Strange: Georgia's success not good for UT

Mike Strange

ATHENS, Ga. - There's a new sheriff in Stegeman. A sleeping Dawg has been awakened.

My abiding impression of Dennis Felton, the previous sheriff of Stegeman, was watching the poor guy come out to do his postgame radio show only to find several hundred Tennessee fans hanging around and raising heck in an otherwise empty building.

Even in his own house, Stegeman Coliseum, Felton was upstaged by Bruce Pearl and the magic touch he brought to Tennessee basketball.

I have a very different first impression of Mark Fox.

As the new coach walked off the court Saturday after his Georgia Bulldogs dominated No. 8 Tennessee 78-63, he gratefully raised his right arm, pointing to the celebrating crowd, then bumped knuckles with one fan and clasped several happy hands extended his way.

The Tennessee party in Stegeman is over. For now, at least.

The Vols had come to Georgia and left victorious five consecutive years in an overall 10-game winning streak against the Bulldogs. Buzz Peterson got the ball rolling in his exit season.

Pearl turned it into an avalanche. Back in Pearl's first campaign, when he asked "witnesses'' to come on the road and help the Vols, they responded by the busload.

Tickets, after all, were easy to pick up in Stegeman, even by the busload.

The Vol faithful showed up again Saturday, helping Georgia get its first sellout in three years. Bernard King even came over from Atlanta.

But the only time I heard anyone belting out "Rocky Top" was before tipoff. After Georgia raced to a 14-4 lead there wasn't much to sing about.

This was Georgia's party.

Predictably, the crowd chanted "over-rated, over-rated," as Scotty Hopson stood at the free-throw stripe with two minutes to play, his team trailing by 17 points.

Then another chant arose: "Lane Kif-fin, Lane Kif-fin.''

Ouch.

"I want people to know,'' said Damon Evans, "that this is what a true basketball atmosphere feels like.''

Evans is Georgia's athletic director. He's the guy who pulled the plug on Felton and reached out to try to find his own version of Bruce Pearl.

The culture change Pearl has engineered at Tennessee is enough to encourage any SEC athletic director to ask why his school can't enjoy the same transformation.

"Tennessee has done great things with their basketball program,'' Evans said. "Florida has done great things with their basketball program.

"Those are schools that are historically known for football. We're one of those schools. I believe we can have both a great football program and a great basketball program.''

If Georgia does manage to create and sustain basketball success, it might not be a good development for Tennessee.

Georgia, as a state, and Atlanta, as a metropolitan area, are recruiting hotbeds. That goes for hoops as well as helmets.

If you're keeping up with Tennessee's recent recruiting trends, you're aware Kiffin wasn't the only Vol head coach who was making Georgia a priority.

Because it's so difficult to pry blue-chippers out of Memphis, Pearl has targeted metro Atlanta. Joining freshman Kenny Hall next season will be Trae Golden and Jordan McCrae. Kevin Ware is already a 2011 commitment.

Why Atlanta? One reason is because it hasn't been all that difficult for blue-chippers to say "no thanks" to an underachieving Georgia program.

One blue-chipper who said yes was Trey Thompkins. The 6-foot-10 sophomore was easily the best player on the floor Saturday.

Thompkins is likely a short-timer in Athens. He'll move on to the NBA. But if Fox can win big and change the culture at Georgia as Pearl did at UT, other blue-chippers will find it harder to say no.

"We got beat by a better team today,'' Pearl said.

As Pearl came courtside to do his postgame radio show this day, the orange folks had long left the building. He had an audience of one, his wife Brandy.

As to whether the Tennessee party in Stegeman is over or merely interrupted, time will tell.

But if I were Tennessee, I'd be wary of Fox and this young team that he is teaching how to win.

Mike Strange may be reached at strangem@knoxnews.com or 865-342-6276.

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Comments » 23

pdhuff#552644 writes:

Ouch!

oldsmokey67 writes:

Reality will set in for Georgia and they will lose their next 2 games.Tennessee will be okay the sky is not falling.We seem to play down to the competition and Pearl will have the team ready the next time they play.Go Vols!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Bogytrain writes:

People, including writers, tend to over-react to losses. Here's a reality check - Fox is a good coach, GA has some good players. They were due a win, we were due a loss. Don't get too dramatic here. They beat Vandy Wednesday night and we're right back to square one.

It ain't over people!!

bobbytodd writes:

Georgia is 1-3 in the SEC and 9-8 overall. We will never be able to pull a recruit out of Atlanta again. I bet we end up out of the top 25 in recruiting this year....my bad..we are in the top 5. If we keep winning games kids will want to come play. UNC and DUKE don't pull all their recruits from North Carolina.

