For the first time in 13 years, I’m not going to be blogging about the University of Georgia’s men’s basketball team. I will certainly be watching every game and engaging with fans via Twitter, so hopefully I will see many of you on that platform. Thank you to everyone who has read this blog over the years, and I hope to be back at it again next season!
Georgia will enter the upcoming season without its top 6 scorers from last season’s team that managed a 7-11 conference record before being bounced by the Missouri Tigers in the Dawgs’ only SEC tournament game. UGA will return just one starter – P.J. Horne – as it heads into Tom Crean’s 4th season at the helm of this program. If that doesn’t get your juices flowing full of optimism for next year, I’m not sure what will.
Obviously, the biggest losses from the roster were Sahvir Wheeler, Toumani Camara and K.D. Johnson. All three averaged double-figures last year, and both Wheeler (All-SEC Second Team) and Johnson (All-SEC Freshman Team) garnered postseason conference accolades. Possibly the biggest gut-punch of all of this turnover is that the Dawgs will have to play against 3 former starters next year when they take on Kentucky (Wheeler), Auburn (KD) and Ole Miss (Tye Fagan).
While the transfer portal taketh away, it also giveth, and UGA’s roster for next season is about as piecemeal as they come. Georgia is trying an experiment of bringing in guys that barely saw the floor on NCAA tournament teams to see if they can gel and turn UGA into a competitor. Even though Justin Kier transferred to Arizona, Crean did bring in some three-point shooting with the additions of Aaron Cook, Jailyn Ingram and Noah Baumann. Both Cook (Gonzaga) and Baumann (Southern Cal) come from schools with strong basketball pedigrees, yet neither really produced much for those programs as they netted just 4.2 ppg and 3.6 ppg, respectively. Cook had more success at his previous school, Southern Illinois, where he averaged 15 ppg in his junior season; however, one has to consider that Wheeler scored 14 ppg in the SEC, so for now I’m going to assume that there will be a bit of a drop off at the point guard position for the Dawgs next year.
Ingram averaged double-figures for 3 of his 5 years at Florida Atlantic, yet both Kier and Andrew Garcia were double-digit scorers at their previous schools before arriving in Athens, and neither of them were able to replicate that type of production through an SEC slate of games.
The biggest wildcard of all of Georgia’s new additions has to be Jabri Abdur-Rahim, a 4-star recruit out of high school who went to Virginia only to play less than 5 minutes a contest. He could have been underutilized in Charlottesville, or he might have been slightly overhyped out of high school; only time will tell.
Last season’s team was severely undersized in conference play, yet the only addition to the roster to help shore up that handicap was Braelen Bridges, a 6’10” forward from Atlanta who netted 9 ppg off the bench for the University of Illinois-Chicago Flames. Hopefully he can help to protect the rim on defense because I imagine he may struggle to find baskets against bigger, stronger and more skilled SEC bigs.
Barring a late addition of Tre Mitchell (UMASS), next year’s team might struggle to continue the upward trajectory that Crean had this program on for the past three years. In my opinion, the best-case scenario for this crew would be another 7-11 run through the league.
The transfer portal has completely upended the recruiting landscape of college basketball. Just yesterday, I read that 35% of the players that entered the portal have yet to find a new home. It’s quite possible that this is a fad that corrects itself naturally over time as players learn that not everyone can play for Kentucky, Kansas and Duke.
However, this is the current state of college basketball and for now I’d say that Crean is failing in regards to making Georgia a legitimate SEC contender/NCAA tournament team. Players transfer either because they want to play on a team that wins or they want more playing time. Right now, it feels like UGA is offering playing time to guys that were unable to earn it at their previous schools. If Crean has any hopes of making Georgia a winner, he has to figure out how to keep and develop the talent he has, or how to attract the caliber of players that can instantly transform a team into a potential at-large NCAA bid-getter.
The first time Georgia (14-11, 7-11) and Alabama played this year the Tide broke a school record by hanging 115 points on the Dawgs in a lopsided 33-point win. No matter how riveting Nate Oats’s pregame speech might have been, you can’t tell me that the Crimson Tide players didn’t come into their matchup with Georgia a little less focused on the task at hand than they should have been. How else do you explain the fact that after 10 minutes of play, Bama had just 1 three-pointer, 6 turnovers and trailed Georgia 20-13? Georgia managed to take a 36-30 advantage into the break after a chaotic 20 minutes in which these two teams combined for 25 turnovers.
The problem, however, is that Bama simply has a more talented team, and when one team is just plain better, there’s not a lot that can be done. The Dawgs shot better from the field (47%) and from beyond the arc (42%) than their SEC season averages. Georgia played carelessly and turned the ball over 20 times, but Alabama didn’t value the ball either as the Tide had 22 turnovers. Free throw shooting wasn’t great for Tom Crean’s team this afternoon as they hit 13 of 23; however, UGA has made only 69% from the line this year in conference play, so even if they shot like they have been, that’s just 3 extra points from the stripe, which wouldn’t make up the deficit in today’s 89-79 loss.
Not to state the obvious, but the Tide are a really good team, hence the SEC regular season championship. Bama has 3 players projected to go into the NBA in the next two years, according to NBADraft.net. The Tide had 5 players finish in double-figures and 4 players make at least 2 triples; Villanova transfer Jahvon Quinerly, who led the Tide with 18 points, may be their most dynamic offensive player and he comes off the bench. Bama’s second half offense took me back to what transpired in Tuscaloosa as the Tide connected on over 63% from the floor and 80% from the perimeter.
Nobody likes moral victories, but considering UGA was beat by 21 points by a lackluster South Carolina team on this same court a week ago, the fact that Georgia had this contest down to a one-possession game with a little over a minute remaining is somewhat remarkable in itself. Don’t lose sight of the fact that this UGA team won two more SEC games than they did a year ago when they had Anthony Edwards and Rayshaun Hammonds. The nucleus of this squad is coming back next year and there’s no reason to think that they won’t make even more progress.
Become a Georgia basketball fan at your own risk. That’s probably the single-best piece of advice that I could impart upon anyone considering entering the world of fandom for this program.
Because being a fan of the basketball Dawgs means that you have to endure rollercoaster-like conditions. How else does one explain how Georgia, who recently cruised past SEC power LSU, just dropped their 10th straight game to Frank Martin’s team?
Let’s be perfectly clear: this year’s South Carolina team is BAD. They coasted into Athens on nothing but the fumes of a 6-game losing streak in which they were yielding 82 points a contest, yet they held this UGA team to just 70 on Saturday, which is below Georgia’s season average (76.7). This South Carolina squad is not the defensive juggernaut they made themselves out to be this afternoon. They came into this one 12th in scoring defense and 11th in field goal percentage defense, and still their matchup zone managed to give Georgia fits. The Gamecocks have Jedi mind control over the Dawgs, plain and simple. That’s the only explanation that I can muster as to why a team with 4 SEC wins (half of them coming against Georgia) has now beaten Tom Crean’s bunch by 20+ points in both meetings this season.
Georgia’s defense, which had been improving as of late, was a no-show today. UGA hadn’t given up over 90 points since the 115-point effort by Alabama; not surprisingly, the Dawgs won 2 of 3 since that fiasco. After today, though, Georgia has now given up 90+ points 6 times in league play, and they’ve been on the losing end of all of those contests. South Carolina’s 91 points today were a season-best for this team. The Dawgs were slow to close out on the perimeter, something has plagued this UGA team, and the Cocks made them pay as they connected on 10 triples. SC hit almost 44% from beyond the arc, which is 13 percentage points higher than their SEC average. If anyone can help a team reach its offensive potential its Georgia.
Frank Martin’s guards completely overpowered Georgia as 4 players from the Carolina backcourt finished the game in double-figures. Sophomore guard Jermaine Couisinard led all scorers with 23 points as he bested his previous SEC-high this year of 18 points, which also came against Georgia. Trae Hannibal notched 15 points to tie his season-high in conference play; this was just his 4th time this year in which he eclipsed 10 points. Watching the game, the SC guards appeared so much more physical than the Dawgs, and they really seemed to impose their will on the UGA defense. It’s quite mind boggling as to how a team that has been as pedestrian as South Carolina has this year can make the talent gap between the Cocks and Dawgs appear insurmountable for Tom Crean’s team.
Georgia’s offense was as disappointing as its defense. The Dawgs shot just 36% from the floor and gave the ball away 19 times. Sahvir Wheeler, who was coming off the first triple-double in school history, followed up his best game of the season with arguably his worst. The sophomore couldn’t facilitate offense in the half court as he ended up with only 7 points on a 2 of 13 shooting performance (including 0 for 4 from beyond the arc). Probably the most glaring stat of the afternoon for Wheeler though were his 7 turnovers as he couldn’t create space between himself and the SC backcourt.
Despite all of Georgia’s faults, the Dawgs were within striking distance in this game with a little over 14 minutes remaining. UGA overcame a 41-29 halftime deficit to trim the Carolina lead to 48-44 after an old-fashioned three-point play by Andrew Garcia. However, the next stretch of play that transpired was just brutal for Georgia, and ultimately sealed the fate of this game. Over next 6 minutes, UGA went just 1 of 7 from the floor and committed 4 turnovers, and that ineffectiveness allowed the Gamecocks to build up a 66-48 advantage. Game. Set. Match.
Georgia’s consolation prize for this drubbing is that they get a week to lick their wounds and figure out how on earth they are going to slow down Alabama next Saturday. Holding the Tide under 100 points would certainly be a good start if the Dawgs want to keep their 6-seed in tact for the NIT.
The Georgia Bulldogs (14-9, 7-9) cruised by LSU 91-78 on Tuesday night in Athens. This Tiger team entered this contest on a three-game winning streak and tied for 2nd in the SEC standings. The Dawgs opened up a double-digit lead with over 2 minutes left in the first half in a game that Georgia led for nearly 94% of the time. The closest Will Wade’s team got to UGA in the second half was 14 points in what was just a dominant performance by UGA.
Let’s just get the most obvious point out of the way first, and that is that Sahvir Wheeler is absolutely living his best life. The sophomore followed up his career-high 27-point effort against Florida with the first triple-double in UGA basketball history (14 points, 11 boards, 13 assists). Lately, Wheeler has been doing it all. However, he has been most notably hitting his stride on the break, where he is letting his teammates get set and finding them in the open spots in the transition offense. Wheeler has improved so much this season in that context as he’s realized that he doesn’t have to take everything to the rim as hard as he possibly can.
The Dawgs were clicking on all cylinders this evening as they hit over 46% from the floor and were just a bucket shy of having 3 guys finish with over 20 points; Toumani Camara had 22, KD Johnson had 21 and Tye Fagan ended up with 18. This triumvirate along with Wheeler completely shredded an uninspired LSU defense.
The Tigers’ defense was nothing short of atrocious. Honestly, they look like 5 guys who just met and got next in a pick-up game and then proceed to play zone because nobody wants to or knows how to play man. Will Wade’s team possesses all the key attributes of that type of defense: low effort, poor rotations, and no communication. I recognize that this has been an issue for the Tigers all season as they entered this one ranked 10th in the SEC in scoring defense, but when you see how little intensity they play with firsthand it’s eye-opening. The Dawgs ended the first half on a 21-6 run over the final 5 minutes and had hung 45 on the Tigers heading into the intermission.
Neither team shot the ball particularly well at the start of the game, but the difference was that Georgia stuck with its defensive gameplan throughout. After 10 minutes of play, Georgia had made only 40% of its shots and LSU just 31%. The Dawgs’ offense obviously picked things up (see paragraphs 2 and 3). However, it was UGA’s defense that appeared to frustrate the Tigers. Tom Crean’s team did an excellent job of staying in front of LSU’s ballhandlers, and the Tigers ended up settling for a lot of outside shots. This strategy didn’t pan out well for Wade’s bunch as they made only 40% from the floor and just 26% from beyond the arc. This was a solid defensive performance by the Dawgs against a team that came into this game with the second-best scoring offense in the SEC (81 ppg) as well as the second-best shooting percentage from the field (46%).
With 7 league wins and counting, Tom Crean has this program trending in the right direction. His first season, UGA won just 2 SEC games, and last year they managed 5. There’s no reason to think that next year’s team won’t have a legitimate shot at the NCAA tournament.
That being said, Georgia just won its 3rd Quadrant 1 game of the year, and the Dawgs are once again in that territory where the NCAA tournament bubble is still a far-off place, but it’s not unreachable. To get closer to that magical spot, UGA has to get it done against South Carolina and not allow Frank Martin to extend his program’s winning streak over Georgia to 10 games this Saturday.
Days removed from a stunning upset of #20 Missouri, Georgia came out extremely flat at Florida, which allowed the Gators to complete the season sweep of UGA. I’m not going to lie, I fell into the all too familiar trap of getting my hopes up prior to this one and thinking that maybe, just maybe, the Dawgs could steal a win in Gainesville and take another step towards a .500 conference record. Thus is the life of a UGA basketball fan, though; the highs are few and far between, and they are typically quickly followed up by lows. Here’s my quick reaction to the game:
Ultimately, the Dawgs couldn’t the overcome the first-half offensive debacle. With 15:50 left before the break, Georgia held an 8-7 advantage after a layup from Sahvir Wheeler. The next 9+ minutes for UGA included 0 makes, 12 misses and 5 turnovers; that kind of production typically doesn’t pay dividends, and this afternoon was no different as the Gators had amassed a 25-12 lead with a little over 6 minutes remaining in the first half. Georgia shot an ugly 32% from the floor and made just 1 of 12 from beyond the arc prior to the intermission, which enabled Florida to garner a 37-23 halftime advantage.
While Mike White’s team shot it well (48%) in the first 20 minutes, they weren’t exactly a model of efficiency. The Gators committed 9 first-half turnovers, but Georgia only converted them into 6 points. Florida’s sloppiness persisted into the second half as they ended up with 20 giveaways on the afternoon; however, the Dawgs couldn’t capitalize and scored just 17 points off the turnovers. For all UGA’s first half faults, this game was there for the taking due to Florida’s poor ball security.
On the other hand, Georgia’s defensive effort against the Gators was much improved. In the first meeting between these two teams, Florida blitzkrieged the Dawgs for 92 points, with 22 of them coming on second chance opportunities. Tom Crean’s team did a much better job of chasing the ball and contesting shots, and the result was that UGA held the Gators slightly under their SEC scoring average and permitted just 6 second chance points. Florida’s shooting from the perimeter after the break nearly mirrored Georgia’s first half effort as the Gators made only 1 of 13 triple attempts.
Sahvir Wheeler played his best game yet as a Georgia Bulldog, but he didn’t have much support. The sophomore scored a career-high 27 points and he looked fantastic doing it. Wheeler was so savvy bringing the ball down the court on the break and regularly making the correct decision as to when to attack the rim.
UGA’s other steady offensive contributors all turned in clunkers this afternoon, though. This team has consistently had 4 or more players finish in double-figures this season, but today Tom Crean only had Wheeler and Tye Fagan (14 points) reach that mark. Grad transfers Justin Kier and P.J. Horned shot a combined 1 for 16 from the floor and they missed all 6 of their three-point attempts; Kier had 4 turnovers as well in what was truly a forgettable performance. Sophomore Toumani Camara once again dealt with foul trouble, and he managed only 7 points to go along with 4 turnovers before fouling out with over 8 minutes of game time remaining. Freshman K.D. Johnson couldn’t ever really get things going offensively as he netted 8 points on a 3 for 11 shooting performance.
UGA closes out the regular season next week with two chances to avenge earlier losses as they take on LSU and then South Carolina.
Just days after giving up 115 points to Alabama, Georgia’s (13-8, 6-8) defense carried it in a 80-70 win over #20 Mizzou. Toumani Camara, who’s made under 30% of his three-point attempts this season, buried a pair of triples in the first half to start this game. Justin Kier, who’d missed his previous 8 three-point attempts leading up to this contest, hit both his attempts from that spot tonight en route to a team high 16 points. Bizzaro world? Nope. Just Georgia basketball.
After an evenly played first half that saw Mizzou head into the locker room with a 37-33 advantage, Georgia had a brutal start coming out of the intermission. The Dawgs opened up the second half with 3 turnovers and a miss, and before 3 minutes had transpired the Tigers lead had ballooned to 46-33. Tom Crean put in Jaxon Etter and Andrew Garcia with the hopes that they could provide a spark off the bench, and those two did just that as they combined for 11 points over the next 6 minutes which brought Georgia to within a bucket.
Georgia’s defensive intensity when Etter, Garcia and K.D. Johnson are on the floor is infectious, and ultimately it helps to facilitate offense for the Dawgs. After committing just 2 turnovers prior to the break, Mizzou coughed the ball up 11 times in the final 20 minutes and those errors led to 9 Georgia points. The Dawgs held the Tigers without a field goal for over 4 minutes down the final stretch of this contest, which allowed Georgia to turn a 66-64 lead into a 78-64 edge; Tom Crean’s team essentially closed out the game with its defense. Let that sink in for a moment.
In all fairness to Mizzou, they were playing without big man Jeremiah Tillman, who is unfortunately dealing with a death in the family. Tillman is a huge part of Coach Martin’s gameplan as he is netting over 13 points and grabbing more than 7 boards in SEC play.
Still, Georgia’s perimeter defenders did a superb job of keeping Martin’s backcourt stars in check. Xavier Pinson and Dru Smith entered this game averaging nearly 29 points combined a night; yet against Georgia, these two mustered just 20 points between them on an unforgettable 8 of 23 performance from the floor.
If you are trying to figure out this UGA team, best of luck. Despite losing leading scorers Anthony Edwards and Rayshaun Hammonds from last year’s squad, the Dawgs have now won more SEC games (6) than last season. At the risk of becoming repetitive, UGA’s defense, which is the worst scoring defense in the conference, took over the second half against Mizzou and won this game.
Tom Crean was brought to Athens to fix UGA’s offense. What the administration didn’t know is that he would be helping out opposing offenses as well. The Dawgs allowed Alabama to set an SEC school scoring record this afternoon in Tuscaloosa as the Tide tallied a whopping 115 points (to Georgia’s 82). After today, UGA is really starting to create some separation between themselves and the other worst scoring defenses in the league as the Dawgs are now permitting almost 85 a contest in SEC play (and they are 14th in the league in that category).
Before we get more into the debacle that was the UGA defense, it should be noted that Georgia guards K.D. Johnson and Sahvir Wheeler both turned in impressive offensive performances. Johnson led all UGA scorers with 24 points as he eclipsed the 20-point mark for his second consecutive game. Wheeler was effective as well as he notched 16 points on an array of drives and penetration. The rest of the Georgia offense wasn’t as memorable as the Dawgs shot an abysmal 2 of 19 from beyond the arc.
The real kicker about UGA’s haplessness from the perimeter was just how darn efficient Alabama was from that part of the court. By halftime, the Tide had matched their season SEC average of 11 triples en route to a 51-38 advantage. Bama would end up knocking down 18 three-pointers in this one on an impressive 60% shooting effort from the perimeter. The Tide didn’t just have 5 players finish in double-figures, but they were just 7 collective points shy of having 4 players end up with 20 points or more. I suppose when the SEC’s #1 scoring offense locks horns with the league’s worst scoring defense anything is possible.
It’s no secret that this Georgia team struggles to put up much resistance on the defensive side of the ball. But the manner in which UGA got torched today was fairly astounding considering that everyone knew that this Bama team is the not only the best three-point shooting team in the SEC, but one of the most effective in the nation as well. Yet, Georgia still didn’t close out with a purpose and contest shots. I’ve included screenshots of 6 of the Tide’s first 7 triples. I say this just to let the reader know that these images were not cherry-picked; I could have continued rewatching Bama knock down uncontested three after uncontested three, but that just felt like a waste of my Saturday evening. Anyhow, notice how open the Bama players on are all 6 of these looks; frankly, this is just a microcosm of the entire game:
The most sobering realization from today’s game is the reminder of just how far away Georgia is from the SEC’s top programs. The Dawgs have lost to the league’s top 3 teams – Bama, Tennessee and Arkansas – by an average of 24 points, and that number would be more if the Vols hadn’t lost interest in UGA and kept the pedal down. I’m not ready to give up on the Tom Crean experiment yet; he deserves another season. However, if next year does not include a trip to the NCAA tournament, then I feel as though it will be time for the Dawgs and Crean to part ways.
