t win when you shoot 33% from the field and 22% from three against Michigan State. You damn sure won’t beat a team like that if you have 12 turnovers, with almost all of them coming in the first half. Yet, one can’t help leaving that game wondering what might have been if UGA hadn’t wilted under the heat of the moment.
The Dawgs are surely to be praised for their improvement over the past two seasons, and that improvement showed in UGA not being intimidated by Michigan State at any point in the contest. But no one can fault UGA basketball fans who are still frustrated and are hoping they’re wrong to feel dread at the prospect of another one and done in the tournament next year.
But pause for a moment and consider that the Dawgs really should make the Madness again next year, as they return veterans Gaines and Mann on top of overperforming Maten and Forte. This is a wholly new position for most fans of UGA basketball. The hope will be that poise and maturity become co-watchwords with toughness and grit.
If that sort of progress isn’t made then you begin to wonder just how much farther Fox can take this program. For now, however, no one can say UGA hasn’t taken big steps. The program is up and walking again for the first time in many many years.
We just don’t know where we’re headed yet.