Archive for January 2010
This Saturday, the Georgia Bulldogs (8-7) travel to Starkville in search of their first SEC win of 2010 to take on the Mississippi State Bulldogs (13-3). Finally! The Dawgs get to play an unranked team (although Miss St is receiving votes in both polls).
Mississippi State returns all five starters from last year’s team that accomplished the following: won the SEC Tournament, earned an NCAA Tournament bid and beat Georgia twice (once in Athens and once in the SEC Tourney). Needless to say, expectations of a bigger season in 2010 are alive and well in Starkville (upsetting in-state rival Ole Miss last Saturday probably helped too).
Miss State is led by 7th-year senior center (just kidding) Jarvis Varnado, who is most famous around the conference for his shot-blocking ability. This year has been no different. Varnado is swatting 5 shots a game and has already had two 8-block games. Remember his 10 block performance he had against UGA in 2008? Let’s hope that he doesn’t come close to that total again this Saturday.
Varnado sets the tone for this Mississippi State defense which is tops in the SEC, surrendering only 59.6 points per game (this ranks #23 in the country in team scoring defense) and holding opponents to 35.9% from the field (also best in the conference). Guess what? Those are not the only two categories that State is leading the SEC in…they are also grabbing 42.2 rebounds a game. So they play great defense and rebound well (which means they are limiting teams to only one shot), sounds like the Dawgs have their work cut out for them.
On offense, Miss State uses Varnado’s size inside to play a high-low game and open up the perimeter for shots. The Bulldogs are (once again) leading the SEC in team 3-pointers made at nearly 10 a game, and in 3-point percentage at 41%.
State’s 3pt gun-slingers include juniors Ravern Johnson (14.6 pts), Kodi Augustus (9.5pts), Barry Stewart (11.1 pts) and sophomore point guard Dee Bost (11.6 pts). Augustus is the only player mentioned above that is listed as a “forward”, but even he tends to lurk outside the blocks and look for jump shots. But hey, when you have Jarvis Varnado owning the paint (13.9 pts/10.9 rbds a night) I guess that’s a luxury the other players enjoy.
What Georgia Should Look to Do:
1. Take Jarvis Out of the Game – In their win over Ole Miss last Saturday, the Bulldogs (MSU) used a 2-3 zone defense in the second half to control the tempo of the game and outscore the Rebels 43-33 en route to an 80-75 win. The Dawgs cannot allow this to happen. Mississippi States wants a slow-paced game so that they can pack in their zone and let Varnado have ownership of the paint. UGA needs to get Travis Leslie and Ricky McPhee running the court from the start – the quicker the balls transitions to the other end, the less time Jarvis has to get back on defense.
2. Man Defense, give it to my man – Should Rick Stansbury be so bold and allow his Bulldogs to play man-to-man against Georgia, UGA should look to get the ball to Thompkins nearly every time. If Trey can get the ball and square up to the basket from about 15′-18′ out, I don’t think that Varnado can guard him off the dribble in space.
Las Vegas has Mississippi State favored over the Dawgs by a whopping 14.5 points! Guess the odds-makers think UGA is heading to Starkville to lay an egg.
The game tips off at 3:00pm EST and will be televised on ESPN2. If you don’t have a TV or you haven’t paid Comcast in a while you can always listen for free on 750AM.
With the Rebels up 78-76, Ole Miss guard Eniel Polynice was in-bounding the ball under the Dawgs’ basket with 5 seconds left on the shot clock (26 ticks left in the game). Travis Leslie was defending his man with his back to Polynice. Polynice then proceeded to throw the ball off Leslie’s back, stepped in-bounds to pick up the ball and then finished with a lay-up over Trey Thompkins to put the Rebels up 80-76 with only 11.5 seconds left (essentially sealing the win and making it on to Sportscenter’s “Top Plays”). What a disheartening way to lose?!?!
Georgia came out of the gates running and gunning (certainly not the Bulldogs style), with Thompkins leading the way. Trey hit his first 6 field goal attempts and had 13 points before the game was even 10 minutes old (unfortunately he went scoreless for the next 19 minutes).
