Role players carry UGA in win over Vandy

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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.

Up Next:

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.

Postseason projection:

NIT bubble

Box Score:

UGA defends the entire game and gets the result it wants

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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).

Up next:

Georgia heads to Nashville to take on Vanderbilt with a shot at putting together its first SEC win streak of the year.

Postseason projection:

NIT (outer fringes of the bubble)

Box score:

Sloppy UGA loses 74-69 to TAMU

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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.

Box score:

Next up:

Auburn in Athens on Wednesday

Postseason projection:

No

It's official: Frank Martin owns UGA

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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

Up next:

At Texas A&M on Saturday (Yay! One of UGA’s 2 SEC wins)

Postseason projection:

Nada

Alabama edges out Georgia in shootout

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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:

Defense? Defense?

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.

Up next:

South Carolina comes to Athens on Wednesday

Postseason projection:

NIT (outermost fringe of the bubble)

UGA defense suffocates Aggies

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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

  1. 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.
  2. Georgia had 15 offensive boards and TAMU had 13, yet the teams tied with just 7 second chance points apiece.

Up next

At Florida on Wednesday night.

Postseason projection

NIT (firmly on the bubble)

Is this rock bottom?

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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.

Three thoughts on UGA basketball's first "bad loss"

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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.

Up next:

At 1-5 Missouri on Tuesday

Current postseason projection:

NIT First Four Out

Box Score:

Georgia defense continues to be problematic for this team

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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.

Up next:

Ole Miss in Athens

Current postseason projection:

NIT

Box Score:

Three reasons why Mississippi State whipped Georgia 91-59

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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.

Up Next:

Kentucky at Rupp on Tuesday. Ugh.

Current postseason projection:

NIT

Box Score:

Georgia blasts Tennessee 80-63 in Athens

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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”.

Box Score

Auburn whips Georgia 82-60

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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.

Georgia's loss to Kentucky: what went wrong?

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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.

Final thoughts

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.

Dawgs shock #9 Tigers in Memphis

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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.

Some observations of Georgia basketball as 2019 ends

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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.

A closer look at the UGA offense

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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.

Dawgs win a thriller 87-85 over SMU in double OT

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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.

Up next:

Georgia hosts Georgia Southern on Monday night in Athens.

Georgia runs NC Central out of the gym 95-59

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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

Up Next:

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 comeback falls short against #3 Michigan State

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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.

Up next

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.

Dawgs get a reality check from Dayton in Maui opener

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For Tom Crean, the first game of the Maui Invitational DID NOT go as planned. His Georgia Bulldogs (4-1) were thoroughly whipped by the Dayton Flyers (4-0) from the opening tip on a nationally televised game in one of the premier holiday tournaments. The Dawgs laid a dud in a contest that could have been a nice stepping stone for a program, and a coach, that is trying to gain relevance outside the state of Georgia.

Twice in the second half the Dawgs briefly threatened Dayton by trimming the lead to 13 points, but on each occasion the Flyers responded with three-pointers that quickly put to rest any hopes that Georgia had of making this contest at all competitive.

Dayton manhandled UGA on both sides of the ball for pretty much the entire game. The Flyers defense sped Crean’s young team up and forced them into 23 turnovers. The Dawgs’ offense began this game incredibly stagnant as they battled the shot clock, dribbled too much and settled for too many contested jumpers. UGA had not faced a team of this calibre yet, and it was evident by how lost the Dawgs looked offensively.

Conversely, Dayton had little trouble putting the ball through the net, especially forward Obi Toppin, who had 12 points before the first media timeout. Georgia foolishly tried to defend Toppin with just its bigs, and that strategy proved futile as the sophomore hit 9 of 11 from the field en route to a game-high 25 points. Considering that UGA’s frontcourt is not its strength, one has to wonder why Crean didn’t begin this game with his guards doubling down to help on Toppin.

Announcer Jay Bilas stated before the game that roughly 30 NBA scouts were on hand for this matchup to see both Toppin and Georgia freshman Anthony Edwards. While Toppin certainly bolstered his NBA stock, Edwards failed to demonstrate why he is currently projected to be the 2nd pick in next year’s draft. The freshman had only 2 points at the half and finished with just 6 after an abysmal 2 of 10 shooting effort to go along with 3 turnovers. I realize that this was only the 5th game of his collegiate career, but I expected Edwards to be able to get points off the dribble, regardless of the team or defender; Dayton’s Rodney Chatman (from Lithonia, GA) had Edwards bottled up the entire game.

UGA’s other leading scorer, Rayshaun Hammonds, had a forgettable morning himself as he mustered up as many points (5) as he did fouls (5). Hammonds never got going in this one due to being in foul trouble the entire contest. The junior led the Dawgs with 91 personal fouls last season, which is strange since he’s not a shot blocker or an overly physical defender. I’m not sure why Hammonds can’t avoid fouling, but with the lack of depth on this team, he’s going to have to figure it out or SEC play is going to be brutal for this squad.

Hammonds and Edwards had just two points between them at the half, so it wasn’t surprising to see Georgia heading to the intermission trailing 43-25.

It’s still early in the season and UGA has a lot of guys playing their first year of college basketball, so I’m hoping this debacle can be chalked up as a learning experience and something this team can grow from. However, Georgia’s shot selection and overall ineptness on offense against a quality opponent felt eerily similar to what transpired on that side of the ball last season when the Dawgs struggled to get points, as they were 10th in the SEC in scoring in conference games. In addition, last year Georgia led the league in turnovers per game because they didn’t value the basketball, much like today.

The Dawgs actually shot it well today as they hit 49% from the floor; however, it’s really hard to win games when the opponent gets 8 extra possessions via turnovers, especially when that opponent is a potential NCAA Tournament team.

Dawgs topple Tech in Athens 82-78

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After three cakewalks to begin the 2019-2020 slate, Tom Crean’s team got its first test of the season as the Georgia Bulldogs (4-0) took on their in-state rival, the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (2-1). This Georgia Tech team surprised a lot of people in its season opener when they went into Raleigh and got an 82-81 win over N.C. State, a team the media projected to be 5th in the ACC.

The game started out a little rocky as both teams were no doubt feeling some pregame jitters as it took almost 3 minutes before Michael Devoe, who netted 34 points, broke the scoring drought with a triple. The Dawgs didn’t get on the board until Rayshaun Hammonds knocked down a jumper after nearly 5 minutes had eclipsed.

Georgia had trouble dealing with Tech’s size inside, especially with the presence of 6’10” senior James Banks, who ended up with 6 blocks on the night. UGA tried to force the issue a little too much earlier on in the paint via their bigs; Georgia is going to face the challenge of dealing with bigger opposing frontcourts all season, but they seem to get to the rim better off of cuts from the wing position, especially when those cutters are Hammonds and Anthony Edwards.

Shockingly, the Dawgs managed to surpass 80 points despite the slow start.

Georgia’s offense COULD become dangerous

Even with a double-digit lead late the in the game, the Georgia offense remained aggressive in attacking the rim. Gone are the Mark Fox days of yore of running shot clock down the stretch and hoping to hold onto leads. Tom Crean’s team is playing fast no matter the time or situation, as evidenced by the high-flying alley-oop that Toumani Camara caught from Sahvir Wheeler with less than 3 minutes remaining in the game.

Rayshaun Hammonds was obviously the star of the night offensively has he played his best game of his career (and certainly his best first half) in which he scored 26 points to go with 9 boards. The junior from Atlanta was unconscious through the initial 20 minutes of this contest as he poured in 19 points on an array of triples and layups.

Freshman Anthony Edwards struggled in the first half as he failed to convert a field goal and mustered just 2 points. Josh Pastner had his team moving in and out of zone defenses, but no matter the look, whenever Edwards touched the ball he immediately had a second Tech defender shading over near him. Edwards tried to press things offensively and didn’t find much success on that side of the ball prior to the intermission.

However, when Hammonds headed to the bench with 26 points and his 4th foul with 10:16 left in the game and the Dawgs up 56-48, Edwards took over and scored 9 points during the nearly 5 minute stretch that Hammonds sat on the bench. He ended up with 16 second half points, and he did a much better job of waiting until he had the matchup he wanted before attacking off the dribble; Edwards also moved great without the ball as he scored multiple baskets off of backdoor cuts to the rim. Even though he was an all-world recruit, it’s still hard to believe that this was just his 4th collegiate game because he looks so comfortable on the court.

Sahvir Wheeler and Tyree Crump came up huge tonight in supporting roles on offense. Wheeler, who is just a treat to watch, continues to create offense off of penetration for both himself and his teammates as he finished the night with 5 assists. Crump played within himself and did not force his shots from the perimeter as he notched 11 points, which included some timely three-pointers to keep the Jackets at bay in the second half.

This Georgia team has not had this many potential scoring options on offense since the 2015 NCAA Tournament team that included Kenny Gaines, Charles Mann, Marcus Thornton, J.J. Frazier, Neme Djurisic and Yante Maten.

Georgia’s offense tonight was so much more effective from the left side of the court, which I attribute to Hammonds performance. He doesn’t really have a right hand, so to speak, so on nights like tonight when Hammonds has it cooking it makes sense that UGA would keep the ball on that side where he is more comfortable operating.

The UGA defense looked better this evening than it has this season

Despite allowing Devoe to reach 34 points, overall, the Georgia defense played fairly well. The Dawgs were intense for most of the game as they jumped into passing lanes and managed to notch 8 steals while forcing the Jackets into 15 turnovers. Crean’s team also outrebounded Tech by a count of 42-40, which is impressive considering the Jackets had a height advantage inside.

Tom Crean came to Georgia with the reputation of putting together long defenses that pressured teams to the half court line and created a lot of deflections and steals. That’s certainly how his most successful Indiana teams played. Tonight, UGA had that look on defense, and it’s exactly how this Georgia team will need to play every night since they will be the smaller team more often than not.

Up next

This evening’s victory of the Yellow Jackets marks the 5th in a row for Georgia, and it give the Dawgs a solid dose of momentum as they prepare to head to Maui next week for a challenging tournament that begins with a tough opener against an undefeated Dayton team. The winner will most likely face Michigan State in the second round.

Box Score:

Georgia beats Citadel 95-86 in the game that defense forgot

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The most glaring disparity between the Georgia Bulldogs (2-0) and The Citadel Bulldogs (0-2) was that UGA had Anthony Edwards and the other Bulldogs did not. Edwards scored a number of important baskets down the stretch in this game, but none were more critical than his answer to Hayden Brown’s bucket to make it a one possession game (87-85, UGA) with 3:04 left. On the ensuing possession, the Ant Man floated from underneath the goal to somehow find a crease to stick in a lay-up that Georgia desperately needed that put the Dawgs up 89-85 with 2:40 remaining.

Edwards finished with a game-high 29 points to go along with 5 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 steals. He is so good with the ball around the rim that I hope that he doesn’t just settle for perimeter shots as he did at times tonight, especially when he’s knocking down just 2 of 9 from beyond the arc.

Georgia’s guards could be really good

In addition to having a potential NBA lottery pick on the roster, UGA has two solid guards in freshman Sahvir Wheeler and graduate transfer Donnell Gresham.

Wheeler is so good at getting everyone involved in the offense. At one point in the first half, he penetrated into the lane on three consecutive possessions and dished out assists to Rayshaun Hammonds, Tyree Crump and Amanze Ngumezi for 7 straight Georgia points. He has a knack for drawing the attention of multiple defenders, which translates into scores of open looks for his teammates. Wheeler played an incredibly productive 21 minutes in which he scored 10 points and handed out 8 assists. The fact that he nearly notched a double-double in just half the game is somewhat astounding.

While Gresham does not possess the dribble-drive threat of Wheeler, he provides Georgia with a steady presence from the perimeter both offensively and defensively. The senior shot over 40% from beyond the arc during his tenure at Northeastern, and hopefully Coach Crean can find ways for him to get more looks moving forward with this UGA squad. Gresham ended up with 10 points on a 2 of 4 shooting performance from the perimeter, and he was one of the few Bulldog defenders that understood defensive positioning in this one as he snagged 5 boards to go along with 3 steals.

What’s up with Georgia’s defense?

The guy I mentioned at the top of the post – Hayden Brown – scored a career high 26 points tonight in Stegeman. Last year, he averaged 7.2 a night. The Dawgs should be embarrassed about how easy Brown made things look tonight in Athens, because he is not a 20+ points a night kind of player.

The UGA defense – both the halfcourt and transition – is still a work in process. WAY too often the Charleston Bulldogs had players skating free to the bucket against Georgia’s defense nearly unopposed. Currently, UGA’s help defense is super sloppy, which is a big reason Citadel scored 86 points and shot almost 50% from the field. Georgia’s perimeter defense needs work, too, as the Dawgs were slow to close out all night on shooters, and Citadel took advantage by canning 14 triples (42%). This was surprising considering that Citadel was second in the country last year in three-point attempts per game (36); it’s their modus operandi, if you will, which made me think Georgia would have appeared better prepared.

At what point does the green light turn red?

I’m aware of the old adage that basically says that you never tell a shooter not to shoot because they will eventually shoot themselves out of a slump. However, did Tyree Crump reach that tipping point this evening? Crump hoisted up three-pointer after three-pointer despite not having a ton of success; he finished 2 for 11 from beyond the arc. The senior has the potential to become a real hinderance to this team’s offense if he is going to continue to take shots from the outside on nights when he clearly just doesn’t have it.

Final thoughts

This was just the second game of the season, so the Dawgs continue to get a pass for sloppiness and missteps. Hopefully this team can find a way to improve quickly because after Delaware State this Friday the schedule becomes more daunting as they have Georgia Tech and the Maui Tournament on the horizon.

But hey, it could be worse. I mean, at least they didn’t lose to a mid-major on their home court like Kentucky tonight.

Box score:

Dawgs overwhelm WCU late

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Quite possibly the biggest takeaway from Georgia’s 91-72 win over Western Carolina tonight in the season opener is that there really aren’t any significant takeaways. Last year, the Dawgs opened the season by blowing the doors off of Savannah State 110 to 76, and many fans clamoured that the “Tom Crean Era” of offense had officially begun. In reality, Georgia had one of the least efficient offenses in 2019 SEC play as they struggled to score points in league games.

