As coaches go, Georgia’s Mark Fox is a pretty mild-mannered guy. When it comes to commentary about his team and basketball issues, he usually takes a reserved and measured approach and leaves you thinking it probably feels a little stronger than he lets on.
But it was a considerably more feisty Fox that reporters encountered Wednesday afternoon as the Bulldogs had their first and only interview availability before their Friday night appearance in the quarterfinals of the SEC tournament.
Fox was relatively outspoken on a myriad of topics, not the least of which was his team’s NCAA tournament at-large chances. The general consensus among bracket forecasters is that the Bulldogs’ only shot of getting into the Big Dance is by winning the conference tournament due to their current RPI (75). Fox doesn’t agree and is more than a little annoyed with the reliance of prognosticators — and the selection committee — on mathematical formulas predicated on subjective ratings.
“It’s ridiculous,” Fox said. “You can skew statistics in any way you want. … I realize that in November Georgia was not an at-large team, but the Georgia team right now is pretty damn good! We’ve got more work to do before we can realistically argue that, but if you just rely on numbers you can make any case that you want.”
Fox let on that he believes the Bulldogs should qualify for an at-large selection if they reach Sunday’s finals.
“If we went to the finals of the tournament, for instance, and we get second place in the regular season and second place in the tournament, you’re telling me that the second-place team in this league doesn’t belong in the NCAA tournament? I think there would be a realistic argument for us,” he said. “But if we get to the championship game, you might as well win it. And we’re not ready to talk about that. We’ve got to work to do on Friday.”
The Bulldogs (18-12, 12-6 SEC) finished the regular season in a tie for second with Kentucky (22-9, 12-6). They received the No. 3 seed based on losing to the Wildcats in the regular season in their only game Jan. 25 in Lexington.
After Mississippi State thumped Vanderbilt 82-68 in the play-in round on Wednesday night, Georgia will face the winner of tonight’s 9 p.m. game between State and Ole Miss on Friday night at 9:30. The Bulldogs beat MSU twice and Ole Miss once in their only meetings this season.
If trends hold to form, then UGA will face Kentucky in the semifinals on Saturday. The Wildcats’ expansive fan base has a reputation for taking over SEC venues, especially when the tournament is played in Atlanta. Six of their 27 tournament titles have come in our fair city, hence Kentucky’s affection nickname for the town — “Catlanta.”
Fox took issue with that, too.
“I’m sick of hearing about ‘Catlanta,’” the Georgia coach snapped. “It IS the Georgia Dome, so I hope that we’ll have representation of that.”
Informed that Kentucky would be playing in the game before the Bulldogs Friday night and that his comments likely would not endear him to the crowd, Fox scoffed.
“I could care less,” he said. “They’ve got a great fan base, they really do. But I want our fans to root for us. That’s all we need.”
Evidently Fox and crew are feeling pretty loose this week. The university is on spring break this week, and the Bulldogs will have had six days between games since beating LSU 69-61 in Baton Rouge this past Saturday.
Georgia has taken advantage of the brief reprieve. The took off Sunday and had only a light shoot-around on Monday.Fox set the tone by putting music on in the practice gym. But he went “coach’s choice” rather than suggestions from the players.”We had a little Stevie Wonder in there, a little Michael Jackson,” Fox said. “We had a lot of stuff from yesteryear.”
Then the Bulldogs went back to intense, physical practices on Tuesday and Wednesday, “to gear back on going to work and playing the game the right way.” The plan was to throttle down again today and be fresh for Friday’s late-night affair.
I’ve already filed my story advancing the Bulldogs’ SEC tournament appearance and you can read it HERE.
In the meantime, here’s some more comments from “Feisty Fox” as I had over to the Georgia Dome and dive head first into four days of basketball …
On Friday’s matchup ….
“This is going to be a hard game for us. Mississippi State, we should have a good understanding there because we just played them. Vandy beat us and Ole Miss came down to the last second, we had to make a free throw with 1-point-something left. So I think our guys understand it’s going to be a hard game. The challenge is preparing for two teams and re-familiarizing yourself with those people. But the main thing is cleaning up some things that we do and us playing well. We’ve been mostly focusing on ourselves.”
On the Dogs resting on their laurels …
“That’s the great thing about being on spring break. There’s less people to do that to them.”
On having to wait around until late Friday night to play …
“That’s probably harder for coaches than it is for players. It’s a long day, for sure, but it will be for both teams. We have to make sure we manage our minds that day.”
On the untimely departure of junior center John Cannon …
“John just wants to go some place and play more and we wish him well. He’s a good kid. … The timing’s never good. But hopefully our team will be playing for a while. It was his decision to go now.
On whether they’ll utilize Cannon’s scholarship in this recruiting class …
“I think there’s a great chance we’ll use it this year. We certainly would like to sign one post player. We’re going to have Nemi (Djurisic) back and Tim (Dixon) back and Houston Kessler, so we’ve got some front-line players. We return basically our entire team except for Donte’ (Williams).”
On where Cannon’s 4.8 minutes per game will go …
“I can’t find time to play Houston Kessler or Tim Dixon or Kenny Paul Geno enough. We’ve got minutes that we need to find for somebody.”
On second-team selection Charles Mann providing UGA’s only representation on All-SEC teams …
“I thought we’d have somebody on the all-defense team. … But Charles has been a good player for us. He’s really been a good leader and he’s done a lot of things. He’s scored it, he’s organized us, he rebounds, he defends. He’s made a lot of big plays and I think he could still get so much better. He’s got a very bright future.
On poor performance in only tournament appearance this season, the Charleston Classic at the beginning of the season …
“I fully anticipated we’d have some struggles out of the gate. Without Kentavious (Caldwell-Pope) and just making the adjustment there, I figured we might struggle early. But I didn’t waiver on my belief in this team. That’s something we needed to go through to become a good basketball team. I wasn’t very happy with it, but it didn’t change my belief in our team.”
On mediocre SEC tournament performances under his watch (3-4) …
“There’s 14 teams in the tournament this year, 14 last year, 12 the year before that, one wins. I don’t think there’s any common theme there. You’ve got to play well and beat good teams to get all the way through it.
On lack of Top 50 wins this season …
“We just haven’t played any of them at home. That’s the real challenge. Home-court advantage is such thing in college basketball. We got Missouri at home and I think that was the only top 50 team we had here in Athens. So that’s made it hard.”
On communicating to selection committee that they played games without Kenny Gaines and Brandon Morris …
“I would hope that our league would do that. … When we’ve been whole we’ve been a pretty good team.
On having an all-Atlanta starting lineup in Atlanta …
“Certainly there’s a lot of good players from the city. We’ve got five of them and they’ve become a good starting lineup for us. I think that’s great. They’re all going to leave with a degree, and I think that’s great, too.”
On the SEC tournament leaving Atlanta for a while …
“I do think Nashville does a good job, but I would like to see the tournament in Atlanta from time-to-time. I think the city and the state deserves that, because it’s great revenue obviously. I’d rather be on a bus than a plane, put it that way.”
On quarterfinal game …
“I think what’s important for us is that we make it the one game it is and we focus on how to win it. If we can do that, then we’ll worry about the second one. But this group has to stay in the moment. Like, right now, it’s got to be the next two hours. If I worry about more than that we’ll have lots of issues.”