This week the Southeastern Conference released its league schedule for the upcoming basketball season, and here is a look at Georgia’s slate:
— Georgia Basketball (@UGABasketball) August 19, 2015
The first thing any SEC basketball fan should look for during the initial glance of his team’s schedule is how many times they have to play Kentucky. In Georgia’s case, the Dawgs only play the Cats once in 2016, and even though the game is at Rupp, facing Calipari’s bunch one time in a year is definitely a blessing. While playing Kentucky twice does help to shore up the old RPI, it’s not as helpful for the conference record.
The Dawgs have two games with Florida, Missouri, South Carolina, Mississippi, and Auburn. Other than Ole Miss, all of those aforementioned teams finished 2015 with sub – .500 SEC records. In Bruce Pearl’s second season, Auburn should be better; however, Florida will probably be slightly worse as they try to learn how to survive without legendary coach Billy Donovan. Mizzu and the Gamecocks should continue to thrive in their roles as league bottom-feeders.
UGA truly won the scheduling lottery this go round as they only have one game against Kentucky, LSU, Arkansas, Texas A&M and Vanderbilt, all of whom were listed in Joe Lunardi’s initial Bracketology (along with Georgia). Of course, any NCAA Tournament predictions made in August need to be taken with several grains of salt, especially considering that the teams haven’t even had an official practice yet. However, obviously those SEC teams are the ones that Lunardi anticipates being the strength of the conference, and it’s kind of amazing that Coach Mark Fox only has to game plan for each of them just once (until the SEC tournament).
With Georgia’s returning veteran backcourt, the Dawgs have an excellent chance to finish in the top four of the league in 2016, especially if J.J. Frazier will just stop driving.
The Dawgs ended last season with an RPI of 37, which was certainly bolstered by playing the 33rd most difficult schedule in the country, according to ESPN. Coach Mark Fox made it a point to shore up the out of conference games leading up to SEC play, and his strategy paid off as Georgia maintained a solid RPI throughout the season, enabling them to earn an at-large birth into the NCAA tournament (of course, playing Kentucky twice in a year helped as well).
This season, UGA’s conference schedule should be slightly better considering the Dawgs only have to play Coach Cal’s team once. However, Georgia’s pre-SEC schedule looks rather daunting. Coach Fox’s team will play five teams from Power 5 conferences – Seton Hall, Kansas State, Georgia Tech, Clemson and Baylor – before embarking upon league play.
Additionally, the Dawgs will take on some of the best teams that the Mid-Major ranks have to offer in Murray State, Winthrop and Robert Morris. Since 2010, Murray State has won the Ohio Valley Conference twice, and they’ve played for the championship the last three years.
Winthrop has been a powerhouse within the Big South for over a decade, appearing in 7 of the last 11 championship games, and winning 5 of those contests.
Only once in the past 7 seasons has the Northeast Conference championship game not included Robert Morris (2013) – the Colonials have won three league crowns during that same time frame.
Playing these types of games against smaller schools is always tricky for a team from a power conference because winning is expected and rarely doted upon, while losing can prove to be disastrous when the NCAA Tournament committee is looking at a body of work on Selection Sunday. Murray State, Winthrop and Robert Morris will all be fully-capable of winning in Athens and derailing UGA’s season if the Dawgs do not give them the respect that they undoubtedly deserve.
After two years in Athens, Cameron Forte has opted to leave Georgia and play his final year of collegiate basketball somewhere closer to his home of Phoenix, Arizona. According to the AJC, Forte is looking for a situation where he has a more expanded role on a team, and I am guessing that he means he wants more minutes and offensive touches.
I understand his desire to play more, especially considering that this upcoming season will be his last, but I wonder if he has a keen awareness of some of his limitations. Forte’s biggest weakest is his lack of a jump shot. Other than the baseline shot he made that won the game at Bama, I don’t recall him connecting on anything outside of a lay-up during his time at UGA. But considering Forte’s unorthodox shooting form, with his left elbow way out to the side, it’s no wonder that he struggles from the outside (he made just 56% of his free throw attempts this year). And at 6’7″, Forte lacks the size to be the focal point inside for any respectable Division I team.
However, where Cameron succeeded was in his uncanny knack to always find himself in the right position to clean up on the offensive glass. Other than Yante Maten, Forte averaged more offensive rebounds per minute played than anyone else on the team. Forte was afforded the luxury of hunting down weak side rebounds because teams this year honed in on Marcus Thornton and Neme Djurisic when they touched the ball in the paint. Next year, with Maten on the opposite block, one would have to imagine that Forte could once again clean up a lot of missed shots since the opposition will be most likely putting their best inside defender on Yante.
Georgia seems like such a good fit for a role player like Forte.
But yet I digress. Forte is gone and Coach Mark Fox’s team must move on without him.