Obviously, people didn’t expect the Catamounts, who were projected to finish 7th in the Southern Conference prior to the start of the season, to hold a 58-57 lead with a little over 9 minutes remaining in the game. But this is an incredibly young Georgia team playing in its first game together EVER. UGA has its own little Kentucky-like situation going on right now, and it’s on Tom Crean to determine the best combinations of his new talent with returning starters Rayshaun Hammonds, Tyree Crump and Jordan Harris (when he returns December 20th from his 9-game suspension for an “internal matter”).

Here’s what went well:

Freshman sensation Anthony “Ant Man” Edwards lived up to all of the hype that’s been following him around since he set foot in Athens. Edwards finished with a game-high 24 points to go along with 9 boards. His three-point shot appeared effortless as he buried 4 of 7 attempts, and 3 of those came in the second half and helped ignite an 11-2 Georgia run that put the Dawgs up 79-65 with just 2:25 left. Edwards looks comfortable with the ball in his hands, and he seemingly has no trouble facilitating offense from the point guard position.

Edwards, however, is projected to be the #2 pick in next year’s NBA Draft, so his success was somewhat expected. The surprise of the night had to be freshman point guard Sahvir Wheeler, who came off the bench to spark the UGA offense. Wheeler pushed the tempo while he was in the game, and he showed a strong prowess for finishing at the rim. The lefty ended up with 19 points and 3 assists, and I don’t really see how Crean can keep him out of the starting lineup for much longer. Wheeler’s ability to penetrate and keep defenders on their heels should free the Ant Man up for more open looks from the perimeter.

Areas for concern:

The losses of Nic Claxton and Derek Ogbeide left a gaping hole in the Georgia frontcourt as those two combined for over 32% of the scoring and nearly 40% of the rebounding. It’s no secret that UGA’s interior defense will more than likely be the Achilles’ heel of this team. Western Carolina’s Carlos Dotson, a load at 6’7″, 270 lbs and a member of the preseason All-SoCon Team, notched 17 points to go along with 15 boards as he manhandled the Georgia bigs in the paint. Amanze Ngumezi, who Crean will be counting on to hold it down in the interior, mustered just 4 points in 9 minutes of play due to his 4 personal fouls. Ngumezi is going to have the tall task of defending the opposing team’s largest player(s) all season, and unfortunately for him, that job is only going to become more challenging when this team enters conference play.

Georgia’s other forward, junior Rayshaun Hammonds, still looks like an unfinished product offensively. Hammonds shot just 2 of 12 from the floor on Tuesday as he struggled both around the rim and with his outside shot. With all these newbies on the court for the Dawgs, Hammonds has to be a steady presence on offense to keep teams more honest in how they defend the Ant Man.

Up next:

The Dawgs have a week to practice before returning to action next Tuesday when they host The Citadel inside Stegeman.

Box Score:

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Final thoughts on the 2018-2019 season as well as looking ahead

A short recap of the season

The Georgia Bulldogs (11-21, 2-16) were projected to finish 13th in the SEC prior to the start of the 2018-2019 season, and Tom Crean’s first UGA team fulfilled that prophecy as they ended up one spot above winless Vanderbilt.

Crean is going to get a pass on his initial year of running this program. For the first half of the season, he attempted to shift the tempo of this team from neutral to 4th gear almost instantaneously. That experiment did not go well, particularly in SEC play as the Bulldogs were turning the ball over at a torrid pace.

Eventually, Crean made the decision to put the fast-paced style of play on hold so that he could put this team in the best position to win based upon the players on the roster. The result: after 3 consecutive double-digit losses to Alabama, Ole Miss and Texas A&M, the Dawgs started to compete. Georgia lost a string of heartbreakers to LSU, Missy State, Ole Miss and Auburn before finally breaking through with an amazing 61-55 road upset at Florida.

The remainder of the season became rather dismal as UGA lost Rayshaun Hammonds to a foot injury, and the Dawgs dropped the last three games to Missouri (twice) and South Carolina in an unsightly fashion; Georgia shot below 40% from the floor in each of those games.

Ultimately, this team lacked the guards to be successful in conference play, which is why Crean cannot be faulted for the unsightly league record that this team produced.

Surprises from this year

Even though it was definitely expected of him, Nic Claxton’s ascension from year one to year two was certainly impressive. The sophomore led the Dawgs in minutes, points, rebounds, steals and blocks en route earning Second Team All-SEC honors in just his second season of college basketball. Last year, Claxton showcased flashes of his shot-blocking ability, which he regularly put on display this season. However, this year with Yante Maten’s departure, the sophomore took on a much larger role in the offense, especially as one of its primary ball-handlers. Claxton displayed a level of versatility this year that is atypical in a 6’11” big, and his talents have not gone unnoticed as he is showing up in the first round of NBADraft.net’s 2020 mock draft.

The most pleasant surprise of this Georgia basketball season had to be the development of junior Jordan Harris. The former 4-star recruit had failed to live up to potential in his first two years in Athens before being removed from the team by former skipper Mark Fox. Crean gave Harris a second chance, and the junior didn’t disappoint, particularly in the latter portion of the season. Harris scored in double-figures in 10 of the final 14 games for Georgia as he averaged nearly 12 ppg during that stretch, including a career-high 26-point performance in the SEC tournament loss to Missouri. Over the course of the season, Jordan morphed into this team’s best rim attacker off the dribble, and he should be a double-digit contributor in scoring for his senior season.

Players who need to improve

Prior to the start of the season, I expected both Rayshaun Hammonds and Tyree Crump to flourish under the new regime. In his freshman season, Mark Fox sort of forced Rayshaun Hammonds to play on the block with his back to the basket, and he looked visibly uncomfortable. Crump seemingly got pulled after every mistake under Fox, which made it nearly impossible for him to develop any type of offensive rhythm.

Coach Crean loosened the reins on both of these guys by playing Hammonds on the wing and letting Crump be Crump (which means shooting the ball a lot from beyond the arc). Once SEC play began, both of these players began to fade offensively. Hammonds ended up averaging just 9.7 ppg in conference games; Crump shot under 30% from the perimeter as he netted only 7.6 ppg himself. These guys should have been double-digit scorers for Crean this season, yet they couldn’t make it happen.

Looking ahead

To put it simply, Crean is recruiting at a Kirby-like level. After this weekend’s addition of 6’6″ wing Christian Brown, UGA now has 4 players coming in next year from the ESPN100 list, highlighted by McDonald’s All-American Anthony Edwards. Georgia currently has the #6 class in the nation for 2019, according to 247sports.com. The last time UGA had a Top 10 recruiting class in basketball was…

As exciting as this new crop of Dawgs will be for Crean next year, if Claxton departs early, which apparently is a possibility, it would certainly take some wind out of the 2019-2020 season’s sail. Georgia is already losing its best back-to-the-basket scorer in Derek Ogbeide, so losing Claxton would really put a damper on the Dawgs’ frontcourt. Personally, I believe he needs another year. At best, he goes in the second round, which means far less money. Also, I know that the fact that Claxton grew late in high school is a big reason why he’s such a good ball-handler, but it’s also a big reason why he often does not take the ball to the basket like a 6’11” center. Nic needs to stop attacking the rim with the ball on his shoulder like a guard, or the NBA will be a very unkind environment for him.

Should Claxton stay, Georgia could certainly be somewhere around the NCAA bubble next March.

Dawgs fizzle in season finale against Gamecocks

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I think it’s safe to say that the South Carolina Gamecocks officially own the Georgia Bulldogs (11-20, 2-16) on the basketball court. After today’s 66-46 drubbing at the hands of Frank Martin’s team, the Dawgs have now dropped 6 straight contests to the team from Columbia.

All things told, this was a tough week for Georgia basketball. After 4 consecutive, heartbreakingly close losses, the Dawgs finally pushed through and earned a surprise upset win at Florida last Saturday. UGA followed their 2nd SEC win of the season with a pair of duds, with the one today being slightly more bearable to take in than the no-show against Missouri on Wednesday. If you are a fan of offense, then this week failed you terribly as the Dawgs scored a total of 85 points in both games. Sheesh.

Despite the lopsided final score, Georgia actually had an opportunity to get itself back in the game in the second half (the first half was almost Missouri-level painful, but we’ll jump into that a little later).

Coming out of the break, the Dawgs showed a full court 1-2-2 zone press that really tripped up the Gamecocks as they scored just 5 points in the initial 11 minutes of the second half. Following a pair of free throws from senior Derek Ogbeide, the Dawgs trailed Carolina 49-39 with 9:05 left. Considering that Georgia was down by 23 points at the break, it seemed unbelievable that the Dawgs had a shot to cut the lead to single digits after the atrocious 20 minutes of defense that Tom Crean’s team “played” in the first half.

Even though the Gamecocks managed only 2 field goals after nearly 13 minutes of play had transpired in the second half, the Dawgs failed to trim the Carolina advantage to under 10 points.

Other than some early sparks from both Derek Ogbeide and Nic Claxton, Georgia’s offense was fairly subpar on Saturday in Columbia. As has been the case all season, UGA couldn’t hang on to the ball as the Dawgs turned it over 20 times, and the Gamecocks converted those extra possessions into 24 points. Offensively, the Dawgs have done way too much dribbling and one-on-one basketball this week, which is not a good look for this team. Georgia has been at its best this season when the ball and players are constantly shifting and moving to different spots on the court. However, in today’s game, much like against Missouri, the Dawgs just didn’t look very poised on offense. It’s possible that with Rayshaun Hammonds done for the year, some of his teammates may be ready to call this season a wrap as well.

Tom Crean’s team had a field goal drought of 8:08 in the first half, and they followed that up by not scoring a field goal for the final 10:29 of this game. Even though they were losing multiple close games, this UGA team was still fun to watch; lately, that hasn’t been the case, and I have zero clue as to what this team’s mindset could possibly be as they head into the first round of the SEC tournament set to rematch a Missouri team that just held them to 39 points in Stegeman on Senior Night.

The only silver lining from this one is that it’s the last time that Georgia has to face Chris Silva, who had 24 points on the afternoon; he’s been an instrumental part of the Gamecocks’ current win streak against the Dawgs.

In addition to turnovers, here are a few more things that Georgia doesn’t do well:

  • Defensive rebound: UGA entered this contest tied for 12th in the SEC in offensive rebounds allowed, and they gave up another 13 today against South Carolina. The strength of this Georgia team is supposed to be its frontcourt, yet the Dawgs can’t keep opponents off the glass, which is confounding.
  • Turn teams over: not only is Georgia one of the worst teams in the conference in regards to turnovers, but the Dawgs are last in the SEC in forcing opponents into turnovers (9.9) – South Carolina committed just 9 today. Tom Crean preaches deflections and how critical they are and have been in his defensive systems, but Georgia fans have yet to see what that actually looks like; hopefully that strategy becomes more concrete next season.

Box score:

Missouri brings Georgia back down to earth in 64-39 thrashing

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The Georgia Bulldogs (11-19, 2-15) got destroyed by a Missouri Tiger team that entered last night’s game with just 2 more conference wins than the Dawgs, on Senior Night, nonetheless. After earning just its second SEC win of the season on the road in dramatic fashion against NCAA tournament-hopeful Florida, the Dawgs returned home on Wednesday to play arguably one of the worst games of basketball in the history of Stegeman Coliseum. How does THAT happen? My only surmise, as ridiculous as it sounds, is that Georgia could not handle its success of winning, despite the fact that it’s only happened twice, and the Dawgs entered this contest with the expectation that they would win. If anyone has any other theories, please share them below.

This game was nearly unwatchable. After more than 5 minutes of play, the score was still merely 2-2. The outside shooting was just atrocious as Missouri and Georgia combined to miss their first 25 three-point attempts.

UGA’s offense looked stagnant the entire night. The Dawgs did WAY too much dribbling and standing around. Tom Crean preaches playing fast and constant movement, but on Wednesday he was coaching statues. By halftime, Georgia had managed just 14 points on a 23% shooting effort that included too many selfish looks from numerous Bulldog players.

The second half was just a continuation in mediocrity for the Dawgs. Following the intermission, Georgia went almost 9 minutes without a field goal, and it wasn’t until JoJo Toppin connected on the first triple of his career that the Dawgs ended that drought. Unfortunately, by that point Missouri’s 9-point halftime advantage had blossomed to 38-19, and the route was officially on as the Tigers offense had begun to awaken.

There’s probably more that I could write about or discuss regarding last night’s game, but honestly, it was just so pitiful, that I’m kind of at a loss for words. The only silver-lining from Wednesday is the hilarity in the fact that these two teams could rematch in the first round of the SEC tournament next week if the Tigers remain a game behind Texas A&M.

Eye-popping stats

  • Missouri had 50 rebounds to Georgia’s 28 (the Tigers also had 16 offensive boards)
  • Missouri shot 45% from the floor compared to Georgia’s 25%
  • UGA did not have one player finish in double-figures
  • Missouri had 40 points in the paint to Georgia’s 14

Box score:

Dawgs end losing streak (and possibly Florida’s NCAA chances)

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Georgia closes one out

Jalen Hudson hit a jumper to cut Georgia’s (11-18, 2-14) advantage to 51-50 with 4:13 left in the game. On the road in a must-win game for the home team, this was the moment where UGA should have folded. Instead, the Dawgs went 4 for 4 from the floor during the final 4 minutes, which enabled Tom Crean’s team to preserve a 61-55 victory that snapped a 13-game conference losing streak.

This one had to feel good for just about everyone involved.

Jordan Harris, who was less involved offensively as he had been recently, converted maybe his biggest field goal of his career on a drive that sent the Dawgs up 59-55 with only 27 seconds remaining.

Nic Claxton also contributed two buckets during the aforementioned stretch. Claxton finished with a career-high 25 points as he shouldered the majority of the offense in this one with teammate Rayshaun Hammonds playing limited minutes due to a foot injury. Claxton knocked down both his three-point attempts, and he abused the Florida big men off the dribble for much of the night. This effort by the Georgia sophomore was certainly the first time this season he has played the part of “go-to” man for this team for the entire game, and it’s certainly a good look for Claxton.