The Georgia Bulldogs (12-7, 5-7) offense this season has been fairly productive despite a consistent lack of ball security. Even though the Dawgs are committing a league-leading 17 turnovers a night, Georgia is still 6th in scoring (75.9 ppg), which can largely be attributed to the team’s stellar field goal percentage (46.1%), the second best in the conference.
Against #16 Tennessee on Wednesday, the Dawgs gave the ball to the Vols 18 times, yet UGA still managed to hang 81 points on the SEC’s best scoring defense as Tennessee has been yielding just 65 a contest in league games.
Georgia’s Achilles Heel may lie in its inability to defend well enough beyond the arc. Tom Crean’s team is just 1-5 in SEC games in which the opposing team connects on greater than 38% of its three-point attempts, with Vandy being the lone exception as the ‘Dores made just under 40% in a 73-70 loss to the Dawgs last weekend. Conversely, in UGA’s other 4 SEC wins, teams are making only 25% of their shots from the perimeter. Could the key to whether this team wins or loses rely heavily on its ability to close out and contest triple attempts?
In Wednesday’s loss to the Vols, Georgia ultimately could not overcome a massive halftime deficit that saw Rick Barnes’s team take a 44-26 advantage into the break. The Dawgs halfheartedly defended around the arc in the first half and Tennessee, a team that entered the game making only 6 triples a night, had 8 of them by halftime. UGA cleaned this up following the intermission and limited the Vols to just 2 more triples in the game’s final 20 minutes, which enabled Georgia to cut the UT advantage down to single digits.
I’m not going to declare UGA’s defensive rebounding issues as completely solved, but protecting the glass hasn’t been nearly as problematic for the Dawgs lately as it was for much of the SEC slate. The Vols managed just 6 offensive rebounds that led to 9 second chance points against Georgia, marking the 3rd consecutive game in which the Dawgs held an opponent under 10 offensive boards. Tom Crean’s staff has obviously lit a fire under this team in regards to their effort when it comes to defensive rebounding; they’ve got to find a way to spread that intensity to UGA’s perimeter defense.
Enter #11 Alabama, UGA’s foe on Saturday. The Crimson Tide will mark Georgia’s second game against a ranked team this week, and on top of that, Bama is the best three-point shooting squad in the SEC. The Tide are knocking down almost 40% of their shots from beyond the arc, and they are manufacturing nearly 12 triples a night in league play. Bama is primed to capitalize on UGA’s ineffective perimeter defense.
With the amount of times this UGA team turns the ball over per game, they can’t afford to yield 5 additional triples to Bama like they did on Wednesday with the Vols (those 5 extra three-pointers were the difference in the game). The Dawgs must find a way to make the Tide uncomfortable from the outside if they want to have a shot at pulling off the upset on Saturday.
After a nail biting 73-70 home win over Vanderbilt, the Dawgs are now 5-6 in SEC play and in the midst of their first 3-game conference win streak since the 2016-2017 season. In addition, UGA has already matched last season’s SEC win total, which gives Tom Crean’s squad a realistic opportunity at showing improvement in the win column in league play. Considering this team lost the #1 overall pick from this year’s NBA draft, that’s something that Crean can potentially hang his hat on. Here are some quick reactions to the Bulldogs’ victory:
Georgia has some legitimate threats from beyond the arc. Even though the Dawgs only knocked down 1 triple in the second half of the game against Vandy, Georgia still connected on over 46% of its attempts from the outside. Over the past 3 games, UGA has hit 50% of its three-point shots; P.J. Horne, who netted 14 points this evening, buried 4 of 5 from the perimeter. Horne has 8 triples over this same stretch of games, and his presence from the outside is preventing defenders from being able to provide as much weak side help on penetration. Guess who benefits from those missed rotations? None other than Sahvir Wheeler, who diced up the Dores for 16 points and 9 assists on a night in which he seemed to be living in the paint.
After committing only 13 giveaways in the win over Auburn, the turnover bug reared its ugly head and plagued Georgia on Saturday. The Dawgs coughed the ball up 21 times and those mishaps led to 29 points for Jerry Stackhouse’s team. If UGA valued the ball better this evening, they would have won by double-digits and not needed a lifesaving block by Toumani Camara to seal the game. What’s even more concerning is that 8 of those turnovers came during the first 5 minutes of both the first and second halves, which are critical sections of game that help set the tone for each half of play.
Tom Crean got big contributions off the bench that helped propel his team to the win. JUCO transfer Tyron McMillan put together his best half of basketball as a Bulldog this season in the first 20 minutes as he notched 8 points in just 5 minutes of play. The 6’9″ McMillan provided this undersized Georgia team with solid minutes in the paint, which made it even more bizarre that he only saw the floor for 2 minutes in the second half. The other non-starter that gave UGA a spark was Jaxon Etter, who scored 7 points, including some key buckets down the stretch. Etter also defended Scotty Pippen, Jr. for a chunk in the second half, and he helped frustrate Jr. into a 3 of 12 shooting performance that led to just 12 points. That’s an impressive feat considering Pippen entered this game netting over 20 a game in league play.
With the 91-86 win over Auburn on The Plains, the Georgia Bulldogs (11-6, 4-6) are currently in the midst of their second conference win streak of the season; the first two-game span came with the victories over Ole Miss and Kentucky. Something about Kermit Davis’s team gets this Georgia bunch yearning for more the next time they take the court.
Since the Tigers dismantled UGA 95-77 in Athens back in January, Bruce Pearl’s team had won 3 of its last 4 league games. To say that Auburn is probably feeling a little shell shocked right now would be an understatement.
Georgia was the aggressor in this one from the opening tip. Tom Crean’s team had infectiously high energy from both the players on the court as well as those on the bench. The Dawgs were quicker to loose balls and they outworked the Tigers on the glass. Defensive rebounding has been an Achilles Heel for this team in SEC play, yet this evening Georgia yielded just 7 offensive boards to Auburn (which led to 14 second chance points). UGA’s success at securing Auburn’s misses enabled the Dawgs to get out in transition, which is where this team is typically most comfortable on offense.
In league contests, Auburn’s scoring defense ranked 11th entering tonight as Pearl’s team had been giving up nearly 79 a night. Honestly, it appeared as though the Tigers weren’t expecting much of a fight from Georgia by how lackadaisical they appeared defensively. Auburn’s second level defense was nonexistent and Georgia took advantage and punished the Tigers with 52 points in the paint. This was a stark contrast from the first time these two teams met when Auburn recorded 14 blocked shots as the Tiger defenders routinely rotated to provide help defense. The Dawgs had 6 players finish the game in double-figures, with Tye Fagan and Toumani Camara leading the way with 16 and 15, respectively (Camara also had 12 boards to notch the double-double).
Georgia showed a lot of poise down the stretch of this game. With a little over 10 minutes remaining, UGA had a 69-57 lead that would eventually be whittled down to a 6-point Georgia advantage with only 6 minutes left. However, the Dawgs did exactly what they needed to do to close this one out: they valued the basketball and made free throws. In the final 10 minutes of this contest, Tom Crean’s team committed just 1 turnover, which really limited Auburn’s extra scoring opportunities. Over the final 2 minutes of the game, the Dawgs knocked down 9 of 12 from the free throw line. Teams that don’t give the ball away and make opponents pay from the stripe typically hold onto leads, just as Georgia did this evening.
The Dawgs host 1-6 Vandy on Saturday, which gives Crean’s team a legit shot at moving into the middle of the conference standings. After Saturday, 4 of Georgia’s final 6 SEC games will come against teams that are currently ranked. If UGA is going to have a shot at surpassing last season’s win total of 5, this weekend’s game is a must-win.
Two-thirds of Georgia’s (10-6, 3-6) conference wins this season have come against Ole Miss, which is why I want the SEC to rearrange the remainder of each team’s schedule and let these two face off once a week until early March. For UGA, this would present a realistic opportunity to rack up more SEC wins than last year (5), and for Kermit Davis and the Rebels, it would be a chance to improve against a team that they haven’t quite figured out yet.
I realize I’m speaking in fantasy, but this matchup is just so perfect for this year’s edition of Georgia basketball. From a physical standpoint, Ole Miss’s bigs couldn’t be more suitable opponents for the Dawgs as they are both 6’8″. Not 6’10” or 6’11”; Romello White and Robert Clark are both the same size as the Georgia bigs. It’s kismet.
For whatever reason, the Bulldogs are living their best lives offensively when they take on this Rebel squad. The Dawgs have shot over 55% from the floor and hit more than 50% of their three-point attempts in each contest. Those numbers are inconsistent with the 43% FG% and 32% 3PT% that UGA had been posting in SEC play. When UGA has squared off with UM this year, its offense hasn’t resembled itself in the least. Yesterday, just like two weeks ago, the Dawgs moved the ball to the open spots on the floor and finished, whether it be from beyond the arc or around the rim. All of this is even more confounding considering that the Rebels entered Saturday’s game with the second-best scoring defense (67.2 ppg) in league play.
I’m sure Tye Fagan would be on board with this idea of playing Ole Miss on a weekly basis. Fagan, who led UGA with 13 points on Saturday, has scored in double-figures just 3 times in league games this season, and two of those times came against Mississippi. The junior guard has netted a total of 32 points in those matchups with a shooting percentage just above 83%.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Dawgs held the Rebels to just 35% from the floor and and 15% from the perimeter. However, I’m not sure how much of that is a credit to Georgia or just Ole Miss’s general issues that revolve around putting the ball in the basket. Kermit Davis’s team entered this contest as the second-lowest scoring team in league play (64.8 ppg) and the worst shooting team from beyond the arc (26.8%). Ole Miss has been sort of anemic when the ball’s been in their hands this season, and yesterday was no different.
The only reason this game was close at the half (37-34, UGA) and throughout was because the Dawgs couldn’t protect the glass. The Rebels hauled down an astounding 23 offensive boards that led to 17 second chance points, which compensated some for their poor offensive execution. Georgia is now yielding nearly 16 offensive rebounds a night to the opposition, which is why they have the worst defensive rebounding percentage in the league at under 58%.
In theory, the defense should have an advantage in securing missed shots since they have more players closer to the basket; UGA, though, is trending on the wrong side of that theory and misses have become almost a 50/50 ball for either team. Following yesterday’s win, Georgia is now 342nd in the nation in opponent effective possession ratio (OEPR) over its past three games. OEPR is a measure of how many scoring chances a team let’s its opponents get out of their possessions; turnovers are good and offensive rebounds are bad. Let’s just say, when team’s have gone up against the Dawgs as of late, they’ve gotten plenty of scoring chances.
But I’m starting to digress from my original point. Sure, UGA had its share of hiccups yesterday defensively, largely due to the Dawgs’ inability to board; but the point is against Ole Miss those things don’t matter quite as much. Georgia still won by 10 points and they now own the tie-breaker over the Rebels for sole rights to 11th place in the conference standings. Imagine where UGA would end up if these two squads saw each other again next Saturday? And again the next. And the next…
The Georgia Bulldogs (9-6, 2-6) beat Kentucky a week ago, which ended a 14-game losing streak to the Wildcats. Many thought (myself included) that such a win could help ignite this team and that they might use that victory as a stepping stone to build upon. Unfortunately, the Dawgs have gone only backwards since P.J. Horne’s buzzer beater. After losing to Florida over the weekend, Georgia traveled to Columbia and got drubbed 83-59 in what was easily this team’s worst performance in SEC play.
The fact that Georgia yielded 23 offensive rebounds that led to 23 second-chance points for South Carolina is disappointing for Tom Crean’s team, but it should hardly be surprising. Georgia entered this contest with the worst defensive rebounding percentage (62) in SEC play. The Dawgs have been allowing opponents to snag nearly 14 offensive boards a night in league games. These are the consequences when you have a roster with no players taller than 6’8″. UGA regularly plays three-guards on the court together with some combination of Sahvir Wheeler, Justin Kier, Tye Fagan and K.D. Johnson; the Dawgs are a small team that plays small. Georgia is built to give up points in the paint, and South Carolina obliged as they put up 44 of them.
What was more shocking to me was how stymied UGA looked against SC’s zone defense that Frank Martin allegedly installed just three days ago. Despite what was on display in Columbia on Wednesday evening, Georgia had been pretty solid on the offensive end in conference play. Prior to this debacle, UGA was 6th in scoring (76.6), 2nd in field goal percentage (45.7) and 4th in 3PT% (35) in SEC games. However, the triples were not falling for Tom Crean’s team against the Cocks, but that didn’t stop them from taking them; Georgia shot an astounding 4 of 26 from beyond the arc. P.J. Horne missed all 7 of his triple attempts, and he’s now a cool 0 for 13 over his past two games. Someone might need to think about changing his green light to yellow, at least for a game.
Schematically, UGA took a fairly mundane approach to attacking the Gamecock zone. For more times than I can remember, Georgia ran one or two bigs up high to screen for the point guard, and that was about the extent of the action on offense. Tom Crean’s offense against the zone has traditionally had guys filling those soft spots along the baseline so that when penetration occurs Georgia has players ready to receive the ball near the rim. Tonight, that kind of movement just wasn’t happening. Instead, the Dawgs shot just 32% from the floor and turned the ball over 20 times en route to their lowest offensive output in a league game this year.
One final thought: South Carolina has established complete dominance over Georgia’s basketball team. The Cocks have now won 9 straight over the Dawgs, and barring some unexpected miracle in Athens later in the season, Georgia is in jeopardy of being swept by Frank Martin’s team for the 5th consecutive year. How did things get this way? Georgia has been ranked higher than South Carolina in recruiting rankings the past 3 seasons, yet SC’s roster appears so much more talented. Be honest: who on UGA would start for the 2-3 Gamecocks? I mean, their leading scorer, Keyshawn Bryant (19 points against Georgia) doesn’t even start!?!?
The Florida Gators exposed Georgia’s (9-5, 2-5) lack of height on Saturday en route to a 92-84 road win. Prior to the start of the season, there was concern regarding the fact that Tom Crean’s roster didn’t contain a player taller than 6’8″, and today in Athens the Gators justified all those concerns. The Dawgs have now given up over 90 points in 4 of their 7 league games, and Georgia has allowed 83+ in all 5 SEC losses. Apparently defense still matters. Who knew?
The real death blow in this game was dealt at the start of the second half. After entering the break down 42-39, Georgia began the final 20 minutes on offense with 2 turnovers and a miss. The Gators countered with a couple buckets and a triple, and before 2 minutes had expired UGA was behind 49-40; Florida never really looked back from this point on.
Interestingly enough, Florida hasn’t been that great of a rebounding team in SEC play. The Gators entered this contest 9th in both total rebounds per game (35.6) and offensive rebounds (11.3). Florida’s frontcourt, which appeared massive next to the UGA players, shattered both of those league averages with 41 total rebounds and 16 offensive boards. Mike White’s team gave UGA the “.38 Special” treatment as the Gators had 22 second-chance points to Georgia’s 11.
Tom Crean had his team in a 2-3 zone for much of the game, which I suppose was an attempt to provide added support on the block. The problem with playing zone, however, is that it makes it much harder to defensive rebound since it’s more difficult for the defenders to make contact with the offensive players to block out. The zone certainly wasn’t helping Georgia slow down the Florida backcourt trio of Tre Mann, Noah Locke and Tyree Appleby, who combined for 54 of the Gators’ points. The Dawgs permitted Florida to hit nearly 57% from the floor, which means that with all the second-chance points, the Gators were getting points on the majority of their possessions.
Georgia’s offense was pretty efficient as well as the Dawgs connected on over 54% from the floor and 5 players finished in double figures. Andrew Garcia led all UGA scorers with 17 points, following up a 16 point effort in the win over Kentucky. Garcia is skilled at making himself available around the rim, and today he finished when he got it at a high clip (8 of 9 on FG). Justin Kier and K.D. Johnson chipped in 14 and 16, respectively, though both of them did their damage at the opposite ends of the game; Kier was most effective at the start, and K.D. finished strong and kept the Dawgs from losing by double-digits.
Sahvir Wheeler’s double-double of 10 points and 10 assists was overshadowed by another abhorrent shooting night as he went 3 of 9 from the floor. The sophomore is now hitting just 40% of his field goals in SEC play, and that’s largely due to his insistence on forcing up contested layups against much taller players. At this point, I don’t think Wheeler is going to get any taller, so he’s going to have to find a way to either pass the ball off or not leave his feet when he drives.
In one night, Georgia snapped a 14-game losing streak to Kentucky while simultaneously putting together a two-game SEC win streak of their own. The Dawgs closed out the game on a 7-0 run that ended with an off-balanced layup from P.J. Horne as time was winding down.
Here are some observations from Wednesday’s win over Kentucky:
- Georgia’s offense and defense switched roles on Wednesday
Coming into tonight’s game against the Kentucky Wildcats, UGA’s offense was one of the more efficient ones in the conference:
Yet on Wednesday night in Athens, it was the defense that carried Georgia over the Cats. For the most part, this game was fairly offensively-challenged for both teams. The Dawgs hit less than 39% from the floor and made only 4 of 12 from beyond the arc. Georgia point guard Sahvir Wheeler finished with just 10 points on a 4 of 15 shooting effort from the field. Wheeler, who is the catalyst for this team, consistently found himself surrounded by Kentucky bigs in the paint on penetration, which led to the sophomore taking an array of out of control shots around the rim. Georgia’s other big scorer, Toumani Camara, was basically a non-factor as he netted just 6 points and attempted only 4 shots.
The UGA defense, however, was a completely different story. Playing primarily man for much of the night, Georgia occupied the passing lanes and forced Kentucky into 17 turnovers, which the Dawgs promptly turned into 25 points (nearly 40% of the Georgia offensive output). With Kentucky up 62-56 with 2:02 left in the game, UGA’s defense pitched a shutout for the remainder, and that enabled Tom Crean’s team to have the opportunity to win at the end.
2. The turnover story got reversed as well
The Dawgs entered this contest leading the SEC with over 18 turnovers a night in conference play. By halftime, UGA had just 6 giveaways, and they would finish the game with 11. Kentucky scored 11 points off turnovers, but the +6 turnover differential in Georgia’s favor might have made the difference in the outcome of this game. Justin Kier led the game with 5 steals and helped to disrupt the flow of an anemic Kentucky offense, and UGA ended up taking 10 more field goals attempts than the Cats.
3. Thank goodness for grad transfers
The obvious hero of the night was P.J. Horne, who took a low inbounds pass from Wheeler with 3.6 seconds lefts and put it off the glass and in for the UGA victory. Horne’s ability to find his way to the rim was definitely abetted by the Kentucky defender’s disinterest in going after the ball when P.J. bobbled it; however, Georgia was the more aggressive team for much of the night, so this end seemed fitting.
Andrew Garcia played probably his best conference game of the season to date. The wily veteran took advantage of the inexperienced Kentucky bigs as Garcia used his body to make himself available near the rim the entire game. Garcia led all UGA scorers with 16 points to go along with 6 boards, and he displayed some nice back-to-the-basket scoring skills on the block. The senior definitely yields height in every contest, but Garcia’s wide body help to compensate for that lack of size on Wednesday against Kentucky.
The Dawgs (8-4, 1-4) got their first conference win of the season on Saturday at The Pavillion in Oxford, Mississippi, where the Bulldogs hung on for a 78-74 win. Here are the three reasons why UGA managed to pull off the road upset. Spoiler alert: it’s all about the backcourt.
- Sahvir Wheeler
The sophomore point guard played maybe his most complete game of the season against Ole Miss as he scored 18 points to go along with 9 assists. Wheeler played steady for pretty much the entire game, but I thought he had two particular stretches that were key for his team. The first came right out of the half when Georgia’s point guard scored a layup and dished out 2 assists which bolstered UGA’s advantage to 36-30. Wheeler was distributing the ball well and getting his teammates involved. His shining moment, however, came during the final stretch of play with his team leading by just 1 with 1:02 left after a pair of free throws from Devontae Shuler. Wheeler put the offense on his shoulders and got to the free throw line on consecutive possessions, where he knocked down 4 straight free throws and essentially helped his team close out the Rebels.
