Although beating Mississippi State in Thursday night's first round of the SEC Tournament is first on the Georgia Bulldogs' mind, head coach Mark Fox used the trip to New Orleans to teach his players a life's lesson as well by taking them on a tour of the Ninth Ward.
The Ninth Ward, you'll remember, was completely destroyed during Hurricane Katrina, and Fox wanted his team to see, and perhaps appreciate, what those living in the area have had to endure.
"I brought my team here in 2007 for the NCAA tournament, and it really was staggering to see it up close. I thought that at that time I thought the city just bent over backwards to make the tournament experience a good one, and I had a lot of respect for that," Fox said during Wednesday's pre-game press conference. "So I just felt like it would be good for our players to see what people went through in this region and to see what the after affects of a hurricane would be like. And obviously I think all these guys followed it through the news and just to see still some damaged homes, to see the ones that have been rebuilt, and I just felt like it would be a great educational thing to do.
Fox said it was a good lesson learned.
Although much of the city has been able to rebuild, there was still plenty to see.
"I think it gives perspective just because you can see still some very damaged areas, and I think there's been a lot of progress, obviously. I don't know the title of the project that Brad Pitt's kind of pushing that has a lot of homes that are rebuilt with solar paneled roofs and very different looking homes, but I think there's been a lot of progress," he said. "But obviously this city and this region had to completely rebuild. It's amazing when some time goes by that you think that because time's passed, that everything's fixed. Well that's probably not the case. And that's why I'm sure that they're excited to have this tournament and the Final Four here to bring more attention and certainly consumer dollars to the region."
Players can't pin-point shooting inconsistencies
One look at the season stats and it's easy to see that the Bulldogs have at times had trouble putting the ball in the hoop.
But according to senior guard Gerald Robinson Jr., just because the Bulldogs rank last in the SEC in field goal percentage (39.4 percent), there's no reason to think the team can't still put it together against MSU.
"We haven't quite been in the arena yet, but I'm pretty sure it will start with a good preparation today at shoot around and getting used to getting a good feel of our surroundings and the environment," Robinson said. "There's not one thing I can specifically point out, with the inconsistencies, but we'll go with a good preparation today and that will be the first step. And then we'll see if we can shoot the ball in (Thursday)."
Obviously, the Bulldogs will need to shoot well in their game at the New Orleans Arena to beat MSU for the second time this year.
"We played really well the first game (a 70-68 win in overtime). I thought we caught them at the right time. I think they're a team that their starting five wasn't healthy," Fox said. "I know (Rodney) Hood hasn't been healthy in the past couple weeks. But their starting five, when healthy, is arguably as talented as anybody."
Fox unsure about new schedule format
Fox said he has no idea what schedule model was going to be adopted when conference coaches get together during the spring meetings in Destin, Fla.
"I supported the one division standings; I think that that was the right move for the league. I felt like at the time that we should have addressed a big picture scheduling model because we still scheduled the old way, the old divisional, two division format. But we didn't do that," Fox said. "We didn't address that. And in hindsight, it's just really a matter of one year because now we're going to have a completely new system, a completely new league, and how that's divided up, how we schedule, that's obviously not been decided yet."
Fox is unsure what model may eventually be adopted, now that Missouri and Texas A&M have joined the league.
"I think that we're going to have to certainly look at several models and we're going to have to do a lot of research. We're going to have to - the big argument last year was, okay, Alabama finished four games ahead of Tennessee and didn't get in. And that's a pretty simple argument to say, Why don't we list 1 through 12, and if Alabama would have been that far ahead of Tennessee, they would have both gotten in," Fox said. "As coaches, we thought, yeah, that makes sense. The selection committee, I don't know if they quite agreed with us on that, but we made the change. And as we move forward, I think we not only have to look at arguments that make sense, but we need to do some research on how we're going to maximize our opportunities to get tournament bids."
Maximizing the league's chances for NCAA bids will be the primary goal.
"It's new territory for everybody, 14 team league or however big these leagues get, no league has found a formula proven to be successful because no league's had that many teams," he said. "I think that if we're smart, we'll really try and dissect it as much as we can so we can put a plan in place that maximizes opportunities for everybody."
Late night makes for a long day
With Thursday night's tip-off not until 10 p.m. (at the earliest), Fox knows he'll have a challenge keeping his players in a routine before heading over to the New Orleans Arena.
"This is funny, Coach (Mark) Richt and I talked about this in regards to college football and the routine that you have before a game, and the day before a game and how so many things are set in stone," he said. "But our game times are so all over the map, we have these late starts, we have Sunday afternoon games, we just have had some very untraditional times."
But Fox said he's got a couple of ideas in mind to keep his team from losing focus.
If Georgia wins, Friday night's game would be at 10 p.m. as well.
"Thursday) will be a day that hopefully we'll be able to watch some of the games in the hotel. We'll obviously get them up and get them moving, have a little study time, but we'll try and keep them busy," he said. "I think it's important that we get out of the hotel at least once and go have a shoot around or a walk through just so we don't show up sluggish. Because I think that a 10 o'clock start time is a little bit unique, a little bit of a challenge, but we're going to have to deal with it."