UGA’s man defense

Tom Crean and his staff deserve a huge “attaboy” for the scout job and defensive strategy that they put together for this one. Coach Crean had his team matchup in a man defense for most of this contest, and Florida had no answer, especially as the the UGA defenders switched on nearly everything in an attempt to better contest perimeter shots. After the initial 6 minutes of play, the Gators had scored only 6 points as they struggled to adjust to the relentless Georgia pressure.

Georgia’s defensive numbers in this game were just sublime. UGA held the Gators to their second-lowest offensive output in SEC play, with lowest being the 54 points Florida mustered against Kentucky; the Gators shot under 40% from the floor, and they made only 5 of their 21 three-point attempts. KeVaughn Allen, who’s been netting nearly 15 points a night in league games, managed just 5 points on a forgettable 1 for 10 shooting performance. Georgia did such a good job of blanketing Allen that at times it was easy to forget that the senior was even participating in this contest.

The only flaw in the Georgia defensive effort was the Dawgs’ inability to secure defensive rebounds, which has been a struggle for this team all season. UGA entered this game 11th in the league in defensive rebound percentage (67%), which is the number of defensive boards a team gets plus the number of offensive rebounds yielded divided by its total rebounds. This statistic basically illuminates how well a team is at preventing opponents from getting second-chance opportunities because the higher the defensive rebound percentage, the less offensive rebounds a team is allowing. On Saturday, Georgia yielded 12 offensive rebounds to the Gators, and fortunately for Tom Crean’s team those only resulted in 6 second-chance points for Florida.

Dawgs flip the script

The basic narrative for a UGA basketball game this season, especially in league play, has been something like this:

  • Georgia takes lead early
  • Dawgs get careless with the ball and fall apart towards the end of the first half (most likely trail by double-digits)
  • UGA plays itself back into the game to start second half
  • Georgia either fades down the stretch and inevitably loses (possibly in heartbreaking fashion)

This one started out according to script, with UGA opening up an 18-8 advantage with 11:18 left in the half after Claxton buried a triple. The Dawgs were careless with the basketball as they turned it over 11 times in the first half, and those mishaps led to 15 Gator points. However, UGA’s defense kept them in it and that was a huge reason why Georgia trailed by just a point at the intermission. As frustrating as it must have been for Tom Crean to see his team shoot 55% from the floor prior to the break and still be down, he had to take some satisfaction in that the giveaways did not turn into a huge Florida lead.

The Gators came out of the gates firing on all cylinders to start the second half as Mike White’s team scored 6 quick points to build up a 34-27 lead. But Georgia hung around and methodically continued to chip away at the Florida advantage until Tye Fagan buried a triple that helped his team retake the lead 41-39 with over 11 minutes of gametime remaining. Even more importantly, Georgia only turned the ball over 4 times following the intermission, and Florida managed just 1 point off those hiccups.

The end of the game, which I covered at the top of this post, was obviously different than the last 4 game’s story lines because Georgia learned how to close out and finish.

Final thoughts

This team has been on the cusp of snapping this losing streak for two weeks now, and the fact that the Dawgs, who have suffered a string of crushingly close losses, continued to play with a lot of fight and intensity is a testament to both the players and Coach Crean.

Georgia ending its losing streak without its second-leading scorer is just another aspect of this contest that makes last night’s win even more amazing. Add in the salt that Florida fans have to be feeling considering that A) this transpired on their court and B) this loss could eliminate the Gators from an at-large bid, and UGA fans should be all smiles on Sunday.

Box score:

Dawgs fall again at the last second, but continue to show improvement

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About that last sequence

The Georgia Bulldogs (10-18, 1-14) played outstanding defense for 27 seconds on its final defensive possession on Wednesday night. Both Derek Ogbeide and Nic Claxton recorded blocks on opposing Auburn dribble-drivers. Even the final play, in which Chuma Okeke buried the dagger of a triple with 3 seconds left on the shot clock, was defended well by Jordan Harris – his only flaw was that he wasn’t 4″ taller to better obstruct the view of the 6’8″ Okeke. I’ve rewatched that play several times, and it really was just a matter of getting the ball into the hands of a 37% three-point shooter, who happened to knock down the biggest shot of his young career.

UGA’s last possession, though, left some doubt. Down by 3 with 24 ticks remaining, the Dawgs had two choices: drive the ball to the basket and try to get a quick 2 or a foul, or go for the tie. Georgia’s final offensive play looked shaky from the start as Turtle Jackson lost the ball briefly while bringing it up the court against Bryce Brown’s defensive pressure. With about 14 seconds left, Tom Crean had the opportunity to call a timeout and go for a reset, but he decided to let his guys play it out, and the result was an errant last-second chuck from Tyree Crump that fell way short of the basket. Final score: Auburn 78, UGA 75.

Defensive halftime adjustments

Auburn entered this contest averaging almost 12 triples a night in SEC play, and they were in the top four in the league in team scoring. The Tigers pace offensively for the first 20 minutes was relentless, which lead to numerous fast break points (9) and a plethora of open looks from the perimeter in both transition and the half court sets. By halftime, Auburn was right at their SEC average from beyond the arc at the half (40%), and they’d already knocked down 8 triples. In all honesty, Auburn has superior talent compared to Georgia (especially with Rayshaun Hammonds inactive), and the Tigers had no trouble getting any type of shot they wanted prior to the break, hence the 50 first-half points.

However, Tom Crean put his Georgia team in an extended 2-3 zone to start the second half in an effort to better guard the Tigers on the perimeter, and this strategy worked well as Auburn mustered just 7 points in the initial 6 minutes out of the intermission. With a little over 14 minutes remaining, the Dawgs had whittled the Tigers 10-point halftime lead down to 57-52. The Tigers settled for three-pointers that wouldn’t fall instead of attacking the rim, and they committed 5 turnovers during this same timespan.

This defensive look allowed Georgia to dictate the pace of the game in the second half, and the slower tempo did not suit Auburn. Bruce Pearl failed to make any significant offensive adjustments to counter the Dawgs’ zone, so Tom Crean kept his team in this look for nearly the entire second half. The result: the Tigers shot just 39% from the floor and made only 3 of 11 from beyond the arc. Jared Harper, who torched Georgia for 16 first-half points, only got 6 more following the break. It hasn’t been often this season that UGA’s defense has brought them back into games, but last evening this most certainly was the case.

UGA’s offense also improved over the course of this game. Auburn, a team that is 4th in the SEC at forcing its opponents into turnovers (15.2), had caused UGA to cough it up 10 times by the half, and those mishaps led to 15 points for the Tigers. In this contest’s final 20 minutes, though, UGA committed just 4 more turnovers that only cost them 5 points. Georgia’s stronger ball security prevented Auburn from being able to get quicker scores in transition, and as I said earlier, the Tigers did not seem comfortable playing a half court game.

Georgia’s backcourt improvement

The Achilles’ heel of this UGA team this season has been its guard play, but that narrative is slowly changing for the better, and it can be directly attributed to the improved play that Tom Crean is getting from both Jordan Harris and Turtle Jackson.

Harris’s trajectory continues to trend upward as he set a new career-high in scoring on Wednesday night by finishing with 18 points. The junior has now ended up in double-figures in 9 of the past 10 games, and he’s netting 11.5 points a night during that stretch. Harris’s confidence is cleary up, and he’s easily Georgia’s best dribble-driver.

Turtle Jackson, who scored all 13 of his points last night before the intermission, continues to provide Georgia with steady offense from the perimeter, and he’s doing a much better job of facilitating Crean’s offense. Jackson is hitting just shy of 40% of his attempts from beyond the arc in SEC play, and over the past 3 games, he’s dished out 15 assists to just 5 turnovers. With only handful of games remaining in his career, it appears that Turtle is growing into the point guard that this team has desperately needed all season.

Box score:

Dawgs fight to the bitter end in 2nd one-point loss in a week

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Despite the fact that the Georgia Bulldogs (10-17, 1-13) have now dropped 12 straight SEC games, I’m convinced that they have to be one of the most entertaining teams stuck in a double-digit losing streak in the history of college basketball. This team has every reason to throw in the towel, yet, even though they are routinely down by 10 points or more, the Dawgs refuse.

The first time UGA could have quit was…

After opening up an 18-15 lead nearly 8 minutes into this contest, Georgia’s 2-3 zone rotations slowed, and Ole Miss began to find a rhythm from the perimeter, where they canned 6 triples in the final 10 minutes before the break. UGA’s offense, which appeared overwhelmed by the Ole Miss half court trap, coughed the ball up 7 times (12 overall in the first half) during this stretch, which helped to open up the Rebels’ transition offense. All of this ugliness resulted in a 39-29 advantage for Kermit Davis’s team at the break as the Dawgs once again fell apart at the close of the first half, which has become a staple of this team.

Instead, this happened…

Tom Crean coached them up at halftime, and Georgia reentered the court a team transformed. The Dawgs figured out the Rebels’ 1-3-1 trap as they started to drive the ball into the soft spots of the zone. UGA’s defense was forcing turnovers themselves as they caused Mississippi to give it away 5 times in the initial 5 minutes of the second half. With 15:07 left, Turtle Jackson buried a three-pointer that capped off a 17-4 Georgia run that saw the Dawgs take a 46-43 advantage.

The second time the Dawgs could have quit was…

After going back and forth for nearly 6 minutes, Mississippi’s star guard, Breein Tyree, who is netting nearly 19 a night in SEC play, took over the game. Tyree, who the Dawgs had held relatively in check for most of the afternoon, suddenly became unguardable. The junior scored 12 of his team’s next 14 points on a barrage of drives and triples, and following his three-pointer with 4:04 left, his Rebels held a commanding 67-60 lead.

Personally, at this point, I thought the game was over. This 12-4 run by Ole Miss seemed insurmountable considering the Dawgs had already overcome one large deficit. I was fully ready to watch the Rebels salt the remainder of this contest away.

But then Jordan Harris happened…

If the previously mentioned 6-plus minutes of gametime were the “Breein Tyree Show”, then the final segment of this game should be known as “The Jordan Harris Hour”. The junior from Iron City, Georgia single-handedly brought the Dawgs back into this one in this game’s final moments. Harris contributed 7 points, 2 rebounds and a steal in the last 4 minutes of play, and he put his team in a position to win in the closing seconds (he finished with 15 points on the afternoon).

About that last play

I know Tyree Crump hit the triple that tied the game against Missy State earlier in the week, but he probably wasn’t positioned to repeat that feat on the Dawgs’ final possession Saturday. Crump, who missed the last-second attempt against the Rebels, had to take the shot from well beyond the arc.

I realize that Claxton was surrounded by Ole Miss defenders, but look who is wide-open under the basket – none other than the star of “The Jordan Harris Hour”, Jordan Harris.

I’m sure that Claxton will want that pass back when he watches the film.

Final thoughts

Just like in the losses to LSU and Missy State, the Dawgs earned another moral victory on Saturday in the 72-71 loss to Mississippi. No one really likes moral victories, but for some reason with THIS team THIS season they don’t feel THAT bad.

After a lackluster offensive performance in this contest’s first 20 minutes of play, Georgia came out of the intermission and canned over 65% of its shots from the floor. The perimeter defense was frustrating as slow defensive rotations and UGA defenders going under screens allowed Ole Miss to hit 12 triples (4 more than their SEC average) on a 43% shooting night from the arc. However, defensive lapses have been a hallmark of this squad this season, and maybe I’m just growing numb to them.

Bottom line: Georgia had an opportunity to steal a win on the road against what is most likely going to be an NCAA tournament team, and they came up 1 point short for the second time in a week.

The Dawgs are losing games, but they haven’t lost an ounce of fight, which is certainly encouraging for what the future could hold in the Tom Crean era.

Assessing the good and the bad from Georgia’s 68-67 loss to Mississippi State

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Did Jordan Harris graze Quinndary Weatherspoon with his body on the way down to the court, after blocking Q’s shot? Sure. Did Weatherspoon provide some solid acting that made the contact look far more egregious than it truly was? Absolutely. Should a referee be making this type of call to determine the outcome of the game on the home team’s court? Absolutely not.

What a gut-wrenching ending for the Georgia Bulldogs (10-16, 1-12), who have now dropped 11 SEC games in a row. Tyree Crump hits arguably the biggest triple of his career to tie the game at 67 apiece with 9 seconds left, only to see the previously mentioned mess with Weatherspoon and Harris transpire. Weatherspoon, who is an 83% free throw shooter, somehow misses the first attempt, but he eventually gets two more after the refs decide to assess a technical foul on UGA following the appearance of a stuffed promo giveaway that was tossed onto the court, presumably by a disgruntled Georgia fan. Quinndary doesn’t miss his next shot, and the Maroon Dogs sneak out of Athens with a much-needed 68-67 road win.

Since this truly was a game of two halves, let’s take a look at each:

First the bad

That would be the first half.

Tom Crean utilized a 2-3 zone that Georgia has been showing more recently to help control the tempo of this game early. The slower pace favored Georgia against Missy State, a team that entered this game as the 4th most prolific offense in conference play, where they have been scoring nearly 77 a night. Tom Crean had his defense shifting in and out, from zone to man, and State struggled to get comfortable and into an offensive rhythm; after more than 16 minutes of play, MSU had mustered just 20 points.

That’s right, Georgia owned a 24-20 lead with 3:57 left prior to the break before the Dawgs started doing Dawgs things and the wheels came off. UGA turned the ball over 4 times during this final stretch, and the Maroon Dogs coasted into the break on a 16-1 run, much of which was fueled by Weatherspoon, who scored 12 of his 16 first-half points in this segment of play.

Georgia’s offense in the first 20 minutes was plagued by too much dribbling and stagnancy, which led to some low quality shots, particularly from beyond the three-point line. The Dawgs had several possessions in which the ball changed hands quickly until it landed into the arms of an open player, but those sequences were few and far between. UGA shot just 29% from the floor and only 25% from beyond the arc prior to the intermission. Frankly, Georgia looked purposeless on offense to start this one. Missy State outscored Georgia 18-8 in the paint in the initial 20 minutes of play; Nic Claxton and Derek Ogbeide had just 2 apiece, which is unacceptable for a team as big as Georgia.

