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12 TAKEAWAYS: UGA Basketball’s Season in Year One of Mike White

Graham Coffey

Posted just now · IP 

1. Flashback to the day Mike White was hired. Georgia had just wrapped up the worst season in program history with Tom Crean being fired right after UGA’s 81-56 loss to Vanderbilt in the first round of the SEC Tournament. The program was a mess on the floor. Georgia’s 6-26 record gave it the worst winning percentage by a team in SEC history. Worse than what was happening on the floor, the last month of the season included infighting between assistants and an athletic department review of Tom Crean’s program. The program was at its lowest point ever when White was hired. Any UGA fan would have jumped at a .500 season this time last year. 


2. While it’s true that UGA’s 16-16 record should be considered a success, Georgia struggled down the stretch of the season. The campaign ended with 6 straight disappointing losses for Georgia. In the first three they weren’t competitive. Georgia lost to Alabama by 49, Arkansas by 32, and Missouri by 22. The first two games were over within the first 12 minutes. Against Mizzou, UGA actually led 41-40 at the half. All of those losses were expected and understandable. 


3. What will leave a bitter taste in the mouth of many UGA fans was the closing stretch of the season. First, Georgia got White’s old team at home. They lost to Florida 77-67 despite the Gators being down their best player. It was a competitive game, but it was one that the Bulldogs should have won. They took 9 more shots from the field than Florida and also attempted 9 more free throws than UF. Georgia doubled up Florida in offensive rebounds (15 to 7) and they had one less turnover, but in the end they couldn’t stop UF from making shots and they didn’t sink enough of their own. Florida shot 53.7% from the field and UGA shot 33.3%. This Georgia team was much better defensively than it was offensively. KenPom ranked the Bulldogs at 124th out of 360 Division 1 teams in his Adjusted Defensive rankings. The AdjDef ranking looks at how many points a team allows per 100 possessions. UGA gave up a respectable 103 points per 100 possessions on defense in 2023. On the offensive side of the ball, the Bulldogs ranked 187th at 104.4 points per 100 possessions. If UGA’s defense had a night like it did against Florida and gave up 53.7% from the field, it was virtually impossible for the Bulldogs to win. 


4. Their next time out, Georgia went on the road to a South Carolina team who was 10-20 entering the game. UGA committed 21 fouls and the Gamecocks attempted 18 more free throws than the Bulldogs. Georgia was even with USC in the turnover battle and held South Carolina to 2/14 from behind the 3-point line, but the Bulldogs got outrebounded 40 to 25 and gave up 16 offensive rebounds while only pulling down 8. Georgia was 14-1 this year when holding its opponents under 70 points. The only loss came to a South Carolina team that was almost the worst in the SEC. There’s a lot to give White’s program credit for in year one, but that is a loss that will sting. This Georgia team was really only elite at one thing- getting to the foul line. With an offensive free throw rate of 40.5, UGA came in at 16th out of 363 D1 teams. To translate that, for every 10 shots that the Bulldogs attempted from the field, they attempted a free throw just over 4 times. Conversely, UGA was a respectable 112th with a defensive free throw rate of 28.9. The biggest edge that Mike White’s team had was its ability to get to the foul line. Take it away like in the South Carolina game, and things would be tough on them. What made life harder on Georgia is the fact their team free throw shooting percentage of 72.7% was just 141st in Division 1. If they had been a better free throw shooting team they would have likely improved their record by 2-3 wins. 