Mississippi tried to dictate a fast-paced game early by coming out in an extended 3-2 zone defense, trying to jump into the pass lanes. Georgia handled it very well and was successful in getting a lot of cutters going to the rim. The first half was played a bit sloppy by both teams, but the Dawgs held a 43-42 lead at the half (I couldn’t believe UGA had 43 points at the half!).
Countless basketball analysts always preach about the last four minutes of the first half and the first four minutes of the second half as being the most important of the game…last night’s contest was no exception.
The Rebels came out of the half in an intense man defense that was forcing the Georgia guards to work well outside the perimeter (making it difficult for them to get the ball inside). In the first 9 minutes of the second half, Thompkins only attempted 2 field goals and didn’t score until he knocked down a pair of free throws for with 10:57 remaining.
Georgia also came out in the second half in a man defense (they played mostly zone in the first) and this may have been a costly mistake. Rebels’ star Terrico White attacked UGA defenders off the dribble and netted 8 points in the first 3 minutes…opening up a 52-47 lead.
Georgia did eventually drop back into a zone was able to draw even with Ole Miss with 9:35 left in the game.
If you look at the box score it’s tough to find reasons why Georgia lost this one. The Dawgs had only 13 turnovers (half of the number they had against Kentucky) to go along with 14 assists (a positive assist/turnover ratio). UGA out-rebounded the Rebels 36-31 and got to the free throw line more (34 attempts for Georgia, 26 for Ole Miss).
I thought that all and all the Dawgs played pretty well and just lost a close game to another ranked opponent.
Travis Leslie put in another great effort, scoring 17 points, grabbing 8 rebounds and dishing out 4 assists. His streak of appearing on ESPN’s “Top Plays” ended at two, although he did make a couple of plays that I thought were possibly worthy – an alley-oop dunk on a pass from Trey Thompkins (same as play against Tech); a come-from-behind block that he made on a fast break.
Ricky McPhee hit 5 of 9 field goal attempts and finished with 15 points. He did surrender those points to Terrico White at the start of the second half, but that was a tall order asking McPhee to guard one of the SEC’s best guards.
From the bench, I thought that Chris Barnes and Jeremy Price both gave the Dawgs solid contributions. In merely 8 minutes, Barnes scored 4 points and pulled down 4 boards. Price attacked the offensive glass all night, bringing in 6 offensive rebounds and 8 in all (if only he could have knocked down one of his two put-backs in the last 1:30 of the game Georgia would have tied it up).
Moving forward, UGA is going to have to get more production from the back-up point guard position. Against the Rebels, freshman PG Vincent Williams had 4 turnovers in only 6 minutes! When Dustin Ware wasn’t in the game, the offense essentially came to a halt.
I haven’t said anything up to this point, but I do not understand the role that sophomore Russian Drazen Zlovaric plays. In 6 minutes last night, he clanked two jump shots. On the season (142 total minutes played), he is shooting a robust 25% from the field (8 of 32) and has yet to connect from behind the arc in 6 attempts. What exactly is his role?
As it stands, Georgia is now 8-7 on the season and 0-2 in SEC Play.
What’s everyone thinking?
Mississippi (12-3) is ranked #21 in the AP poll and #23 in the Coaches. Seeing a trend here? Wednesday night’s game in Athens will mark the Dawgs’ third straight game against a ranked opponent (Georgia Tech & Kentucky being the other two).
Ole Miss returns all five starters from last year’s team, along with freshman forward Reginald Buckner. Buckner (6’8″, 233lbs) has provided some much-needed size on the inside for the Rebels, averaging 2.2 blocks and nearly 5 rebounds per game. Last season Ole Miss finished 10th in the conference in blocks at 3.3 a game; this year they are 4th in the conference at 6.2 a game.
The main thing that the Rebels do well is score (a very important part of the game of basketball). Ole Miss is leading the SEC in scoring at 83.6 points a game. They have five players that average in double-figures (balanced enough?).