That second half, though

The Dawgs deserve a lot of credit for fighting their way back into this one. After a miserable ending to the first half, Georgia let Missy State open up the second with a quick 6-0 run that gave the Maroon Dogs a 17-point advantage.

UGA’s defense was the reason Tom Crean’s team had a chance at the end of this contest. Georgia settled into its 2-3 zone after a triple by Weatherspoon that made it 53-38 State with a little over 14 minutes remaining. MSU had no idea how to attack this look, and the Dawgs trimmed the Maroon Dog advantage to just 56-51 with 9:05 left after a thunderous dunk from Claxton. From this point, it was game on.

In addition to the stifling defense, Georgia’s offense made a complete 180 in the second. UGA shot over 55% from the floor and hit a stifling 5 of 9 three-point attempts; the Dawgs also outscored Missy State 16-8 in the paint after the intermission.

That second to last timeout by Crean

Should Tom Crean have called a timeout with his team down 65-64 and only 18 seconds left? Nic Claxton had just hit a pair of free throws, and MSU had no TOs remaining. Coach Crean’s decision gave Ben Howland the opportunity to draw up a play that involved two decoys diving down so that they could toss a long pass to Quinndary Weatherspoon, who was immediately fouled; the 83% free throw shooter canned them both.

If Crean doesn’t call that timeout, maybe the Maroon Dogs inbound the ball to a less effective free throw shooter. Who knows.

Final thoughts

This loss was devastating, especially considering how close Georgia came to snapping its seemingly never-ending SEC losing streak. However, despite the outcome, I’m once again heartened by the effort that this team continues to display, especially as of late.

Georgia had no business hanging around with a far more talented LSU team in last weekend’s loss. On Wednesday night, UGA could have easily thrown in the towel when they trailed by 15 points with less than 10 minutes remaining. Rather, the Dawgs chose to fight, and even though they came up a point short, it was an entertaining final 9+ minutes.

Box score:

Dawgs earn a moral victory in 83-79 loss to LSU

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I realize that teams and their fan bases take little pride in moral victories in the long run. However, for THIS Georgia Bulldog (10-15, 1-11) team in THIS season, the Dawgs and their supporters should take some solace from last night’s effort against the #19 LSU Tigers.

UGA went toe-to-toe with an LSU team that had just knocked off #5 Kentucky at Rupp earlier in the week. With 29 seconds remaining in this contest, Georgia had an opportunity to tie the game. Instead, Nic Claxton elected to drive it at the rim, and his shot sailed over the basket, but the point is that the Dawgs were still in it with less than a minute remaining against a squad that is now tied with Tennessee for 1st place in the conference.

Tom Crean’s team’s most glaring weaknesses this year have been turnovers and inconsistent defense, yet on Saturday both of those shortcomings were relatively unnoticeable. The Dawgs committed only 11 turnovers, and even though those led to 17 Tiger points, for a Georgia team that’s been giving it away 15 times a night in conference play, this felt like a “win”.

Sure, LSU put up 83 points in its win over UGA, but guess what? They’ve been doing that to just about everybody. The Tigers are netting over 85 points a game in league play, so if you’re a “glass is half full” kind of person you could see this as a minor victory for the Georgia defense as the Dawgs held the Tigers under their SEC average in points.

LSU coach Will Wade seemingly has a never-ending supply of 6’10”-ish bigs he can run into the game, which is probably why his team leads the SEC in offensive boards per contest at over 14 a clip. The Tigers’ big men attacked the glass ferociously Saturday night, and it yielded 19 second-chance points for LSU, but Georgia had 18 points of that variety themselves.

This Tiger roster is far more talented than the current one that Tom Crean is working with. LSU has three guards in Tremont Waters, Skylar Mars and Ja’Vonte Smart that can all instantly create offense off the dribble; UGA doesn’t have anyone this year who can do that (aside from Jordan Harris, at times). Crean mixed in some 2-3 zone with his base man defense in an effort to slow down Waters, but the SEC’s best point guard got his 20 points. Smart, who is an absolute luxury for Wade to bring off the bench, torched the Dawgs for 19 points as he attacked the rim relentlessly. Luckily for Georgia, Mars, who nets over 13 ppg, was limited to just 6 on Saturday.

Despite the disparity in talent level between these two teams, Georgia hung with this Tiger team for nearly 40 minutes. UGA shot over 47% from the floor and had four players finish in double-figures in a game that featured 7 lead changes.

The Dawgs didn’t look like a team that was in the midst of a 9-game conference losing streak on Saturday. They didn’t back down in a game against a ranked opponent, when that certainly was an option. In the end, UGA came up 4 points short to the Tigers, but Georgia basketball fans have to take some satisfaction in the effort this Bulldog team showed in what has otherwise been a forgettable season.

Jordan Harris’s improvement

Harris’s 12 points on Saturday marked the 6th time in the last 7 games that the junior has finished in double-figures in the scoring department. Harris is also hauling in over 6 rebounds a contest during that same stretch. Jordan, who has to be the best athlete on the team, has emerged as a player that can create offense off the dribble from outside the paint, something this team was sorely lacking in the previous two-thirds of the season. If he continues to finish out this season strong, Harris has a realistic opportunity to be a regular double-digit contributor on next season’s team.

Rayshaun Hammonds foul tracker

With his 4 personal fouls on Saturday against LSU, Hammonds has now officially tied last season’s total of 81 PFs. The Dawgs have at least 7 games remaining (including the SEC tournament), so Hammonds has an extremely legitimate shot at committing over 100 PFs on the season, considering that he is averaging 3.7 a night in SEC play. The sophomore’s inability to stay on the court is perplexing because 1) he’s not an overly physical player and 2) he MUST realize his importance to this team. Hammonds netted 13 points against the Tigers yesterday, but he only logged 25 minutes of game time.

Box Score:

Offensive woes sink Georgia in loss to Texas A&M

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Last weekend Tom Crean said publicly that he basically made some mistakes in keeping some of the players on this Georgia Bulldog (10-14, 1-10) roster. I know he apologized, but that doesn’t erase the fact that the words were said and those thoughts existed (and maybe still do) in his mind.

Either way, I expected the Dawgs to come out with a little more fire than they showed on Tuesday night in College Station. I guess I presumed that some, or all, of those UGA players might want to prove Crean wrong.

Instead, Georgia mustered up just 56 points in the loss of a game that they could have stolen on the road against a Texas A&M (10-13, 3-8) team that has been decimated by injuries this season.

The Aggies played zone defense against UGA the entire game. This strategy by Coach Billy Kennedy seemed appropriate considering Georgia entered this contest last in the SEC in both field goal percentage (39.8%) and three-point percentage (30%) in league games.

There are basically two ways teams can exploit a zone: they can shoot the defense out of it or drive the ball to the soft spots to draw defenders and create opportunities. Georgia failed to employ either of those aforementioned tactics. The Dawgs shot an abysmal 3 for 23 from beyond the arc. Tyree Crump made only 2 of his 11 three-point attempts, with numerous of those shots coming from well beyond the line. UGA got outscored in the paint 36-28 in a game in which they had a distinct size advantage inside. Derek Ogbeide, who’s been this team’s best back-to-the basket offensive player, took only 4 shots; Rayshaun Hammonds, the team’s leading scorer, had just 3 attempts from the floor himself, and he finished with only 5 points and 3 turnovers.

The only Georgia player who held their own in this contest was Nic Claxton, who notched a double-double with 18 points and 10 rebounds.

Georgia definitely played at a slower pace on Tuesday than we have seen in a while, and my guess is that was intentional on Crean’s part in an effort to limit turnovers, which it did as the Dawgs only coughed the ball up 12 times against the Aggies. However, Georgia’s execution on offense was an exhibition in futility, and honestly, it was painful to watch.

The Dawgs played a lot of zone defense themselves against A&M, particularly 2-3, which was most likely done in an attempt to take some pressure of the Georgia guards defensively. This look befuddled the Aggies for early on, but eventually A&M got comfortable offensively and buried 4 triples during the final stretch of the first half as they finished 45% from the field heading into the locker room with a 34-21 advantage.

The Aggies offensive rhythm continued to improve as the game progressed. Kennedy’s team pounded the ball inside to Christian Mekowulu, who responded with 15 points and 15 boards. Sophomore point guard T.J. Starks had his way with UGA for much of the night as he ended up with 19 points and 4 steals.

The dagger in this one came during a 7-0 Aggie run in the initial segment of the second half when Jay Jay Chandler sunk a triple to make it 47-29 A&M with a little over 14 minutes left in the game. Any Georgia fan who changed the channel at this point undoubtedly had a more pleasant Tuesday evening than the ones who stuck around to the end of this contest.

Rayshaun Hammonds foul tracker

The sophomore only committed 1 personal foul in College Station. He still has 77 on the year, but maybe he won’t completely destroy last year’s total of 81 PFs. At the half of this game, Hammonds had 0 points and 3 turnovers. As a stretch big, Hammonds should be the perfect fit for a system like Crean’s, yet he continues to play below expectations.

Box score:

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After hot start, UGA fizzles in 80-64 home loss to Ole Miss

I’m almost at the point where I feel like I could just hit copy/paste from the last game post, and it would pretty much cover everything that we witnessed in the latest contest. The Georgia Bulldogs (10-13, 1-9) got manhandled by Mississippi 80-64 on Saturday in Athens, and the usual culprits – ball security and poor defense – were responsible again for UGA’s demise.

The best part of this game by far was the initial 5 minutes of play in which UGA opened up an 18-8 lead while making 6 of their first 8 shots. Rayshaun Hammonds played particularly well during this stretch as he knocked down a pair of triples and scored a total of 8 points.

The next 14 minutes of play Tom Crean witnessed the wheels come off in the form of 13 turnovers by his squad. One especially sloppy span of offense occurred during consecutive possessions by Teshaun Hightower:

  1. Hightower brought the ball across half court. Amanze Ngumezi came to the perimeter to set a high ball screen, but Hightower threw him a lob pass that soared into an Ole Miss defender’s hands.
  2. Next possession, Hightower gave fans a repeat of play #1.
  3. Next possession, Hightower dribble the ball directly to the wing and attempted to hand off the basketball to a UGA guard, but instead the ball was fumbled out of bounds.

The Dawgs are now turning the ball over on 22% of their possessions, which makes them 327 in the nation in that category.

Breein Tyree, who led all scorers with 31 points, put the Rebels up 25-22 when he hit a three-pointer with a little less than 10 minutes left in the first half, which capped off a 17-4 Ole Miss run. The Georgia offense during this abysmal 14-minute stretch managed just 10 points, and by the time Tyree Crump hit a triple with 1:36 left before the break, the Dawgs were trailing 41-31.

Georgia committed an eye-opening 16 first half turnovers (20 overall), which led to 16 points for Mississippi prior to the intermission. Georgia actually shot nearly 44% from the floor and matched the Rebels’ 7 three-pointers, but the 11 extra possessions were too much to overcome, and they resulted in a 45-33 halftime lead for the Rebels.

The Georgia defense, which is ranked last in the SEC in points allowed, continued to struggle with transition defense and weak side help rotations. The Dawgs’ defenders looked lost when the Rebels pushed the pace, which resulted in a plethora of open looks from beyond the arc; Ole Miss ended up with 9 three-pointers on the afternoon, one more than their SEC average. UGA continues to make teams look really good from the perimeter.

Georgia defenders, Jordan Harris aside, still refuse to provide help defense when opponents attack the rim. Much like in previous games this season, this contest featured multiple plays in which an Ole Miss guard drove the ball from outside the arc all the way to the rim, uncontested. The Rebels outscored Georgia in the paint 28-18, and a big reason for that was that the Dawgs make it super easy for opponents to attack the basket.

Maybe the most disappointing of all of UGA’s defensive shortcomings this afternoon was the Dawgs’ inability to protect the defensive glass. Georgia yielded 13 offensive rebounds to Mississippi, and the Rebels converted those into 21 second chance points (UGA had just 5).

Tom Crean’s postgame comment

The Athletic’s Seth Emerson provided this nugget that Crean gave to reporters after the game via Emerson’s Twitter feed:

Nothing like throwing your players under the bus in the midst of an 8-game SEC losing streak. This statement by Crean is confounding in so many ways. First, he took over the team in the spring; save a few super late signees, that probably weren’t D1 material, who did he envision might have been available to sign? Did he not watch film of this team last year and think to himself, “Ok, without Yante Maten, this group isn’t incredibly talented”? His expectations for this season were obviously not in line with talent level on his roster. Finally, how does he see this season finishing out after he makes such a negative public statement about the players on his roster?

Rayshaun Hammonds personal foul tracker

Hammonds fouled out of today’s game, and he now has 76 PFs on the season. The sophomore should easily surpass last season’s total of 81, quite possibly by next weekend. After netting 8 quick points in the first 5 minutes of this game, Hammonds scored just 2 more the rest of the way. The Dawgs’ leading scorer seems unaware of his importance to this team as he continues to commit fouls at a torrid pace.

Preseason predictions

Prior to the start of the season, Ole Miss was projected to finish last in the conference standings, just a slot behind Georgia. One of these teams has wildly exceeded expectations and is currently in position to make the NCAA tournament, and the other is UGA.

Box score:

UGA defense drops the ball in 89-74 defeat in Tuscaloosa

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This Georgia team’s biggest issue for the season has been turnovers, which were still a problem on Wednesday as the Dawgs coughed the ball up 13 times to Alabama, and the Crimson Tide managed to turn those mishaps into 22 points.

However, as of late, UGA’s defense has been its most limiting factor. They say that defense travels, but obviously, the Georgia D didn’t make this trip. Several days removed from allowing the South Carolina Gamecocks – one of the poorer shooting teams in the conference – to torch them from the perimeter with an 11 for 16 performance, the Dawgs once again struggled to defend the three-point line. The Tide connected on nearly 39% from beyond the arc, and none of those makes was more deadly than the 2 by Tevin Mack that allowed Bama to build up a double-digit lead (53-42) in just a little over 3 minutes into the second half.

