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

Featured

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

Featured

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

Featured

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.

Box Score:

Featured

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.

Box Score

Temple hands Georgia its first loss of the season

Featured

Derek Ogbeide’s turnaround hook with 7 seconds left was just a tad long, which allowed Temple to secure the rebound and eventually bury a pair of free throws to seal the 81-77 home win, their third of the season. The fact that the Dawgs (1-1) even had the ball with a chance to win at the end of this game was nothing short of miraculous considering that they trailed the Owls for the majority of the contest.  I mean, UGA fell behind Temple 77-70 with 2:25 left after Quinton Rose hit what appeared to be a dagger as the shot clock nearly expired.  Georgia’s effort in this one should give fans optimism of what this season could hold if the Dawgs can show improvement on both sides of the ball.

To be fair to Tyree Crump, though, a big reason why Georgia even found itself in a position to win was because of the junior’s offensive explosion that came on toward the end of the second half. Crump scored 10 of his 16 points over the final 5 minutes of the game. He’s definitely looking more comfortable in Crean’s offense compared to how he’s appeared in his previous two seasons with the Dawgs.  Crump hit a pair of threes, but he also scored multiple buckets around the rim off drives, which is a part of his repertoire that we’ve yet to really see from him.

While Ogbeide came up short (technically long) at the end for Georgia, his play throughout this game enabled the Dawgs to keep within striking distance of the Owls.  The Georgia senior tallied his first double-double of the season, netting 16 points to go along with 11 rebounds.  Ogbeide’s upper-body strength caused problems for the Owls inside as the senior repeatedly drew contact and finished around the basket.  

The same problems that plagued the Dawgs in the opener against Savannah State reared their ugly head again tonight in Philadelphia.  For starters, Georgia gave the ball away 20 times, and those turnovers led to 22 Temple points.  That makes UGA 2 for 2 on the year in coughing the ball up 20 times in a contest. Georgia’s ball security didn’t hurt them as bad against overmatched Savannah State, but it crippled the Dawgs this evening.  When a team loses by just 4 points on the road, it’s really hard not to look at those turnovers and wonder what might have been if that total had been just 5 less.  I realize that turnovers are going to happen with this team, especially considering the tempo that Tom Crean wants for his offense.  But the pace of this game didn’t cause the turnovers this evening; most of them can be attributed to just plain sloppiness. 

Also, much like in the Savannah State game, Georgia did not play strong enough defense on the perimeter.  Temple’s Quinton Rose and Shizz Alston each went for 25 points, and guard Nate Pierre-Louis added 16 himself.  The Owls’ stars moved the ball into the teeth of the UGA defense with ease, which led to both Nicolas Claxton and Rayshaun Hammonds playing in foul trouble for much of the game (Hammonds fouled out in the final seconds of play).  Georgia’s backcourt has to do a better job of staying in front of opponents so as to protect the bigs inside defensively.  Hammonds, who buried a clutch three-pointer to cut the lead to 79-77 with 27 seconds remaining, scored 13 points in just 17 minutes of play.  If the Dawgs are going to win on the road, they need Hammonds on the court.

The biggest surprise of the night statistically had to be that Georgia outscored Temple in the paint 42-30, and that the Dawgs took just 10 shots from beyond the arc.  At the half, Georgia had attempted only 3 three-pointers. This shot selection varied tremendously from the opener in which UGA put up 27 attempts from the perimeter.  

Tom Crean’s team got its first taste of real competition tonight, and they weren’t quite ready.  However, considering that this was just the second game for a team that is playing in a new system for a new coach, the end result wasn’t all negative (not to mention that Georgia had to fly up for the game TODAY due to technical difficulties with the plane). The real test for UGA will be how much they improve as the season progresses, which was something that Mark Fox teams struggled to do in the latter part of his tenure as the Dawgs’ head coach.

On a personal note, I’m going to be traveling and running a 30-kilometer race in Moab, Utah over the first half of Thanksgiving, so I’ll be following the games via my phone for the next few contests leading up to the holiday tournament in Grand Cayman.