Leading the way for the Rebel attack are guards Chris Warren (junior) and Terrico White (sophomore), who are both averaging 16.7 points per game (or 40% of Mississippi’s offense). White exploded on to the SEC basketball scene last year as a freshman, averaging 13.7 points and winning the league’s SEC Freshman of the Year award. He built up a reputation as a Sky-Walker after throwing down a monster dunk on Kentucky’s Patrick Patterson last season. White flirted with the idea of going pro following his freshman year, but unfortunately for Georgia he decided to come back and give college another try (and thus has Ole Miss ranked and ready to get an NCAA tournament bid).
It will be a homecoming game of sorts for Ole Miss reserve, Zach Graham, who is providing some effective bench production at 10.7 points and 3.9 rebounds a game…Graham is a native of Suwanee, GA.
Ole Miss is leading the SEC in assist-to-turnover ratio at 1.31, which is probably fairly common of teams that return a lot of players. They play smart with the basketball and will probably not be very intimidated by the fact that they are on the road.
“Keys to the Game”
Play to Your Strengths – so far this year it seems that the Dawgs have been most successful when they slow the game down, and get physical inside (with Thompkins, Barnes, Price and Jackson UGA is equipped with a plethora of meaty bigs). Georgia is actually 4th in the conference in rebounding margin at +3.2 a game. Georgia needs to dictate a slow pace in this one so that their bigs can have time to get down and work the offensive and defensive glass. One way to slow things down considerably is to pack it in and run a half-court zone defense. Mississippi State did this for a majority of the second half in their upset win at Ole Miss last Saturday…I think the Dawgs would be wise to mimic this strategy.
“Help! You know I need somebody. Help! Not just anybody. Help… – The Dawgs’ starters (or the “Big Four” as I like to call them) are playing way too many minutes. Ware and McPhee each average just under 30 minutes a game, while Thompkins is notching 28.9 and Leslie 25.4 (and all four go well above their averages against stronger opponents like Georgia Tech and Kentucky). This cannot continue if Georgia hopes to finish the season strong. Several bench players need to step up and become regular contributors…Jeremy Price, Chris Barnes and Ebuka Anyaorah, I am definitely looking your way on this one. All three of these guys have provided sparks off the bench in games this year, but none of them have done it on a night in/night out basis.
- Terrico White and Trey Thompkins were teammates last summer on the USA’s Under-19 basketball team
- Since losing at home to Wofford, Georgia has won 6 straight at home
- Travis Leslie is averaging 1.5 ESPN “Top Plays” highlights per game over the last two contests
The game tips off at 8pm Wednesday night and will be televised on the SEC Network (aka Peachtree TV)…as always on the radio at 750AM.
It appears that CMF and his upset-minded Georgia Bulldogs have caught the attention of a few of ESPN’s more prominent basketball analysts.
Dick Vitale, also known as “Dicky V” in the college basketball world, awarded Fox with his Co-Coach of the Week award (sharing it with Arizona State’s Herb Sendek).
Fox also got a “shout out” from ESPN college basketball analyst Andy Katz in his “Weekly Watch” edition (check it out here – middle of the page under Coaching Props To…).
CBS Sportsline now has the Dawgs at #89 on its RPI ranking, which for Georgia is a tremendous improvement from prior seasons. Hopefully UGA can continue to climb that ladder over the rest of the season.
One last note – I made reference to the difficulty of this year’s schedule in an earlier blog and CBS apparently agrees, ranking the Dawgs’ strength of schedule (SOS) at #34 in the country!
I watched ESPN’s Gameday Saturday morning, and no one predicted that Georgia Bulldogs would have the lead at the half against the Kentucky Wildcats…Nor did anyone think that the game would be tied at 59-59 with 7:35 remaining.
Kentucky did end up pulling away at the end of this one, and spoiled the Dawgs attempt of knocking off their second ranked opponent this week (largely because of the play by Kentucky center DeMarcus Cousins)…but it was a battle till the end.
Travis Leslie made it very clear two minutes into the game that Georgia did not travel to Lexington to back down. Leslie caught an outlet pass, took it the length of the court and finished with a monster tomahawk dunk right on Kentucky’s DeMarcus Cousins (Big Cuz probably never thought he would be face-to-face with Leslie’s thigh).
