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Chris Gay: While South Carolina rises, Georgia remains mediocre

Posted: March 22, 2017 - 1:24am

I was in bed reading Sunday night, my wife was watching something on HGTV. Soon after she fell asleep, I sensed an opportunity and grabbed the remote.

When I changed the channel, I found South Carolina beating Duke in the final minutes of their second round NCAA Tournament game. Gamecocks fans were going nuts, albeit not as nuts as Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall's wife earlier in the day. Nonetheless, South Carolina dunked and dazzled down the stretch and the seventh-seeded Gamecocks shocked the second-seeded Blue Devils, blowing up millions of brackets across the nation.

March Madness.

As I watched the upset unfold, I thought about Georgia's basketball team. When's the last time the Bulldogs have been relevant? Two decades ago when they had Tubby Smith for two seasons? Remember the success Georgia had with him at the helm?

Tubby's teams went 45-19 in two seasons with two appearances in the NCAA Tournament. His first year, he led the Bulldogs to the Sweet Sixteen, an overtime loss to Syracuse the only thing standing between Georgia and an Elite Eight appearance.

Maybe it would've been impossible to have kept Tubby in Athens, Ga. He was a former Kentucky assistant coach, and when the Wildcats came calling Tubby took little time to make his way to Lexington. He promptly won the national championship in his first season.

Before Tubby left, Georgia was prepared to offer him a contract extension worth $600,000 a year. Kentucky easily topped that. Not only did they have tradition and prestige on their side, the Wildcats also had money. They offered Tubby $1 million a year. In 2003, he signed an eight-year contract worth $2.5 million to remain at Kentucky.

Maybe if then-athletic director Vince Dooley had overpaid Tubby to stay, Georgia would have transformed into a national power in basketball. Then again, maybe Dooley knew he had no chance of retaining Tubby. Maybe no one at Georgia cares about men's basketball. Whatever the reason, the Bulldogs haven't been the same since he departed two decades ago.

Georgia has been to the NCAA Tournament five times in the past 20 years. The Bulldogs have won one postseason game in that span, but that victory was later vacated.

In 2009, Mark Fox was hired away from Nevada to help turn around Georgia's basketball fortunes. While Fox seems to be a great guy, his run has been just OK, but nothing special. The Bulldogs are 145-118 in eight seasons under Fox. In 2015, Georgia gave Fox a 20 percent raise following a third consecutive 20-win season, bumping his pay from $1.6 million to $2 million a year. His contract runs through 2020.

I'm all for people getting raises, especially when they have success. But take a look at some other numbers.

Fox has lost 12 or more games every year he's been at Georgia. The Bulldogs went 19-15 this season, finishing 9-9 in Southeastern Conference play. Some of Georgia's wins this season include: UNC Asheville, Furman, George Washington, Gardner-Webb, Morehouse, Louisiana-Lafayette and Charleston Southern. That's seven automatic victories. Georgia finished its year with a loss in the NIT to Belmont, which promptly lost by double digits to Georgia Tech in the second round.

Fox defeated No. 11 Kentucky on Jan. 9, 2011. One season later, Georgia defeated No. 12 Florida. The Bulldogs haven't beaten a top 15 team since then.

It's one thing defeating teams like High Point and Morehouse. It's another trying to knock off high-quality opponents like Florida and Kentucky.

South Carolina, which defeated Florida (one of the school's four top 25 wins this season), was smart when it hired Frank Martin. The Gamecocks found a successful coach at Kansas State, one who took the Wildcats to the NCAA Tournament four out of his five seasons. Kansas State made a run in 2009-10 when it advanced to the Elite Eight.

After struggling his first three seasons in South Carolina, Martin has turned around the program the past two seasons. Now, the Gamecocks will play No. 3 seed Baylor on Friday night in the third round, the winner advancing to the Elite Eight. It will be absolute bedlam in Columbia, S.C., if the Gamecocks win.

South Carolina has proven you don't have to settle for mediocrity when it comes to basketball - or any other sport. Georgia, on the flip side, seems stuck in neutral.

The Gamecocks went after a good coach, opening up their wallet for Martin. He initially signed a six-year deal worth more than $12 million. Last year, he received a $350,000 raise as part of a contract extension through 2022.

South Carolina has had a lot of success in recent years in football, baseball, women's basketball and now men's basketball. The athletic administration has hit a lot of home runs, while Georgia is barely getting the ball out of the infield. What's the Bulldogs' best sport now? Men's golf? Whatever happened to the gymnastics program? Whatever happened to a lot of their sports?

Maybe Fox will do his part and earn his $2 million a year. Maybe he'll lead the Bulldogs to the NCAA Tournament next season. Or maybe he'll schedule more non-conference cupcakes and lose in the NIT again.

It'd be fun to see Georgia competing well into the NCAA Tournament. Then again, the Bulldogs have a long ways to go in almost all their sports.

 

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