All_Vol writes:

Really Strange? One win and now Georgia is the next SEC powerhouse? You are over thinking it. Cant wait to read your article after we play them again in three weeks.

LiveFaith writes:

I love that part about the coaches swagger and high fives after the game. For the life of me, I can't figure out why Feldman never did that in past 4 UTvUGA home games. Hmmmmm?

You're a prophet Strange.

bhjohnso#207063 writes:

So Georgia beat us at home for the first time in 5 years and now they're the new SEC power? I expect the "football mentality" from some fans but not from Strange. Vols are gonna have to work hard to win every night and it's not going to happen some nights. There's no need to overreact.

Volways writes:

Wasted read. Stupid article.

matt78 writes:

As a UGA fan, it is nice to have a team that you feel like you can pull for and have some type of expectations.

yabadabadoo1026 writes:

anyone is blind who cant see that their 2 best players are better than our 2 best players and not just this game--------those 2 will be NBAers and jury still out on ours

We are very much overrated---IMO not sure we are even a legit top 20 team ------absolutely no offense, bad shooters and no one that shows up consistently---most of our points are too often garbage while we still butcher lots of close in attempts and our only offensive play it seems is the adlibed ally-oop that fails 2 out of 3 times----way too many bricks from far and near and the line

Some on this team just take the nite off on occation and dont show up too often

schymtz writes:

Georgia played like a team and a team that wanted to end a long losing streak. UT's winning streak over Georgia, especially at Stegeman, was not a cakewalk. Some of those games were close calls. That being said, Tennessee lost an SEC road game by not playing very well. I admit I was overconfident and suprised by this loss, but most of us were much more suprised by wins over Kansas, Memphis, and Ole Miss, and two of those were home games. Tennessee has already made lemonaid out of lemons this season, but there are no easy games on the road and very few easy wins period. Finally, a stronger SEC will compete better against the Big East, the ACC, and others. That's a good thing. Hello, UT might even learn to win on the west coast. This volunteer team has had two letdowns and has the losses to prove it. The "ice" defense melted in the face of a hot Georgia offense and there was no wall to crumble until very late in the game. When UT's current winning streak ended in Georgia, the winning streak to worry about is consecutive wins this season, not simply a winning streak over Georgia. After all, Georgia won the SEC tournament - a goal Tennessee has yet to meet. Go Vols: start another streak against Vandy!

jzt writes:

Yes Georgia played over its head, just like we did against Kansas. But the bottom line is they wanted this game more. They were quicker to loose balls and much stronger on the boards. You win on the road with solid defense and rebounding. Swiperboy can do neither, he is a terrible defender and has the ability to do it. Kenny Hall will be a force in this league on rebounding alone.

johnlg00 writes:

From what I saw yesterday, there is no question that this was a different Georgia team than any we have seen since the Dominique Wilkins days. They had late leads in every one of those SEC games they lost prior to Saturday, but ran out of gas at the end. Their bench was no doubt lifted by the crowd and the outstanding play of their starters.

However, I don't nearly agree that the rise of UGA shuts down the recruiting pipeline in the state. UGA can only sign a few every year, after all, and the state is arguably one of the top five producers of basketball talent in the country. The Vols may well get UGA back when they come to TBA, but the days of just striding into Stegman and waltzing out with an easy win are over. I tried to tell those like several of the first ten posters on this thread that this would be a real challenge--since some people just can't look beyond records in predicting outcomes--if for no other reason than because basketball talent has never been more evenly distributed. There may only be about 10 teams who could win the national championship this year, but there are probably 50 who could make the Final Four.

I was far less surprised by the outcome than I was by the margin, but both were more a matter of UGA playing great than UT playing badly. The Vols' offensive struggles were not much different than what we have seen for the last year and a half, but UGA just could not miss and they clearly brought more energy. The Vols are still the same team that won seven straight--capable of winning any game, but not good enough to win most without an outstanding effort and, especially, better execution at both ends than we saw Saturday.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to Plasticman:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

When a program has been down as long and as far as UGA's has, it sometimes takes a while to learn how to win even with much better talent. UGA may not play that well again this year, but they DID have late leads in every SEC game they had played. In every rebuilding process, there is always a game that represents the moment where a team in flux crystallizes into something more permanent. For UT, it was the big win at Texas in CBP's first year; for UGA, it may have happened Saturday.