Thompkins put in another herculean effort, scoring 17 points and nabbing 13 rebounds in the face of the Cats big frontcourt. Ricky McPhee had 13 points and was not at all intimidated by superstar frosh John Wall (McPhee actually gave the “silence” signal to the Kentucky fans after dropping a three-pointer in the first half).
Georgia did not protect the ball well, committing an atrocious 26 turnovers.
It is also becoming evident that the Dawgs do not have much depth – Thompkins and Ware played 37 minutes each, Leslie 36 and McPhee 35. Mark Fox is doing his best to give these guys short rests by taking them out before TV timeouts, but this could catch up to Georgia in the latter part of the season…UGA needs some of its bench players to step up and contribute.
When Thompkins and Leslie are not on the floor the offense tends to self-destruct.
But all and all, I was very proud of the effort that Mark Fox’s team gave on Saturday. They challenged the Cats from the start and fought hard until the last second.
I think that the Dawgs are going to surprise some teams in SEC play this season.
Great Quote - “The members of the media voted us unanimously as the last-place team,” Fox said to the media after the game. “If you guys are right, then this league is really balanced because Kentucky’s very, very good.”
What did everyone else think about the game?
Georgia shocked the college basketball world on Tuesday night when they knocked off #17 Georgia Tech at home in Athens.
Saturday, the Dawgs begin SEC play with a date in Lexington to take on the undefeated #3 Kentucky Wildcats (where’s Florida Atlantic when you need them?).
These days you can’t watch a segment of ESPN’s Sportscenter without seeing something pertaining to the Cats’ undefeated season , or another gravity-defying dunk by freshman sensation John Wall. Since Kentucky signed renowned coach/rule-breaker John “Calamari” Calipari (he left his last two programs in fraudulent ruins – UMASS & Memphis) the Cats have been at the forefront of college basketball’s media frenzy.
Kentucky super-Frosh John Wall is leading the team in scoring (17.2 points/game) and highlights (5.4/game). What many people don’t realize about Wall is that he is a great passer too, netting 7.3 assists per game. Speaking of “netting”, Mr. Wall is projected to be the first pick in next year’s NBA draft which will most likely send him to the New Jersey Nets…so he better cherish all this winning now cause last I check New Jersey was 3-32.
Kentucky’s frontcourt features two of the better forwards in the SEC in junior Patrick Patterson (16.7 points/8.3 reb) and freshman DeMarcus “Big Cuz” Cousins (15.4 points/9.6 reb). What’s even more impressive about Cousins is that he is producing these numbers in only 19.2 minutes a game…Big Cuz has a little bit of a “foul problem” (don’t worry he is taking an Anger Management class to control his temper) averaging 3.2 personal fouls a contest.
This UK squad is actually the tallest in the country going by average player height. Maybe that’s why Kentucky is 11th in the country in total offensive rebounds, and pulling down nearly 43 total rebounds a night. If the Dawgs defensive rebound as poorly on Saturday as they did against the Yellow Jackets they are going to get run out of the gym (there are actually several other scenarios in which they could get run out of the gym but I am trying to be positive here).
Not to sound like a defeatist, but when analyzing Kentucky it’s really hard to find weaknesses. They are 15th in the nation in offensive scoring at 82.8 points a game, and they are shooting lights out – 50.2% FG; 40.6% 3PT. Their defense has been stingy, surrendering only 64.3 per game.
They are 15-0 despite playing an EXTREMELY difficult schedule already which included games against Stanford, North Carolina, UCONN, Indiana and Louisville.
I am going to mix up the format a bit for this one…instead of “Keys to the Game” I think we will go with “Things That Could Help”.
“Things That Could Help”
1. Get in the Zone – Even though Kentucky is a good shooting team, I still think that UGA needs to play more zone defense than man-to-man and hope that the Cats are cold. The Dawgs just don’t have the personnel to match up with Kentucky in a man defense…as much as I love Ricky McPhee, I would hate to see him trying to guard Wall out on the perimeter. Thompkins could hold his own against Patterson or Big Cuz, but one of these guys would then get a very favorable match up against either Jackson, Barnes or Price.
