THE TEN AT 10:
1. Basketball won’t be the only competition going on in Nashville this week. The SEC’s athletic directors will be meeting with commissioner Mike Slive on Wednesday in their annual meeting that is conducted in conjunction with the men’s basketball tournament. Foremost on their agenda this year is the cost of attendance element to athletic scholarships.
The “Power 5” conferences in January approved adding “cost of attendance” to the scholarships they provide for their student-athletes. That means they will receive a stipend to cover expenses over tuition, books, lodging and food. But what that amount will be is a hotly-debated topic and one that is poised to be a battleground among the SEC schools.
Auburn AD Jay Jacobs sent shockwaves of concern through the league last month when he told USA Today that the cost-of-attendance benefit for Auburn athletes is likely to be in the neighborhood of $6,000 per year, with an additional $1,500 if they enroll in summer school. That number is considerably higher than the one posted on the majority of SEC school’s websites – including Georgia’s – and Jacobs was not bashful about his intentions of using that as a recruiting inducement.
“Certainly having a higher number than most in the Southeastern Conference is going to be helpful (in recruiting,” Jacobs told USA Today. “Having the lowest number in the SEC could be hurtful. The way we recruit and the quality of student-athlete we want, we hope that number isn’t a deciding factor but human nature says it could be depending on the circumstances.”
UGA President Jere Morehead and AD Greg McGarity have reserved comment to date but, suffice it to say, they don’t share Jacobs’ philosophy and would like see SEC set a standard.
Stay tuned. This figures to be a vigorous debate.
2. On paper, it looks as though Georgia’s Charles Mann has had a disappointing season from an individual standpoint. The 6-foot-5, 210-pound guard has seen his numbers drop in points per game (13.9 to 11.2), field-goal percentage (.410 to .406), 3-point percentage (.309 to .265) and free-throw percentage (.309 to .265).
But as it is said, the game is not played on paper. And as far as his coaches and teammates are concerned, Mann is having an MVP-type year.
“His season has been awesome,” Georgia coach Mark Fox said. “He has played the 1, the 2 and the 3, and he has not complained one time about what he has had to do. He has not scored as much as last year, but he has had an amazing season. He’s been so unselfish and it’s been all about his team.”
Injuries have forced Mann into handling all kinds of different duties. Normally the Bulldogs’ point guard, he has also played games at small forward and shooting guard. He started his first game at shooting guard this past Saturday against Auburn after Kenny Gaines was scratched due to a foot injury.
Mann came through in a big way. He scored 15 points and recorded 4 rebounds and 4 assists, but it was his work at the foul line that put away the Tigers. He was 9-for-9 from the charity stripe, with most of them coming in the final minutes of the 64-61 victory.
“Honestly, I give all the individual stats and awards up just for winning and playing how we’re playing now and hopefully having a chance to go the postseason – and not NIT,” Mann said after the game. “I’m all about the team. I just want to make it the tournament and help my team win.”
3. Georgia is indeed well positioned to have some success in the SEC tournament. In fact, the oddsmakers at Bavado.com gave the Bulldogs the second-best odds in the league for winning the championship at 4-to-1. Of course, No. 1-ranked and undefeated Kentucky is the overwhelming favorite at 1-to-4.
Others considered to have a realistic shot include Arkansas (10/1), Vanderbilt (16/1), Florida (18/1) and LSU (18/1).
Helping the Bulldogs (20-10, 11-7 SEC) is the fact they were able to commandeer a double-bye into the quarterfinals. They received the No. 3 seed by virtue of a four-way tiebreaker with LSU, Ole Miss and Texas A&M. UGA was 3-1 against them this season.
That placed the Bulldogs on the opposite side of the bracket from the mighty Wildcats. However, it does put them on the same side as not-as-mighty South Carolina.
The Gamecocks (15-15, 6-12) were the only SEC team besides Kentucky to beat the Bulldogs twice this season. Georgia will face them a third time if the 11th-seeded Gamecocks beat Missouri in the opening round and can get by sixth-seeded Ole Miss, a team the Bulldogs beat twice.
On the other hand, if Georgia can advance into the semis, it would likely face Arkansas. The No. 2-seeded Razorbacks (24-7, 13-5) beat the Bulldogs 79-75 on Jan. 6 in Athens.
4. Regardless of what happens in the SEC tournament, the Bulldogs are likely headed for the NCAA tournament. Much of that will depend on what happens with other teams in other conferences.
Georgia actually dropped from 35 to 40 in RPI after the win over Auburn because of what happened to some other teams the Bulldogs have beaten this season. But ESPN’s Joe Lunardi currently has them as a No. 8 seed in his bracket and Jerry Palm of CBS Sports has them in at No. 10 seed.
Fox refuses to weigh in on the discussion. “That’s for your guys to talk about,” he said. I have believed (Georgia is an NCAA tournament team) for a long time. But I don’t make that decision.”
If the Bulldogs make it, it will be just their 12th appearance in school history and second under Fox (2011). Out of those appearances, Georgia has advanced beyond the first round four times. The Bulldogs went two rounds under Jim Harrick in 2002, reached the Sweet 16 under Tubby Smith in 1996, went two rounds in 1985 and, of course, reached the Final Four in their first-ever appearance under Hugh Durham in 1983.