Madkels writes:

BS. Look, we finally ran out of emotion steam. And UGA played way up. Fox maybe a better coach than Felton, but with a top 5 class next season, we will be just fine. Even Texas lost 2 in a row. Don't panic.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to jzt:

Yes Georgia played over its head, just like we did against Kansas. But the bottom line is they wanted this game more. They were quicker to loose balls and much stronger on the boards. You win on the road with solid defense and rebounding. Swiperboy can do neither, he is a terrible defender and has the ability to do it. Kenny Hall will be a force in this league on rebounding alone.

I agree. Kenny and Scotty were the only ones who brought it for the whole game. Some others, Maze in particular, played well in spots, but on the whole UGA was the better and more energetic team on the floor all night.

cloudodust writes:

in response to Volways:

Wasted read. Stupid article.

As I'm a Volunteer living in Georgia, you just don't know the pain we of the Orange and White endure in any loss to UGA down here. Swim teams get dunked by UGA, men and women BB teams get thumped by UGA, all in the same week. Fox has done what Felton could not. I hate it but it's a fact. Landers breaks an eight game skid against us. Man, at least if you're up in Tennessee you're surrounded by friends, not foes...

shoelessvol#236864 writes:

The basketball season is a long one filled with ups and downs. Yesterday was a down one! The main objective is to survive the bumps in the road and continue on track. We all would have taken a split with the road games this week. The immediate objective is to maintain serve this week at home! Realistically we are looking a a 22-24 win season and a 5 seed in the NCAA. That's really a good season with all that has transpired. We could also have 2 wins over #1 teams as well. We win be O.K. GO VOLS!!

Down_The_Field writes:

guess you could say it was going to happen some time since the suspensions. i just hated it was UGlAy.

still proud of this team and like watching them better than the pre-mempus team.

GBO

usnavyvolfaninva_still_getting_paid writes:

in response to yabadabadoo1026:

anyone is blind who cant see that their 2 best players are better than our 2 best players and not just this game--------those 2 will be NBAers and jury still out on ours

We are very much overrated---IMO not sure we are even a legit top 20 team ------absolutely no offense, bad shooters and no one that shows up consistently---most of our points are too often garbage while we still butcher lots of close in attempts and our only offensive play it seems is the adlibed ally-oop that fails 2 out of 3 times----way too many bricks from far and near and the line

Some on this team just take the nite off on occation and dont show up too often

Yep, you're right... lets just pack it in now.. no point in playing the rest of the season. Tex just lost 2 in a row, guess their season's over too.

pathetic.

PaPaLew writes:

First off, I have to say I'm a Vandy fan first but I pull for UT when we're not playing each other. I know that's kind of odd but my wife's a UT grad and that's the way it's evolved over 30 years of marriage. Anyway, It seems to me that a lot of UT fans, as well as the writer of this article, are really overeacting to 1 bad road loss. Most every team is gonna have a game like this at some point during the year. To suggest that Tennessee is done because UGA is better than they've been in the past is a real stretch.

The one thing I've learned over the years is not to overeact one way or the other to 1 game, good or bad, It's a long season and they'll be some bumps in the road for every team.

Come March, UT will be a sweet sixteen team or better and UGA will be playing in the NIT.

abnermc writes:

To my knowledge my wife has never shot a free throw but I would bet she could go to a gym today & match what Steve Pearl did on free throws yesterday (12%).

johnlg00 writes:

in response to PaPaLew:

First off, I have to say I'm a Vandy fan first but I pull for UT when we're not playing each other. I know that's kind of odd but my wife's a UT grad and that's the way it's evolved over 30 years of marriage. Anyway, It seems to me that a lot of UT fans, as well as the writer of this article, are really overeacting to 1 bad road loss. Most every team is gonna have a game like this at some point during the year. To suggest that Tennessee is done because UGA is better than they've been in the past is a real stretch.

The one thing I've learned over the years is not to overeact one way or the other to 1 game, good or bad, It's a long season and they'll be some bumps in the road for every team.

Come March, UT will be a sweet sixteen team or better and UGA will be playing in the NIT.

Well said. The average avid fan seems to alternate between giddy elation and dark despair depending on the outcome of each game. It is natural for all of us to be more concerned about the performance of our own team, but sometimes you just have to give the other guys a little credit, too.

I'm expecting a barn-burner with Vandy at our place Wednesday. Hope your guys can help us keep UK at least a little bit in check for another year.

BTW, based on what I saw Saturday, only UGA's slow start this year will keep them out of the Big Dance, if they don't in fact make it in. By the end of the season, they will be better than two-thirds of the teams that DO make it, if they aren't already. GBO!!! TCB!!!

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