2. Temper, Temper – As mentioned above, Big Cuz can be somewhat of a hothead and routinely gets into foul trouble. If anyone watched the Louisville-Kentucky game, then you probably saw Cousins give a flagrant elbow to the head of a Louisville player while wrestling for the ball (unfortunately the referees didn’t see it and Cuz stayed in the game). I would love to see Albert Jackson or Chris Barnes get really physical with Cousins from the start, and maybe frustrate him into some cheap fouls.
3. Beyond the Arc – UGA won the game at Rupp Arena last year 90-85 because they were on fire from 3-point range. Georgia made 11 or 16 three point attempts en route to the win (they also shot 50% from the field). I realize that this is a difficult performance to repeat, but when you are playing the #3 team in the country you have to bring your best game. Hopefully McPhee, Ware and Thompkins are on (fingers crossed) or things could derail early (freshman Ebuka Anyaorah has also been shooting the ball well lately averaging nearly 6 points off the bench in his last 3 outings).
The game will tip off at 4pm Saturday in the confines of historic Rupp Arena. It will be televised on the SEC Network (which I believe is Peachtree TV) and on the radio at 750AM.
Any other thoughts?
I just finished watching ESPN’s Sportscenter for the third time today…I just can’t seem to get enough of the show’s opening clip which features Travis Leslie catching an alley-oop pass from Trey Thompkins and then flushing it on Georgia Tech’s D’Andre Bell.
The Columbia High School alum’s fantastic dunk also appeared on the “Top Plays” segment.
Anywho, I am digressing…
Sundiata Gaines was signed by the Utah Jazz to a 10-day contract pending a physical. Read all about it here on the Utah Jazz home page.
Good luck to Sundiata in his first stint in the NBA.
Georgia upset #17 Georgia Tech with solid defense (held Tech to 38.3% from the field and 25% from 3pt) and a whole lot of heart (I got my “Rocky Balboa” performance after all).
The Dawgs had the lead for all but about 5 minutes the entire game, and every time the Jackets got close or took the lead Georgia played strong and responded.
The only major flaw on the night for Georgia was that they let Tech get way too many offensive rebounds (Tech finished with 17). If the Bulldogs Bigs had done a better job rebounding defensively, this game might not have been close at all.
The Dawgs held Tech’s freshman sensations Derrick Favors and Mfon Udofia to 8 points and 6 points, respectively. Favors only logged 21 frustrating minutes, and was in foul trouble for most of the game.
I give Trey Thompkins and Ricky McPhee Co-MVP awards – Trey finished with 20 points/6 rebounds and McPhee had 16 points (4-7 from 3pt).
More importantly, both of these players made amazingly clutch plays in the final 2 minutes of the game.
With 1:29 left in the second half McPhee nailed a 3-pointer from the left corner to put Georgia up 61-55. Zach Peacock answered with a 3-point bucket to cut the lead to 61-58. McPhee immediately took the ball down the court and hit a running jump shot to put Georgia back up by five points.
Thompkins made a crucial steal on an in-bounds play with 46 ticks left and Georgia only up 64-60…he got the ball to Ware who hit a free throw and put the Dawgs up 65-60.
UGA would never look back and finished the game 73-67.
Travis Leslie played with great energy (12 pts, 4 reb, 2 assists, 2 stl, 2 blk) and made two sensational plays – an alley-oop dunk, and a block in which he nearly hit HIS HEAD ON THE BACKBOARD. The only downside for Leslie were his 5 turnovers…
I read Mark Bradley’s article about the game on AJC.com, and was slightly offended when he stated that Trey Thompkins wouldn’t start for the Jackets. Bradley claims that he attended the game, but obviously he wasn’t paying very good attention…Thompkins would not only start for Tech, but he would be a star player on that team.
ESPN highlights can be watched here – definitely worth it to see Leslie’s dunk.
Anything else about the game?
