Thursday, November 20, 2008

Early UGA Hoops Talk

It feels a little strange to be focused on basketball before Thanksgiving, but football season has been a relative letdown (more on that during Tech week), and there are things that we've seen from Felton's crew so far that make me think this is going to be a pivotal year for the current regime.

Through 3 games, the Dawgs sit at 1 fairly underwhelming victory, 1 very underwhelming victory, and 1 extremely disturbing loss. Nothing about this team (so far) makes the casual observer believe that this season will be any different than anything we've seen in the past. Felton's teams have historically had trouble scoring (check), but have also always played aggressive, physical defense (check, sort of.) It is early, but through 3 games against teams that were all picked to finish in the lower half of their respective conferences, UGA is averaging a whopping 62 points per game. These are the games where SEC teams are supposed to be padding their offensive stats against lesser competition. So much for that idea. Only 2 players (true freshman Travis Leslie and senior Terrance Woodbury) are averaging double figures. Again, all of this comes with the caveat that it is still early. But there is valid concern for the prospects of this team in 2008-09.

Lack of offense is not uncommon for Felton-coached teams in Athens. To be honest, those of us that live and die with this program have come to expect it. But there are some other disturbing statistical trends that we've seen early this year:

#1: The Dawgs have been out-rebounded in 2 of the 3 games. With large bodies like Jeremy Price, Albert Jackson and Chris Barnes on the blocks, this shouldn't be happening against the level of competition the Dawgs have seen so far.

#2: UGA's assist to turnover ratio is a silly 1 to 1.7. This isn't a big surprise with a sophomore and true freshman as your primary ballhandlers, but this simply has to improve. It doesn't have to be 2 to 1, but we really need to see the numbers at least even up. This number can be a little misleading sometimes, and with UGA's turnovers per game (about 16) being considered "average", it really tells us that the Swansey and Ware have just got to become a little better at distributing the ball to their own teammates.

#3: The distribution of minutes is confusing me more than Pres-Elect Obama's foreign policy. Only Woodbury is playing more than 30 minutes a game. Troy Brewer, who I thought was really ready to break out, is averaging less than 4 minutes and didn't even get off the bench in one game. Albert Jackson (who admittedly is still hobbling on the ankle) is playing 13 minutes a game and has scored 3 points so far. I understand that there is more depth on the roster this season than we've maybe ever seen under Felton, but I'd expect to see less even distribution for some players as we move forward through the season.

A few key things really need to happen to get this thing on track.

First, the Dawgs need Trey Thompkins healthy in the worst way. (Hopefully he'll be back next week.) Not only is he Felton's best offensive option in the post, but he'll also help to stabilize the rotation. With Price, Barnes, and Jackson as the only options down low, and Jackson only at about 50%, Felton seems to be having alot of trouble finding the right mix.

A reliable outside scoring threat has to develop. Right now, Corey Butler seems to be the best option from behind the arc. Woodbury is really having trouble finding his stroke, and seems to be having some difficulty with his new role as the go-to guy on the roster. Ware is probably shooting alot more 3's than Felton would like. Travis Leslie's game is not on the perimeter. Ricky McPhee can be lights out at times and may be one potential solution. But in my opinion, the most realistic scenario is for Brewer to work his way out of the doghouse and start getting meaningful minutes.

Alot of this has to happen quickly for Felton to avoid some serious heat. The majority of UGA fans that still have questions about Felton, even after last season's miracle run in the SEC Tournament. Some of that is from what they've seen on the court (particularly on offense), but most of it is the fact that so many great in-state players are going elsewhere. Derrick Favors is still the prize, and Felton and Mike Jones have done a terrific job to stay very much on his radar screen. But even if Favors comes to Athens, it won't be until a year from now. There is much to be done between now and next season.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

JJ:

I know you've been an ardent supporter of Felton in the past. Do you still think he can get the job done? I cannot figure out why UGA cannot be/is not competitive year-in, year-out in basketball. Oh how I long for "The Tubby Days."

Yes, Felton is in the picture with Favors, but otherwise how has done recruiting the bounty of basketball talent that is metro Atlanta?

Nobody will ever mistake me as a Georgia Basketball fan. I might make it to 2 or 3 games a year. But as an alum and UGA fan in general, our men's basketball program might be the worst athletic team we have at UGA.

Thoughts?

JJ said...

Great question @ 8:51 AM. I'm still a pretty ardent supporter of Felton (which I hope all UGA hoops fans are), but I'm not completely blind to the idea that this may just not be working out. I haven't decided that completely yet, and I'm willing to see the entire year through first. But the trends so far are not promising.

The recruiting issues are a concern. I've always hoped that players in this State would eventually see through the bill of goods that the most overrated coach in college basketball is selling everybody down the street at Tech. I think that is starting to happen, but the problem is that those players are now going out of state. He's made great progress in getting top players like Price and Leslie, Thompkins and possibly Favors. But there are alot more out there that are getting away from us. This needs to end soon. Maybe grabbing Favors will open everyone's eyes to that. We'll see.

Of course, we need to see some marked improvement throughout this season if he is going to have the chance to see that through. I think the hourglass is officially turned over and Felton is on the clock.

Now, my next problem is whether or not Damon Evans has a friggin clue about how to go about finding the best possible basketball coach, should he decide to part ways with CDF. That is perhaps my biggest concern of all.

JJ said...

I forgot to mention above that I think Dennis Felton is truly a special coach. Not necessarily a "great" basketball coach, since the results have spoken for themselves (although he hasn't exactly stepped into the easiest situation to win in.) But he is an unbelievable leader of young men. Very few individuals left in the world today have the conviction to stick by their beliefs and principles in big money college athletics, no matter what pressure and talk is going on all around them. CDF has a system for his teams going about their business off the court. Sometimes it doesn't work, and those situations are handled in a certain way. Not everybody likes it, and they are left to handle it however they see fit. But it is Felton's way.

It may ultimately be his downfall at UGA, and so be it. He isn't bigger than the program. But I don't doubt that he can go somewhere else and be very successful, and still maintain the level of integrity that he holds today. His style may not work at a major program (see also: Bob Knight at Indiana), but there aren't many like Felton in the world of college athletics today. I'm proud to have him as the head coach at UGA. But the name of the game is winning, and unfortunately you can't have it both ways anymore.

Bop said...

You bring up some really good points. Those who know me know that I am also a big Felton supporter. Like you JJ, I want him to win in a bad way. Not just Georgia, but a Felton led Georgia. I'm honestly a bit nervous too, but will see how things progress. We are going to know and know soon whether Felton is the guy for the future (I still think he is). @ WKU, @Illinios, Virginia Tech, Missouri, @ ga tech. We will know by January.

We finally have talent, that's for sure. Adding Favors to this team makes UGA a contender on the National scene. He's just that good. I just can't handle losing him and especially to tech.

Anonymous said...

Thanks JJ. I appreciate the response. I admire Felton for he came into a terrible mess. I once compared UGA basketball to Clemson basketball. If you look at the hiring of Oliver Purnell and Dennis Felton and the programs at the time they were like brothers. Well, Oliver Purnell now has Clemson at a respectable point and a true contender on the national stage. To your point that you can't win and have integrity, I think we need to look only about 70 miles up the road to find it.