2. Tye Fagan
Georgia’s offense was kind of a mess in the first half of this contest. Ole Miss threw several different zones at the Dawgs that involved trapping outside the three-point line, and UGA looked discombobulated. Georgia shot under 41% from the floor and committed 8 turnovers in the initial 20 minutes of this game.
The second half was a completely different story, however, and Fagan was a big part of UGA’s offensive transformation. Fagan masterfully found the soft spots in the Ole Miss zone and was the benefactor of a lot of easy shots at the rim. After scoring just 2 points prior to the break, Fagan came out and netted 17 points over the final 20 minutes on a perfect 8 of 8 performance from the floor. The Dawgs shot a blistering 75% from the floor in the second half, thanks in part to Fagan’s efforts on offense.
3. K.D. Johnson
To be honest, Georgia doesn’t win this game if the NCAA hadn’t cleared Johnson to play this week. The freshman came off the bench to give his team 14 points, including a 4 of 5 shooting effort from beyond the arc. Johnson knocked down triples on consecutive possessions late in the game to put UGA up 71-59 with 4:33 remaining. K.D.’s ability to convert from the perimeter (in clutch situations, nonetheless) makes this Georgia team more dynamic on the offensive side of the ball. The freshman, paired with Wheeler and Toumani Camara, gives Tom Crean a solid foundation to start with next year.
While the sole focus of this post has been on the UGA backcourt, I’d be remiss if I didn’t touch on the Georgia defense for just a bit. Tom Crean deployed his team in a 2-3 zone for much of this contest, which was a worthy strategy considering the Rebels entered this game 13th in the SEC in scoring (65) and last in field goal percentage (38.4%). While the Dawgs probably feel decent about not allowing an opponent to score over 90 points for the 4th straight game, Georgia did permit Mississippi to exceed their SEC averages in both scoring (74) and field goal percentage (50.8%). UGA still has issues on the defensive side of the ball; Ole Miss just didn’t have the firepower to completely expose them. Kentucky comes into Athens on Wednesday, and UGA’s defense will definitely be put to the test against Calipari’s bigger athletes.
The Dawgs looked like a team without a player taller 6’8″ on Wednesday night against Auburn. Tom Crean started JUCO transfer Tyron McMillan in a token effort to compensate for the height differential, though the sophomore played just 10 minutes so I’m not totally sure what the value was in that endeavor. Auburn played an uptempo brand of basketball similar to how Georgia has preferred to run this year, except Bruce Pearl’s team did it with bigger and more athletic players. The end result wasn’t pretty for UGA as they got drubbed 95-77 at home to an Auburn team that had lost its first 4 SEC games. The Dawgs now have the dubious distinction of the worst conference record at 0-4.
In a game that should have meant the world to both of these teams as it presented an opportunity to get off the snide, Georgia’s defense once again failed itself. The Dawgs entered this contest yielding the most points per night in league games (92), and yet, they somehow found a way for an opponent to push that average even higher. The Tigers shot a blistering 57% from the floor and they netted 29 fast break points. Auburn had SIX players finish the game in double-figures, which is ridiculous.
But Georgia’s interior defense proved to be the real Achilles heel as the Tigers torched the Dawgs for an astounding 58 points in the paint. This UGA team either doesn’t communicate well on that side of the ball, or there are some fundamental misconceptions regarding defensive rotations. The Georgia bigs were out of position often, and it led to a number of easy points at the rim for Bruce Pearl’s team. On occasion, the UGA bigs managed to provide some token help, but it wasn’t effective and left the Auburn bigs alone around the rim far too often. The bottom line is this team is getting blitzkrieged by opposing offenses on the regular now, and that is on Crean.
Offensively, Georgia becomes stagnant WAY too quickly. My understanding of the Crean offense is that in the half court set, players should basically be in constant motion. Tonight, that was not the case. Rather, the Dawgs seemed more content to occupy the perimeter, swing the ball around and let guys try to create off the dribble. Unfortunately, UGA doesn’t have many players with this sort of skill set. Credit the Dawgs as they kept attacking the rim; the only problem was that Auburn was consistently there to impede them, and the Tigers racked up an impressive 14 blocks on the night.
Point guard Sahvir Wheeler had a pretty good game as he finished with 19 points, 5 assists and 4 steals. The main highlight for UGA, though, had to be the addition of freshman K.D. Johnson, who netted 21 points in his debut to go along with 7 boards and 4 steals. Johnson looked engaged on both ends of the court, and one can only hope that some of his enthusiasm is infectious so that he can inspire some of his teammates to up the intensity on the defensive side of the ball. Although, Tiger freshman Sharife Cooper scored 28 points on these two UGA guards, so both of them have room to improve as well.
To be honest, I had this game penciled in as a win for Georgia at the start of SEC play. After witnessing what just happened on Wednesday night, it’s becoming more difficult to find 6 games that the Dawgs could potentially win, which is what they would need to eclipse last year’s SEC win tally of 5.
The Georgia Bulldogs (7-3, 0-3) remained winless in conference play after getting drubbed 99-69 by Arkansas in Fayetteville. The sky is not falling yet for this UGA basketball program as next week should be an easier slate (Auburn, Ole Miss), but what transpired today against the Hogs should give Georgia fans some pause for concern.
There’s an old saying in sports that “defense travels”; today, Georgia proved that’s not always true as the Dawgs’ defense clearly got lost somewhere en route to Bud Walton Arena. UGA entered this contest giving up an SEC-worst 88.5 points per game, and the Dawgs should safely hold that bottom spot in the defensive scoring category after yielding 99 to the Razorbacks on Saturday.
Georgia has particularly struggled at defending the perimeter this season. In its two SEC games, UGA’s opponents have made nearly 39% of their triple attempts. This afternoon, the Dawgs were a step late on closeouts, and Arkansas made them pay by knocking down 12 of 21 (57%) from beyond the arc, which is 3 more triples than the Hogs have been averaging a game this year.
While Arkansas was led by Moses Moody’s 25 points, the Dawgs allowed a total of five Hogs to finish in double-figures (and one other to also score 20). Believe it or not, this game was relatively close at the half with Georgia trailing by just 6 before a disinterested group of UGA players came out after the break and permitted Arky to put up 56 second-half points.
Georgia’s lack of a perimeter game is still a problem. In Tom Crean’s first three years at UGA, his team’s have shot 32%, 30% and 30.9% (this year’s bunch). When a coach states at his initial press conference that his team is going to shoot the three more, one would assume that would mean that his rosters would regularly have 3 to 4 legitimate outside threats. However, that’s never been the case for Crean, and this year’s team is no different. Georgia basically has two three-point threats: Justin Kier (42%) and P.J. Horne (35%). This is not enough firepower for a team that’s shooting over 21 triples a contest.
On Saturday, the Dawgs made just 5 of 19 (26%) on three-pointers. However, even if Georgia hits 3 more from beyond the arc, they still lose by 21, so it’s probably a non-factor in a game in which UGA played zero defense.
Toumani Camara and Sahvir Wheeler cannot miss significant chunks of time in games due to foul trouble. Today, Camara was the culprit, and his absence from the lineup definitely hurt the Dawgs on both ends of the court. The sophomore picked up his second foul of the game with over 15 minutes left in the first half, which caused him to have to spend nearly 10 minutes on the bench. He would eventually foul out of the game with 10 minutes remaining. Camara scored 15 points in 16 minutes, which is highly effective, but his inability to stay on the court served to keep him in check.
Wheeler didn’t have any foul issues, but he failed to show up in the second half. Prior to the break, the sophomore looked phenomenal as he scored 10 points on an array of dribble-drives from the perimeter. For 20 minutes, Wheeler looked the part of a premier SEC point guard; he’s got to find a way to put together two halves like that, especially when his team’s leading scorer is not participating.
The Georgia Bulldogs (7-2, 0-2) are no strangers to moral victories, which is essentially what the Dawgs got in Baton Rouge on Wednesday night in their 94-92 overtime loss to the LSU Tigers. UGA dropped its first SEC road game of the season in dramatic fashion in a game that Georgia led 80-74 with less than two minutes to go in regulation.
Typically when teams are leading down stretch of games they tend to try to run clock and reduce the number of possessions. This strategy may have backfired on Georgia, however, as playing half court basketball is just not a strength for this team. The Dawgs last two possessions of regulation resulted in a turnover and a miss on a rushed shot from P.J. Horne with the shot clock expiring. I almost wonder if this UGA team should buck the tradition of milking clock and just play fast the whole game, regardless of the situation.
Here are a few other observations:
The Tigers played defense when they needed to down the stretch of this contest
LSU, who entered this game as the 9th best defense in the SEC at 68 points a night, appeared disinterested in playing defense for much of this contest. The Tigers have the best three-point defense in the SEC (27%), yet they allowed the Dawgs, who have been connecting on just 30% from beyond the arc this season, to knock down 12 triples (9 of which came from Justin Kier and Horne).
Will Wade’s team ratcheted up the defense when it needed to, though. Georgia had all the momentum with 9:07 left after Justin Kier finished at the rim to give his team a 68-58 advantage. Unfortunately, the bigger, more athletic Tigers eventually decided to tighten things up, and that enabled them to go on a 13-2 run that saw LSU take a 71-70 lead two minutes later after a pair of free throws from Cameron Thomas. It was pretty obvious that this talented Tiger team can put the clamps down pretty quickly when they feel pressed.
Georgia’s offense found itself again
The Dawgs were held to 73 points and kept in relative check last week against Missy State, however, this was not the case in Baton Rouge. Georgia had great energy from the start and looked fast and crisp with the ball. By halftime, Georgia had connected on 50% from the floor and 47% from beyond the arc. UGA had 11 turnovers, but they also had 11 assists.
Sahvir Wheeler, who had been in a bit of a mini-slump, was far more effective on Wednesday. Wheeler scored 21 points to go along with 9 assists. He kept pushing the ball into the teeth of the Tiger defense and finding open teammates on kickouts. The sophomore looked the part of a point guard facilitating offense and getting his teammates involved.
Graduate transfers Kier and Horne were the prime benefactors of Wheeler’s creativity as they finished with 25 and 11, respectively. These two seniors have developed into legitimate threats from the perimeter, which definitely opens things up a bit for the Dawgs in the half court set.
UGA’s help defense must improve
LSU had numerous drives to the basket that were essentially uncontested. Too many times an LSU guard got past the UGA backcourt defender only to find no one from Georgia’s frontcourt their to meet them. Considering that the Dawgs will be undersized in nearly every conference game, it seems as if swarming to the basketball and providing weak side help would have to be tenets for this bunch on defense.
A couple of stats that jumped out at me:
- Cameron Thomas, who Georgia limited to 5 of 17 from the floor, still ended up with 26 points thanks to a 15 of 16 effort from the FT line
- LSU had 19 steals
- Georgia had 28 fast break points to LSU’s 3
- UGA won the battle of the boards 43-40
- Justin Kier was definitely not out of bounds near the end of OT, and UGA should have been given the ball with a chance to tie
The Georgia Bulldogs (7-1, 0-1) dropped their SEC opener for the 4th time in as many years as the Dawgs fell 83-73 to Mississippi State in a game in which UGA never led. This game marked the first loss for Tom Crean’s team of the season, and while it’s not time to hit the alarm bells just yet, it certainly should give Georgia fans some pause for concern.
UGA’s defense never seemed fully-engaged against the Maroon Dawgs. Georgia’s strengths thus far on this side of the ball have been turning teams over and defending the perimeter well. Neither of those occurred often enough to win against Ben Howland’s team. UGA entered this contest as one of the top teams in the nation in opponent turnovers per game (19), yet Mississippi State had just 12 on Wednesday night in Athens. The Dawgs failed to disrupt the passing lanes in the half court set and that resulted in just 9 points off turnovers for Georgia (to State’s 22).
Georgia’s defensive closeouts around the arc were borderline lazy as they permitted Missy State to connect on 12 triples. I foolishly assumed that UGA might tighten up the pressure on the outside when Deivon Smith hit his team’s 6th three of the half with over 10 minutes remaining before the break, but the Dawgs gave up 6 more triples before the final horn sounded. Missy State point guard Iverson Molinar ended up playing just 26 minutes due to early foul trouble, yet he still ended up leading all scorers with 24 points on a 4 of 6 effort from beyond the arc. Molinar completely had his way with the Georgia backcourt, and I wondered if Tom Crean might give him the Andrew Garcia treatment, but that didn’t happen.
The problem with all of this inefficient defense is that it greatly impacted UGA’s offense. You might go so far as to say that Georgia’s ability to be successful on offense depends solely on if UGA can generate steals and stops; that’s what allows this team to play fast, which is definitely the style they are most comfortable playing. Last night, however, the Dawgs netted only 9 points on the break, a crippling statistic for this team.
The tempo of this contest forced Georgia to play in the half court on offense for most of the night, and that portion of UGA’s game is still a work in progress. The Dawgs settled for threes to start the game; unfortunately, they made just 1 of their first 9 attempts. Georgia ended up making 36% from the perimeter thanks to a 5 of 10 performance by P.J. Horne (21 points). The Dawgs hoisted up 25 three-point attempts on last night, which feels like an awful lot for a team that only has two outside shooters (Horne and Justin Kier).
Coming into this game, Georgia had been one of the more prolific two-point scoring teams in the country. UGA had been averaging over 47 points a night on two-pointers, while last night they mustered just 34. Sahvir Wheeler is only a sophomore and still developing, but he has to find a way to be more effective at scoring the ball in a slower paced game. Wheeler finished with just 6 points on a 2 of 10 shooting performance, and he struggled to score around the rim against the bigs of Missy State. Wheeler did dish out 8 assists, but they came at the expense of 5 turnovers. Ultimately, Sahvir has to be better at producing offense if the Dawgs hope to win more SEC games than last year’s total (5).
The Georgia Bulldogs remained undefeated with a 76-58 win over Northeastern (1-4) on Tuesday night in Athens. However, the Dawgs dealt with probably the most adversity they’ve seen all season during this game’s initial 20 minutes of play.
If you were a Georgia fan, the first half was highly forgettable. Georgia had 5 turnovers before 4 minutes of game had transpired, which allowed the Huskies to jump out to a 9-3 lead by the first media timeout. Northeastern came into Stegeman committed to make this a slow-paced half court game, and for 20 minutes they were successful at doing that and frustrating the heck out of UGA’s offense.
Before the game, I shared this tidbit of information:
Unfortunately, the Dawgs were unable to showcase either of these defensive strengths prior to the break. Northeastern committed just 7 first-half turnovers, and the Huskies connected on an unbelievable 9 of 13 from beyond the arc (69%).
Sophomore point guard Tyson Walker, a Second Team preseason CAA selection, was a major thorn in Georgia’s side to start the game. Sahvir Wheeler struggled to defend Walker, particularly on ball screens. If Sahvir went under the screen, Walker made him pay from the perimeter; when Wheeler attempted to fight through, the Northeastern point guard just blew by and finished at the rim. By halftime, Walker had 14 points and 5 assists, just a bucket shy of his season average, and Northeastern held a 45-32 advantage.
Fortunately for Georgia, their coach is:
Coach Crean win’s this week’s “Halftime Adjustment Award” with his decision to switch Wheeler off Tyson Walker and let Andrew Garcia (and some Tye Fagan) defend him. Garcia’s size presented issues for Walker and essentially took him out of the Northeastern offense. Walker managed just 5 points in the second half, and all of those were basically meaningless as they came when the game was out of reach for the Huskies. I honestly believe that Garcia’s harassment of Walker frustrated the sophomore into his 4th foul with over 12 minutes remaining in the game and his team up by just 5 points. Walker got tangled up with UGA’s Justin Kier on a Northeastern possession and was whistled for a push. Let’s credit that whistle to Mr. Garcia.
Another benefactor of shutting down Walker’s offensive creativity is that it completing eliminated Jahmyl Telfort from the game as well. The freshman was the benefactor of Walker’s penetration in the first half as he torched Georgia with 4 triples and 15 points prior to the intermission. Telfort, however, failed to score again when the teams returned to the court for the final 20 minutes.
Northeastern scored as many points (13) as they committed turnovers (13) in the game’s second half.
Honestly, I could wax eloquently about Andrew Garcia’s play for the entire post. In addition to his defensive effort, the senior led the Dawgs with 15 points and basically saved Georgia’s perfect record.
But I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the boost that Justin Kier gave this team last night, especially when UGA’s starting point guard had to head to the bench. In the midst of an unprecedented 21-0 run, Wheeler picked up his 4th foul with 9:31 left and had to sit with his team leading 53-50. Nearly 7 minutes later, Kier buried a triple to ice the game at 70-55 with under 3 minutes remaining. During this little stretch of game, Kier contributed 5 points, 3 steals and 2 assists, and Georgia saw no drop off in play even with its floor general not on the court. The grad transfer finished the night with 7 points, 6 assists and 5 steals, and in my opinion he looks the most likely out of all the new faces this year to continue this level of play into SEC season.
Other things that were pleasing:
- Despite spending a majority of the first half on the bench in foul trouble, Toumani Camara still managed to score 13 points and nab 8 boards.
- PJ Horne might have had his best game thus far as a Dawg: 11 points, 7 rebounds and 4 steals. Perhaps even more importantly was that the senior connected on a pair of triples (40%) and maybe, just maybe, could emerge as this squad’s second perimeter threat.
- Fagan only had 8 points, but the way he got them was fantastic. Recognizing that Walker, who had 4 fouls at the time, was on him, Fagan headed to the block where he played bully-ball around the rim on the Northeastern sophomore. Whoever made that adjustment to Georgia’s offense definitely deserves a burrito from Cali N Tito’s.
Between Sahvir Wheeler and Toumani Camara, I’m not exactly sure who is Vin Diesel and who’s Paul Walker in this analogy, but Georgia’s sophomores have teamed up with director Tom Crean to create a pretty exciting product this year. UGA’s breakneck style of play overwhelmed the Bearcats in the 83-68 blowout, and the Dawgs are sitting at 6-0 for the first time since the 1982-1983 season.
Georgia took its first real test of the season on Saturday and aced it with 20 minutes to spare. Cincy was clearly not prepared for the track meet that they stepped into as the Dawgs pushed the tempo to Mach Speed from the opening tip. Georgia scored 18 (of their 27) points off the break in the first half; the Dawgs forced the Bearcats into 13 turnovers, which UGA converted into 16 (of their 27) points. All this chaos led to a 49-26 halftime advantage for Georgia that had everyone from the chili-making region of the country scratching their heads.
Prior to the start of this game, I thought (foolishly) that 7’1″ center Chris Vogt might pose a problem for undersized Georgia. Cincinnati’s big man was named to the American Athletic Conference’s Second Team by the media. By the time 20 minutes had eclipsed in this contest, I had forgot that Vogt existed. The Cincy big ended the half (and the night) with 0 points on just 1 measly field goal attempt.
The Bulldogs are finally starting to produce the coveted deflections that Tom Crean has spoken so eloquently of these past several years. Georgia turned the Bearcats over a whopping 24 times on Saturday, and the Dawgs are now 13th in the nation in opponent turnovers (19). UGA’s ability to occupy the passing lanes is frustrating opposing offenses and resulting in a lot of extra possessions for Tom Crean’s team (UGA is 19th in the nation in possessions per game).
This UGA team is a pesky bunch that is extremely active on the defensive side of the ball. The Dawgs limited Cincy to just 17% from beyond the arc, a place that Georgia has defended well this year; UGA is holding opponents to under 23% from the perimeter on the season.
Georgia sophomore Sahvir Wheeler did not turn in his best performance of the season. Wheeler pressed too much and try to force up some shots around the rim that just shouldn’t have been taken. The Georgia point guard made only 4 of 14 from the floor and turned the ball over 6 times.