The Dawgs are now last in the conference in scoring defense (80 ppg) in SEC play, and they are 3rd from the bottom in three-point percentage defense. Bama scoring 89 points means that Georgia has now yielded 80+ points to 3 of its last 4 conference opponents. Yikes!

But it’s not just the perimeter where UGA’s defense is failing. Alabama got WAY too many easy baskets around the rim because Georgia’s help defense continues to remain either too slow or disinterested. How many times did a Bama guard beat one of Georgia’s backcourt defenders and go all the way to the rim for a lay up? I lost count. The Tide scored 28 of its 41 first-half points in the paint, and they ended up with 48 points inside on the game. I’m not sure if Nicolas Claxton is playing more tentative to avoid getting in foul trouble, but he was certainly guilty of not rotating to help on multiple defensive possessions. Avery Johnson’s team made nearly 57% of its field goal attempts Wednesday, and that’s completely unacceptable. Winning on the road is almost impossible when the other team is scoring on 3 of every 5 possessions.

The first half of this game was fun, though, right? The pace was up tempo as the Dawgs and Tide played a back-and-forth 20 minutes in which both teams shot above 48% from the floor.

Alabama, however, proved that it could play defense when it needed to in the second half, when Georgia could not. The Tide limited UGA to just 34% from the floor in the second 20 minutes of play, and Johnson’s team forced the Dawgs into 7 more turnovers. UGA doesn’t have the offensive firepower this season to try to outscore teams for 40 minutes, save the Texas game, so Georgia better figure some things out defensively or the Dawgs could be stuck on 1 SEC win for quite a while.

Shout-out to…

Derek Ogbeide, despite playing through what has to be his most trying season at Georgia, continues to improve as the season progresses. Against the Tide, the senior led all UGA scorers with 17 points, marking his 4th consecutive SEC game in double-figures scoring.

Rayshaun Hammonds foul count

Last season, Hammonds tallied 81 personal fouls on the year. After Wednesday’s 4-foul performance, the sophomore now has 71 PFs this season, and he should have no trouble eclipsing last year’s total with 9 conference games remaining in the regular season. Hammonds had 13 points last night, but he played just 21 minutes. He’s this team’s best scoring option, yet Hammonds cannot manage to stay on the floor, which is definitely one of this year’s mysteries. I imagine this situation must be incredibly frustrating for Crean.

Box score:

Poor defense and a weird last possession result in another UGA loss

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For the final 4 minutes of this game, Georgia (10-11, 1-7) played solid base defense against the South Carolina Gamecocks. USC’s last 5 possessions before UGA was forced to foul looked like this: turnover, three-pointer, turnover, turnover and missed shot. That’s some impressive defense at crunch time, and for that the Dawgs deserve a lot of credit. Had Georgia secured the missed jumper by Hassani Gravett with less than a minute left and the Gamecocks leading 83-80, UGA would have had chance to tie the game. The Georgia defense put this team in a position to win at the end of this contest.

The problem, however, was that the Dawgs looked perplexed defensively for the previous 36 minutes. Defensive rotations were too slow and sometimes nonexistent. How else do you explain allowing the SEC’s 11th best three-point shooting team (32%) to go 11 for 16 from the perimeter? Carolina buried nearly double the number of triples they had been averaging a night in league play, and on the road no less. In the first half, USC’s guards hit 3 three-pointers from the corner baseline spot that were painfully uncontested.

In his post game, Tom Crean had the following to say regarding the perimeter defense:

“We are improving. But we have got to stop hurting ourselves with not getting our hands up, with not communicating the switch.”

I wholeheartedly agree. However, Crean might want to be a little more liberal with his timeouts in the future because he could use them to remind his players of all of these things he discussed in his press conference. South Carolina is a terrible three-point shooting team, but even average shooters can be made to appear better than they are when their looks to the basket are basically unimpeded. The Dawgs may be handicapped offensively due to a dearth of talent in the ball handling department, but all of these players should be capable of playing sound defense for 40 minutes.

To be fair, there wasn’t much defense being played by either team on Saturday, which should have been expected since the Gamecocks entered this contest with the worst team scoring defense (79.3) in SEC play and Georgia the second-worst (77.9).

That last possession by Georgia was a real head-scratcher. Considering that Crean removed his team’s best perimeter shooter, Tyree Crump, in favor of Derek Ogbeide, I assumed that the Dawgs were going to attack the basket as they trailed 85-80 with just 33 ticks remaining. Instead, both Turtle Jackson and Nicolas Claxton tossed up clunkers from the beyond the arc, and the Gamecocks corralled the 4th miss to earn another trip to the free throw line. Game over. Carolina wins 86-80.

A special shout out goes to the Georgia bench for performing admirably this afternoon. The Dawgs reserves outscored the Carolina bench 36-22, and they played a key role in helping UGA close an early double-digit deficit. Derek Ogbeide led all Georgia scorers with 16 points to go along with 7 rebounds, and today’s game marked his third straight SEC contest in which he has finished in double-figures in scoring.

Jordan Harris, who missed the last two games with concussion symptoms, gave Crean his best minutes of the season as he notched 11 points off the bench. Harris played with a lot of intensity, and his athleticism is hard to miss – he’s always around the ball as he secured 6 boards and forced 4 steals.

Looking ahead, it’s hard not to speculate on just how many conference games this team can win. The Dawgs have multiple ranked opponents still scheduled to travel to Athens, and all of those contests will be challenging for this team. At this point, it’s hard to envision this bunch winning an SEC road game (although I would LOVE to be proven wrong).

Georgia’s worst conference performances in the past 20 years were Dennis Felton’s final season, in which that team won 3 SEC games, and his second year in Athens when the Dawgs managed just 2 league victories during the regular season. My best estimation, and again, I pray that I am incorrect, is that this team will not eclipse 3 conference wins this year.

Box score:

Looking back at Georgia’s 70-60 loss at Arkansas

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On Tuesday night, the Georgia Bulldogs (10-10, 1-6) returned to both conference play as well as the offensive woes that have plagued them for much of the SEC slate. That team that shot over 70% from beyond the arc and nearly 67% from the floor last Saturday against Texas? Vanished. The UGA team in Bud Walton arena much more resembled the one that entered this contest near the bottom of the league in offensive output at just 65 ppg in SEC games.

How does this type of metamorphosis occur? My best postulation is that the 98-point outburst was a combination of an insanely hot Georgia team and a somewhat disinterested bunch of Longhorns.

Let me be clear: winning on the road in conference play is difficult. However, the task of earning a victory away from home becomes even more arduous when a team cannot protect the basketball and its star players fail to show themselves in the game’s critical moments, both of which occurred on Tuesday.

UGA got to out to an amazing start in this game as they jumped on the Razorbacks early and built up an 11-2 lead in the first 5 minutes. The Dawgs played with a lot of intensity and were extremely active around the ball and attacking the offensive glass, where Georgia notched 7 of its initial 11 points on second-chance opportunities.

However, eventually the Hogs started putting the ball in the basket themselves, and that enabled Mike Anderson’s team to set up its full court pressure. This past weekend I excused a portion of Georgia’s 26 turnovers due to the style of play that Crean wants this team to play at offensively. On Tuesday, though, the turnovers were caused more by UGA’s inability to deal with the Arkansas pressure than Georgia trying to create scoring opportunities on the offensive end.

The Razorback guards dictated UGA’s offense on Tuesday, and that’s not an effective way for Georgia, or any team, to play basketball. The Dawgs had 10 turnovers at the half, which allowed Arkansas to take a 31-29 advantage into the break. UGA gave the ball away 16 times on the night, and those were costly as they resulted in 16 Razorback points. The trend of Georgia struggling against intense defensive pressure due to its lack of a true point guard continued on Tuesday evening, and expect this course to persist until someone on Tom Crean’s team steps up and starts putting defenders on their heels (note: I don’t expect this to happen this season).

Alright, alright. Enough about the turnovers.

Let’s talk about Georgia’s lack of a true go-to guy. Who on this team can Crean count on to facilitate offense and score when the game is on the line? The answer, quite simply, is no one. For a 6’9″ guy, Hammonds continues to struggle with physicality around the basket, and he seems to prefer playing more of a stretch four. Nic Claxton can throw down some ferocious dunks, off of both misses and cuts; but he doesn’t yet have the ability to square up and take his defender off the dribble or on the block when he receives the ball with his back to the basket.

I mean, this game was tied 52-52 with a little over 6 minutes left. It was most certainly winnable. But while Mike Anderson’s players started to elevate their game down the final stretch, here is what UGA’s three leading scorers produced:

  • Rayshaun Hammonds: 0 points, 0-3 FG, 3 rebounds, 1 assist, 2 fouls
  • Nic Claxton: 2 points, 1-2 FG, 1 rebound, 1 foul, 1 turnover
  • Tyree Crump: 3 points, 1-3 FG, 1 rebound, 1 foul

This is money time, game on the line, and Georgia’s best offensive players mustered a combined 5 points during the final 6:23? That’s just not going to cut it on the road, and it’s a fairly big indicator of why UGA took an L in Fayetteville on Tuesday.

Bright spots:

  • Turtle Jackson had another solid game as he chipped in double-figure points (11) again.
  • Derek Ogbeide continues to provide offense off the bench as he notched 14 points against the Hogs.

Box Score

Analyzing those 26 turnovers and a few other tidbits from UGA’s 98-88 win over Texas

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Let’s talk about those 26 turnovers…

Not many teams can turn the ball over 26 times and win by double-digits while almost eclipsing the century mark in points. Seriously, what UGA did today offensively was quite remarkable considering Texas entered this contest with the 36th best scoring defense in the country, at just over 65 points a game.

Obviously, the Dawgs were too careless with the basketball this afternoon, and it did hurt them as the Longhorns scored 26 points off turnovers. But, UGA fans must understand that Tom Crean wants this team to play up tempo every possession, and that doesn’t just mean that Georgia is moving the ball up and down the court at a fast pace (which it most certainly is). Crean wants the ball going in and out of players’ hands; he doesn’t want guys to hold the ball for too long because that gives the defense a chance to react. Furthermore, Crean also has his guys constantly cutting without the ball. All this motion, both with and without the ball, is going to result in additional turnovers, as it did today, and the giveaways will most likely continue as long as Georgia plays without a true point guard.

However, the Dawgs also dished out 25 team assists, shot nearly 71% from beyond the arc and hit 67% from the floor. So while the game felt sloppy at times, a lot of positives occured as well due to Crean’s style of play, and it’s clear he’s willing to live this way.

Playing fast is a good look for this Georgia team because it takes the pressure off the guards from having to facilitate offense in the halfcourt, which is much more difficult when a team’s major weakness, like UGA’s, is its backcourt. Tennessee, Kentucky, Florida and, to some extent, Auburn were all able to dictate Georgia’s pace by being the aggressors and applying pressure the length of the court. The Dawgs shot under 40% in all of those games except for the one on The Plains. Crean’s team will still be leading the SEC in turnovers per game after today, but I truly believe he has them in an offensive system that gives them the best chance to be successful this season.

The first half was fun, but…

I actually found the second half even more satisfying. UGA hit 8 of 12 three-pointers prior to the break, yet they still went into the locker room tied with Texas at 46 apiece. Georgia had only scored 12 points in the paint to Texas’s 20 prior to the intermission, and I definitely felt unsure as to where the Dawgs’ scoring would come from once the shots stopped falling from beyond the arc.

Oddly, UGA only shot 5 more three-pointers in the game’s final 20 minutes (of which they made 4). Instead, Georgia started to attack the rim, and they scored 22 points in the paint and connected on 16 of 18 free throws. The Dawgs shot a blistering 76% from the floor in the second half, another reason why they were able to win this game despite the turnovers.

The one stretch of game where Georgia was certainly on the verge of crumbling occurred around the midway point of the second half. With 12:28 remaining, UGA took a 68-60 lead on a jumper by Rayshaun Hammonds. It felt like Georgia was stuck on 68 for an eternity, and when Dylan Osetkowski put back one of his teammates’ misses, his Texas team had cut the UGA advantage to 70-66 with 8:27 left. During this agonizing 4 minutes of game, the Dawgs went 1 for 3 from the floor and gave the ball away 4 times. This seemed like it would be the moment when Texas would ride its momentum and seize the lead.

Instead, Tom Crean’s team connected on 5 straight field goals, including triples by Tyree Crump and Nic Claxton, and hit 4 of 5 from the line to build its lead to 87-75, which proved to be insurmountable for Shaka Smart’s team.

Foul trouble again for Rayshaun Hammonds

Hammonds had a productive afternoon as he scored 14 points and grabbed 9 boards in 29 minutes of play. However, the sophomore fouled out of today’s game, and he continues to trend upwards in the number personal fouls he accrues per contest. Hammonds, who averaged 24 minutes per game last year as well, committed 81 personal fouls all last season; he already has 62 this year, and the reason for the uptick in fouls is inexplicable considering that Hammonds must be aware of how little depth Georgia has behind him.

Welcome back Tyree

Tyree Crump’s 6 three-pointers were a career best for him in a game as a Georgia Bulldog. The junior now has 35 triples on the season, and he needs just 10 more to surpass last season’s total.

Today’s outburst will hopefully be the catalyst to get Crump out of a recent slump that saw him score 14 points over his last 3 games, all of them losses for the Dawgs.

Box score

How Georgia’s offense and defense contributed to its 92-82 loss at LSU

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First, the defense

Tom Crean and his staff decided to mix things up a bit on the defensive end against LSU on Wednesday night in Baton Rouge, starting after the first make of the game when the Bulldogs (9-9, 1-5) jumped into a little token full court pressure. Even though Georgia only showed this look several times, it was refreshing seeing the Dawgs as the aggressors, especially considering how much press Crean’s team has seen this season. The intent was to slow down this LSU offense by shortening the Tigers possessions in the halfcourt, and it was effective through the first 5 minutes as UGA managed to build up a 13-8 lead.