The question is how much will Georgia miss Forte’s minutes? Fox now has three players to replace in his frontcourt for next season, leaving him with Yante Maten, Houston Kessler and Kenny Paul Geno as the only returning inside players with any significant playing experience.
The Dawgs have three bigs coming in as freshman – Derek Ogbeide, E’Torrion Woolridge and Michael Edwards – and they will be asked to contribute immediately considering how thin Georgia is up front (and the fact that Maten might find himself in foul trouble often with his shot blocking prowess).
After a quick exit from this year’s NCAA tournament, Georgia players were quick to reassure fans that they intend to be back next season. Coach Mark Fox told the media that he was very excited about next year’s team.
But can this team – minus Marcus Thornton and Neme Djurisic – put together an effort worthy enough of returning to the field of 68? Thornton and Neme combined for more than 23 points and nearly 13 rebounds a game, numbers that will be hard to replace. Yante Maten, who finished his freshman campaign averaging 5 points and 4 boards a night, seems capable of filling Thornton’s shoes. He may not put up Marcus’s All-SEC type numbers in just his second year, but if he can make a Travis Leslie-esque jump from his freshman to his sophomore year, Maten and the Dawgs should be ok without Thornton.
Replacing Djurisic is going to be more difficult. Neme was a versatile big that could stretch the floor with his creative ball-handling and three-point capabilities. Djurisic shot 34% from beyond the arc this season, and his departure leaves UGA with just three players – Kenny Gaines, J.J. Frazier and Houston Kessler – that made over 30% from the the perimeter this year. Georgia ranked near the very bottom of the SEC this season in three-point field goals made with 180 total on the year (putting them in a tie with South Carolina for 9th place). One of the Dawgs’ weaknesses this year was outside scoring, and losing Neme certainly doesn’t assuage that deficiency.
Next season, should Gaines, Frazier or both find themselves in foul trouble, Georgia will be very limited from the arc. Even Frazier, who ended the year with the team’s best three-point percentage at nearly 40%, shot the ball with less consistency in the latter parter of the season. After J.J.’s 37 point outburst at Missy State, SEC defenses started preventing him from creating space on the perimeter. Frazier shot 31% from beyond the arc in the 14 games following the contest in Starkville; in UGA’s first 19 games, J.J. had been making a robust 45% of his attempts from the outside. The scouting report on Frazier is out: stay close and keep a hand up, which is an effective strategy considering J.J.’s height.
While the Dawgs do have some intriguing prospects coming in next year in Will Jackson, E’Torrion Wilridge and Derek Ogbeide, none of them are deep threats. Ogbeide, who is considered a 3-star by Rivals and a 4-star by ESPN, should give Coach Fox a decent option off the bench to spell Maten. Jackson will also be expected to contribute early, providing relief to both Frazier and Mann at the point position. For the moment, though, Georgia does not have any shooters enrolling for the 2015-2016 campaign.
A strong perimeter game is a staple of a superior college basketball team. Ten of the sixteen teams that reached the Sweet Sixteen of this year’s NCAA Tournament make more than 35% of their three-point attempts. Of the top fifty teams with the highest three-point percentage in college basketball this season, twenty-one of them made this year’s tournament.
UGA should have a solid backcourt next season, but I fear that Coach Fox’s scarcity of shooters could ultimately have them returning to the NIT rather than the Big Dance.
Just five days after being invited to the dance, Georgia was abruptly forced to leave. March Madness can be cruel in that way. A five-month long season can come to an end in the span of a couple of hours.
Such was the case for the Georgia Bulldogs on Friday in Charlotte.
Everything started off so well. The Dawgs made 3 of their first 6 shots from the floor, and after a pair of free throws from Marcus Thornton, UGA led 11-5 with 14:23 to go in the first half.
Unfortunately, this lead was the biggest and only one that Coach Mark Fox’s team would own on the afternoon.
From that point, everything began to fall apart for UGA. The Dawgs turned in their worst defensive performance of the season, in my opinion. Georgia looked mystified in defending Michigan State screens, unable to decide how they wanted to attempt to stop it.
The result: State either scored easy dunks when the post player slipped the screen, or one of the MSU guards was left wide open for a three, a shot that the Spartans did not struggle with on Friday, hitting 7 of 18 from beyond the arc.
In addition to their ineffective half court defense, Georgia refused to get back on misses and turnovers, which led to 19 fast break points for the Spartans (UGA had just 8).
Speaking of turnovers, the Dawgs had 10 at the break to go along with a team field goal percentage of just 28% – all of which enabled Michigan State to take a commanding 35-22 advantage into the intermission.
However, despite the Dawgs’ sloppy play, they still had their chances in the second half. Twice Georgia possessed the ball down 39-37 with under 14 minutes to play and a chance to tie or take the lead, but all the Dawgs could muster were three misses and a turnover. MSU then put together an 8-2 run that boosted the score up to 47-39, in favor of the Spartans.