While Wheeler struggled, his teammates Toumani Camara, Justin Kier and Tye Fagan flourished. Camara logged another double-double with 19 points and 10 rebounds, and his ability to get up and down the court and score points in the transition makes this UGA team so dynamic. Camara’s jump from year one to year two is so similar to Travis Leslie it’s downright eerie. Leslie averaged 6 ppg and 4 rpg his freshman year and nearly 15ppg and 7rpg his sophomore campaign; Camara averaged 6.6 ppg and 4 rpg last year, and he’s currently netting over 15 ppg and snagging over 8 rpg. Both players seemingly needed a season to hone in their freakish athleticism; the only difference is that Toumani is 6’8″, a nice little bonus for Coach Crean.
Kier and Fagan finished the game with 18 and 17 points, respectively. Each player scored numerous buckets at the rim, and Kier flashed the ability to create offense off the dribble, which is something we haven’t seen too much of from him up to this point.
ESPN announcer Jimmy Dykes praised Georgia’s brand of basketball, but the announcer insinuated that UGA would have to prove itself in the SEC when teams like Tennessee lock them up defensively and force them into a half court game. In the words of Samuel Jackson’s character from “Pulp Fiction”, please allow me to retort. The #12 Vols trailed this Bearcat team 53-51 with 6:14 left in the game before Tennessee was finally able to pull away for the 65-56 home win. If Georgia can continue to disrupt opposing offenses with deflections and limit three-point opportunities, the Dawgs will be able to play at any pace they want.
Don’t believe me? Ask this Jon Rothstein.
Sometimes the sports’ gods come together and align for the good of UGA fans, and yesterday was one of those days. The football team steamrolled Mizzou, LSU dashed the Gators’ playoff hopes and the basketball team came from behind against the fighting Samford and Sons to preserve Georgia’s undefeated record.
However, UGA’s 5-0 record has come against the 292nd ranked schedule in college basketball, according to ESPN, so it feels like we should take it with a little grain of salt.
We learned two things from Saturday’s 79-75 win: 1) Georgia needs Toumani Camara to play in every single game, and 2) the Dawgs are not built to play in the half court, which is something SEC teams will probably force them to do every night.
Samford kept this game at a turtle’s pace by playing primarily zone from the opening tip. The Dawgs played right into the other Bulldogs’ hands as they settled for outside shots, where UGA connected on just 3 of 12 from beyond the arc in the first half. Georgia converted just two field goals through the first 11 minutes, and after a triple from Triston Chambers, Samford held its largest lead of the day (24-11) with 8:45 left in the first half.
Offensively, this game looked nothing like the previous four. The Dawgs were held to just 9 fast break points, and they were outscored in the paint (36-28) for the first time this season. Sahvir Wheeler, who ended up with 15 points, shot a dismal 5 of 15 from the floor. When he tried to force the ball inside against the Samford zone, defenders collapsed on him and forced him into either difficult shots or turnovers, of which he had 5.
UGA looked visibly uncomfortable trying to facilitate offense in the half court, which is understandable considering this team’s lack of outside shooters. Georgia continued to struggle to make three-pointers as they hit just 26% of their attempts on Saturday, one percentage point below their season average. However, we did gain a few insights into this facet of UGA’s game: Justin Kier needs to shoot more, and P.J. Horne should probably shoot less. Kier scored 18 points and buried 4 of 9 from beyond the arc, including a pair of triples late in the second half that brought the Dawgs to within a point with less than 8 minutes remaining. The senior has established himself as Georgia’s premier outside threat as he’s hitting over 43% from the perimeter, and he should have the greenest of green lights from that spot on the court.
Horne, on the other hand, made only 1 of 7 outside shots, and many of them were taken in rushed fashion with his feet not set. He hit over 34% from three-point range last year at Virginia Tech, so he obviously has this shot in his arsenal, but I just don’t think he needs to fire off quite as many. Horne is currently leading the Bulldogs in three-point attempts on the season.
The absence of Camara and its impact on this game must be noted again as he’s tied with Wheeler in importance to this team. However, the fact that Georgia needed the entire 40 minutes to put away Samford, a team that was projected to finish 8th in the 10-team Southern Conference, should provide UGA fans with some pause for concern. This game was essentially a preview of what SEC play will look like, except the players defending Georgia in the various zone looks will be bigger and more athletic.
Next Saturday the Dawgs get their first real test of the young season when they host the Cincinnati Bearcats, who just took the #12 Tennessee Vols to the wire in Knoxville.
The Georgia Bulldogs picked up their 4th win of the season as they remained undefeated with a 63-50 home win over the winless Montana Grizzlies. While the Grizz have yet to check the box in the old win column, Montana was projected by the media to finish 2nd in the Big Sky prior to the start of the year, so it’s possible they could be better than they have shown thus far.
UGA’s length and athleticism defensively proved to be too much for the Grizz on Tuesday night in Stegeman. Georgia forced Montana into 20 turnovers, which the Dawgs converted into 16 points. Tom Crean’s team held the Grizz under 36% from the floor, and they limited Montana to only 3 offensive rebounds and 5 second chance points. The question, though, is can Georgia’s defense remain stout in the face of stiffer competition? The Dawgs get Cincinnati in Athens on December 19th, and this game will give us a much deeper glimpse into what this team is really about.
Georgia created 10 steals in this game, but unfortunately the Dawgs gave the ball away 18 times. Turnovers continue to be an issue for this squad as UGA entered the game coughing the ball up nearly 19 times a contest. Tom Crean wants this team to play fast, and that is going to result in some turnovers, but Georgia has to iron out this sloppiness before conference play because those mistakes will prove to be much more costly against bigger and more talented teams.
While Georgia’s three-point shooting continues to be problematic (22%), this team sure did capitalize in the transition, where the Dawgs scored 24 points. Georgia ended up with 40 points in the paint, and I’d venture to say that nearly three-quarters of those came on the break in the open court. Toumani Camara, who logged a double-double with 15 points and 17 boards, once again benefitted from the up and down tempo of this game; Camara ran the court well and was rewarded with a lot of easy baskets both off the pass and offensive rebounds. The sophomore had one trip down on a break where he crossed up a Grizz defender and finished at the rim, and it was a thing of beauty. If Camara can create like that off the dribble, then I think I speak for everyone when I say that we’d like to see A LOT more of it.
The last thing I will touch on is the fact that Montana outscored the Dawgs 13-10 in the minutes that Sahvir Wheeler wasn’t on the court. Even though Wheeler didn’t have his best game of the year (9 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists), he’s just so much for a defense to deal with when he’s in the game. Whether it’s a make or a miss, the Grizz knew that Georgia’s sophomore point guard would be attacking them full speed at the rim in a matter of seconds. When Wheeler was on the bench, it definitely gave Montana a chance to collectively breath and settle in a bit. It’s going to be critical that Wheeler remain out of foul trouble as this team progresses into league games.
The Georgia Bulldogs (3-0) beat the brakes off the previously undefeated Jacksonville Dolphins (3-1) in Athens on Friday night. The Dolphins, who were projected to finish 7th in the 9-team Atlantic Sun League prior to the start of the season, had gotten off to a roaring start averaging 81 ppg and netting over 46% from beyond the arc. The Dawgs defense and transition offense ultimately proved to be too overwhelming for Jax as UGA cruised to a 98-65 blowout victory.
While the Dawgs were certainly fun to watch on offense this evening, the defense felt like the story of the night. Georgia’s pressure discombobulated a Dolphin offense that had been highly efficient to begin the year. UGA limited Jax to a 4 of 23 effort from three-point range. The Dawgs created 15 steals and forced the Dolphins into 22 turnovers, which Georgia converted into 34 points. Jacksonville struggled to find clean looks from the perimeter, and UGA’s defensive harassment caused the Dolphins to take a number of difficult, contested shots.
Dontarius James, who entered this contest scoring nearly 18 a night, notched only 11 points on a frustrating 4 for 12 effort from the floor. The junior forward was clearly flustered by Toumani Camara’s constant presence.
Offensively, Georgia did tend to struggle in the half court against the Jax zone. Fortunately, the Dawgs played such great defense that they were able to facilitate much of their offense in the transition. Sophomore Sahvir Wheeler pushed the pace of this game relentlessly as he scored a game-high 21 points to go along with 10 assists for his third double-double of that nature in as many games. If Wheeler continues to be this assertive with the ball, Georgia will stay in a bunch of games because there simply cannot be that many guys in the nation that can stay in front of him.
In addition to Wheeler’s motor, UGA bigs Camara and Christian Brown ran the court well and were rewarded with a slew of dunks and easy buckets. Camara finished with 19 points as he displayed his freakish athleticism by finishing 4 highlight-reel level flushes. Brown ended up with 14 points off the bench, and he may have notched the dunk of the year thus far for this Georgia team when he went up and threw down an alley-oop from Wheeler late in the second half.
The Dawgs shot better from beyond the arc on Friday night (35%), but this team’s ability to score points seems to be much more dependent upon the tempo of the game. Expect Tom Crean’s team to try to turn games into track meets this season, which should provide fans with an entertaining product.
The only real spot of concern on an otherwise solid night for UGA was that grad transfer Andrew Garcia once again found himself in foul trouble. Garcia, who netted 22 points in the opener, played sparingly against North Georgia and once again tonight because he couldn’t stay on the floor due to fouling. He’s probably going to be counted on to be a key cog for this team in the paint, so hopefully Garcia can sort out his body control issues as the season progresses.
Next up: Montana Grizz on Tuesday night
The Georgia Bulldogs (1-0) played their first game of what surely will be one of the strangest and most chaotic seasons in recent memory. After having the originally scheduled Gardner-Webb game cancelled due to covid, the Dawgs maneuvered quickly to invite the FAMU Rattlers for an impromptu basketball game on Sunday. Totally normal, right? This is 2020.
Without a doubt, this is the least informed I’ve felt in regards to the makeup of a Georgia roster. One-and-done Anthony Edwards is gone, along with recent UGA basketball household names like Rayshaun Hammonds, Jordan Harris and Tyree Crump. The Dawgs returned two starters from last year’s squad that finished 13th in the SEC; Tom Crean added five transfers to the team (3 grad and 2 JUCOs). This UGA squad will be a work in progress for likely the remainder of the season as all these different pieces learn to play with and off one another.
The one player that Tom Crean has to feel the most confident in this year is sophomore point guard Sahvir Wheeler. Coming off a freshman season in which he averaged 9 points and 4.5 assists a game, Wheeler is the best candidate to be the leader of this bunch. On Sunday afternoon against FAMU, Wheeler gave UGA fans a reason to be excited for this upcoming year as he notched a double-double with 12 points and 12 assists (to go along with 3 steals). FAMU struggled to stay in front of the Georgia sophomore as he found himself in the Rattlers’ paint for most of the game. Wheeler’s ability to innovate and facilitate offense should keep Georgia competitive in a lot of contests this year.
The most pleasant surprise of the day had to the production that Crean got from junior Tye Fagan and senior Andrew Garcia. Fagan provided his team with a double-double as well with his 21 points and 10 boards. Fagan is just an absolute joy to watch play as he is in constant motion on offense. The junior moved well without the ball against the Rattlers, which led to a number of buckets off of backdoor cuts. He also found himself the benefactor of 4 offensive boards, something Fagan has had a knack for during his time in Athens.
Garcia, the grad transfer from Stony Brook, led all scorers with 22 points. The senior netted over 13 points a game last season, so he seemed like an obvious candidate to help shore up some of the scoring load vacated by Antman and Hammonds, who provided over 42% of Georgia’s offense a year ago. While only 6’6″, Garcia looks comfortable playing with his back to the basket, and his wide frame and controlled movements made him effective against the FAMU interior.
Three-point shooting, which has been a shortfall of the Tom Crean era, looks as though it could be a handicap for the Dawgs again this season. FAMU held UGA to under 23% from beyond the arc on Sunday in Athens. Justin Kier, who transferred in from George Mason, seems like Georgia’s only legitimate three-point threat. The senior connected on over 45% of his triple attempts last year, and he made 2 of 4 from the outside today. Hopefully for Crean’s sake Kier remains consistent from beyond the arc or this team may not find many points from the three-point line.
Up next: Jacksonville Dolphins
Postseason prediction: Too early
In a truly bizarre day of basketball in which the NCAA announced it would be playing its tournament without fans, the Georgia Bulldogs (16-16) opened up the SEC tournament against the Ole Miss Rebels in the only day of action for this competition in which spectators would be allowed to be present.
After a depressing week of UGA hoops which resulted in losses to both Florida and LSU (in quite embarassing fashion), the Dawgs stepped on the court in Nashville and played their most complete game in a while against a Rebel Black Bear team that beat them earlier this season in Athens.
From the opening tip, Georgia appeared more energized, and the Dawgs were certainly the aggressors as they won the majority of 50-50 balls in this one. From the start, UGA’s offense was a thing of constant motion. The Rebels tried to slow the Dawgs down by playing some combinations of 1-3-1 and 2-3 zones, yet Georgia just continued to methodically move the ball to the soft spots in the defense. Tom Crean’s team finished the game with 19 assists, which is incredible considering how much this team as struggled to remain productive against zone defenses all season.
Senior Jordan Harris definitely wins the “Most Active” award, though. Harris moved without the ball the entire game and it resulted in his best performance of the year: 21 points and 7 rebounds. He scored off of cuts from the top of the key and the baseline, and Harris kept positioning himself as a perfect target on the perimeter, where he canned 3 of 4 triples.
The other offensive stud of the night was Rayshaun Hammonds, who bullied the Rebels with 22 points and 11 boards. Coach Kermit Davis had no answer for Hammonds, who scored from just about everywhere on the court as well: on the block, short corner, around the free throw line and from beyond the arc.
As a team, the Dawgs made over 54% of their shots from the floor, which was significantly higher than their season average of 43%. But again, UGA’s unselfishness with the ball and the players’ ability to create offense without the ball in their hands led to 42 points in the paint to Ole Miss’s 38.
All of the positives on offense this evening are even more significant considering that UGA’s leading scorer, Anthony Edwards, had an off night as he mustered only 6 points on a 2 for 13 effort from the floor.
The other big story of the night was the Georgia defense, which has definitely been a limiting factor for this team all season. Tonight’s UGA squad looked nothing like the bunch that traveled to Baton Rouge last weekend. Players were rotating and helping on penetration. Shots were being contested from all angles. Breein Tyree ended up with 18 points, but that’s still more than 4 below his SEC average, and he did it at the expense of a 6 for 16 shooting effort. Georgia forced Ole Miss into 15 turnovers on the night to UGA’s 12, which is impressive considering the Rebels were the 4th best team in the conference this season in turnover margin (+.5).
The one scary part of this game came at the 5:59 mark when Khadim Sy converted a dunk to make it an 8-point game and every UGA fan started to think “here we go again” in the back of their head (since Georgia has had a knack for blowing double-digit leads this season). Sahvir Wheeler had other plans, though, as the freshman went into attack mode and scored 8 of this 15 points down the stretch to help the Dawgs hang on to the 81-63 victory and play into the second round.
Tomorrow, Georgia gets its third shot at Florida, a team that has beaten them twice this season with rather suffocating defense. However, it is difficult to beat a team three times in a year. Also, the last time UGA knocked off Ole Miss in its first game of the SEC Tournament and the remainder of the games were played without fans (like this one will be from here on out) was 2008, and well, you know what happened.
The regular season came to a grinding halt yesterday in Baton Rouge, and Georgia Bulldog (15-16, 5-13) basketball fans most likely breathed a collective sigh. After being treated to a little mini-run of success a few weeks ago in which the Dawgs won 3 of 4 games, including a dramatic buzzer-beater against Vanderbilt in Nashville, UGA spent the past game and a half getting pulverized by LSU and Florida.
Yesterday’s drubbing at the hands of LSU was just a microcosm of an epidemic that has plagued this Georgia team all season: its defense (or lack thereof). The Dawgs ended the year with the second-worst scoring defense in SEC play as they allowed over 78 points a contest. In 13 of 18 conference games this year, Georgia allowed the opposing team score above their season SEC average in points. All season, this UGA team has been slow to react and provide help on penetration, and yesterday was no different as the Tigers scored 42 points in the paint and shot over 58% from the floor.
Probably the most concerning piece of the puzzle regarding the UGA defense is the lack of improvement that this team has shown. Over the past 3 games, the Dawgs are ranked 344th in the nation in defensive efficiency. The fact that this team is young is no excuse; they should have gotten better in this regard as the season progressed, yet they didn’t. In fact, one could go so far as to say that UGA regressed on the defensive side of the ball.
Tom Crean had his guys in a matchup zone for most of the game in Baton Rouge. However, it still appears that too many of Georgia’s players don’t understand the concepts of this particular defense. Sure, UGA’s perimeter guys switch off screens and movement on the wing. But once an opposing dribble-driver gets into the lane, there’s still little indication that any of Georgia’s 4 other defenders knows how to react. The Tigers had little issue shattering their season average of 80 ppg as they almost pushed the scoreboard to triple digits against a UGA team that provided little resistance. LSU hasn’t been a particularly strong three-point shooting team this year (32.5%), yet against Crean’s zones the Bayou Bengal Tigers canned over 52% of their attempts from beyond the arc.
With the losses of Nic Claxton and Derek Ogbeide from last year’s team, coupled with the sudden departure of Amanze Ngumezi, some drop off had to be expected. Obviously, this year’s squad was not built to deal with a lot of size from opposing frontcourts. However, this is a highly-athletic team, especially Anthony Edwards, Jordan Harris and Toumani Camara. Despite the glaring size disadvantages, Georgia should have been able to contain teams better on the defensive side of the ball.
Georgia opens up the SEC Tournament next week on Wednesday in a rematch with Ole Miss, a team that beat the Dawgs 70-60 in January back in Athens. Depending on which UGA team shows up, this experience in Nashville could go one of two ways: it ends painlessly on Wednesday, or Georgia plays into the start of the weekend. If the Dawgs do manage to get by the Rebel Black Bears, I think they have a realistic shot of beating Florida in the next round. I mean, surely UGA can find a way to hold onto a double-digit lead against a team that has beaten them twice this year, right?
Best case scenario: the SEC does not permit fans to attend due to concerns regarding the coronavirus, and Georgia steals the championship similarly to the 2008 tornado team.
The Georgia Bulldogs (15-15, 5-12) came into Wednesday’s game against Florida in the midst of their best stretch of basketball all season. Winners of 3 of the last 4 games, UGA had to feel confident that they had a chance to avenge an earlier loss to the Gators, a game in which Georgia let a 22-point lead evaporate.
Sadly, the rematch resembled the first game between these two teams in several key ways, and the Dawgs emerged as the loser once again. Here are a few thoughts on what went down on Senior Night in Athens:
The turning point in the game
Tye Fagan’s layup with a little under 8 minutes to go in the game gave Georgia a 46-45 advantage in what had been a tight contest. Key words: “had been”. In less than 3 minutes, the Dawgs managed to commit 3 turnovers that coincided with a pair of triples from Noah Locke and an uncontested dunk from Keyontae Johnson that sent the Gators up 55-46 with 5:08 left. Locke hit another triple 3 minutes later that gave Florida a 64-52 lead and UGA fans a reason to head for the exits.
It all happened so quickly that I didn’t even have time to get properly frustrated and watch the lead slip away; instead, it vanished in an instant. Mike White’s team closed out the game on a 23-8 run as they completed the season sweep of this young UGA team.
UGA defense didn’t return from the locker room for the 2nd half
Florida entered this one as the best shooting team in SEC play. The Gators had been hitting almost 47% from the floor and nearly 38% from the perimeter. Through the first half against UGA, Florida had mustered just 41% on field goals and they had missed all 10 of their attempts from beyond the arc. The Bulldogs held the Gators, a team that was netting almost 74 a game, to just 28 points at the half.
