Georgia Tech Takes Control of Peach State RivalryPosted by rtmsf on December 5th, 2012
Bennet Hayes (@hoopstraveler) is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after Tuesday night’s Georgia-Georgia Tech game in Atlanta.
When the college basketball season tipped off a month ago, Georgia and Georgia Tech found themselves facing similar expectations. Neither program appeared to be sporting a team capable of making the 2013 NCAA Tournament, but there was hope that both might be improved enough to escape the SEC and ACC cellars, respectively. While the 2-5 Dawgs had slogged their way through the season’s first month (with only wins over Jacksonville and East Tennessee State to brag about), early returns had been slightly more promising for the 5-2 Yellow Jackets, and Tuesday night’s rivalry game in Atlanta only served to further differentiate the Peach State’s two pre-eminent basketball programs.
Mark Fox will surely write off Tuesday’s 62-54 loss as simply another missed opportunity for his team, but boy, this one seemed to resonate on levels far beyond tonight’s 40 minutes of hoops. Maybe that added significance stems from Brian Gregory running his record to 2-0 against Fox and Georgia in his short tenure in Atlanta. Or perhaps it’s due to the fact that, for the first time in 19 years, Tech has won back-to-back games against UGA. Or maybe, just maybe, this one matters more because Gregory seems to have the best Georgia high school basketball talent headed again to Georgia Tech — and far, far away from Athens. All those elements seemed to linger in the backdrop of this one, and the frenzied energy of the sellout crowd of 8,600 at the shiny, new (the three-game old kind of new) McCamish Pavilion drove home the largest message loud and clear — Gregory and Tech are seizing firm control of college basketball in Georgia.
The Yellow Jackets jumped out early in this one and only briefly looked back, as Georgia’s late run cut the deficit to five with less than four minutes to play. Tech had all the answers from there, however, as Mfon Udofia’s back-breaking and-one was likely exactly the sequence Fox had in mind when he noted the “senior plays” that Tech made down the stretch. Udofia’s leadership was crucial in this one, as he battled through an ankle injury to post 31 effective minutes running the Tech offense, prompting Fox to note that he is “a much better player than he was a year ago.”
This certainly seems the case, but he also has a talented group of freshmen in town to help make life easier. In his first go-around on the Georgia recruiting trails, Gregory directly beat out Fox (and others) in securing consensus top-100 local talents Robert Carter Jr. and Marcus Georges-Hunt. Carter Jr. is thought to be the gem of the class, but it was Georges-Hunt who keyed the victory on this night, displaying an ability to score both inside and out on his way to a game-high 18 points. The youngster’s contributions are a nice sign for the Jackets, but Brian Gregory is all too aware that his squad is a work in progress. “We are making progress as a team,” Gregory said, but quickly added that “we still have a long ways to go.” A long ways to go indeed, but a team and program that seems headed in the right direction.
It wasn’t so long ago that Fox had Georgia heading in that upward direction, but this Tech mini-rise seems to be coinciding with a Georgia flat-line (and that might be generous). The Georgia offensive conundrum was on full display this evening, as preseason all-SEC selection Kentavious Caldwell-Pope again received little help putting the ball in the basket, and even he struggled through a 5-18 outing. The final numbers were ugly: 31% from the field, including a paltry 2-17 from three-point range. Fox laid it out quite plainly in the post-game presser when he said that “we simply do not score enough points right now.” Things could be worse in Athens (not every coach has a weapon like Caldwell-Pope at his expense), but if Fox can’t find capable running mates for his super sophomore, the warm seat that he currently sits on figures to get a whole lot hotter by season’s end.
The season is young, and lots of basketball lies ahead. Georgia Tech will still struggle to find ACC wins, and Georgia could easily navigate its way to .500 in an SEC littered with bottom-feeders. But let tonight’s events serve notice: The balance of power in Georgia is shifting its way back towards Atlanta.