In Year 1 under Tom Crean, Georgia went 2-16 in SEC play and finished 13th in a 14-team league. In Year 2, the Bulldogs are 5-11 and, should three results go their way Saturday, would finish in a three-way tie for 11th. A year ago, they finished as the nation's 132nd-best team in Ken Pomeroy's rankings; they're 100th today.
This is progress, numerically speaking. They were terrible last season (11-21). They’ve bootstrapped themselves up to mediocre (15-15). They even set a record for home attendance. All things being equal, you’d say Georgia is on the upward trail. All things, however, are not equal.
We can't view this season without addressing the elephant in the center-jump circle. Georgia took the nation's best freshman – and the NBA's presumptive No. 1 pick – and couldn't manage an SEC tournament bye. It has lost 66.7 percent of its games in a conference where even the best teams aren't as good as they were last season. The league had four teams ranked in the Associated Press preseason Top 25. This week that number is down to two, and No. 6 Kentucky and No. 17 Auburn just lost home games to teams that won't make the NCAA tournament.
It’s not just that Georgia had Anthony Edwards and will, barring five victories over five days in Nashville, miss the Big Dance. It’s that Georgia had Edwards and didn’t come close. It won at No. 9 Memphis on Jan. 4 – the Tigers have since descended to the bottom of the bubble – and followed up with … nothing. The Bulldogs began SEC play 2-10. The SEC is ranked the nation’s sixth-best conference by KenPom and figures to receive three fewer NCAA bids than last year’s seven.
At SEC Media Day in October, the Bulldogs were tabbed to finish ninth. Given the promise inherent in Ant Man, that seemed a tad low. Turns out it was way too high. As mentioned previously, all Crean’s reasons for his team’s failure to launch are, on their face, valid. The Bulldogs are, again per KenPom, the nation’s 313th-most experienced team (of 353) and its 218th-tallest. But then we step back and say: “Yeah, but they’re the only team with Edwards.”
Georgia concluded its home schedule by losing to Florida 68-54 on Wednesday. The Bulldogs scored 33 points over the final 35 minutes. Edwards finished with 14 points on 10 shots. He told reporters that his team – he included himself in this indictment – wasn’t ready to play, which makes you wonder how Georgia managed to lead 19-6. He also said the Bulldogs weren’t prepared for Florida’s zone defenses.
Asked about this, Crean said: “We spent the majority of the time on the zone the last two days.”
Then: “If Nike made 50-pound shoes, a couple of guys had them on.”
Much would have had to go right for a team as young as Georgia to go dancing. Very little has. Maybe it was inevitable for a team with such youth, but the Bulldogs haven’t found anything they do consistently well. They entered Wednesday’s game having scored 189 points over the past two games. They scored 24 after halftime against Florida. That they don’t rebound all that well is a function of size, in this case the lack thereof. That they’re nothing special defensively is standard procedure with a freshman-heavy roster.
The offense has waxed and waned, and that's a surprise. Crean is a skilled tactician – his Indiana teams could always score – and Edwards, Rayshaun Hammonds and Sahvir Wheeler are talents. On good days, Georgia has put up big numbers: 82 against Georgia Tech, 83 in the Maui loss to Michigan State, 102 in overtime versus Alabama, 90 at South Carolina, 99 against Arkansas. But in games where the ball isn't moving and shots aren't falling, the Bulldogs can struggle to break 60.
Edwards had a dunk Wednesday that made highlight collators happy, but he scored only two other baskets. Sometimes he seems to be trying too hard; other times you almost forget he’s on the floor. That’s the way of disappointing seasons – they leave no one unsullied.
As a team, the Bulldogs have done nothing much. They beat Tech. They won at Memphis. They upset Auburn in Athens. That's it. The Bulldogs have played 30 times and, going by ESPN's Bracketology, beaten one team apt to make the field of 68.
This doesn’t make Edwards a bust. (He’s the leading scorer among freshmen.) This doesn’t mean Crean is doomed. (Paul Hewitt missed the NCAA tournament in his third season at Tech with the one-and-done Chris Bosh; a year later, the Yellow Jackets played UConn for the national title.) What it does mean is that, barring an improbable five days in Music City, another Georgia season will be filed and forgotten.
And this wasn’t supposed to be just any season. This one featured the Ant Man.
About the Author