Half number two was a different story, though. The UGA defense either became winded or just less interested in rotating and covering the perimeter. Florida took advantage and buried 7 of 13 three-point attempts to go along with a robust 54% shooting effort from the floor. The Dawgs have struggled all season to put together a defensive effort for a full game, and tonight was no different. Actually, this game was eerily similar to the loss in Gainesville in that Georgia kept Florida in check for the first 20 minutes (26 points) until letting the floodgates burst open after the intermission (55 points). I suppose Tom Crean’s team can take some solace in the fact that they only permitted the Gators net 40 on them in the final twenty minutes.
Georgia stars struggled
After taking just 2 shots in the first half, Anthony Edwards immediately asserted himself into the flow of the 2nd half as he drew 3 fouls attacking the basket in less than 3 minutes. He had 4 points as well during this stretch and the Dawgs had built up a 6-point cushion. However, aside from a monstrous dunk several minutes later, the Ant Man never really got any kind of offensive rhythm going in this one. He finished with 14 points, but that came at the expense of a 3 for 10 shooting effort from the floor and 3 turnovers.
Probably more frustrating for Tom Crean, though, was the disappearance of Rayshaun Hammonds in the second half. For whatever reason, Hammonds has struggled to stay engaged on offense for entire games this season even though he is an integral part of this team’s scheme on that side of the ball. The junior played a solid first half as he notched 10 points and snagged 7 boards. After the break, though, Hammonds scored only 2 more points and he ended up with 6 turnovers on the night. Two of those giveaways came during the aforementioned “turning point” when this UGA squad needed an upperclassmen to settle things down as Florida made its run.
The Dawgs close out the regular season with a road trip to Baton Rouge to take on LSU.
Just two weeks ago, Georgia (15-14, 5-11) was just 2-10 in conference and the Dawgs had lost 8 of their past 9 games. Things felt bleak, to say the least.
After holding serve at home today against the Arkansas Razorbacks, UGA finds itself in the midst of its best stretch of basketball this season as the Dawgs have now won 3 of their last 4 contests. Similarly to the South Carolina game earlier in the week, Georgia was up against a team fighting to stay on the NCAA bubble. It’s safe to say that Tom Crean’s team just smacked the Hogs out of Joe Lunardi’s “Next Four Out”, and they nearly eclipsed 100 points in doing so.
Two pivotal moments of the game
With 6:41 remaining in the first half, Georgia enjoyed a 38-20 lead as the Dawgs were making everything they threw at the rim. UGA’s first half shooting numbers were absurd: Georgia hit over 55% from the floor and made more than 45% of their attempts from beyond the arc.
However, Georgia had already blown 4 double-digit leads in SEC games this season already, so no one watching this one ever felt safe, and for good reason. The Hogs closed out the half on a 19-9 run, and Eric Musselman’s team went into the half feeling relieved that they only trailed by 8 points.
Mason Jones, who sleepwalked through the first half, woke up quickly coming out of the break as he scored 5 points to bring Arky within 3 with 19:12 left in the game.
Georgia responded with coast-to-coast layups from Sahvir Wheeler and dunks from Toumani Camara and Jordan Harris. Instead of sulking about the change in momentum, UGA took it back through a series of high-energy plays that saw them bolster the lead to 58-50 with 14:17 remaining.
Pivotal moment number two came with 2:45 left in the game and Georgia leading by a point. Tyree Crump, who has made almost nothing but three-pointers during his time in Athens, took his defender off the dribble from the top of the key and finished at the rim on a layup. On the ensuing UGA possession, Crump again got by his man and found a wide open Rayshaun Hammonds for the easy stickback. On Georgia’s next trip down the court, Crump buried a triple from 5 feet outside the new extended three-point line to make it 90-84 with only 1:35 left. That shot was essentially the dagger that sunk Arkansas, and Crump has now put his stamp on two of UGA’s recent victories.
No defense from either side
Georgia and Arkansas entered Saturday’s game averaging in the low 70’s in scoring in SEC games, yet both teams were able to shatter those expected outcomes. Little defense was played inside Stegeman, but fortunately for UGA its offense was just a bit more effective down the stretch.
Georgia’s defensive lapses continue to remain perplexing. On multiple possessions, Sahvir Wheeler let Mason Jones blow by him to the rim. Given his height disparity, one would think that Wheeler could at least have provided some resistance around the perimeter on the Arkansas star. There were also several trips late in the second half in which the Hogs got uncontested baskets by simply outrunning the UGA defenders down the court.
Arkansas’s defense obviously wasn’t any better as they let Georgia pulverize them inside for 50 points (UGA allowed just 30 inside to Arky). Maybe both teams made a gentleman’s agreement prior to tipoff to take it easy on that end of the court?
I wonder if this team has the capability or willpower to play two games of defense in a row?
Anthony Edwards has hit his stride
The Ant Man is netting 31 a night in his past two games, and he’s making over 50% of his shots from the floor. Edwards is enjoying his best moments of SEC basketball lately, and it’s clear that he is in rhythm.
When the season started, it was evident that the Ant Man had all the physical attributes and skills that NBA teams covet. However, those gifts were not always translating to success on the court, especially when league play got going.
That’s not the case anymore. Edwards looks incredibly comfortable with the ball, and he’s creating great looks for himself off the dribble. All of his recent dominance is even more impressive considering that both South Carolina and Arkansas basically had a man playing flat out deny on him for nearly the entire game.
One more shout out…
Shout out to Ray Hammonds, Jordan Harris, Wheeler and Camara. As mentioned above, Arkansas tried to take Edwards away (though it didn’t totally work as the freshman scored 26 points) by face-guarding him in their man set so as to force the other Georgia players to beat them. That strategy didn’t work out so well for the Hogs as Hammonds dropped 22 points and the other three guys all finished in double-digits.
Florida at home on Wednesday
When these two teams locked up in Athens over two weeks ago, the Dawgs were trailing 27-5 with a little over 6 minutes left in the first half. In that game, UGA didn’t even look like they deserved to be on the same floor as South Carolina.
On Wednesday night in Columbia, the Dawgs almost pulled off their 3rd straight win in as many games despite playing the final 3 minutes of overtime without 3 starters: Rayshaun Hammonds, Toumani Camara and Jordan Harris. Georgia had a chance to tie the game with 4 seconds left, but the referees chose to award Maik Kotsar a charge instead of a block on Sahvir Wheeler’s final drive.
Here are some quick thoughts on tonight’s game:
Ant Man put on a show
Tonight’s game was really the first time that Edwards absolutely took over in an SEC game. No matter who Frank Martin put on the freshman, he found a way around. Carolina didn’t have anyone who could stay in front of Edwards, and he ended up with 36 points to go along with 7 boards.
Edwards’s numbers were even more impressive considering how much attention he was garnering. USC played primarily man defense the entire night, and whoever was on the Ant Man typically denied him the ball as soon as he crossed half court. Edwards ended up bringing the ball up himself in the point guard role on a number of possessions just so he could be assured of a touch. When the freshman drove, Carolina readily had one to two defenders shading over to double- and triple-team him.
This was definitely a performance in which it was obvious which player on the court was destined for the NBA in the immediate future.
UGA’s defense was virtually nonexistent
Thank goodness Tom Crean’s team found a rhythm on the offensive side of the ball because the Dawgs provided little resistance on the defensive end. I thought after the subpar effort at Vandy last weekend, Georgia would return to a form that more resembled how they played against Auburn a week ago. That just wasn’t the case.
Whether the Dawgs were in man or zone, they did not communicate effectively enough to keep the Gamecocks from scoring around the rim. Rotations were either too slow to react or just didn’t happen. At halftime, Carolina had already dunked the ball 4 times to go along with 10 layups. By the time the final horn sounded, USC had punished Georgia for 54 points in the paint as they shot 66% on two-pointers. Alonzo Frink, who entered this contest netting a meager 4.3 a night, looked like Shaquille O’Neal on Wednesday as he torched UGA for a career-high 22 points.
As I mentioned, Hammonds fouled out and so did Camara. Georgia’s defense continues to be the Achilles Heel of this squad, and that’s primarily because this team does not have a true big man.
There isn’t a ton of solace in moral victories, but when your team is 4-11 in conference play, sometimes you have to take what you can get. Jordan Harris logged just 10 minutes last night before eventually fouling out. Sahvir Wheeler played only 6 minutes after the break and Hammonds played 9; both guys were in foul trouble for the final 20 minutes of regulation. Yet UGA still had a chance to win in OT.
Georgia trailed 59-52 with over 12 minutes remaining after a 9-2 Gamecock run in the second half. But just like in the game against Vandy, the Dawgs didn’t wilt; instead, they responded with a 13-4 run of their own that saw UGA recapture the lead 65-63 following a pair of free throws from Edwards. Georgia recently started a trend of getting themselves back into games and overcoming deficits, on the road nonetheless.
It’s going to be difficult for UGA to climb out of that Wednesday slot of the SEC tournament considering they trail Arkansas by 2 games with just 3 games remaining. However, the way this team has been playing away from home gives some hope to the possibility that they could win several games on a neutral court in Nashville, Tennessee.
At 14-14, Georgia is on the outer parts of the NIT bubble and going to need a strong finish to work their way into the bracket.
Three consecutive missed free throws by Vanderbilt and a heroic 30-foot three-pointer at the buzzer by Tyree Crump enabled UGA to put together its first SEC win streak of the season (2). For Georgia (14-13, 4-10) fans, the ending to this one was the icing on the cake of what was a fairly entertaining watch, considering this contest featured two teams that entered this matchup with 4 conference wins between them.
Here are some thoughts on what transpired in Nashville last evening:
Georgia’s role players stepped up big
Sahvir Wheeler picked up his 4th foul with over 17 minutes of game time remaining. For the next 14 minutes, Tom Crean was forced to keep his floor general on the bench. With Wheeler out of the game, Vanderbilt turned its entire attention onto Anthony Edwards. Anytime Edwards would penetrate inside the arc, one or two Commodore defenders would shade over to essentially double- or triple-team him.
Edwards made a layup at the 11:56 mark to give UGA its first lead (52-51) since the early stages of the game, but the freshman phenom would go scoreless for the remainder of the contest before fouling out with 6 seconds remaining.
So how did Georgia, a team that has blown 4 double-digit leads in losses this season, overcome a 9-point deficit with less than 7 minutes remaining? As miraculous as Crump’s triple was maybe even more miraculous was the fact that the Dawgs were even in that position to begin with.
The key to UGA’s comeback lied in the fortitude of its role players:
- Tye Fagan scored stickbacks on offensive rebounds on consecutive possessions and then made a jumper in the middle of the lane to make it 65-58, Vandy, with 7 minutes left. Even though the Dawgs were still trailing by 7 at this point, without Fagan’s efforts Georgia could have fallen behind to a point that was insurmountable, given the amount of time left.
- Before Crump hit the game winner, he made a triple and another bucket (that seemed like a three that was never reviewed) that helped UGA clip further into the Vanderbilt lead. Crump’s three-pointer with under 6 remaining brought the Dawgs within 4 points.
- When the game finally started to feel as though it was slipping away with Vandy up 7 with only 4:28 left, Jordan Harris banged down a pair of triples to make it a one-possession game with 2:30 on the clock.
- Sahvir Wheeler, who I mentioned sat for most of the second half, reentered the game at the 3:10 mark and scored 6 points in the final two minutes, including two monster free throws to bring the Dawgs within a point with 6 seconds left. Wheeler’s ability to come off the bench after sitting for so long and instantly facilitate offense for his team highlighted just how important the freshman is to this team. Over the past 8 games, Wheeler is netting over 12 ppg, a remarkable progression on offense for a first year player going through his first SEC slate.
The Dawgs limited turnovers after the break
During the first half, Georgia’s offense resembled a game of “Hot Potato” at times as UGA played loose with the basketball. The Dawgs committed 10 of their 13 turnovers prior to the intermission, and Vandy turned all those mishaps into 20 points on the night.
The centerpiece of the Vanderbilt’s defensive scheme involved a little junk trap on the ball handler outside the arc. For whatever reason, this action had the Georgia perimeter players flustered for the initial 20 minutes of play.
At halftime however, Tom Crean must have reminded his crew that the Commodores were the second-worst scoring defense in the league (74.3) and there was no reason to fear any of Jerry Stackhouse’s defensive sets. The Dawgs finally just started dribbling around the traps, which led to a lot of open looks as the Dores defenders scrambled to cover open UGA players. Georgia only committing 3 turnovers in the second half was a catalyst to this team’s comeback.
What the heck happened to Georgia’s defense?
If I hadn’t watched UGA hold Auburn to just 55 points on Wednesday, I wouldn’t have believed it after seeing this team’s defensive effort in Nashville on Saturday.
Tom Crean tried to put his team in a man defense in the first half, but no one could stay in front of Saben Lee or Scotty Pippen, Jr., who Georgia made look a lot more like Sr. yesterday. Lee went off for 22 of his game-high 34 points before the break, and it was almost comical how easy it was for him to blow by UGA’s perimeter players en route to the rim.
Crean moved his team into a 2-3 zone in an attempt to provide more help on Vandy’s backcourt, but the Dawgs failed to communicate and that led to more backdoor cuts and uncontested layups and dunks for the Dores.
As much fun as the Dawgs are going to have rewatching Crump’s buzzer beater, they are going to cringe when they examine the possessions when they were allegedly on defense. Georgia permitted Vanderbilt to connect on over 57% from the floor and better than 46% from beyond the arc. In SEC play this season, the Dores have been one of the worst shooting teams in league games at under 43% from the field, and they’ve been making barely over 33% from the perimeter. The Dawgs should feel a renewed sense of confidence after winning both games this week, but they should also be a bit disgusted by their lackadaisical effort on the defensive side of the ball yesterday.
Georgia has a rematch with South Carolina in Columbia on Wednesday night. Considering how overpowering the Gamecocks looked compared to UGA in Athens during the first matchup of these two teams, this contest will be a great opportunity for Tom Crean’s team to measure up and see how much they’ve grown (or haven’t) over the past few weeks.
The Georgia Bulldogs (13-13, 3-10) snapped a four-game losing streak on Wednesday night against the #13 Auburn Tigers in a game that Las Vegas had made UGA a 4.5-point underdog. It should definitely be noted that Bruce Pearl’s team was playing its second consecutive game without NBA prospect Isaac Okoro, the team’s second-leading scorer at 13.1 ppg. Nonetheless, this young Bulldog team found a way to win despite holding a double-digit lead for a brief 35 seconds early in the second half.
A couple thoughts on the game:
Here we go again…
The big “here we go again moment” came around the 6-minute mark of the second half after Anthony Edwards had knocked down a free throw to make it 52-43, Georgia. Over the next four possessions, Sahvir Wheeler, Mike Peake, Jordan Harris and Edwards all took three-point attempts that failed to convert. For the record, Harris shoots 28% from the perimeter and Peake shoots just 12%, so why those two were launching from beyond the arc during the game’s final stretch is beyond me.
Thankfully, the Ant Man converted on a floater that made it 54-47 with 4 minutes left, but Samir Doughty buried a triple on the ensuing possession and Auburn found themselves trailing by only 4 points. For anyone who has watched even a sliver of this UGA basketball season, this felt like the time when the wheels were supposed to start coming off for Georgia. Edwards sunk a huge three-pointer two possessions later, though, that turned out to be a dagger as it put the Dawgs up by 8 with 2:15 remaining. The cacophony of sounds circulating inside Stegeman following this bucket was a blend of cheers as well as collective sighs of relief from the Bulldog nation.
40-minute defensive effort from Georgia
Tom Crean finally convinced his team to play defense for an entire game, and it resulted in Auburn scoring its second-lowest output (55) of the season. This Tiger team entered this contest with the 3rd highest-scoring offense in SEC play at over 77 a night, further highlighting how impressive UGA was on that side of the ball this evening.
When Georgia struggled to stay in front of J’Von McCormick, who ended up with 22 points, Crean switched his team into a matchup zone in order to give his perimeter players more help up top in dealing with the senior guard. The Dawgs frustrated Bruce Pearl’s team into a 31% effort from the field and just 15% from beyond the arc; both of these results were well below the Tigers’ season shooting averages in league games. Georgia’s defense was so stifling that Pearl sweated completely through his suit, making him the second coach in less than a week that UGA has caused to perspire profusely.
Even though Auburn kept trying to pound the ball inside to Austin Wiley so as to take advantage of Georgia’s undersized frontcourt, the Dawgs were only outscored in the paint by a tally of 28-26; the last time these two teams met the Tigers brutalized UGA on the interior for 44 points. Protecting the rim has been a real challenge for this Bulldog squad this season, so it was refreshing to see them finally put together a complete effort in that facet of the game on Wednesday.
Georgia did yield 16 offensive boards to the Tigers and those did lead to 18 second chance points, but considering this Auburn team is the top offensive rebounding squad in SEC games (14.3), this is forgivable.
Crean’s frosh step up
While Edwards did knock down two important shots during the final stretch of this game, he also committed a game-high 7 turnovers, and those could have been more costly for Georgia had some of his fellow freshman not stepped up.
Sahvir Wheeler finished with 13 points and 4 assists as he looked in complete control of the UGA offense for much of the game. There was a moment in the first half when a Georgia big brought an on-ball screen to Wheeler on the perimeter. After Wheeler took his defender into the screen off the dribble, he found himself isolated with Auburn’s center (Wiley) defending him. Sahvir attacked the Tiger big man and had him backpedaling so quickly that Wheeler pulled up for a wide open jumper just inside the free throw line, which he made. It was such a mature decision by the freshman to take the wide open shot versus forcing something contested around the rim.
The other newcomer that was seemingly everywhere on the court on Wednesday night was Toumani Camara, who scored 12 points to go along with 8 rebounds and 3 steals (he also took at least two charges).
Georgia heads to Nashville to take on Vanderbilt with a shot at putting together its first SEC win streak of the year.
NIT (outer fringes of the bubble)
Mark Fox’s final four SEC seasons as Georgia’s head coach looked like this: 11-7 (NCAA tournament), 10-8, 9-9 and 7-11. There’s this notion circling around social media that Tom Crean is in the midst of some sort of rebuild. How is UGA considered a rebuilding project when the last coach won 7 league games? South Carolina finished 7-11 in conference two years ago and then bounced back to go 11-7 the following season. Any team that was only 2 games under .500 the previous season in a league like the SEC is not in “rebuilding mode”.
Georgia’s remaining schedule is Auburn, @ Vandy, @ South Carolina, Arkansas, Florida and @ LSU. This team is dangerously close to repeating another 2-win effort in SEC play. The only game on that slate that I can see as a possible W for Tom Crean’s team is the game in Nashville, but historically, UGA teams haven’t fared well on the raised court, and I see no reason as to why this year’s squad would be any different.
Here are some thoughts on another frustrating loss in which the Dawgs committed 21 turnovers that led to 26 Aggie points (insert face palm emoji here):
Great halftime adjustments by Buzz Williams
And I’m not just referring to his decision to ditch the three-piece suit for a looser long-sleeve t-shirt. Though, considering how much Williams was perspiring during the game’s first 20 minutes, that wasn’t a bad move, hygienically speaking.
Coach Buzz obviously reminded his team at the break that they haven’t been that successful this season from beyond the arc, a message that Crean can’t seem to communicate to his Georgia team that connected on just 9 of 29 from the perimeter today in College Station. The Aggies entered this contest with the lowest three-point shooting (26%) in SEC games, yet they took 16 of them in the first half, of which they made only 5. Despite having a distinct size advantage inside, TAMU was outscored 16-8 in the paint at the intermission. However, in the final 20 minutes, Williams’s team notched 24 points in the paint and attempted just 7 more triples.
Kudos to the coach for convincing his team to play within itself and to its strengths. TAMU’s 74 points was 14 more than the 60 they were averaging in SEC games coming into this one (also worst in the conference).
UGA showed some mental fortitude in the second half
The Aggies blew the doors off the Dawgs out of halftime, and following an 11-2 run that was capped off with an alley oop dunk by Wendell Mitchell, the game was tied at 40 apiece. Georgia didn’t wilt, though, and after triples from both Sahvir Wheeler and Tye Fagan, the Dawgs found themselves on top 48-42 with a little over 11 minutes left.