5. UGA’s season ending slump continued with its SEC Tournament loss to LSU. Knowing that it excelled in winning lower scoring games, UGA allowed 42 in the first half. The smaller Tigers ate Georgia up on the offensive boards, pulling down 18 rebounds off their own missed shots and creating a ton of second chance points. UGA shot 40% from the field while the Tigers shot 36.4%, but LSU took 16 more shots than Georgia. That’s how the Bulldogs lost to a team that had only won once since December 28th. While it was a bitter way to end the season, Georgia does deserve credit for coming back to take multiple leads in the second half after being down by 12 at the half. White pulled 2021-2022 leading scorer Kario Oquendo out of the game and went with a more defensive minded lineup to start the period. The Dawgs didn’t win in the end, but White’s strategy did work. Georgia got it going on defense and hunted better shots on offense… White was clearly frustrated with UGA’s defensive efforts in the first half. Oquendo was UGA’s leading scorer at halftime, but he didn’t see the floor in the second half. It was an interesting end to the season. Was White sending a message to his team that a player’s made shots only matter if they can help the team get a stop on the opponent’s next possession? Did something occur in the locker room at the half? I don’t know. Either way, it felt like a moment where White made a decision to do both what he thought was best for his program and what would give Georgia the best chance of getting back in the game. 


6. So, what happened to create UGA’s late-season swoon? Well, it’s rarely any one thing that costs a team a game, but the truth is that White was never able to find a lineup that could defend/rebound well enough to keep the opposition from lighting up the scoreboard while also scoring enough points to keep his team in games. UGA’s best defenders often struggled to make shots. Its best shooters often struggled to defend. You can’t fault White for lack of trying. Georgia tried 13 different starting lineups this season with 11 different players. 


7. As the stretch run of Georgia’s season unfolded I questioned the amount of three-point attempts White’s team put up. UGA attempted the 6th most three’s of any team in the SEC, but the Dawgs were just 11th in the league in three-point shooting percentage at 31.7%. Then I looked at UGA’s shooting heat map from the entire season, and it put UGA’s offensive strategy into a new light. Here is where UGA ranked relative to national averages… 

Top of the key 3’s: UGA = 31.7% (-2.3% below national average)

Right wing 3’s: UGA = 35.4% (-0.6% below national average)

All 2’s outside the paint: UGA = 28.0% (-7.4% below national average)

All shots in the paint: UGA = 40.6% (-0.6% below national average)

All shots at the rim: UGA = 59.6% (-2.9% below national average)


8. Georgia wasn’t very good at anything it did offensively, but taking threes gave it a shot on a night when it got hot. The game UGA played at home against Missouri late in the season was a perfect example of that, but it only lasted for a half. Still, UGA led the Tigers at the break and put up 41 points. I looked through player specific shooting percentages for everyone on Georgia’s roster. The Dawgs only had 4 players who shot over 30% on midrange two-point attempts. They also only had 4 players who shot over 30% on three-point attempts. From a mathematical standpoint, there was sound logic in Georgia’s strategy to shoot more from behind the arc. They were just as likely to make the shots, but those shots counted for more when they went in. 


9. There are multiple other reasons that the strategy of shooting more three-pointers became a necessity. The first is that teams figured out the book on Georgia as the year went on. They knew that UGA excelled at getting to the line and defenders started to sag off of Georgia’s guards and forwards to guard against their abilities to drive to the rim. The second, UGA’s ball movement was never great and their players didn’t excel at cutting without the ball. That was more of a talent/athleticism issue than anything else. The third reason Georgia had to jack up more shots from behind the arc was the injury that Terry Roberts had midway through the SEC schedule. He took a beating early in the season. Roberts went to the hole at will, knocked down shots off of his crossover, and distributed well. Unfortunately he found himself concussed in late-January and also had lower leg injuries. All of that knocked him off course. Roberts still contributed a lot to UGA late in the year, but he couldn’t carry the Dawgs anymore and he lost some of his punch when it came to breaking defenders down off the dribble. 