In 1976, Sylvester Stallone created an iconic boxing figure in his film directorial debut, Rocky. Rocky Balboa glorified the heart of the underdog and achieved success against all odds.
Why the 1976 reference?
Because this was the last time that the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets won a Men’s basketball game in Athens, GA. Seems unbelievable doesn’t it with all of the talented players and teams that Tech has had over the years (Mark Price, Danny Manning, Tom Hammonds, Duane Ferrell, Dennis Scott, Kenny Anderson, Matt Harpring, Stephon Marbury)?
For the Bulldogs to keep their home winning streak alive Tuesday night against the Jackets, I think they are going to need a “Rocky Balboa “-esque performance because this GT team is very talented.
The Jackets come into this game 11-2 and ranked in both polls – #20 in AP; #17 in USA Today. Joe Lunardi’s latest Bracketology edition has Tech entering the NCAA tournament as a 7-seed.
Georgia Tech had one of the top recruiting classes coming into this season, and those talented freshman are producing early:
- F Derrick Favors – 12.4 pts, 8.8 rebounds
- PG Mfon Udofia – 11.2 pts, 4.0 rebounds, 3.1 assists
- G/F Brian Oliver – 7.2 pts, 41.4% from 3pt
The Wramblin’ Wreck’s front court features junior Gani Lawal and senior Zachery Peacock, who are averaging 14.8 and 9.5 points, respectively.
This team shoots the ball well (47.2% FG), plays great defense (only allowing 60.5/game) and they are big inside which allows them to control the glass and bring down 42.8 rebounds a game.
The good news for the Dawgs is that this Tech team hasn’t beaten a ranked opponent all season (not that UGA has either) – CBS Sportsline has the Jackets strength of schedule at 179; UGA’s is 130…so there is a slight possibility that this Tech squad has built up its 11-2 record against weaker opponents.
Another bonus for the Dawgs is Tech’s next opponent – the Jackets play host to #5 Duke on Saturday and could get caught looking ahead…
Keys to the Game
“Under Pressure” – the Queen and David Bowie hit song should be the Dawgs’ mantra Tuesday night. This Jackets team has struggled with turnovers so far this year, averaging nearly 17 a game and ranking them 51st in the country in basketball’s ugliest statistical category. Mark Fox should consider utilizing the full-court zone trap press that features Travis Leslie up front and on the ball…this could create some easy buckets for the Dawgs and get Tech out of their half-court offense.
“Jackson, Barnes & Price, LLC” – Albert Jackson, Chris Barnes and Jeremy Price have got to give Georgia quality minutes against the Jackets. I always feel confident that Trey Thompkins will get his rebounds, but sometimes the other forwards make me a bit nervous…UGA needs them to step up and work hard on the glass to help limit Tech’s second-chance opportunities.
Marquee Matchup – Last year Trey Thompkins scored 20 points and grabbed 9 rebounds in an ugly game in which the Jackets won 67-62 in Atlanta. Gani Lawal scored 15 points and added 14 rebounds. It’s safe to say that they ended in a draw (though Lawal’s team won the game).
This year, I anticipate Trey winning this matchup. He has improved more both physically and statistically since last year’s rookie campaign, while Lawal’s numbers have remained almost identical.
The crowd for this one should be primarily red and black since the Georgia Tech football team plays Iowa at 8:15pm in the Orange Bowl. Hopefully the UGA faithful can bring a lot of energy and get the Dawgs nice and fired up.
I think that on paper the Georgia Tech team is more talented (vegas has them at a 6-point favorite), but I remember a situation back in November 2009 where a Georgia Tech football team was also considered “better on paper”.
This game will be televised on CSS beginning at 7:00PM EST.
What’s everyone thinking about this one? Will Travis Leslie come onto the court with “I Run This State” on his eye black or arms?
I was in the car all day today driving to Wilmington, NC so I was unable to listen or watch the game on ESPN360. I did check the score and saw that UGA got whipped by Missouri 89-61.
The box score said that Mizzu had 16 steals and forced 23 turnovers, and that Thompkins was in foul trouble most of the game.
Did anybody watch or listen to the game? If so, fill us in on what went wrong…