UGA also showed a new matchup zone that incorporated some quick traps on the wings and in the corners, and this helped to stabilize things after a 14-0 Tiger run that ran the LSU advantage up to 22-13 at the 13-minute mark in the first half.

The zone sets befuddled the Tigers momentarily, but LSU quickly learned that Georgia had no intent of fulfilling its obligations in regards to backside rotations, and Will Wade’s team started getting to the rim with ease. The Dawgs looked like a team that just learned these zones this week. I mean, the Tigers had 48 points at the half (to UGA’s 36) and shot 50% from the floor, so Georgia’s junk zone looks certainly weren’t giving them too many issues offensively. LSU had players on two different occasions drive from beyond the arc straight to the rim for a wide-open dunk without facing any resistance from a single UGA defender.

Considering the talent and athleticism disparity that favored LSU, I totally understand why Crean didn’t feel comfortable playing the Tigers man-to-man, hence the new defensive sets. The problem, though, is that it just didn’t work as LSU finished with 92 points and made 50% of its field goal attempts. The Tigers had both its starting guards score more than 20 points in Tremont Waters (26) and Skylar Mays (20).

Final indication that UGA’s defense failed it tonight: Georgia shot 54% from the floor and 47% from beyond the arc and still lost by double-digits.

And…now the offense

Georgia appeared dead to rights when they trailed the Tigers by 16 with 11:12 left in the second half. However, UGA wouldn’t quit, and a slew of buckets by Derek Ogbeide, who scored 14 off the bench, coupled with a generally lethargic effort from Will Wade’s team for nearly 8 minutes saw the Dawgs trailing 78-71 at the game’s final media timeout.

Unfortunately, LSU responded with consecutive old-fashioned three-point plays that put them up 84-73 with 2:57 remaining, effectively icing the game.

However, the reason that Georgia found itself even sniffing striking distance was because the Dawgs played some of their best offense of the season during the aforementioned 8-minute stretch. UGA scored a slew of buckets on backdoor cuts that would have made former Princeton coach Pete Carril proud. Georgia’s wings slashed to the basket when the ball moved inside the three-point line, which led to 5 team assists during this span of the contest. This little snippet of the game was probably the best UGA has looked on offense since conference play began, and a lot of that can be attributed to how well the Bulldogs were moving without the ball.

Rayshaun Hammonds, who was held in check in the first half, scored 15 of his 18 following the intermission. The sophomore asserted himself on offense as he created opportunities for others off the dribble; he also did an excellent job of staying active and making himself available around the rim when he didn’t possess the ball. Hammonds was an integral part in Georgia’s ability to keep this game within reach deep into the second half.

With the good, though, must come the bad, and once again, Georgia had issues with ball security. Credit LSU for its defensive intensity. The Tiger guards were constantly harassing the UGA ball-handlers (11 steals), and the LSU bigs excelled at protecting the glass (5 team blocks). The turnover bug bit Tom Crean’s team once again, though, to the tune of 17 giveaways, and those mishaps proved costly as they led to 17 Tiger points. Georgia entered tonight’s game last in the SEC in turnover margin at -5.2, and it’s likely the Dawgs will remain in that slot after Wednesday’s showing.

Box score:

Why Georgia lost to Florida on Saturday

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There’s a reason the Florida Gators entered Saturday’s game with the 3rd best defense in the SEC in league games, and it’s because Mike White does a great job of mixing up his defensive looks. For nearly the entire game, Florida showed the Dawgs (9-8, 1-4) a full-court zone press on any makes or turnovers that they transitioned into a little half-court trap. The Gators ran some man-to-man, and they occasionally showed some match-up zone.

All of these sets were highly-effective at keeping the Bulldogs off-balanced offensively. Other than the initial stretch of the second half, Georgia’s offensive resembled a game of “Hot Potato” for much of this one. The Dawgs committed 20 costly turnovers in this game that led to 28 Gator points.

Another tactic that Mike White used with his team in zone was that he had his guys double Nic Claxton any time he touched the ball inside. This strategy worked well for Florida and really frustrated Claxton, who had 0 points in the first half. The sophomore had as many turnovers (4) as field goal attempts by the time the teams went to the intermission. Claxton would finish with 9 points in a game in which he constantly had defenders swarming him whenever he received the ball on the block.

Has anyone else noticed that Georgia has been pressed relentlessly for the majority of SEC play? Expect this trend to continue as teams will seek to exploit UGA’s glaring weakness – its guards – until the season ends on either Wednesday or Thursday of the SEC tournament. If you watch college basketball other than Georgia games, notice how good teams do not get pressed that often because it puts too much pressure on the defense to guard in transition. For UGA, though, this is not the case.

There were two stretches of this game that were particularly brutal for Tom Crean’s team. The first was the beginning of the game, which Georgia started out with 4 turnovers and misses on all 6 of its field goal attempts. Florida had an 8-0 lead less than 5 minutes into this game, which they basically used as a buffer for the remainder of the half as they took a 33-23 advantage into the break.

The other portion of this contest that was particularly hard to watch occured, unfortunately, in the final quarter of the game. After a nice drive and lay-up by Jordan Harris with 9:38 remaining, the Dawgs went on a nearly six-and-a-half minute drought that included 6 turnovers; the bleeding was stopped when Nic Claxton hit a pair of free throws to make it 55-50 Florida with 3:11 remaining.

This offensive lull was such a bummer after the offensive fireworks that the Dawgs displayed coming out of the locker room. Georgia started the second half red hot and went on a 19-7 run that enabled them to take a brief lead, and it served to wake up a Stegeman crowd that hadn’t really been given much to cheer for in the game’s initial 20 minutes.

Obviously, a large part of UGA’s struggles since conference play began can be attributed to the backcourt. However, guard play is not the only issue with this Georgia team. UGA’s frontcourt has begun to look rather ordinary as the Dawgs have gotten deeper into the SEC slate, particularly Rayshaun Hammonds.

Florida coach Mike White road his star player, Kevaughn Allen, during the last five minutes of the game, and Allen answered the call as he scored 7 of his game-high 13 points. Hammonds, who is still UGA’s leading scorer at 13.7 ppg, was nowhere to be found. The sophomore put up a goose egg and committed 4 turnovers; other than a big second half against Vandy, Hammonds has basically been a no-show in SEC play, where he’s now averaging just 5.4 ppg. Rayshaun’s inability to step and be an offensive leader is putting additional, and unnecessary, pressure on the Georgia guards.

I continue to see the hashtag #TrustTheProcess in regards to the program on Twitter, and I most certainly do. I have full faith in Tom Crean as both an innovative offensive coach and an excellent recruiter who will take this program to a higher level. However, I feel that this season is more about giving Crean a break for the dearth of talent that Mark Fox left behind at the point guard position, which is making life really hard for UGA in conference play.

Box Score:

Examining Georgia & Florida by their SEC numbers

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Both Georgia (9-7, 1-3) and Florida (9-7, 1-3) will be looking to shake themselves out of a four-way tie for 9th in the conference when the teams lock up in Athens tomorrow. For UGA, the season thus far is going about as expected as the Dawgs were pegged to finish 13th in the SEC prior to the start of league play. Florida, however, has been a bit of a disappointment considering the media predicted the Gators to be the 5th best team in the conference before the season began.

The only common opponent that these two teams share currently is Tennessee, who bested Florida 78-67 in Gainesville last weekend; however, that result was a heck of a lot more competitive than the 46-point drubbing the Dawgs took at the hands of the Vols in Knoxville earlier this month.

Now that we’ve transitioned to conference play, statistics in SEC games become far more insightful than cumulative season stats. At this point, I’m not interested in how Rayshaun Hammonds performs against a Savannah State, Sam Houston State, Illinois State or Texas Southern; his play against conference competition, which hasn’t been stellar thus far (6.7 ppg), is a much stronger measuring stick.

Without further adieu, here is how the Dawgs and Gators stack up numbers-wise through four SEC games:

Offense

  • Scoring offense: Florida 12th (65.2), Georgia 13th (64.8)
  • FG%: Georgia 12th (38.8%), Florida 14th (36.6%)
  • 3-Point%: Florida 9th (30.8%), Georgia 14th (24.5%)
  • 3-Point FG per game: Florida 3rd (9.3), Georgia 12th (6.3)
  • Turnover margin: Florida 1st (+4), Georgia 13th (-3.8)

Defense

  • Scoring defense: Florida 3rd (67.8), Georgia 11th (80.2)
  • FG% defense: Georgia 11th (44.7%), Florida 12th (45.4%)
  • 3-Point FG% defense: Georgia 12th (35.4%), Florida 14th (38.1%)
  • Rebounding margin: Florida 10th (-3.8), Georgia 13th (-6.8)
  • Blocked shots: Georgia 1st (6.5), Florida 12th (2.8)
  • Steals: Florida 7th (6.5), Georgia 10th (5.8)
  • Defensive Reb.%: Florida 7th (67.5%), Georgia 14th (61.5%)

Other than a few outliers, both of these teams are near the bottom of the SEC in more than a few important categories. Neither squad has been impressive offensively, though Florida’s team defense hasn’t been too shabby. Statistically, I’d say the Gators have a slight edge, but the fact that the game is in Athens should tip the scales in UGA’s favor a bit. In other words, I expect a competitive game tomorrow.

Some thoughts on Kentucky’s 69-49 rout of Georgia

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The Georgia Bulldogs (9-7, 1-3) do not start many games off with 5 consecutive dunks. If someone had only watched the initial 5 minutes of this game and seen how the Dawgs built up their 11-6 lead over Kentucky, it would be hard to convince that individual that UGA would end up losing the game by 20 points. Georgia competed with the #12 Cats for 20 minutes, but then the magic ran out. Below are some of my thoughts:

Brutal second half for Georgia

The last five minutes of the first half and the first five minutes of the second half are largely thought to be the two most important segments of a basketball game. The Dawgs excelled in the former, but they got totally Ashton Hagans-ized in the latter. The freshman, who scored a career-high 23 points, lit Georgia up out of the intermission as he scored 7 quick points and helped bolster the Cats’ 4-point lead to 42-31.

The Dawgs began the second half offensively by missing their first 5 shots and committing 3 turnovers. UGA didn’t notch a field goal until Rayshaun Hammonds got a tip-in with 14:35 remaining in the game. Georgia shot just 19% from the floor in the second half, and they made only 2 of 14 from beyond the arc.

Confusing offensive identity

As mentioned, the Dawgs jumped on Kentucky early and exploited some rather poor defensive rotations by Coach Calipari’s team to the tune of five two-handed dunks. Georgia scored 18 of its 31 points in the paint prior to the break, then the Dawgs scored just 18 points the entire second half. Despite making only 2 of 13 three-point attempts through the first 20 minutes, Georgia kept chucking them up after the intermission and finished the game just 4 of 27 from the perimeter. All of this was confounding considering how easily UGA was getting the ball into the teeth of the Kentucky defense early on; it definitely felt like the Dawgs sort of let the Cats off the hook defensively.

Don’t get me wrong: I absolutely love Tom Crean’s commitment to shoot more three-pointers. That’s where the game has gone. Good teams get points consistently from beyond the arc, and it’s far past time that UGA join this fad. However, it’s just tough to watch right now because the Dawgs don’t have that many legitimate perimeter shooters.

Lack of star power for UGA

Georgia held Kentucky’s leading scorer Keldon Johnson, who nets nearly 16 points a night, in check in this one as he put up a goose egg. Unfortunately, UGA’s leading scorer, Rayshaun Hammonds, had another tough night; the sophomore went into the half with 0 points and 2 fouls after nearly 12 minutes of game time. Hammonds would finish with 11 points, but he never asserted himself into this game on the offensive side of the ball. Rayshaun’s struggles against ranked competition continued against #12 Kentucky, and he’s now averaging only 6.7 ppg in the three contests versus ranked SEC opponents.

Nic Claxton, who notched 9 points prior to the break, would net only 3 more the rest of the way. The Dawgs need more than 23 total points out of their leading scorers if they are going to pull an upset on a team of Kentucky’s calibre.

Coach Calipari had others on his team, namely Hagans, step up and shoulder the scoring load. Kentucky’s freshman point guard looks the part of a bona fide stud on both offense and defense, and he certainly got the last laugh inside Stegeman tonight after receiving a decent amount of heckling from the UGA student section.

Stats that jump off the box score:

  1. Kentucky had 40 points in the paint to Georgia’s 22.
  2. Kentucky had 43 rebounds to Georgia’s 35.
  3. Kentucky had 14 points off turnovers to Georgia’s 4.

Auburn too much for Georgia in 93-78 win

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The Georgia Bulldogs (9-6, 1-2) are going to continue to find the sledding fairly tough when they take on competition of the calibre of the #11 Auburn Tigers (12-3, 1-1), especially considering that Bruce Pearl has one of the best backcourts in the nation in Jared Harper and Bryce Brown. It’s no secret: guard play is the glaring weakness of this UGA team. Harper and Brown had no trouble exploiting the Dawgs’ Achilles Heel as they combined for 37 points on a 7 for 13 shooting performance from the three-point line in the Tigers’ 93-78 win over Georgia.

Believe it or not, this game was actually close for several stretches. Georgia came out of the half and cut a 10-point Tiger lead to just a 54-48 advantage following a triple by Teshaun Hightower with 17:05 remaining. It didn’t take long for Auburn to stretch the lead back into double-digits, though, as Harper connected on one of his 4 three’s to send the Tigers up 61-48 with 15:27 remaining.

Georgia sort of hung around for the remainder of the game, and by that I mean they stayed within 10 points at times; but the Dawgs couldn’t trim the Tiger advantage to single digits the rest of the way, and Auburn continued to push the pace.

After trailing 13-4 early on in this one, Georgia went on an 8-0 run and actually took a brief 22-20 lead on a Jordan Harris three-pointer with 11:20 left in the first half. The referees called the game pretty tight from the opening tip, and that kept Bruce Pearl’s team from ramping up the game’s tempo, which definitely benefited Georgia.

