Have I mentioned how much I love basketball season? I know I haven’t this semester, mainly because I forgot to write a column last week (oops), but even if I have previously, it bears repeating: I love basketball season. It’s where this (http://bit.ly/6FCcXP), this (http://bit.ly/7IJ2sW) and this (http://bit.ly/8nYOnI) happen. I know that Athens is a football town, and it probably always will be, but Coach Mark Fox is doing his best to make basketball relevant for Bulldogs again. And he’s doing a damn good job.
If you’ve been to a game in Fort Stegeman this season, you know the difference between this years team and last years is night and day. This year, we have an offensive gameplan that doesn’t leave fans sleeping, are actually utilizing our best athlete (see above), beaten Illinois and Ga. Tech and have been extremely competitive against #1 Kentucky, #24 Ole Miss and undefeated-in-the-SEC Miss. St. In fact, Georgia led all three conference games at the half, two of which took place on the road.
The key asterisk in the last paragraph of praise was, “led all conference games at the half”. It reminds me of the quotation my public speaking professor used to hammer home, “There are lies, damned lies and statistics.” Being up at the midpoint against very good teams is one way of saying how competitive this team has been, which is true. But it’s also a way of saying that Georgia has had trouble closing out wins. Which led me to a realization I never thought I would never come to.
Zac Swansey is a player I was never particularly fond of. I didn’t really like his offensive game as he seemed to wildly drive in the lane and shoot pull-up jumpers out of nowhere. I didn’t see much sense of rhythm, he’s not a great shooter from range and didn’t really look like the leader on the court that one might expect from the point guard. This last attribute was magnified when (my boy) Dustin Ware rightfully took the starting role midway through the season, which seemed to throw Swansey into a season-long sulk.
Fletcher Page, who used to cover basketball for the Red and Black and is now writing for Macon.com, once came on the air at WUOG to debate the merits of Coach Felton getting the boot and said, “You can’t run a Duke-style offense without Duke-caliber players.” I don’t think I’m breaking any ground when I say that Swansey isn’t a Duke caliber player and therefore, didn’t have much of a chance at looking good in Felton’s system. But he has great handles, knows what to do with the ball at the end of the game and has the nerves to sink big shots. We all remember Georgia’s SEC tournament win in 2008. Without Swansey’s buzzer beater against Kentucky, that wouldn’t have happened. He also saved Georgia from an embarrassing defeat against Wofford last season with some more last-minute magic, something we were unable to avoid this season.
Lets face it (And by “Lets” I’m really talking to myself. This column took me three days to write because I couldn’t face it), Dustin Ware hasn’t been great in tough spots. Against Kentucky with 30 seconds left, Ware charged down the court and threw up a 3 before anyone could get under the basket for a rebound. This enabled Kentucky to get an easy stop, cost us 10 seconds and put John Wall on the line for a 74-68 lead. Down 3 with 20 seconds left against Mississippi State, Ware tried to shoot a 3 over 6′9” Jarvis Varnado who has the most blocks in SEC history. I don’t need to tell you the result of that play.
We’ll never know what would have happened this season if Swansey had chosen to stay. Under Fox’s offense, his liabilities would have likely been erased, as this is a much more fluid offense and he wouldn’t have been forced to throw up jumpers in the lane. Ultimately, a guy who left the program after losing his job rather than fight for his spot is not necessarily someone you want around — especially given his comments afterward. But his confidence late in games could well be the 5 points Georgia has needed in each of the three SEC losses this season.
Until next time, Ball Hard.