Several minutes later, TAMU would lock the game up at 48-48 following a bucket from Josh Neebo. Once again, UGA remained poised as Fagan hit another three and Rayshaun Hammonds scored an important basket inside to give his team a 55-50 advantage with under 8 minutes remaining.
The Aggies would eventually tie the game again on another score from Neebo that made it 59-59 with 4:32 left. This time Georgia couldn’t hold on, and TAMU eventually took the lead and would keep it.
UGA desperately needed someone to step up and settle things down during this critical stretch of game, but alas, this team doesn’t have that guy. Anthony Edwards, who finished with only 6 points, attempted just 1 shot from the floor after the break. The freshman played only 2 of the final 10 minutes of this one as he seemed disengaged both on offense and from his team.
Hammonds played big versus Neebo
The lone bright spot for this Georgia team today had to be junior Rayshaun Hammonds, who had the pleasure of defending senior manchild Josh Neebo. Hammonds outscored (15-12) and outrebounded (7-4) the larger Neebo, and Rayshaun is now tied for 6th in rebounds per game in league play (7.2). Considering that the Hammonds, the lone big on an undersized UGA team, is asked to defend the opposition’s largest player every single game, it’s admirable that he continues to fight so hard on the glass inside.
Auburn in Athens on Wednesday
Frank Martin has built a program at South Carolina that regularly features teams that emulate the toughness of their hard-nosed coach. This year’s brand of Gamecocks is no different. From the opening tip, it was painfully obvious just how much more physically imposing this USC squad is compared to the Tom Crean’s Dawgs (12-11, 2-9).
Martin’s team didn’t play any matchup zone last night in Athens. Rather, his bunch strapped it up and played an imposing version of man defense that UGA hasn’t seen yet this year. The Dawgs couldn’t get into any sort of offensive rhythm as they turned the ball over 19 times. All that motion and movement that Tom Crean’s offense is built on was nowhere to be found; South Carolina didn’t allow it. Other than Anthony Edwards, UGA didn’t have anyone that threatened this Gamecock team.
Carolina held the Dawgs to under 35% from the floor and they frustrated Georgia into an abysmal 3 for 24 effort from beyond the arc. Remember when Crean said that UGA was going to shoot the three more in his opening presser? It would be cool if they could start making a few more of them. Georgia is now connecting on just 28% of its attempts from beyond the arc, which puts them at 12th in the league in that category.
Edwards finished with 16 points on a forgettable 4 for 13 shooting night, but to be fair to the Ant Man, he was the only Georgia player that seemed capable of facilitating any sort of offense against Carolina. Rayshaun Hammonds and Sahvir Wheeler combined for 9 points on a 3 for 12 effort from the floor.
To put it bluntly, this game was never fun to watch. Georgia started 1 for 17 from the floor and turned the ball over 9 times in the first 13 minutes. With a little under 7 minutes remaining before the break, the Dawgs trailed 25-5. USC took the air out of Stegeman early, and they never let it back in. UGA finished the first half shooting just 24% from the floor, and they went into the intermission trailing 38-20.
Frank Martin’s South Carolina teams have now won 7 straight games against the Dawgs. Let that sink in. Those types of losing streaks are forgivable against a blueblood like Kentucky. Against South Carolina, though, not so much. Martin’s last two recruiting classes have been ranked 55th and 45th in the nation, yet his team has a NET ranking of 65 and is trending towards an at-large berth to this year’s NCAA tournament. The Gamecocks actually BEAT Kentucky earlier this year.
Based upon what’s transpired thus far, it’s hard to remain hopeful for much that is left on this Georgia team’s slate. I wonder what Edwards’s mindset will be for the final third of the season? He’s in a similar position as Nic Claxton was last year: stuck on a team with 2 conference wins and an NBA Draft just a few months away.
Stats from the South Carolina that jump off the sheet:
- Points off turnovers: USC 25, UGA 4
- Points in the paint: USC 40, UGA 22
At Texas A&M on Saturday (Yay! One of UGA’s 2 SEC wins)
Double-digit leads are by no means safe around this Georgia Bulldogs team (12-11, 2-8). With a little under 15 minutes remaining, Toumani Camara finished at the rim to make it 65-53, UGA. The Dawgs had taken control of the game to start the second half as they played fast and aggressive. However, much like the games against Missouri and Florida, all of that evaporated as Alabama (13-10, 5-5) proceeded to go on a 15-2 run that saw the Tide wrest back the lead to make it 68-67 in their favor.
How does this keep happening?
Here are a couple thoughts on a game that was entertaining to watch, yet ultimately difficult to digest:
Statistically speaking, Alabama and Georgia have been two of the worst scoring defenses in SEC play. The Crimson Tide entered this game yielding over 77 a night (14th) and the Dawgs have been giving up over 73 per contest (12th) in conference games. But these two teams took their collective inabilities to stay in front of anyone to new heights on Saturday evening. The concept of help defense has clearly not been mastered by UGA or Bama as just about anyone who got past his defender on the perimeter had a clear and uncontested path to the bucket; it reminded me of the NBA All-Star game. Georgia outscored the Tide 58 to 56 in points in the paint; that’s right, an astounding 104 total points were made in the lane tonight.
I truly cannot remember watching a game with less guarding. Crimson Tide guard Kira Lewis put up a career high 37 points against the Dawgs. That should wound the pride of just about any defense.
And this was on the heels of a second half against the Florida Gators earlier this week in which the Dawgs permitted 55 points. Georgia has now given up 160 points in the last 60 minutes of game play. Incredible.
I get that this team is young and everybody is new and they’re still learning Crean’s offensive system and how to play together. However, there’s no excuse as to why these guys can’t play better defense. Defense is about effort, and right now, Crean is not getting much of it out of his guys on that end of the court.
Other players stepped up to support an ailing Ant Man
Apparently, Anthony Edwards has been dealing with the flu as of yesterday, and he wasn’t exactly feeling his best around tip off of this one. The freshman logged another double-double with 14 points and 12 boards, but he didn’t look like himself on offense as he connected on just 5 of 17 from the floor; he also missed all 6 of his three-point attempts, including the last-second one that could have tied the game.
Sahvir Wheeler and Rayshaun Hammonds did an admirable job of filling up the stat sheet, though. Bama didn’t have anyone who could stay in front of Wheeler as he scored a career high 24 points to go along with 8 assists. He did turn the ball over 6 times as he continues to make risky passes, but he also dished out some absolute dimes, so some of those turnovers are forgivable. Wheeler scored 40 points this week as he continues to expand his role in this Georgia offense. The Dawgs are most likely going to lose Edwards to the NBA next season, but the return of Wheeler could set this team up to be even better on offense next year.
Rayshaun Hammonds, who dealt with foul trouble for much of the game, scored 20 points in just 26 minutes of efficient play. The junior netted 5 of his total with less than 2 minutes remaining in regulation, including the bucket that tied the game at 92 with 21 seconds left. Hammonds had not finished in double-figures in the past 4 games, so it was refreshing to see him active and engaged on offense again.
South Carolina comes to Athens on Wednesday
NIT (outermost fringe of the bubble)
The Georgia Bulldogs (12-9, 2-6) ended a depressing 4-game losing streak with a runaway win against Texas A&M in Athens on Saturday. If you are a fan of soundly-played offense, this wasn’t the game for you. Only one of the teams shot over 40% from the floor (Georgia), and these two squads combined for 37 turnovers, nearly averaging one per minute of play.
However, the Dawgs desperately needed a victory, and when a team has its back against the wall, style points go out the window.
Here’s how Tom Crean’s team ended up on the right side of the scoreboard today:
Fabulous defensive effort
Georgia’s backside help on the block was tremendous this afternoon. So much so, actually, that TAMU basically abandoned trying to dump the ball into the paint to its leading scorer, Josh Neebo, and instead opted to launched three-pointers, which has not been this team’s forte. Neebo, who had been netting 12 a night, scored just 2 against the Dawgs; Texas A&M, a team not known for its prowess from beyond the arc, made only 5 of 25 shots from that area, which absolutely played into UGA’s gameplan.
Credit Tom Crean and his players for accepting the challenge to play defense for an entire 40 minutes and executing their scheme to near perfection. The Aggies were held almost 19 points below their season average in SEC play, and to keep a team to under 50 points in a conference game is certainly impressive. After getting brutalized on the inside for much of its league games, the Dawgs held the Aggies to just 22 points in the paint in this one.
UGA’s ability to regroup at the half and come out prepared to fight harder on the defensive glass is commendable, especially considering the Aggies entered this game with the 3rd best offensive rebounding percentage in the conference. In the first half, UGA yielded 10 offensive rebounds to a TAMU team that’s been averaging 12 a contest in SEC play. Georgia, however, buckled down after the intermission and only relented 3 more offensive boards to the Aggies over the final 20 minutes.
Much of that defensive rebounding can be attributed to UGA’s star player, Anthony Edwards, who hauled in 13 defensive rebounds in the game (15 overall).
Anthony Edwards was a man amongst boys in the second half
After the break, Georgia fans were treated to the version of the Ant Man that still has scouts projecting him to be the #1 overall pick in this year’s NBA draft. Edwards was unstoppable in the second half in both taking defenders off the dribble and knocking down shots from the perimeter. The Ant Man finished this game with 29 points to go along with those 15 boards for his second double-double in as many games. Georgia should have the best player on the court in its remaining SEC games, and when Edwards plays up to his potential this team becomes dangerous to deal with from a defensive standpoint.
Some stats that just don’t make sense
- In a game in which UGA had 20 turnovers, the Dawgs still managed to outscore the Aggies in points off turnovers by a decisive 22-11 count.
- Georgia had 15 offensive boards and TAMU had 13, yet the teams tied with just 7 second chance points apiece.
At Florida on Wednesday night.
NIT (firmly on the bubble)
That’s the question that many Georgia fans are either pondering or have answered after seeing the Dawgs blow a 20-point second half lead last night at Missouri. Like many of you, I assumed UGA was in a good spot after Anthony Edwards hit a triple to make it 59-39 with 13:33 left in the game.
When Mizzou cut the lead to 14 with 11:21 remaining, I still felt ok. Georgia will score; all they have to do is trade buckets with the Tigers the rest of the way.
Dru Smith cutting the UGA advantage to 8 points with 7:04 left started to make me nervous. By the time Mizzou trailed 65-62 with 3:31 remaining, I was confounded. Why hadn’t Tom Crean called a timeout? His team hadn’t converted a field goal in nearly 9 minutes.
After Mizzou reclaimed the lead 66-65 with 2:20 left, I did not think Georgia had the mental fortitude to close out the game, and the Dawgs proved me right.
This loss was deflating, and it moves Georgia into 13th place in the 14-team SEC. Everyone involved with the program on some level is frustrated.
Look at UGA’s remaining schedule. How many potential wins remain for this Georgia team?
Maybe Texas A&M at home? Or possibly Alabama? At Vanderbilt? The Aggies are 4-3 in conference play, Bama beat Auburn and historically, UGA struggles on that wonky court in Nashville. Last year, Tom Crean’s initial season produced 2 SEC wins. I never considered that they’d muster up a similarly low tally again this year, especially with the talent influx that this roster enjoyed due to one of the better Georgia recruiting classes ever.
Prior to the season, both ESPN and Sports Illustrated projected the Dawgs to finish 9th in the league; CBS was more optimistic as the network pitted the Dawgs at 7th, and in its description of this year’s team:
“Dawgs should be on any list of the top 10 most interesting/curious teams of 2019-20.”
The real curiosity at this point has to be centered around this team’s inability to get better as the season progresses, which I wrongly assumed they would earlier in the year.
Not having Sahvir Wheeler last night hurt. He’s this team’s best distributor and facilitator. But, the Dawgs did look really sound on offense for the first three-quarters of the game last night. Tom Crean’s guys were MOVING without the ball; Tyree Crump and Anthony Edwards were knocking down three-pointers off of passes rather than trying to do their best Steph Curry impersonations by shooting off-balanced and off the dribble. In the first half, UGA shot over 50% from both the field and beyond the arc en route to 42 points.
Nearly halfway through the second half, though, all that movement stopped. Guys started standing around and watching each other try to make plays off the dribble. The Dawgs hit only 36% from the floor in the final 20 minutes and made only 1 of 11 three-point attempts. All this futility led to a dismal 27-point second half effort against the 9th-best scoring defense in the SEC.
Junior Rayshaun Hammonds shot (and missed) his only field goal of the game during that meltdown of a second half. He failed to enter the scoring column even though he logged 33 minutes of play. How does that happen? Hammonds is the team’s second leading scorer and it should be impossible for him to become such an afterthought on offense in a game.
But Hammonds wasn’t the only one that disappeared. Anthony Edwards, who finished with 23 points at the expense of a 9 for 24 shooting effort, logged 2 points in the game’s final 13 minutes. He had opportunities to put the Dawgs on his shoulders and get them off the snide, but he couldn’t convert.
At some point this season, Tom Crean might be able to convince this team to play hard and smart for a full 40 minutes, and it’s going to be, in the words of Mugatu from Zoolander, “Glorious!!!”
I like Tom Crean’s offensive concepts, I just hope he can keep the players interested in executing them for the entire game. I also love the fact that he wants his teams to shoot the three ball, he just needs to bring in a few more guys that can make them.
Many UGA fans (me included) had high expectations for this year’s team with the idea that an NCAA tournament bid was not out of the question. Wins over Georgia Tech, SMU and at Memphis only served to fuel that optimism. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I hadn’t glanced at the 1st/2nd round locations for this season’s dance, just to see what would be a manageable trip, should Georgia be selected.
Conference play has stifled much of that hope by now. I’m curious to see where this team goes moving forward. Tom Crean has a heck of a tall task in front of him from here on out at keeping this young bunch motivated and interested in playing together.
The Georgia Bulldogs (11-8, 1-5) haven’t quite hit rock-bottom. That opportunity will come on Tuesday night when they play 1-5 Missouri in a game that could have the loser tied for the worst record in the SEC, depending on Vanderbilt’s result this week. Any optimism that UGA fans harnessed prior to this season is certainly coasting on fumes at this point. The fervor surrounding Tom Crean’s historic top five recruiting class feels like a distant memory after watching his team lose at home to an Ole Miss squad that entered Saturday with a NET ranking of 125.
What’s happened to the offense?
Earlier in the year, Georgia’s offense was entertaining to watch. Once the ball got into the high post, the Dawgs routinely hit cutters slashing down from the short corner for easy finishes at the rim. Did that happen once yesterday?
Ole Miss coach Kermit Davis through a slew of junk zone defenses at UGA, with traps occuring around the baseline and on the wings. Instead of moving, Tom Crean’s team just stood around. Georgia shot 31% from the floor and scored only 20 points in the paint against a Rebel team that had been allowing SEC opponents to connect on 45% from the field. Coach Davis’s team is not known for its suffocating defense, despite how futile UGA appeared when they had the ball in their hands. The Rebels entered this contest forcing opponents into 11.6 turnovers a game, yet Georgia managed to cough it up 16 times, which led to 20 Ole Miss points.
One stretch of offensive play that was particularly painful to watch occurred late in the first half and then bled into the start of the second. Jordan Harris buried a triple with 3:24 remaining till the break to bring Georgia to within five. Over 7 minutes later, he hit another three that broke an exhausting scoring drought that cut the Ole Miss lead to under double-digits. Tom Crean was brought into his position to reinvigorate the UGA offense, but this segment of game felt reminiscent of the Mark Fox days.
Of course, offense never comes easy when a team’s two leading scorers cannot find any rhythm, which was the case for Georgia on Saturday. Anthony Edwards made only 3 of 12 from the floor for a total of 13 points. All his makes were from beyond the arc, where he hit just 3 of 10 shots. For whatever reason, the UGA freshman seems resistant to utilize his powerful frame and drive the ball at the rim. Instead, he continues to try to create offense from the perimeter, which absolutely lets opposing defenses off the hook.
Rayshaun Hammonds’s 4-point performance can’t even be blamed on foul trouble this time. The junior never seemed engaged on offense as he hit only 1 of 8 from the floor. His most troubling miss came in the second half when he got the ball under the basket on an inbounds play with the much smaller Tyree guarding him. Hammonds managed to throw the ball completely over the rim on a weak take that looked like shot he would have taken as a freshman.
The defense is still a problem
I’d thought part of Georgia’s struggles on the defensive side of the ball were due to the strength of the competition that this team had taken on to start conference play. Ole Miss quickly debunked that theory.
First, a little background on the Rebels’ offensive woes prior to Saturday’s event. The Rebel Black Bears coasted into Athens with the second-worst offense in SEC games as they were scoring just a hair under 60 points a night. In addition, this Ole Miss team was hitting only 37% of its shots from the floor and just 26% of the attempts from three-point range; both of those stats were second-worst in the conference as well. There’s a reason the Rebels were winless in league play before setting foot inside Stegeman.
One thing Georgia proved yesterday is that they can make any team better on offense. Coach Davis’s team made 52% of its shots and over 55% from the perimeter to en route to 70 points.
With less than 4 minutes left in the game and Ole Miss leading 59-53, Georgia desperately needed a stop. Rebel point guard Breein Tyree, who finished with 20 points, blew by his defender around halfcourt and then coasted to the basket for an uncontested layup as the UGA defenders pondered whether that was a situation in which they should have provided some help. This play either highlighted Georgia’s inability to communicate or lack of effort, take your pick.
But maybe the most frustrating defensive lapse of the afternoon was the way in which UGA attempted to defend the 6’10” Khadim Sy. Somehow, the Ole Miss center continued finding himself being guarded on the block by one of the Georgia point guards, so the Rebels kept dumping the ball down to him in the paint, where he notched 16 points. At first, I associated these mismatches to defensive switches that led to these isolation plays. However, there were multiple possessions where Tye Fagan initially met Sy at the free throw line as he headed down low. Something was definitely amiss, yet Coach Crean never once called a timeout to rectify this situation. Even if Crean was taking a Mr. Miyagi approach and hoping that his guys could problem-solve, that wasn’t happening and they needed their coach to intervene.
Two lone bright spots
While this game definitely casts a dark shadow on the remaining prospects of Georgia’s season, Jordan Harris and Sahvir Wheeler’s performances on offense were admirable. These two Dawgs provided a much-needed offensive spark in a game in which this team’s two leading scorers took the afternoon off.
Senior Jordan Harris came off the bench to net 15 points to go along with 8 boards, 3 steals and 2 blocks, all in just 19 minutes of play. Harris is easily UGA’s best defender, and at 6’4″, he may be its strongest rim protector as well. At this point, Crean probably has to consider starting Harris over Donnell Gresham just for the boost in athleticism he provides on the defensive end.
Seeing Wheeler score in double-figures again was refreshing after what had been a rather rough start to conference play for the freshman. Prior to the SEC slate, Wheeler had been averaging 8.6ppg, but that number had fallen to just 4.2 ppg in league games. Conference play can definitely wreck some player’s offensive numbers, so hopefully yesterday’s game gives Wheeler some added confidence moving forward because UGA needs him to be a threat on that side of the ball.
At 1-5 Missouri on Tuesday
Current postseason projection:
NIT First Four Out
The Dawgs (11-7, 1-4) dropped their second game in a row in Tuesday’s loss to Kentucky inside Rupp Arena. The fact that UGA only lost by 10 is a bit of a silver lining for Tom Crean’s team considering that Anthony Edwards didn’t score the entire first half, and Sahvir Wheeler went the whole game without a bucket. The Dawgs got 29 points from the bench and surprising double-digit efforts from Tye Fagan (14) and Toumani Camara (10) that helped UGA piece together a 79-point performance that came via chunks of scoring from various role players.
It’s safe to say that the Dawgs DO NOT have anyone capable of defending Kentucky’s Ashton Hagans on the perimeter or Nick Richards on the block; the sophomore and junior scored 23 and 20, respectively, for Coach Calipari’s team. The UGA fan base was ecstatic when Crean signed a player of Edwards’s caliber during the offseason, and rightfully so; it’s just that Cal has like 4 to 5 of those kinds of talents on his roster, and that’s a problem for Georgia whenever they play the Cats.