The Dawgs were in the bonus for over 10 minutes in the first half of play. Georgia took advantage and made 8 of 9 free throws. However, UGA stopped attacking as much and started to settle for too many threes, which is not a good look for this Georgia team as they went 4 of 12 from beyond the arc before the break; the Dawgs hit just 3 of their last 14 field goal attempts heading into the intermission, and Auburn took a commanding 48-38 lead into the half.

Nic Claxton had consecutive possessions in the opening 20 minutes where he took Austin Wiley off the dribble and pulled up to knock down jumpers just inside the three-point line. Again, that’s a 6’11” center doing something that’s meant for a point guard. Insane.

Claxton finished with 15 points and tied his career-high 6 blocks. Auburn applied full-court pressure for most of the game, and Claxton routinely brought the ball up the court. While it is absolutely wonderful to have a center who can do this, I’m not certain it didn’t begin to wear the sophomore down as the game went on. In an ideal world, Georgia would have a guard or two that could handle this responsibility so that Claxton could spend more time in proximity to the rim.

The Tigers had 5 players end up in double-figures, but probably the biggest offensive spark came from reserve Anthony Mclemore, who scored 11 of his 15 points prior to the break. He was active on the glass and without the ball, and he really ignited an Auburn offense that started the game rather stagnant. When Mclemore entered the game, his team trailed 26-22 with a little over 10 minutes remaining; he was a major reason why Bruce Pearl’s team was able to take control of this game heading into the half.

Three tough stats that didn’t go Georgia’s way:

  1. Auburn outscored UGA 40-24 in the paint.
  2. Auburn notched 20 second-chance points to UGA’s 13.
  3. Auburn scored 21 points off of 16 UGA turnovers; the Dawgs had 15 POT themselves.

I hate to be a moral victory type of fan, but I found myself surprised that Georgia competed as much as they did in this one, especially considering what happened last Saturday in Knoxville. I certainly didn’t expect the Dawgs to have much of a lead, let alone for 5.5% of the game.

That being said, the struggle will continue to be real for Georgia whenever they face teams with above average backcourts. Unfortunately, I just described both of UGA’s opponents for next week: #18 Kentucky and Florida. Whoever designed this SEC slate for Tom Crean’s first jaunt through the league has a cruel sense of humor.

Tennessee smacks Georgia 96-50 in a forgettable SEC opener

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Tennessee’s (12-1) 46-point win over the Georgia Bulldogs (8-5) this afternoon in Knoxville marked the largest margin of victory in the series since 1975, when Bernard King buried 18 field goals in a 36-point win for the Vols. The fact that Georgia scored a season-low 50 points certainly helped Rick Barnes’s team notch this accomplishment.

Much like last year, Georgia’s guard play is once again its Achilles heel. The Dawgs have no one that can put a defender on his back feet, and that’s a serious problem; especially when playing an elite team like Tennessee. As strong as UGA’s bigs may be, they will struggle to find offense against stout defensive teams that can exploit the Georgia backcourt. Tennessee pushed the Georgia guards well beyond the three-point line, which forced the Dawgs to attempt to start the offense 30 feet from the basket. No bueno.

The first half of this game was basically a train wreck for Georgia. Derek Ogbeide picked up 2 fouls in less than a minute to start the game. Not to be outdone, Nic Claxton tallied up 4 first half fouls and Rayshaun Hammonds picked up 3 himself. This trio had one more point (10) than total fouls before the break. Yikes.

Tennessee picked up Georgia full court on its first make in an effort to pressure the UGA guards and speed up Georgia’s offense. Let’s just say that Rick Barnes’s strategy worked out pretty well for his Volunteer team: UGA shot 33% from the floor and missed all 8 of its three-point attempts in the first half.

Georgia came out aggressive on defense to start this game by playing the Vols man-to-man. The foul trouble, however, forced Georgia to switch to zone, and Tennessee used the soft spots in that zone to heat up as they knocked down a barrage of mid-range jumpers. UGA’s defensive pressure seemed nonexistent as they forced Tennessee in to just 1 turnover in the game’s first 20 minutes. The Vols lit Georgia up from the field as they knocked down 57% of their shots, with stars Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield combining for 28 points prior to the break. Tennessee scored 53 points in the first half, which is the most points they’ve scored in a game all season before the intermission, and they took a 29-point advantage into the locker room.

For anyone still interested, they did in fact play a second half in Knoxville. Even with the huge lead, Tennessee continued to play with a greater level of intensity than Georgia. Even though Coach Barnes went deep into his bench following the intermission, his team still managed to extend the lead in this contest. Frankly, Tennessee is so talented that I’m fairly confident that the Vols’ bench would play a competitive game with Georgia, and they could quite possibly win.

Some lopsided stats from this one:

*Tennessee outrebounded Georgia 45 to 30

*Tennessee had 25 assists to Georgia’s 8

*Tennessee’s bench outscored Georgia’s 37-19

*Tennessee scored 25 points off turnovers to Georgia’s 3

*Tennessee scored 48 points in the paint to Georgia’s 26

The best thing Georgia can do is flush this one and focus on the SEC home opener coming up Wednesday against Vanderbilt, a team that UGA should be more competitive with.

Also, it wouldn’t hurt if Tom Crean could land a graduate transfer point guard that could step in and start immediately next season.

Box score:

Dawgs end 2018 on a high note with a 91-72 win over UMass

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A year ago, UMass (7-6) bested Georgia (8-4) 72-62 in Amherst in a game in which the Minutemen hit 12 three-pointers. In that game, UMass blew the doors off UGA from the start and went into the intermission with a commanding 43-24 advantage.

Tom Crean’s team was having none of that business in Athens this evening. UMass hung around for a bit in the first half and kept things moderately close, but for the most part the Dawgs handled the Minutemen with relative ease in a game that Georgia led the entire way.

Georgia’s defensive pressure and length frustrated the Minutemen. Sure, Luwane Pipkins scored 22 points, but he shot just 7 of 20 from the floor, and he missed on all 8 of his three-point attempts. Pipkins scored 10 points prior to the intermission, and he looked as if he could get to the rim whenever he wanted. Turns out, however, it didn’t matter because he was the only player on UMass capable of threatening the Dawgs. Unlike last year’s game, UMass made only 4 triples against Georgia in this one, and they shot just 18% in doing so.

The Minutemen attempted to ramp up the tempo in the second half with some full-court pressure, but UGA seemed unphased as the Dawgs simply let their 6’11” center, Nicolas Claxton, bring the ball up the court. Problem solved. I’m still not really sure of the intent of the UMass press since it didn’t seem to affect the Dawgs in the slightest.

Georgia took a 43-32 lead into the half after Rayshaun Hammonds sunk an off-balanced triple from the corner with time winding down. After making less than 29% of this three-point attempts a year ago, Hammonds is now shooting over 46% from beyond the arc on the year. He definitely looks much more comfortable playing on the wing this year; too many possessions last season Hammonds was forced to work off the block, which may not be the most effective spot for him to receive the ball. Hammonds is definitely more a stretch 4 or even a 3 rather than a traditional big, and the sophomore looked the part this evening as he finished tonight’s game with 18 points to go along with 8 boards.

I realize that I’m starting to sound like a broken record, but I cannot get over how much Nicolas Claxton continues to get better and better as the year progresses. As mentioned above, he’s now bringing the ball up on the press break. Claxton can guard every position on the court; he got isolated on Pipkins in the second half, and managed to not only keep the speedy point guard in front of him, but Claxton just went ahead and blocked his three-point attempt. The Slim Reaper led Georgia with 20 points and 11 rebounds en route to ANOTHER double-double (that’s 6 on the season), and he’s easily been the best player on the court in all three of UGA’s recent victories.

Georgia closes out 2018 with wins over Georgia Tech and UMass, and the Dawgs are really just one meltdown of a second half away from being on a six-game win streak. Claxton isn’t the only one improving; the Dawgs as a team are getting better. Like Hammonds, Tyree Crump is also converting more of his perimeter attempts this season. Today, Crump scored 14 points on a 3 for 5 effort from beyond the arc, and he is hitting over 40% of his three-point shots on the season.

UGA opens up SEC play this Saturday in Knoxville. With the start of the conference slate, everything is about to get more difficult for Georgia. Teams are going to apply tons of pressure to UGA’s backcourt in an effort to exploit the Dawgs’ lack of a true point guard. Georgia is going to struggle, but they are also going to surprise some people.

I’m super excited to see these potential matchups on Saturday: Grant Williams/Claxton and Admiral Schofield/Hammonds. A month ago, I would have assumed the Vols would blow Georgia out in this one. Now, I’m not so sure.

Dawgs upend Tech in Atlanta

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One week removed from its collapse at home to Arizona State, Georgia (7-4) appeared on the verge of gifting away another double-digit lead in Atlanta to archrival, Georgia Tech. With UGA leading by 4 and only 3:58 remaining, Nicolas Claxton snagged a miss by Teshaun Hightower and threw it down for two huge second chance points. Not to be outdone by himself, Claxton grabbed a defensive rebound on the other end before hitting a dagger from the wing that put the Dawgs up 9 with only 2:32 left.

The Jackets threatened one final comeback after Brandon Alston drilled a three-pointer to make it 57-51 UGA advantage with 2:10 remaining, but Tyree Crump diffused any hopes of a Tech run by knocking down a triple himself on the next possession for Georgia, and the Dawgs cruised to their 4th straight win over the Jackets with a 70-59 victory in Atlanta on Saturday.

The Dawgs’ defense stole the show this afternoon, though, as Georgia took Tech out of its offense time and time again. The Jackets looked ill-equipped to deal with UGA’s presence inside, as Nicolas Claxton blocked 6 shots and altered a dozen others. Tech shot under 27% in the first half and ended up at barely over 32% on the game. At the intermission, the Jackets had mustered just 19 points.

While Georgia’s bigs definitely redirected a plethora of Yellow Jacket shot attempts, a big defensive shoutout must go to Teshaun Hightower and the UGA guards for how they defended Tech’s leading scorer, Jose Alvarado. Alvarado, who entered this game netting over 14 a night, scored 11 points, but it took him a 3 of 20 shooting effort to get there. Hightower did an admiral job of staying in front of him all afternoon and forcing him into an array of challenging shots.

Tom Crean was brought to UGA to boost the offensive output, but today’s showing in Atlanta made it pretty clear that this team is slowly gaining a resolute defensive identity as well, and much of that starts with Claxton. The guy is simply everywhere on the court all at once. In addition to his half-dozen blocks, the sophomore also contributed 13 points, 13 rebounds and 6 assists. Claxton’s ability to bring the ball up the court off of defensive rebounds helps to ramp up the tempo and effectiveness of Georgia’s offense; if he keeps up this level of play once the SEC slate begins in January, Claxton is going to be awful hard to keep off of the postseason All-SEC First Team.

In the grand scheme of the college basketball landscape, this game was fairly meaningless. Both of these squads were projected to finish 13th in their respective conferences. But within the state of Georgia, this game was a huge statement for Tom Crean in his first dip into the Clean Old-Fashioned Hate matchup. Moving forward, if the Dawgs can continue to learn how to close out games, this team will be a difficult out in the SEC.

Dawgs rebound with an 81-69 win over Oakland

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Just three days removed from the Arizona State game, a game in which Georgia (6-4) blew a 17-point lead, the Dawgs returned to action against much less formidable competition in the Oakland Golden Grizzlies. The GG’s sputtered into Athens boasting a 4-7 record and an RPI of 262, AND they’ve replaced all five starters from a year ago, which makes them the third greenest team in college basketball.

Sometimes I struggle to come up with commentary on games that the Dawgs SHOULD win handedly; plus, as Jay Bilas commonly says on Twitter, “I gotta go to work”, so here are my quick takeaways from last night’s contest.

1 The most effective way to get a team out of a zone is to shoot the lights out, and UGA did just that during the first half on Tuesday night. Oakland switched into a 1-3-1 early, and the Dawgs took advantage from the perimeter as they hit 8 shots from beyond the arc prior to the intermission; Turtle Jackson led the way with 4 triples himself, and Tyree Crump chipped in a pair as well. I was shocked that Oakland coach Greg Kampe stubbornly kept his team in this defensive look for as long as he did, and Tom Crean’s team happily took the open looks and converted them into a 45-34 halftime advantage.

2 Coach Crean said after Saturday’s loss that his team has to learn to finish games, and after watching last night’s contest, apparently that’s still a work in progress. Oakland applied man pressure for much of the second half, and UGA’s shot selection started to become less favorable as the Dawgs made just 2 of 13 from the perimeter in the game’s final 20 minutes. Also, part of finishing games is actually having your starters on the court to finish them. Similarly to the game on Saturday, Derek Ogbeide missed significant time due to foul trouble (against ASU, Rayshaun Hammonds was on the bench for accumulating too many personal fouls as well). Ogbeide needs to be reminded of just how thin this team’s frontcourt is this year, and that it’s imperative that he be able to play more than 3 minutes following halftime. The Dawgs suffer defensively without their senior big on the floor, and last night was no different as Oakland’s Xavier-Hills Mais scored 13 of his 21 following intermission, and the GG’s made 6 triples due to UGA’s defense having to rotate and overcompensate for the weaker interior defenders.

3 Nicolas Claxton, who is becoming an absolute stat-stuffer, assumed the role of “Go-to guy” in the crucial final portion of this game. With a little under 5 minutes left, Georgia held a slim 66-64 advantage over Oakland, and this contest was nowhere near assured for UGA. Claxton asserted himself by establishing position in the paint, and the sophomore scored 5 points and snagged 2 boards in less than a minute. Teshaun Hightower chipped in a pair of buckets as well, and with 2 minutes left, UGA had a 76-64 lead that they would not relinquish. Claxton did not have his best shooting effort of the year (4 of 12), but he simply seems to be everywhere on the court: 17 points, 13 rebounds, 3 blocks, 3 assists and a steal.

The Dawgs have a few days to chill before heading to Atlanta to take on rival Georgia Tech at high noon.

After opening up big halftime lead, Georgia loses heartbreaker to Arizona State

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Leads are not safe when it comes to Georgia Bulldog (5-4) athletics. Nicolas Claxton’s last-second attempt to tie the game drew nothing but air, and Arizona State snuck out of Athens with a 76-74 win in a game that they led for just a little over two minutes.