10. It’s interesting to dive into Georgia’s advanced player stats. Without going too deep into an explainer of some advanced basketball stats, I’ll try to share what I found. In Oquendo, UGA had a guard with stronger scoring abilities than your average replacement level college player. On the surface he looks like a player who protects the ball well and doesn’t create turnovers. That’s true when he’s dribbling, but he does not create assists at all and he contributed greatly to Georgia’s ball movement issues. Terry Roberts and Justin Hill are also above average scorers. Oquendo is worth 2.1 PPG more than an average college guard where Roberts is worth 1.6 PGG more and Hill is worth 1.9 PPG more. Roberts creates assists at a rate more than 6x of Oquendo and Hill does it at a 5x rate. That coupled with Hill’s superior defense probably explains why we saw Oquendo shelved for Hill at a lot of junctures late in the season. Hill also got to the free-throw line at a higher rate than any UGA guard, but I doubt that would have been the case if Roberts stayed healthy all year. If you look at pure efficiency on both ends of the floor, Jabri Abdur-Rahim was the biggest positive on this UGA team. He’s a 38.7% three-point shooter who doesn’t turn the ball over. He’s a great piece for White to build around next year and UGA should probably screen for him more. The second most efficient player was Braelen Bridges. He led Georgia in True Shooting Percentage and Effective FG%. Unfortunately, Bridges struggled to create his own shots off the dribble and suffered greatly from the lack of ball movement in UGA’s offense. Teams also figured out he was an offensive weapon and began double teaming him every time he touched the ball. Bridges was a good passer this season, but none of his fellow big men had the ability to finish the looks he created for them with enough consistency. That was all the more reason for teams to double team him and UGA could rarely make defense pay for denying him the ball. The Georgia guards weren’t out of this world but they were good enough for an SEC bubble team. The fatal flaw was the lack of other big men who could score efficiently while playing reliable defense. Needless to say, there’s a lot of other skills UGA could use on its roster, but that was the biggest problem with this roster in my opinion. 


11. One thing that can be said for Georgia in White’s first season is that the Bulldogs avoided the crippling out of conference losses of past years. They beat everyone that they should have beat. Here’s a look at Georgia’s wins versus the RPI ratings quadrants. 

Quad-4 (home vs teams ranked 161-plus, neutral vs. 201-plus, away vs. 241-plus): 10-0

Quad-3 (home vs 76-160, neutral vs 101-200, away vs. 136-240): 3-5 

Quad-2 (home vs 31-75, neutral vs 51-100, away vs 76-135): 3-4

Quad-1 (home vs top 30, neutral vs 1-50, away vs. 1-75): 1-7

If UGA faced a team with less talent it reliably won. That is a good starting point for a program rebuild under White. Against Quad 3 is where Georgia’s season teetered to the negative a bit. They lost to Georgia Tech by 2 in Atlanta, Vandy by 3 at home, Ole Miss by 4 at home, South Carolina by 6 on the road, and LSU by 5 in the SEC Tournament. Those games kept UGA from being a 20 win team in year one under White and all of them could have easily gone Georgia’s way. On the plus side, they were appropriately competitive with the teams that are at their relative talent level. Georgia’s three Quad 2 wins were Auburn, Mississippi State, and Ole Miss on the road. UGA’s win over Auburn was one of its most efficient offensive performances of the season. As for Quad 1, the Bulldogs home victory over Kentucky was their lone win. The 7 Q1 losses were mostly ugly. The games against Florida and Kentucky on the road in January were the only Q1 losses where Georgia wasn’t blown out. To be fair, those blowout losses all came against teams who are established with veteran head coaches and much more well-recruited rosters. 


12. When I was planning to write this piece I expected to be more critical of Mike White. That was mostly due to the season ending losses. When taking the full season into account I came away impressed with the job he did. I think it is fair to say that he squeezed everything out of this roster that he could. He came up with some creative ways to win games against better teams, ensured his Bulldogs beat the teams they were better than, and laid a solid foundation for the future. What impressed me the most is that he got a .500 record out of a team that ranked 322nd in Effective Field Goal Percentage. This was a group that did not have much offensive firepower, but on the nights where they shot the ball the most effectively they either won or took more talented teams to the wire. There is sufficient evidence to say that White can get a lot out of his talent. The future of the Georgia program and the success of his tenure will be determined by how well he does on the recruiting trail over the next couple of cycles.

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