Here are a few more thoughts on the game:
Too many easy baskets for Kentucky
The Georgia Bulldogs interior defense plagued them once again. Kentucky used its size advantage to notch 46 points in the paint against the Dawgs, marking the 4th time in 5 SEC games that a team has scored 44 points or more inside the free throw line. Over the past 3 games prior to this one, UGA allowed opponents to make over 65% of their two-point attempts, the majority of which were scored in the lane. Not to keep pouring it on the defense, but after tonight’s effort, Georgia is now allowing over 80 points a contest in league games, which gives Tom Crean’s team the worst scoring defense in the SEC.
Crean has continued to preach effort on the defensive end in both finishing out possessions and rebounding. Obviously, I agree that those are crucial tenets that must be satisfied if a team hopes to make life difficult for opposing offenses. However, I’m not sure if effort alone is going to be enough for this year’s team to overcome some serious deficiencies that exist in regards to the size of the frontcourt.
The best part of the game for Georgia
The highlight of the games was the 7-ish minute span in the first half in which Georgia shook off a sluggish start and came back from an early 10-2 disadvantage. In an eerie repeat to last weekend’s game in Starkville, the Dawgs found themselves down by the exact same score by the time the initial media timeout rolled around. Kentucky had 11 fastbreak points prior to the intermission, and a majority of those came during this first segment of the game.
Tom Crean moved his team into an extended 2-3 zone in an attempt to slow down the pace of the game and to get Kentucky off-balanced. The UGA zone stymied the Cats’ offense, and Georgia outscored Kentucky 18-14 for the next 7 minutes. With 5:30 remaining before the half, the Dawgs capped off a 9-0 run en route to a 29-28 lead.
The effort in the first 20 minutes of this game was solid as Georgia notched 10 offensive boards which led to 10 second chance points. Despite shooting just 34% from the floor and 20% from three-point land, UGA only trailed 41-35 at the half, a half in which leading-scorer Anthony Edwards contributed 0 points.
Ole Miss in Athens
Current postseason projection:
After demoralizing Tennessee in Athens earlier the week, the Georgia Bulldogs (11-6, 1-3) seemed poised to even up their SEC record in Starkville against a Mississippi State team that Sports Illustrated projected to finish just 11th in the conference in its preseason predictions.
This game was a great opportunity for Tom Crean’s team. I’m talking Quadrant I win opportunity.
Unfortunately, the Dawgs didn’t have the fortitude to keep the game even remotely competitive.
Here are my thoughts as to why:
1. Tough night for the Dawgs’ defense
Georgia started this game out about as flat as they have all year. UGA’s transition defense was nonexistent from the start as the Maroon Dawgs jumped out to a 10-2 lead before 3 minutes of game clock had expired. State scored nearly a quarter of its points (9) off of the break heading into the intermission.
The Dawgs entered this game 174th in the nation in opponent two-point field goal percentage (49.1%). It’s no secret that Tom Crean’s team is undersized, and the opposition is exploiting that weakness by driving the ball at the rim relentlessly. Mississippi State punished Georgia with 48 points in the paint, which marks the 3rd time in 4 SEC games in which the Dawgs have yielded 44 points or more inside. Other than Tennessee, the league has been absolutely brutalizing Georgia down low, and unfortunately, that’s probably not going to stop.
I mean, Mississippi State shot 62% from the floor; that should be embarrassing for a defense. The Maroon Dawgs entered this game averaging 10 assists per game in SEC play, yet on Saturday they dished out 21 dimes against a porous UGA defense. Sophomore Reggie Perry, who ended up with 22 points and 11 boards, looked like a man amongst boys as he got just about whatever he wanted offensively inside the free throw line. The only thing more painful than watching Perry shred the UGA defense was the constant reminder that he is a Georgia native that Mark Fox let slip out of state.
The UGA defense continues to be problematic for this team’s development. Georgia is now allowing over 74 points a night, which gives them the 274th best scoring defense in the country. In just SEC games, the Dawgs are giving up 78.5 per game, and that provides Tom Crean’s squad with the dubious honor of being the worst scoring defense in the league in terms of points allowed thus far. I’m curious to see what types of adjustments Crean makes to remedy this deficiency because his team sure isn’t getting any taller over the next two months.
2. Georgia’s offense became increasingly stagnant as the game progressed
In the first half, UGA ran a little dribble weave on offense that seemed effective as it kept State guessing and off-balanced. The constant motion being run up high led to some nice backdoor looks and dribble drives. Believe it or not, this was a 4-point game with less than 3 minutes remaining in the half.
For whatever reason, though, UGA got away from this offensive set and found themselves standing around a lot more following the intermission. I’ve said this before, but I suppose I’ll just keep saying it: Crean’s entire offensive philosophy is built around perpetual movement. When that’s not happening, things derail quickly. Need proof? Georgia made only 39% from the floor and just 17% from beyond the arc in this contest.
When UGA’s motion stops on the offensive side of the ball, players tend to settle for the easier shot, which in this team’s case is three-pointers. The problem, however, is that most of these attempts from beyond the arc tend to be contested looks, and the Dawgs don’t shoot a high percentage when that is the case. Georgia is hitting only 30.5% on the year (286th in the country) from the perimeter and just 27% in conference games (11th in SEC).
3. The Dawgs still don’t have a go-to guy
I know that Anthony Edwards is supposed to be that guy, but he’s just not there yet. Sure, he hit a game-winner to give Georgia its only win in Maui against Division II Chaminade. But against SEC competition, the Ant Man hasn’t shown up on a consistent basis.
Edwards didn’t score his first field goal in Saturday’s game until barely a minute remained in the first half, a half in which the Ant Man connected on just 1 of 6 shots. Edwards did end up with his season average of 19 points, but the majority of those were scored when the game was well out of reach. The freshman once again appeared as though he was pressing by trying to make difficult, off-balanced three-point shots off the dribble. He’s not doing Georgia or himself any favors when he’s playing that way offensively.
Another stat that is slightly concerning is the fact that Edwards is shooting just 33% from the floor in the team’s four true road games. When the rubber has met the road in conference play thus far, Edwards has failed to rise to the occasion. Hopefully he is learning from these experiences and can use them to grow as SEC play progresses.
Kentucky at Rupp on Tuesday. Ugh.
Current postseason projection:
Believe it or not, this Tennessee team is not THAT bad. Sure, the Vols lost all five starters from last year’s team that made a deep run into the NCAA tournament, including All-SEC studs Admiral Schofield and Grant Williams; however, Rick Barnes’s squad is 10-5 on the year and they were 2-1 in the SEC heading into this contest. The Vols’ latest win came against South Carolina; the same South Carolina that won at Virginia earlier in the season and just knocked off Kentucky at home tonight.
Sports Illustrated projected this Tennessee team to finish 6th in the SEC in its season preview.
With all that being said, the Dawgs made Tennessee look mediocre on Tuesday night in Athens, and that’s cause for Georgia Bulldog (11-5, 1-2) fans to feel optimistic about the remainder of this conference slate.
Anthony Edwards, who finished with 26 points, scored 20 of those in the first half on 4 triples, with some highlight dunks and creative backdoor cuts sprinkled in. Coming off of probably his worst outing of the season last weekend at Auburn, Edwards appeared to be in top form as he dazzled the Stegeman crowd with his athleticism around the rim.
Georgia blew the doors off Tennessee in the first half as the Dawgs headed to the locker room with a 47-28 advantage. UGA had 18 points in the paint and 10 off fast breaks prior to the break as the Dawgs were getting to the rim with ease. Donnell Gresham had a series of possessions where he took the ball coast to coast and finished at the basket with hardly any resistance from Coach Barnes’s bunch.
After beginning SEC play with Kentucky and Auburn, the Vols’ defense looked rather pedestrian in comparison, and Georgia feasted on Tennessee’s inability to rotate and play transition defense. The crazy thing is that Tennessee entered this game 14th in the nation in defensive efficiency.
Georgia’s dominance against the Vols was made even more impressive considering that Rayshaun Hammonds was limited to just 9 first half minutes due to 2 personal fouls; though, Hammonds did manage to chip in 9 points during his brief appearance (and he finished with 21 on the night).
The Dawgs coasted in the second half en route to an 80-63 victory in a game in which Tom Crean’s team barely felt threatened. Rayshaun Hammonds hit a three pointer to put UGA up 32-19 going into the media timeout with 7:52 remaining in the first half, and then out of that timeout Jordan Harris notched a steal that led to a breakaway dunk, and all of a sudden the Dawgs were up by 15 points.
It was kind of surreal to watch as Georgia has yet to beat a team of Tennessee’s caliber this year so soundly.
Georgia has a night game in Starkville this Saturday night with a shot to even up its SEC record. Considering that another matchup with Kentucky is on the horizon for next Tuesday, a win against Mississippi State feels a little bit like a “must-win”.
If you happened to catch the first 5 minutes of today’s game against the #5 Auburn Tigers you were in for a real treat. Tom Crean’s team came out focused and aggressive and jumped out to a 12-5 lead after a layup by Sahvir Wheeler with 15:05 left in the half. By this point, the Dawgs (10-5, 0-2) had already nabbed 3 offensive boards along with multiple loose balls. By all accounts, it looked like UGA just wanted it more.
However, Bruce Pearl eventually woke his team up and they morphed into the embodiment of that tornado that everyone in the Southeast has been preparing for. When Auburn is interested in playing, they are a relentless bunch on both ends of the court. Georgia’s freshmen must have felt like this game was being played at 2X speed.
Auburn ratcheted up its defense and limited Georgia to just 1 field goal over the final 10 minutes of the half. UGA’s offense, which is predicated on perpetual motion, became stagnant and sloppy as the Dawgs started settling for three’s, of which they made only 1 of 6; UGA also gave the ball away 8 times prior to intermission, and Auburn converted those mishaps into 10 points. During this same segment, the Tigers offense woke up and went on a 22-8 run to close out the half and put themselves up by 11 at the break.
During the second half, things just continued to spiral downward for the Dawgs as Auburn really started to play loose and fast. Trailing by 20 points halfway through the final 20 minutes, Tom Crean’s team appeared to have given up. Auburn had a 47-second sequence beginning at the 9:40 mark in which the Tigers scored a layup and 3 dunks (all uncontested) on breaks in which there wasn’t a Georgia player in sight running back on defense. When this little onslaught ended, the Tigers were up 63-40 and the game was clearly over.
Much like Kentucky, Auburn gutted UGA’s interior defense as the Tigers scored 44 points in the paint (UK had 48). The Dawgs entered this game with the 114th best defensive efficiency rating (0.938) in the nation. This stat is calculated by dividing the total points yielded by the number of opponent possessions. A rating under 1.0 is generally considered good. Today, Georgia’s defensive efficiency was 1.20, which would be the 3rd worst in the nation if that were their typical performance.
Georgia’s offense has been underwhelming lately as well, to say the least. In the first half of today’s contest, the Dawgs missed at least 4 layups that should have been made. UGA made only 17 of 33 free throw attempts (51.5%) and hit under 30% from beyond the arc, again. That’s just not going to cut it on the road against the #5 team in the nation.
Georgia’s inability to convert from the three-point line is beginning to become problematic as this team is not built to score in the paint with just one player over 6’7″ that plays significant minutes. Anthony Edwards has limped out to a 5 for 18 shooting effort from the perimeter in SEC play; he’s taken 32 field goal attempts this week, but the majority have been from beyond the arc, and that’s not going to spell a recipe for success for him or the Dawgs moving forward. Edwards has to start using his big frame to overpower defending guards and get to the rim. He has the ability to put serious pressure on the opponent’s bigs, but he’s letting them off the hook by settling for the outside shot.
If there’s a silver lining to take away from this week, it’s the fact that the Dawgs have played the toughest SEC schedule thus far. These two games proved that Georgia isn’t one of the two best teams in the league, but that was an expected conclusion. UGA only needs to be one of the top 7 or 8 teams in the conference and this can be a very special season for Tom Crean and his squad.
In the past decade, the Georgia Bulldogs (10-4, 0-1) have been either been tied or had the lead going into halftime against the Kentucky Wildcats a total of 6 times. The Dawgs have won only three times on those such occasions. Anyone who felt confident heading into the intermission with the Dawgs up 37-31 has not been paying attention to this particular matchup.
To be fair, Georgia was on a gravy train with biscuit wheels for the final 5 minutes of the first half. UGA capped off an 11-2 run with a monster baseline dunk by Anthony Edwards, who finished off the play by showing some love to Atlanta Hawks point guard Trae Young, who was sitting courtside near the aforementioned play.
On the ensuing possession, Ashton Hagans snuck down and hit a three-pointer that cut the Georgia advantage to just 6 points as time expired on the initial 20 minutes. Heading into the locker room, Tom Crean’s team was all smiles and in a celebratory mood. My emotional state was more tepid.
What happened? How did the Dawgs fall flat and end up on the losing end of a 78-69 game?
First, the defense
The Dawgs played, in my opinion, their best half of defense of the season against Kentucky before the break. Tom Crean’s team had never looked so sound. Whether they were in matchup zone or a man defense that switched on screens, the Dawgs did an excellent job of staying in front of the Cats and limiting their trips to the foul line. Kentucky, a team that averages almost 23 free throw attempts a game, had shot just 3 after 20 minutes of play. This number is even more impressive considering that Calipari had his team attacking the paint relentlessly in an attempt to exploit the smaller Georgia lineup.
Not only didUGA defend on ball well, but he Dawgs were incredible at finishing plays on defense prior to the intermission. Georgia, due to its lack of size, has not been solid at closing out possessions on defense. UGA’s defensive rebounding percentage is just 70.4%, which is 12th in the SEC.
However, the Dawgs held the Wildcats to just 3 offensive rebounds in the first half; Georgia’s defensive rebounding percentage for this span of play was a robust 85.7%. Anthony Edwards and Jordan Harris had four defensive boards apiece, and Donnell Gresham notched 3. Despite the size differential, Georgia’s guards were more than willing to get into the paint and get their hands dirty against a taller Kentucky squad.
After the half, though, all of that good stuff that I just mentioned evaporated into thin air. The Georgia guards stopped guarding the ball-handler on the perimeter with the same tenacity, and Kentucky began to enjoy far too many of their coined “dribble-drives”. Toumani Camara, who ran the length of the court like a man possessed for the first 20 minutes, ran out of gas. The benefactor of Camara’s inability to defend in transition was Nick Richards, who ended up with 17 points despite playing just 7 minutes in the first half. The Cats scored an astounding 48 points in the paint by the time the final horn sounded (or nearly 62% of their offense).
The Dawgs also saw their defensive rebounding effort drop as Kentucky secured 9 offensive boards over the final 20 minutes; UGA’s second half defensive rebounding percentage was just 55%. All this aggressiveness on offense by Kentucky led to 17 more free throw attempts in the second half.
Georgia defended for the entire game last weekend at Memphis. That was not the case on Tuesday night in Athens.
Now the offense
Statistically speaking, UGA’s offensive numbers didn’t look that different from half one to half two. The Dawgs shot 43% from the floor during the first 20 minutes and 40% during the second; Georgia made 3 of 11 from beyond the arc during the first half and just 2 of 12 during the second. The Dawgs only scored 6 less points in the half two, but the problem was that Kentucky’s offense began to open up and Georgia ultimately couldn’t keep pace.
Anthony Edwards, who led all scorers with 23 points, hit 2 triples in NBA-like fashion before the first media timeout of the second half that helped stifle a Kentucky run to begin the half. His second three-pointer gave the Dawgs a 45-40 advantage with 16:42 left.
The Stegeman crowd fed off of Edwards’s flair. However, it seemed like the rest of his teammates became a little too entranced in watching the Ant Man go to work because that’s sort of what the UGA offense evolved into during the second half. Instead of moving and finding the soft spots in the Kentucky zone, Georgia’s offense turned into a one-man show that featured Edwards, and against a team as talented as the Cats, that’s not going to cut it.
Over the next 10 minutes, Georgia mustered only 12 points, and following a layup by Richards, the Dawgs trailed 62-57 with a little over 7 minutes remaining; Kentucky never really looked back.
One more look at the offense: three-point addition
One of the big shortcomings of former coach Mark Fox was his consistent lack of three-point threats. His rosters rarely featured more than 2 or 3 players that possessed that skillset from the perimeter.
Coach Crean’s offensive philosophy is vastly different from his predecessor as he really values the triple. The problem, though, is that his current team is not shooting the ball well at all from beyond the arc. After last evening’s 22% effort on three-pointers, Georgia is shooting just under 31% as a team on the season, which has them ranked 298th in that category.
Don’t get me wrong, I want the Dawgs to shoot threes. The triple is a critical part of college basketball offenses nowadays, and it is almost a must for any team that has NCAA Tournament aspirations. UGA has got to improve in this area of its offensive game, or SEC play could be a challenge.
Even though losing to Kentucky is starting to feel analogous to the football team’s struggles with Alabama, this was an entertaining game and Tom Crean’s team is FUN to watch. Last night’s tale of two halves was an experience that should pay dividends for this UGA squad moving forward. I’m positive that this bunch learned a valuable lesson about playing for the entire 40 minutes, especially against a team of Kentucky’s calibre.
Memphis coach Penny Hardaway had a defender playing deny defense on Georgia’s Anthony Edwards as soon as the freshman crossed halfcourt. The plan was simple: keep the ball away from the Ant Man and make the rest of the UGA team beat them. Unfortunately for the Tigers, that’s exactly how it played out.
By all accounts, Anthony Edwards had an off night. With fellow freshman Lester Quionones hounding him all afternoon, a frustrated Edwards connected on just 4 of 17 from the floor, which yielded 13 points. In the game’s final stretch, the moment seemed a little too big for the Ant Man as he turned the ball over on consecutive possessions with under 3 minutes remaining and his team up one, and he missed the front end of a one-and-one that could have iced the game with 2.4 seconds left.
Luckily, UGA’s supporting cast was up to the challenge set forth by Hardaway. Rayshaun Hammonds buried a triple to send the Dawgs up 62-61 with a little over 4 minutes in the contest. Sahvir Wheeler, who made the game-winner in the double-overtime win over SMU, sunk a jumper from just above the foul line to extend the Georgia lead to 64-61 with barely a minute left.
Hammonds had an absolute monster of a game for coach Tom Crean as he finished with 15 points and 12 rebounds while having to deal with future lottery pick Precious Achiuwa, who led all scorers with 20 points to go along with 15 boards. The Dawgs allowed Memphis to secure 15 offensive rebounds, which is a lot, but Rayshaun’s effort on the defensive glass was admirable.
Sahvir Wheeler is quickly becoming a media darling, and he’s certainly a burgeoning star as the freshman scored 10 points to add to his 7 assists and 2 steals. He is so disruptive on both ends of the court: defensively, opponents are putting the ball on the court around him at their own risk, and on offense, he’s constantly attacking and forcing defenses to adapt to him. To put it bluntly, without Wheeler, Georgia doesn’t win this game.
Senior graduate transfer Donnell Gresham finally came out of his shell a bit on offense as he knocked down 3 of 6 from beyond the arc en route to a 12 point effort. He also hauled in 8 boards, and Gresham made an incredibly heady decision to foul Memphis’s Boogie Ellis with 4 seconds remaining and UGA leading 65-62. This took away the potential for a game-tying triple and forced the Tigers to shoot free throws, which is something they did not do well on Saturday (55%).
One last UGA player that stepped up this afternoon, particularly in the first half, was Toumani Camara, who netted 8 points to go along with 5 rebounds. Camara sunk a pair of triples late in the first half that were instrumental in the Dawgs getting to the intermission tied with the Tigers. The freshman got into foul trouble after the break, which limited his ability to contribute much in the final twenty minutes.
Georgia came into this game confident that they could play with the #9 Tigers, who were without their 3rd leading scorer, D.J. Jeffries (12.5 ppg), who was dealing with flu-like symptoms. The Dawgs jumped out to a 10-5 lead by the first media timeout, and it was apparent early that Tom Crean’s team was prepared to fight.