The Dawgs’ final possession was questionable, at best. I’m going to err on the side of Tom Crean and venture that he did not call a timeout to tell his team to inbounds the ball to Claxton so that he could go the length of the court against future NBA lottery pick Luguentz Dort.  Unfortunately, thought, that’s how it played out, and Georgia, not surprisingly, came up short in a game that it led by 14 points at halftime.

Georgia’s defense for the first twenty minutes was unrecognizable from anything we’ve seen from this team this year.  UGA’s guards stayed in front of the Sun Devil guards (for the most part), and everyone that Crean ran onto the court closed out with a sense of purpose on every ASU player that received the ball.  The Dawgs limited the Sun Devils to just 32% from the floor (just 16% from beyond the arc) in the first half. Luguentz Dort, who entered the game netting 22 a night, had only 5 points through the first 20 minutes of play.

UGA’s leading scorers – Rayshaun Hammonds, Nic Claxton and Tyree Crump – played superb from the start.  Hammonds hit a pair of triples, and he had the Sun Devils on their heels defensively as he attacked the basket and drew fouls.

Tyree Crump, who has been playing so much looser than in his previous two years in Athens, scored 16 points prior to the intermission.  Crump didn’t just hit three’s either, though he did knock down two; he also found points off the dribble and on cuts without the ball.

Claxton was simply the best player on the court in the first half as he scored 7 points, grabbed 10 boards and swatted 3 shots.  Claxton’s versatility makes him such a weapon for Tom Crean.  He can defend every position (he blocked two of Dort’s shots before the half), and he can bring the ball up the court immediately upon rebounding it, which really helped to ignite the tempo of this UGA team’s offense in half number one. 

Georgia went on a huge 12-3 run that included a triple from Tyree Crump and an athletic finish by Rayshaun Hammonds that bolstered UGA’s first half lead to 43-29 with a little over 2 minutes remaining before the break; the Dawgs would take a 47-33 advantage into the half.

Everything that went well in the first half failed to carry over to half number two, though. ASU opened up the second half with a 13-7 run that was fueled in part by 2 UGA turnovers.  After 5 minutes of play, the Sun Devils had cut the Dawgs’ double-digit halftime advantage to 54-46.   Georgia’s defense had no answer for Arizona State guard Remy Martin, who led all scorers with 21 points. Martin got into the paint whenever he wanted, and when he wasn’t driving, he was dropping the ball off to Romello White, who chipped in 16 points and seemed to have his way with the Georgia bigs inside.  ASU followed up its 32% first half performance from the floor with a much-improved 50% effort after the break.

One stat that will not show up in the box score that was devastating for Georgia was Arizona State’s ability to answer UGA three-pointers: ASU followed up three consecutive Georgia triples with a triple themselves in the second half, and that certainly aided their comeback effort and eventual win.

Foul trouble was a killer for UGA on Saturday night. Derek Ogbeide picked up 2 fouls in the first 3 minutes of the game, which tested UGA’s frontcourt depth, or lack thereof, early. Anytime Mike Edwards is forced into playing additional minutes, one can assume that things are not going as planned for the Dawgs.  Ogbeide picked up his 4th foul less than 4 minutes into the second half, and Rayshaun Hammonds fouled out with over 4 minutes remaining in the game.

Crump, Hammonds and Claxton, who combined for 38 first-half points, scored a total of 9 points between them in the game’s final 20 minutes. Credit ASU coach Bobby Hurley for making the defensive adjustments necessary to take that trio completely out of rhythm.

Considering how large of a halftime lead Georgia held over this Sun Devil team at home, this loss feels tough. Maybe that’s because it came so close on the heels of the football team’s collapse against Bama in Atlanta two weeks ago. Who knows? 

However, the Dawgs’ effort in this game completely surpassed my expectations, and if you had told me this morning that Georgia would have the ball with a chance to tie or win at the end of the game I would have taken it in a heartbeat. This team IS getting better. If you don’t believe me, just rewatch the game against Georgia State last month in the Cayman Islands. The Dawgs were pegged to finish 13th in the SEC before the season started, and after tonight, I would be shocked if Tom Crean’s team didn’t end up several spots higher than that initial forecast.

Hot-handed Georgia beats Texas Southern 92-75

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After coasting for the previous 20 minutes, the Georgia Bulldogs (5-3) saw their 25-point second half lead whittle down to a 78-66 advantage with a little over 5 minutes remaining following a 13-0 run by the Texas Southern Tigers (3-6). A game that seemed a forgone conclusion suddenly had become far more competitive than Tom Crean most likely preferred. Thankfully, Tyree Crump, who had his best shooting night as a Bulldog, buried a three-pointer from the top of the key to stop the bleeding and solidify the home win for the Dawgs. 

This win was a much-needed jolt of momentum for UGA as they head into a twelve day layoff due to final exams. Texas Southern was an NCAA tournament team a year ago after winning the SWAC, and they were projected to finish 2nd in the league this year.  The Tigers are now 3-6 on the season, but their schedule thus far has been brutal as Georgia marked the sixth Power 5 team that Texas Southern has played on the road, with wins at both Baylor and Oregon. Put simply, the Dawgs beat a team tonight that is better than its record indicates.

Georgia’s offense was clicking on Monday evening in Athens. UGA entered this contest connecting on just under 6 three’s a game, yet by the intermission the Dawgs had already hit that mark. The hot shooting from the perimeter, which must have come as a bit of a surprise to the Tigers considering UGA came into this game making less than 32% of its attempts from beyond the arc, took Texas Southern out of its defensive game plan.  The Tigers started the game in a zone in the hopes of forcing Georgia to beat them from outside, but the Dawgs’ efficiency from the perimeter forced the Tigers to extend its pressure, which resulted in a slew of easy scores for Georgia close to the bucket as UGA notched 24 of its 52 first-half points in the paint.

UGA’s proficient shooting extended into the second half as well as the Dawgs ended up with 11 three-pointers on the night, tying their season-high from the opener against Savannah State. Tyree Crump, who led all scorers with a career-high 25 points, was responsible for 5 of those triples. Crump did not start this game, but he nearly outscored a Texas Southern bench that was responsible for 26 points on the night. Georgia’s starting frontcourt is fairly solid; it’s the backcourt that remains a major question mark at this point in the season. In order for Georgia to live its best life, Crump needs to become a double-digit scorer for this team (like, starting now).

I realize that we haven’t scratched the surface of conference play, but UGA’s trio of starting lefty bigs seem legit.  Rayshaun Hammonds, Nicolas Claxton and Derek Ogbeide attacked the glass relentlessly this evening as they collected 27 boards between them; they were just a few rebounds shy of all ending the night with double-doubles (Ogbeide was the only one to secure that feat).  Georgia had 15 offensive rebounds which led to 21 second chance points.

Derek Ogbeide, who is averaging in double-figures for the first time in his career, looks a lot more comfortable in Crean’s offense. Personally, I much prefer him receiving the ball in the paint versus at the top of the key (where Fox generally had him as a set piece in his offense), and I’m guessing that he feels the same way. 

On the defensive side of the ball, Georgia limited the Tigers to just 35% from the floor, which is below their season average.  Texas Southern’s leading scorer, Jalyn Patterson (15 ppg), was held to just 3 points on a forgetful 1 for 14 shooting performance from the floor. 

The Dawgs return to action on December 15th when they host the Arizona State Sun Devils, who are currently 7-0. Though, that could certainly change as they have a date with #6 Nevada later on this week.

Georgia blasts Kennesaw State 84-51 in Athens

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The Georgia Bulldogs (4-3) spent the majority of Tuesday night in the paint against the Kennesaw State Owls (1-7), where the Dawgs scored 57 of of their 84 points. Spoiler alert: Georgia won big.

However, Dawgs fans shouldn’t read too much into this game.  To put it delicately, Kennesaw State is an awful team.  The Owls, who were projected to finish 7th in the 9-team Atlantic Sun Conference, flew into Athens on the fumes of a 1-6 record.  Kennesaw State does not play much defense, and they don’t seem particularly interested in defensive rebounding; also, the Owls cannot shoot the ball very well as they struggled to convert just 27% of their shots from the floor. I have no doubt that this KSU team has what it takes to fulfill that preseason prophecy and end up near the gutter of the ASUN.

Georgia began the game with a turkey hangover, but eventually the Dawgs pushed their advantage to 22-11 at the 7:46 media timeout following an 8-0 run that was capped off by a layup by Teshaun Hightower on the break.  Georgia used multiple steals to start ramping up the tempo and extending the lead as they scored 16 first-half points off fast breaks.  Once the Dawgs began to push the pace a bit, the floor opened up, particularly for Tyree Crump, who buried 3 triples prior to the break, and Georgia had a 39-20 lead at the intermission.

Georgia took advantage of 10 Kennesaw State turnovers by converting them into 14 points before the half.  However, the Dawgs were careless with the basketball themselves as they committed 11 turnovers; Georgia was fortunate that the Owls couldn’t capitalize on those mistakes like Georgia State did in the Caymans.  UGA’s sloppiness with the basketball, which has certainly been a predominant trend of this young season, is particularly disconcerting because the Dawgs are literally just handing the ball over.  In both the Georgia State game and the first half against the Owls, the defense wasn’t doing anything special to affect UGA’s offense, so in theory, these turnovers shouldn’t really be happening at nearly this alarming of a rate.  

But all’s well that ends well as the Dawgs were able to use the second half as more or less a scrimmage.  Georgia cleaned up the ball security somewhat, committing just 5 turnovers after the intermission, and the Dawgs ended up with 20 team assists.  The star of the evening was Nicolas Claxton, who notched a double-double by scoring 16 points and grabbing 15 boards. Claxton has been racking up stats against the weaker opponents on UGA’s pre-SEC slate thus far. However, at some point the Dawgs are going to need him to be more effective against stiffer competition, which is on the horizon as Georgia has upcoming games with Arizona State and Georgia Tech just around the corner (not to mention the start of SEC play).

Sophomore Rayshaun Hammonds contributed 14 points himself, which is just about at his season average of 14.5 ppg, and he did all of this damage in just 23 minutes of play. Hammonds just seems to be quietly going about his business and scoring in double-figures night in, night out. Honestly, I’d like to see him assert himself even more on offense as I feel confident that he is this team’s most skilled weapon on that end of the court.

It’s hard to say how well Georgia defended this Owl team since putting the ball in the basket has been quite the challenge for KSU so far this season (35% on FG). The Dawgs did limit Tyler Hooker, who came into tonight’s contest netting nearly 20 ppg, to just 11 points on a dismal 5 for 19 shooting performance.  The Owls certainly made life easy on Georgia on the defensive side as KSU hit just 1 of the 15 shots they attempted from beyond the arc.

UGA doesn’t return to the court again until Monday when they take on a tough Texas Southern team that is far better than its 2-4 record implies.  The Tigers are coached by former LSU skipper Johnny Jones, and they have multiple Power 5 transfers on their roster this year.  Texas Southern has already beat both Baylor and #18 Oregon, and they’ve lost games to Iowa State, Gonzaga and San Diego State; they play Arizona State this Saturday.  All of those contests were (and will be) on the road, so traveling to Athens will not do much to intimidate this road-tested squad.

Tom Crean probably won’t take much solace from tonight’s win, and he’d better have his team prepared for a better fight next Monday.

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Newsflash: UGA is not the best basketball team in the state

The Georgia Bulldogs and Georgia State Panthers played a second half on Wednesday, though it wasn’t really necessary.  The Panthers took 3rd place in the Cayman Classic with a 91-67 thrashing of UGA, but Ron Hunter’s team won this one well before intermission.

The Dawgs committed 15 of their 18 turnovers in the first half, and those mishaps led to 17 points for Georgia State before the break. The most astonishing thing regarding Georgia’s offensive sloppiness was that State wasn’t doing anything special on defense to create pressure: no press, no halfcourt trap, no extended man.  UGA, rather, just didn’t value the basketball, and that, coupled with some atrocious man defense, resulted in Georgia trailing GSU 51-32 at the half.

Georgia’s defense at the moment can be described as discombobulated at best.  Against the Panthers, the Dawgs looked completely lost.  They didn’t communicate on ball screens.  The UGA guards cannot stay in front of anyone, and there doesn’t seem to be any recognition of where the other team’s shooters are on the court.

Georgia State hit 8 triples in the first half, and they shot over 54% from the floor.  Malik Benlevi, who’s been a 40% shooter from beyond the arc the past two seasons, knocked down 5 of his game-high 8 threes prior to the break.  Allowing an opposing player to make 8 three-pointers in a game is simply inexcusable. Jeff Thomas, another near-40% efficient three-point shooter, hit three himself before halftime.  Tom Crean’s voice must have sounded like Charlie Brown’s teacher when he was going over scouting for the Panthers because the Dawgs were utterly baffled as to how to defend GSU. 

I realize it’s a rebuilding year.  Tom Crean WILL improve this program because he’s been proven to be an effective recruiter.  At the moment, his offense doesn’t look so hot, but that’s more a matter of a lack of personnel than a knock against Crean’s tutelage.  The Dawgs are shooting a decent number of three-pointers like he promised, but they’re just not making many of them – UGA is 31% on the year from the perimeter, and they made just 5 of 18 today against Georgia State.  The offensive woes, however, are forgivable (for now).

The confusion and lack of effort on defense, though, is something that cannot be pardoned.  The Dawgs played 12 guys for much of the afternoon, so there’s no reason for anyone to feel fatigued.  Georgia’s players should be coming into the game with a much greater level of defensive intensity, especially considering that they will probably play less than 20 minutes of the entire game.  All five of Georgia State’s starters finished in double-figures, with Benlevi leading the way with 24 points.

Today’s game against Georgia State was about pride, and UGA didn’t show much of it.  Even though the Panthers were pegged to win the Sun Belt, the Dawgs have to be more competitive against the smaller school from Atlanta. 

Georgia has games on the horizon against both Kennesaw State and Georgia Tech, and it’s going to be interesting to see where UGA ends up in the pecking order in regards to the state of Georgia’s basketball rankings.

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