For those still wondering how the Georgia Bulldogs, who were 6-6 in non-conference play, hold third place in the 14-team SEC with one regular-season game remaining, here are two words: Mark Fox.
He’s an adroit tactician. His team tends to get good shots. (Probably more good shots per game, I submit, than any SEC team save Florida, which has a splendid coach in Billy Donovan and way better players than Georgia.) Watch the Bulldogs coming off timeouts and note how often they’ll run a set that yields a high-percentage look. Now watch other college teams and see how seldom they do.
The knock on Fox is that, with the exception of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, he hasn’t signed a big-time player in his time at Georgia. (And this, we note, is his fifth season.) It would be nice to see what Fox could do with talent on the level of, say, Tennessee’s. It would be nice to see how many more of those good shots the Bulldogs could make with better players taking them.
But maybe I’m missing the point. Maybe Fox is among those coaches — and there are always some — who do their best work with less. Maybe bigger talents would be less receptive to being coached. An instructive moment came in the second half of Georgia’s rout of Mississippi State on Wednesday. Kenny Gaines, Georgia’s best player, eschewed a layup on a fast break to feed a trailing Nemanja Djurisic, who wound up making a slightly more difficult layup.
This prompted an immediate Fox timeout to impart a message imparted many times already: Respect the game. “We’re having some success,” Fox would say afterward, “and we have to learn how to handle having success.”
That bit of good coaching in an otherwise unmemorable game offered another reason why Fox is indeed a good coach. In yet another down year for the conference, Georgia’s attention to detail has elevated it. Other SEC programs have better basketball players, but not many play better basketball.