South Carolina basketball beat writer David Cloninger looks at every other team in the SEC as the season approaches
Coach (record at school, years; overall record, years): Mark Fox (85-77, sixth season; 208-120, 11th season)
2013-14 record (SEC finish): 20-14 (12-6)
2013-14 postseason: Second round, NIT
He’s outta here: Brandon Morris (transferred to Cal State Bakersfield, 8.6 ppg, 3.4 rpg); Donte Williams (senior, 4.9 ppg, 5.1 rpg); John Cannon (transferred to UNC Asheville, 1.4 ppg, 1.1 rpg); Tim Dixon (transferred to Columbus State, 0.8 ppg, 1.3 rpg)
He’s here (freshman unless otherwise noted): 6-8 F/C Yante Maten; 6-10 C Osahen Iduwe; 6-4 G Dusan Langura
Top returners: 6-5 G Charles Mann (13.9 ppg, 4.2 rpg); 6-3 G Kenny Gaines (13.0 ppg, 2.5 rpg); 6-8 F Nemanja Djurisic (8.4 ppg, 4.0 rpg)
It what might have been classified as a “hot seat” year, Fox’s fifth team posted just the 12th 20-win season in Georgia history and finished a stunning second place in the SEC (tied with Kentucky). He was rewarded with a two-year contract extension, but also raised expectations for his sixth season.
The Bulldogs return their top two scorers and four of their top five, and expect to challenge for the NCAA tournament. Fox has taken them once in five years and had a chance at one last year, but four straight losses in the non-conference season left them with a low RPI and an NIT berth.
Fox imported height and has a deep bench, despite having to dismiss the talented but troubled Morris for a marijuana arrest. The non-conference schedule is tougher, with the rivalry game against Georgia Tech as the season-opener and games against Gonzaga, Minnesota or St. John’s, Mercer and at Kansas State. The Bulldogs also open SEC play with Arkansas and LSU, then end with Kentucky and Auburn.
The non-con schedule last year was soft but Georgia still lost several of those games. Perhaps Fox is hoping the opposite holds true this year. If the Bulldogs can get through the non-con schedule, they could make another run through the league and bid for another top-four finish.
Coach (record at school, years; overall record, years): Andy Landers (843-287, 36th year; 925-308, 40th year)
2013-14 record (SEC finish): 20-12 (7-9)
2013-14 postseason: First round, NCAA tournament
She’s outta here: Khaalidah Miller (senior, 10.4 ppg, 3.8 rpg); Kaelyn Causwell (gave up basketball, 1.6 ppg, 1.6 rpg)
She’s here (freshman unless otherwise noted): 5-4 G Terryuana Godwin (transfer from Butler (Kan.) Community College); 5-11 G/F Pachis Roberts (transfer from Syracuse, will sit out this year); 5-9 G Haley Clark; 5-8 G Jasmine Carter; 6-2 F Mackenzie Engram; 6-3 F Nasheema Oliver
Top returners: 5-10 G/F Shacobia Barbee (12.2 ppg, 7.9 rpg); 5-9 G Erika Ford (10.9 ppg, 4.1 rpg); 5-7 G Tiaria Griffin (9.1 ppg, 2.3 rpg)
Georgia reached the NCAA tournament for the 20th straight season last year, but was eliminated in the first round for the second time in three years. Those are two of the only four times the Lady Bulldogs have been eliminated that early during the run.
Why? Same story as what led to a 6-7 record to finish the season. Georgia could not put the ball in the hole.
“We had a team last year that could guard you reasonably well, that could defend you, that executed, that was unselfish. We just missed shots,” Landers said at SEC Media Days. “That’s a tough place to be.”
The Bulldogs were 10th in the league in scoring, at 64.6 points per game, and shot .404 from the field for the year, which ranked eighth. They scored 80 or more points just once in their final 13 games, and that was against league-worst Ole Miss.
The execution in offensive sets was there, the passing fluid and the players unselfish. But they couldn’t hit shots.
If the Lady Bulldogs had been able to score, perhaps they could have written a very fine success story. They lost their first four SEC games for the first time in their history, and still rebounded to make the NCAA tournament. But poor shooting doomed them in losses to Alabama, Mississippi State, Texas A&M (in overtime), Auburn and South Carolina (twice). Win those and Georgia is right back near the top of the SEC standings.
Landers hopes the shooting woes disappeared over the summer. He took his troops to Italy for a few games and added four freshmen and a junior-college transfer, while only losing two players from last year. Georgia is going to keep on being Georgia, although Landers would much prefer the kind of Georgia that went to the Elite Eight two years ago, between the two first-round exits.
“Frustrating,” he said. “We had to just stay in there, hang in there with them. Keep encouraging and pulling for them and motivating them. So hopefully we can improve on that. It doesn’t matter what you run, if you miss shots, it’s discombobulated.”
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