But credit Mark Fox’s team for fighting till the very last second, as they have all season. Even though UGA trailed by 12 points with less than 90 seconds remaining, the Dawgs continued to attack the basket and draw fouls. Georgia cut the Spartan lead to as low as 66-63 with only 21 seconds left, but Tom Izzo’s team stepped up and connected on its free throws, earning the 70-63 victory.
In its biggest game of the season, UGA failed to convert, hitting only 33% of its field goals and just 28% from beyond the arc. Charles Mann played strong, leading the team with 19 points, and Kenny Gaines chipped in 15 points in just 20 minutes of play.
Marcus Thornton finished with a double-double, scoring 12 points and grabbing 10 boards, but he did not have his best game. Offensively, Thornton looked similar to a version of himself from his sophomore year, unable to finish near the bucket, where he made only 2 of 8 shots. He also struggled to defend State’s Brandon Dawson, who scored all 14 of his points in the second half.
Neme Djurisic and J.J. Frazier had tough games as well. Neme hit just 2 of his 9 attempts from the floor for 7 points, and J.J. failed to knock down a single field goal, turning in a goose egg in the stat sheet. In the last several games, Frazier has begun attempting more shots from inside the lane, which haven’t led to many buckets, possibly due to his small stature.
UGA ends the season 21-12 after the second-round exit from the NCAA Tournament.
I found it shocking when they flashed on the screen that this year was Michigan State’s 18th consecutive tournament appearance, a feat that seems unimaginable to a UGA basketball fan, pure fantasy. Playing in the NCAA Tournament is something that happens for Georgia every five or six years, but for Tom Izzo’s teams, it’s an expectation.
Coach Mark Fox and his staff I’m sure would love to create similar expectations in Athens.
The Georgia Bulldogs (10) will play the Michigan State Spartans (7) in Charlotte on Friday in the second round of this year’s NCAA Tournament.
While the Spartans are March Madness regulars, Georgia will be making its first appearance in the NCAA’s since 2011. In that game, Georgia was also a 10-seed and they played in Charlotte, losing 68-65 to the Washington Huskies.
MSU will be coming into this game red-hot, winning its final four games before losing in overtime to the #6 Wisconsin Badgers in the Big Ten Championship on Sunday.
The Dawgs and Spartans share one common opponent this season – Minnesota; Georgia lost to the Gophers before conference play began, while MSU topped Minnesota in overtime in a league game.
The Spartans appear to be very balanced on offense – much like UGA – with 4 players averaging more than 8 points per game. Michigan State shoots the ball well, connecting on 47% of its field goals and nearly 39% of its shots from beyond the arc this season.
Coach Mark Fox will need a healthy Kenny Gaines on Friday if his Bulldogs hope to play into the weekend in the Queen City.
Georgia Coach Mark Fox opted to hold Kenny Gaines out of Saturday’s game against Arkansas after he reaggravated a foot injury the day before in UGA’s win over South Carolina. With Gaines sidelined, the Dawgs looked to Charles Mann and J.J. Frazier to pick up the slack in the scoring department – unfortunately, those two were frigid, combining for only 7 points on a combined 2 for 13 shooting performance from the floor. The Dawgs struggled as a team offensively, connecting on just 32% of their field goal attempts, and Georgia lost 60-49 to the Razorbacks, ending UGA’s SEC Tournament.
The bad news is that Georgia took a step back on offense; the good news is that they should live to fight another day – that day being next Thursday or Friday in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
This game had a bad feel from the start, with Georgia mustering just 4 points through the first 8 minutes of play. Despite the Dawgs’ offensive futility, Coach Fox’s team managed to hang around for much of the first half, but the Hogs closed out the final five minutes with a 13-5 run that gave them a 25-17 advantage at the break.
For the most part, Georgia never recovered from this point.
Arkansas pushed its lead to as much as 19 points after Anthlon Bell nailed a three pointer from the wing, making it 44-25 Hogs with 13:08 left. UGA kept it moderately close for the remaining portion of the game, but the Dawgs never really threatened Arkansas in the final quarter of this contest.
Coach Fox got his best performances form Marcus Thornton and Cameron Forte, both of whom finished in double-figures. Thornton netted 13 points to go along with 12 boards for a double-double, and Forte chipped in a solid 13 points off the bench.
Arkansas was led offensively by Michael Qualls, who scored 15 points on the afternoon.
This loss leaves Georgia 0-5 against the RPI Top 25 on the season, but the Dawgs should still feel secure about their NCAA bid. The latest Bracketolgy from Joe Lunardi projected UGA as a 10-seed, but at this point I wouldn’t be surprised if they landed anywhere between 7 and 12.
Regardless of today’s game, hats off to Coach Fox and his team for putting together another successful campaign. Along with finishing 3rd in the SEC this year, UGA seems destined for a meaningful postseason, which is something that hasn’t happened often for basketball teams from Athens in the past decade.