Even when the Tigers opened up an 8-point advantage, its largest of the game, to make it 47-39 with over 15 minutes remaining, Georgia wouldn’t wither. Instead, the Dawgs went on a little 9-0 run of their own, and after a pair of three-pointers from Edwards and Gresham and a layup by Wheeler UGA was back on top 48-47 at the 13:22 mark.
Tom Crean’s team earned a Quadrant I win today on the road against the 9th ranked team in the country with its best player underperforming. A month ago, Georgia looked overwhelmed against both Dayton and Michigan State in the tournament in Hawaii; today, the Dawgs were poised and confident as the held a Memphis team that had been scoring over 80 a night to just 62 points. The Georgia defense frustrated the Tigers, who normally make nearly 48% from the floor, into an abysmal 32% shooting effort.
This young Georgia team continues to improve, and I think that Rayshaun Hammonds said it best in his post-game interview when he pronounced them all “sophomores” by this point.
The preseason is essentially over for the Georgia Bulldogs (9-3). Even though the game against #9 Memphis this Saturday is not a conference game, it will be a difficult test nonetheless, and it sets the table for a REALLY challenging stretch of SEC games that has Georgia playing #17 Kentucky and #8 Auburn in the first week of SEC play.
With that being said, here are some observations and questions I have for this year’s UGA basketball team after seeing them play 12 games:
UGA is not a terribly deep basketball team (yet). Next year, Georgia will have more depth as the freshmen become sophomores. However, at the moment, the Dawgs have quite the drop off on the offensive end when Anthony Edwards and Rayshaun Hammonds are not on the floor.
Against Austin Peay, Hammonds picked up his 2nd foul with 13:54 left in the first half and the Dawgs leading 16-8. Edwards eventually got a blow, and the Governors started showing Georgia some 1-3-1 and 2-3 zone looks. The UGA reserves did not handle the Austin Peay zones well as they settled for long three-pointers; the Dawgs made just 2 of 12 from beyond the arc prior to the break. In addition, Georgia played carelessly as they gave the ball away 11 times before the intermission. The offense had zero purpose. On multiple possessions, UGA didn’t have anyone filling in the high post position in the middle of the Austin Peay defense, a tenet of any respectable zone offense. Georgia’s offensive futility allowed the Governors to close out the half with an 8-0 run to make it 31-26 at the break.
Hammonds has got to do better than last year at staying out of foul trouble because Crean needs some combination of him, Edwards and Sahvir Wheeler on the court at nearly all times.
Georgia’s defense is definitely improving. UGA shut the Governors’ offense down completely on Monday night as they held them to just 48 points. The Dawgs limited Austin Peay to merely 26% from the floor and only 15% from beyond the arc, and they permitted the Governors just 4 second chance points.
Tom Crean has most likely been preaching the importance of communicating on the defensive side of the ball because the Dawgs look far less lost than they did at the start of the season. Georgia’s rotations on defense were nonexistent at times in previous games, and that led to a number of uncontested drives and alley-oops for opponents. However, those plays are becoming less common, to the point that I don’t recall Austin Peay getting a single bucket in that fashion.
Georgia will need to continue to talk and be aggressive on defense with the hope that they can frustrate teams around the perimeter to take some pressure off its undersized frontcourt.
Could Donnell Gresham get an expanded role in this team’s offense? In his 4 years at Northeastern, Gresham made a lofty 41% of his three-point attempts, which is the reason that Crean courted him to this team. Crean’s offensive philosophy involves shooting triples at a high rate, so naturally he needed to add more outside threats to the roster to make that an effective strategy.
Prior to Monday, Gresham had connected on only 3 of his 18 attempts from perimeter this season. Against Austin Peay, the senior made 3 of 5 triples and ended up being Georgia’s second-leading scorer on the night with 11 points. So far this season, UGA hasn’t been highly-efficient from the three-point line, where Georgia is making just 30% of its attempts.
Tyree Crump, who is making only 31% of his three-pointers, is averaging over 7 attempts a night to Gresham’s 1.9. Georgia is going to score more points if these guys are taking 4 to 5 attempts each as I think Gresham will ultimately make more shots from the outside than Crump.
Rayshaun Hammonds cannot have a significant decline in offensive production once SEC play begins. In his first two years in Athens, Hammonds contributed way more in the non-conference portion of the schedule:
- Freshman year: Hammonds averaged 7.8 ppg before the SEC slate; he scored only 5.9 ppg in league games.
- Sophomore year: Hammonds averaged 15 ppg before the SEC slate; he scored just 9.9 ppg in league games.
Rayshaun is currently netting 14 ppg for the Dawgs and that needs to continue into conference play.
Georgia’s (8-3) 73-64 win over Georgia Southern (8-5) was probably closer than most Dawgs’ fans had hoped. UGA trailed the Eagles by 3 points at the half, and Georgia’s little brother from down south actually held a 1-point advantage with 4:44 left in the game.
This result isn’t that surprising, though, considering that Georgia was coming off of a heroic double-overtime win over SMU, coupled with the fact that Tom Crean’s team is just really young. In this case, it’s better to reserve too much judgement until this squad starts grinding through its SEC schedule, which will be a much more telling measuring stick of the state of the UGA program.
The Bulldogs’ defense, which has been suspect at times this season, put forth one of its better efforts as UGA held a team that typically scores 79 points to just 64. In addition, the Eagles managed only 40% from the floor and they committed 13 turnovers that Georgia manufactured into 19 points.
However, my main interest in writing about this game is to focus on the UGA offense.
Assistant coach Joe Scott spent time on the Princeton staff in the late 90’s in the same capacity as his role at UGA. During his time there, Princeton enjoyed 3 trips to the NCAA tournament using an inventive offense that scored tons of points off of backdoor cuts that came from players moving well without the ball.
Scott’s influence on this UGA offense is certainly noticeable. Now that Georgia has two players that can drive the ball into the middle of the lane off the dribble (Anthony Edwards and Savhir Wheeler), the Dawgs are getting a number of buckets each game from players cutting to the basket from the baseline when those lower level defenders commit to the ball. Against Georgia Southern, the Dawgs had 4 alley-oop dunks, a play that has not been a staple of UGA basketball for some time (albeit, two of them actually came off of breaks).
Toumani Camara looked the best of anyone yesterday at getting himself into the soft spots of the Georgia Southern zone, and he was rewarded by this movement as he had his strongest game of the year in which he scored 16 points on an 8 for 8 performance from the floor (to go along with 7 rebounds). The key will be if Camara can maintain this time of production against more stout competition next month.
The offense comes to a grinding halt when both Edwards and Wheeler are not on the court, though. Georgia opened up a 10-2 lead in a little over 3 minutes to start the game. Anthony Edwards started out great as he knocked down two mid-range jumpers before hitting his first triple en route a fast 7 points. However, just like last game, the Ant Man picked up 2 fouls early and he had to head to the bench before the first media timeout.
Wheeler entered the game, but he eventually got a rest while Edwards was still sitting, and the Eagles turned an 8-point deficit into a 23-22 lead with a little over 7 minutes remaining in the half. With both the freshmen on the bench, the Dawgs offense turned into an uglier version of itself in which the ball just swung around the perimeter until someone hoisted up a deep three-point attempt.
The problem with this kind of offense is that Georgia really isn’t a good three-point shooting team right now. To be more exact, UGA is making just 29% of its attempts from beyond the arc, which has them in a three-way tie for 313th in the nation. That’s ineffective to the point where the three-point attempts are almost beginning to feel like turnovers.
What’s even more frustrating is that the Dawgs are great at scoring inside the perimeter, and a lot of that can be attributed to the work of the aforementioned Coach Scott. UGA is currently the 7th best team in the nation at making two-pointers (57%). Both the Ant Man and Wheeler can get by just about anyone and get the ball into the lane, but they just aren’t doing that enough, especially Edwards.
Late in the game against the Eagles, Edwards, who finished with 23 points, had two sensational drives off the dribble that resulted with him getting easy points at the rim. He needs to do this more. A lot more. First off, getting those buckets and seeing the ball go through the net will help him feel more comfortable from the perimeter (that’s exactly how he started this game). Plus, it puts so much more pressure on opposing defenses and will undoubtedly get Georgia to the foul line in a bonus capacity on a regular basis.
I know that Crean wants his teams to shoot a lot of triples, and I believe Georgia has the players to hit those shots, but this squad is so much more successful from the perimeter off the kick out pass than trying to get those shots off the dribble. UGA doesn’t necessarily need to shoot less three-pointers, but they do need to be conscious of how they are getting those attempts.
Georgia has one last tune up (Austin Peay) before the schedule becomes grueling: at #9 Memphis, #19 Kentucky and then at #8 Auburn. Much like Camara, I expect this team to continue to improve and get better as the season progresses and the freshmen grow and mature.
The Georgia Bulldogs (7-3) double-overtime win over the SMU Mustangs (8-2) on Friday night in Athens may have only been a Quadrant III win in the eyes of the NCAA, but in some ways it was miraculous that UGA managed to come away with a victory at all.
At the end of regulation, the Dawgs had to stop the Mustangs not once, not twice, but thrice before forcing the game into overtime thanks to a jump ball and a lackadaisical turnover on an inbounds play. Not to pile on the Ponies too much, but they also kicked away a 5 point lead with 30 seconds remaining in the first overtime. SMU even had a shot to take the lead in the last 40 seconds of the second overtime only to come up short.
The Ponies’ inability to finish on second chances at the end of this one was sort of a microcosm of the night as they got outscored 22-19 by UGA on second chance points despite bringing down an astounding 26 offensive boards.
The moment, or moments, were never to big for freshman Sahvir Wheeler, who scored both the tying basket in the first OT and the go-ahead bucket in the second one to win the game for Georgia. Anthony Edwards is obviously the most special talent on this team, but one could come up with a decent argument that Wheeler is equally as important. Since the departure of J.J. Frazier, Georgia has been desperate for a point guard that can attack opposing defenses off the dribble and get the ball into the paint, and it appears that Wheeler is more than capable of fulfilling that role for Tom Crean’s team (9 points, 8 assists).
The simplicity of Georgia’s offense
Crean’s offense is definitely a players’ offensive that permits a lot of creativity from the perimeter. It’s obvious why he is recruiting at a much higher level than Mark Fox: this offense is built to let players freestyle and take advantage of open opportunities. Rayshaun Hammonds has the freedom to screen high and pop for Wheeler or any of the other UGA guards. When the ball moves from side to side, players instinctively reposition themselves into the soft spots of the defense or cut towards the basket. After shooting an abysmal 2 for 24 from beyond the arc in Tempe last weekend, the Dawgs rebounded with a 37.5% effort at home in Athens, which was a much needed improvement. Crean’s offense is far more aesthetically appealing when the shots are falling from the perimeter.
Even when the Ant Man struggles, as he did last night (6 of 17 from the floor for 16 points), he can still facilitate offense in Crean’s system because his teammates are generally on the move. SMU regularly had a second defender shading over towards Edwards when he possessed the ball, but the freshman was savvy enough to not force too many shots and make smart passes. Edwards will have off nights like last evening, but he still stays active on both sides of the court (his block at the end of regulation to prevent an SMU layup was crucial).
Rayshaun Hammonds had arguably his best game of the young season. Crean has him positioned on the wing and at the top of the key, which gives the junior the option to either shoot a triple or take his defender off the dribble, which is typically advantageous for Hammonds as he’s going to usually draw the other team’s tallest defender. Hammonds notched a double-double with 21 points and 11 boards, and he buried a huge three-pointer from the wing with 2:29 left in the second overtime to put the Dawgs up 85-82. The key to all of this production is that Hammonds was able to log 37 minutes due to the fact that he committed only 3 personal fouls. Suffice to say, with the loss of Amanze Ngumezi to the transfer portal, Hammonds needs to figure out a way to stay out of foul trouble for the rest of the season.
Still work to be done on the defensive end
Tom Crean’s defensive philosophy is predicated on his players being able to create as many deflections as possible. Anthony Edwards has been challenged by his coach to ramp up his deflections per game (7.5) to the likes of former Hoosier Victor Oladipo (12+).
Georgia’s defense has so much potential to wreak havoc with how long and athletic they are. On the perimeter, UGA pestered the SMU offense and forced the Mustangs into a 25% shooting effort from the perimeter. However, the Dawgs have some serious communication issues that must be ironed out because they surrendered 3 alley-oop dunks, which is kind of unacceptable, and too often SMU was able to move the ball into the middle of the zone, which led to the whole thing falling apart and 50 points in the paint for the Ponies. The Dawgs are going to be undersized in every conference game they play this season, so talking will be critical if they have hopes of tightening up their defensive rotations.
Welcome back Jordan Harris
Jordan Harris better stay on Crean’s good side for the rest of the season because he’s too valuable to this team to not be on the court for 20-something minutes a night. Harris made his presence felt immediately upon entering the game when he scored on a sweet spin move that allowed him to finish all alone on the left side of the rim. The senior also put an exclamation point on the first half when he snagged a miss from Hammonds mid air and flushed it before time expired. In a productive 17 minutes, Harris scored 9 points, grabbed 4 boards and logged a steal. Considering this was his first time on the court this season, I’d say he has to be happy with this output. I can’t wait for both him and Wheeler to join the starting lineup on a regular basis, especially with the athleticism that Harris brings to the defensive side of the ball.
Georgia hosts Georgia Southern on Monday night in Athens.
After seeing the Dawgs (6-2) get a taste of some real competition in Maui last week, it was hard to get excited about another creampuff matchup, which is what Georgia got tonight in its opponent, North Carolina Central (2-6). Although, after having Division II Chaminade take them to the brink, the Dawgs certainly couldn’t afford to overlook the Eagles.
NC Central has sputtered out of the gates to start the season, but they were projected to win the MEAC prior to the opening tip of this year, so maybe they are not quite as bad as they’ve shown thus far.
Fans that took in this game that expected to see Amanze Ngumezi in the starting lineup were caught off guard to learn that the UGA big would not play due to what sounded like a slew of internal issues that have been building up recently, according to Tom Crean.
The Eagles were dealt a more significant blow to their starting five, though, as junior Randy Miller, the team’s second leading scorer (14.3 ppg), also couldn’t suit up this evening because of a nagging injury.
Better offensive spacing
At times tonight, Georgia’s offense looked entirely fluid. On consecutive possessions in the first half, Tye Fagan and Sahvir Wheeler attacked the middle of the Eagles’s zone and found Toumani Camara and Christian Brown, respectively, on backdoor cuts that resulted in easy points at the rim.
Georgia had it cooking from beyond the arc against NCC, especially in the first half, where the Dawgs hit 7 of 14 attempts. UGA’s success from the perimeter during the initial 20 minutes came from improved spacing that allowed guards to attack the zone and free up teammates on the wings for open looks.
However, the Dawgs were still far too sloppy with the basketball as they committed 16 turnovers, with 10 of them coming before the break. Even with the excellent passing that Tom Crean’s team displayed throughout this game (19 team assists), those dishes were too often followed up by a wing or big dribbling too much on a break and kicking the ball out of bounds. UGA’s inconsistency on offense is hopefully the result of growing pains as this young team is still learning how to play with one another.
Anthony Edwards was a boy amongst men against the Eagles in Athens. The freshman only logged 7 minutes following the intermission, but it didn’t matter since he wasted no time getting his stats in the first half: Edwards notched 19 of his 21 points to go along with 3 assists and a pair of steals before the break. The freshman hit multiple triples of the stepback variety that served to reiterate just why NBA scouts are salivating over the prospects of obtaining this young man’s services next year.
This contest was close for a couple of media timeouts, but with over 11 minutes left Georgia had built up a 21-9 lead after Anthony Edwards buried 1 of his 4 three-pointers. By halftime, the Dawgs held a 50-35 advantage after a first half that saw them hit over 52% from the field.
Tom Crean kept his team motivated after the break as the Dawgs opened up the second half with a 13-2 run that was capped off by a Tyree Crump triple with a little over 15 minutes left in the game. The first 5 minutes following halftime is a critical segment of a basketball game, and Georgia definitely owned this one.
Size mattered on Wednesday night in Athens
Defensively, Georgia’s length overwhelmed the Eagles as the Dawgs created deflections and forced NC Central into 14 turnovers. This was definitely the type of game that Georgia is built to dominate on defense; where this team will struggle is when the opponent has a decent frontcourt (see Dayton and Michigan State games). Unfortunately, there are a lot of SEC teams with solid bigs, so UGA is going to have to figure out how to win those matchups despite their deficits in the paint.
The Dawgs held the Eagles to under 35% from the floor, but as I mentioned earlier, NC Central was without Randy Miller, who is the only other player on this squad to average double-digit scoring on a nightly basis, so the Eagles seemed destined to flounder offensively in this contest.
Below are some numbers that really jump off the stat sheet and illustrate just how much of a factor Georgia’s size advantage played in this one:
Rebounds: UGA 54, NCC 25
Points in the paint: UGA 52, NCC 26
Second chance points: UGA 23, NCC 13
The Dawgs have over a week off from any live action to hit the books and prepare for final exams before returning to the court next Saturday in a tough road matchup in Tempe against Arizona State. The Sun Devils are currently 5-2 with a win over St. John’s and a 3-point loss to #7 Virginia on their resume. Tom Crean’s team will be presented with an excellent challenge in trying to steal a road win against a quality Pac12 opponent.
Georgia’s first 60-something minutes of basketball in Maui definitely felt alarming. This team, which is headed by the top recruit in the nation, Anthony Edwards, was supposed to be clearly better than last year’s squad. Yet, after getting dismantled by Dayton a day before, the Dawgs looked primed for another whipping as Sparty held a 52-31 advantage at the break. Coach Izzo’s team at one point in the second half was up by 28 points as Georgia fans sat wondering how this UGA team somehow appeared even worse than the one from the contest against the Flyers.
Eventually, Anthony “Ant Man” Edwards snapped out of a 3 for 18 shooting funk that he’d been harboring on the island and remembered that he’s the projected #2 pick in the NBA draft. Edwards spent the second half terrorizing the Michigan State defense as he hit 7 triples and scored 33 of his 37 game-high points. The freshman was so locked in that his teammates seemed content to step aside and let him go off, which turned out to be a decent strategy as the Dawgs made a game out of what was at one point a lopsided blowout.
Twice Georgia managed to cut the Sparty advantage to just 4 points, and each time State responded with a clutch three-pointer to keep the Dawgs at bay. Even though UGA failed to make it a one-possession game after the intermission, Edwards’s Herculean effort that nearly brought his team back from the dead salvaged what could have been a really depressing holiday tournament.
It wasn’t all Edwards
While the Ant Man’s offense was certainly instrumental in this comeback, Tom Crean deserves a lot of credit for shifting his team into an extended 2-3 zone midway through the second half and keeping them in it. After shooting a blistering 56% from the floor prior to the break, Sparty knocked down a more pedestrian 44% following the intermission. The Georgia zone took MSU out of its offensive rhythm, and the Spartans stopped getting as many easy looks close to the basket as they did in the first half.
Transition defense must improve
The game against Dayton and the first half of the one with Sparty really exposed UGA’s transition defense, or lack thereof. The Dawgs struggled to hit shots in the first 20 minutes of today’s contest (31%), and State capitalized on the Georgia misses by pushing the ball and scoring off the primary and secondary break.
The second half saw a decline in the number of transition opportunities for Sparty, but that is more a tribute to Edwards and the UGA offense connecting on over 50% of its attempts from the floor. By making shots, Georgia gave itself time to get back and set up the aforementioned zone that frustrated State. However, Crean and his staff must coach these guys up so that they don’t let so many misses on the offensive end turn into quick points on the other side of the court.
The Dawgs will take on Division-II Chaminade in the ultimate consolation game on Wednesday. The Silversords call Hawaii home, which is most likely how they slipped into this field. Hopefully, Georgia doesn’t have too much trouble dispatching a less talented opponent in its final Maui Invitational appearance.
Crean’s team takes on NC Central next week in Athens before a difficult road test at Arizona State on December 14th. The game in Tempe will be Georgia’s next opportunity to measure itself against a quality opponent.