5. How far Georgia goes in either tournament this year may depend largely on Gaines’ health. The junior guard missed the Auburn game with a sprained left foot and is questionable for Friday’s SEC tournament game.
That’s problematic on a lot of levels. Gaines is the team’s second-leading scorer (11.7 ppg), but he has really drawn notice within the league for his defensive play.
During Monday’s SEC coaches’ teleconference call, Vanderbilt’s Kevin Stallings called him “one of the top perimeter defenders in the league” and said “his athleticism is incredible.”
Said Alabama coach Anthony Grant: “Kenny Gaines is probably their guy in terms of what he can do from a disruption standpoint on any perimeter player in the league. He’s really good.”
The annual SEC coaches’ postseason awards will be announced Tuesday, including the all-defensive team.
6. One All-SEC team that has already been announced is the community service team. Georgia’s Marcus Thornton got mention on that squad.
The senior power forward, who is the Bulldogs’ leading scorer and rebounder, also has stayed busy off the court. Among the actions Thornton was cited for was his participation in annual “Hosea Feed the Hungry” program in Atlanta and the American Cancer Society Relay for Life. He also went Christmas shopping with a member of the Athens Boys and Girls Club, volunteered at the annual Do It For Brophy 5K Run/Walk, participated in the UGA Diversity Program in Hawkinsville last June and the “Learn, Play, Excel” event in LaGrange last May, among other things.
Thornton is also getting it done on the court, pacing the Bulldogs with a team-best 12.2 points and 7.0 rebounds per game.
7. Georgia’s spring football practice begins one week from today. And while the quarterback competition will dominate headlines heading into that 15-practice session, there are several other position battles that will be of great importance for the 2015 season.
The Bulldogs have to identify a center to replace David Andrews, dependable wide receivers to join Malcolm Mitchell in the starting lineup, inside linebackers to succeed Amarlo Herrera and Ramik Wilson and a cornerback to step in for the under-appreciated but ever-dependable Damian Swann.
Georgia’s defensive line competition is also going to be one to watch. The Bulldogs lost starters at defensive end (Ray Drew) and noseguard (Mike Thornton), but really didn’t get the kind of across-the-board production they would have liked a year ago.
Four lettermen return in John Atkins, Sterling Bailey, Josh Dawson and Chris Mayes, plus redshirt freshman Lamont Gaillard. The Bulldogs also moved redshirt sophomore Joseph Ledbetter from tight end to defensive line and he will join his younger brother, Jonathan Ledbetter, and fellow freshman Michael Barnett, in the spring competition.
Much more coming on spring football later this week.
8. Speaking of football, a Georgia high school state championship coach is joining the Bulldogs’ ever-growing support staff. Olten Downs, the football coach who led Creekside to a Class AAAAA championship in 2013, has been hired as a quality control assistant.
According to AJC preps expert Todd Holcomb, Downs was regarded as one of Georgia’s best young coaches since leaving Tennessee Tech. He came to Creekside in 2013 and went 15-0 during his first season. It was Creekside’s first-ever state title and the first for a south Fulton County team since 1983. Downs is one of fewer than 10 men to win GHSA football championships as player and head coach.
He was on the staff at Carver-Columbus for its 2007 state title team. Downs is a 2002 graduate of Shaw High in Columbus and played on Shaw’s 2000 state-championship team.
9. Georgia’s track and field teams garnered a pair of SEC indoor end-of-year awards on Monday. Junior Maicel Uibo was named the SEC Men’s Scholar Athlete of the Year while Keturah Orji earned SEC Women’s Freshman Field Athlete of the Year honors.
Uibo, a native of Polva, Estonia, improved his No. 2 mark nationally in the heptathlon with 5,909 points to finish second behind teammate Garrett Scantling at the SEC Championships. In the classroom, Uibo posted a 3.38 cumulative GPA in finance. He is a two-time SEC Academic Honor Roll selection.
Orji, a native of Mount Olive, N.J., scored the fifth-most points with 16 of any woman at SEC Championships (No. 1 freshman, one of only two underclassmen in top-10). She won the SEC triple jump title and finished third in the long jump finals. Orji owns the triple jump national leading mark of 45 feet, 10 ½ inches (No. 9 collegiate all-time performer, No. 11 on all-time list), which is an American Junior and a school record.
This marks the second straight Scholar Athlete of the Year honors for the Bulldogs after Brandon Lord earned the 2014 award. Sophomore Kendell Williams swept the indoor and outdoor Women’s Freshman Field Athlete of the Year for the Georgia women last year.
10. Speaking of track, UGA enters the NCAA indoor track and field championships this week in Fayetteville, Ark. Coach Wayne Norton’s women’s and men’s teams have been ranked among the Top 10 teams in the nation all season and will be a threat to contend for the championship.
Bulldogs Leontia Kallenou (high jump) and Kendell Williams (pentathlon) will be defending national titles. They were key members of the team last year as it posted its best combined finish at the NCAA outdoor championships (fifth for women, sixth for men).