If we go by the SEC coaches’ all-conference team, Georgia had two of the league’s eight best players last season. Kentucky had two and lost in the NCAA South Regional final to North Carolina, the eventual national champ. Florida had one and lost in the East Regional final to South Carolina, which also had one.
The point being: SEC teams played some really good basketball in March — just not Georgia. It didn’t make the NCAA field of 68. It lost at home to Belmont in Round 1 of the NIT. (Four days later, Belmont would lose by 14 points at Georgia Tech.) The Bulldogs were unlucky that Yante Maten hurt his knee against Kentucky on Feb. 18, but they actually won three of the next four games without him.
The cold truth was that Georgia played itself out of the Big Dance before Maten was injured. (Note that he returned for two games in the SEC tournament, in which Georgia was eliminated in the quarterfinals.) Even with Maten and J.J. Frazier, two first-team all-league players, the Bulldogs spent another season doing nothing of significance. This has, alas, become their signature.
Mark Fox is about to enter his ninth season as Georgia’s coach. Would a coach without an NCAA tournament victory over eight years still be coaching any other Power Five program? Would a coach who didn’t make the NCAA field in two seasons with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and who made it once in four with the outrageous Frazier have been given the chance to try, try again? The answers are no and no, but this is Georgia, which cares less about the roundball sport than any other Power Five school.
Here’s my boilerplate stance on Fox — good coach, good guy. I don’t know why it hasn’t happened yet for him, but it hasn’t, and when you’ve gone nearly a decade in one place and it hasn’t happened, you wonder if it ever will.
On Tuesday, Maten announced that he was withdrawing his name from NBA draft consideration and returning for a fourth season at Georgia. This is good news for Fox in that one of the SEC’s best players — unlike Frazier and De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk and Sindarius Thornwell, all gone — will again play in the SEC. But it’s good news with an implied ultimatum: If the Bulldogs aren’t playing in the only tournament that matters come March 2018, Fox won’t be coaching them anymore.