Dawgs bust scoreboard in 110-76 win over Savannah State

Tom Crean proclaimed that his team was going to shoot the three, and he wasn’t lying. His Georgia Bulldog squad hoisted up 27 of them last night against Savannah State.  He also alluded to the idea that the Dawgs would play more up tempo, which they certainly did as UGA put up 70 field goal attempts – an impressive feat considering the Dawgs coughed the ball up 23 times.  In last year’s 79-54 season-opening win over Bryant, Georgia took just 60 shots from the floor.  UGA’s 110-76 win over Savannah State marked the first time the Dawgs have eclipsed the century mark in scoring since 2007, when a Dennis Felton-led squad put up 107 on Jacksonville State in that season’s first game.

One thing is for sure, Georgia basketball looks different this year.  Clearly, Crean has drilled it into his players heads that he wants them to get shots up earlier in possessions.  Georgia had just one shot clock violation against the Tigers, and I don’t anticipate that we will see too many more of those this season.  From the opening tip, the Dawgs were pushing the ball on both makes and misses.  This speed of play is a welcome change of pace from the Mark Fox days, when the game could at times be slowed to a crawl as players purposelessly moved the ball around the perimeter.

In the halfcourt set, Crean has this team properly spaced and ready to attack. Savannah State tossed a lot of junk trap zones at Georgia since they were clearly overmatched and unable to play man.  The Dawgs routinely found soft spots in the zone on the perimeter that turned into open threes, or, when players penetrated, two guys moved to open spots and made themselves available to receive the ball. Crean seems to have simplified the offense for this team in a way that promotes creativity.  Watching Mark Fox’s offense wasn’t fun for the fans, and it couldn’t have been much fun for the players as they routinely looked like they were trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.  Crean’s style appears to be the antithesis of what Georgia basketball has been for the past decade, and that is refreshing.

The Dawgs were not without fault, however, as they let a Tiger team that lost 11 players from a year ago cut a 25-point halftime lead to just 9 points after Zaquavion Smith hit a three-pointer to make it 63-54 with a little over 14 minutes left to play.  Georgia’s defense overall looked sloppy; the guards did not provide nearly enough resistance against the Savannah State penetration.  Luckily, Nicolas Claxton, who scored 15 points to go with 13 boards, was there to clean things up near the rim as the sophomore tallied up 5 blocks, but that’s not always going to be the case when Georgia faces stiffer competition (like on Tuesday at Temple).

The 23 UGA turnovers were unfortunate as well, especially considering that point guards Turtle Jackson and Tye Fagan led the way with 3 apiece. Ultimately, those turnovers didn’t hurt against the Tigers, but they will eventually become problematic as the season progresses if the Dawgs can’t find a way to clean things up.

All and all, though, this was definitely an entertaining first game. Crean is highly-animated on the sidelines.  He daps players up when they succeed, and he waves his arms maniacally in frustration when they err . He’s clearly way more Kirby Smart than Mark Richt as far as where he wears his emotions, which is smack-dab on his sleeve. Make no doubt about it – this is a rebuilding year.  But, it’s going to be fun to watch.

Box Score:

SVSuga

 

Advertisements

What is Georgia’s ceiling?

The Georgia Bulldogs will be navigating the waters of college basketball this season without Yante Maten, the team’s leading scorer from a year ago and an All-SEC regular.  UGA was picked to finish 13th in the Southeastern Conference by the media, and that’s totally fair.  Georgia struggled to put the ball in the basket last season as they averaged just 68 points a night, which was 301st in the nation in that category.  This team has to figure out how to score without the services of one of the program’s all-time best players in Maten.

Enter Tom Crean.  Georgia’s new skipper was brought in to breathe some life into a basketball program that had become rather mundane when it possessed the ball. No one will ever really know what Mark Fox’s goals were offensively except Fox and his players, but to the outside observer it appeared that Fox had an incredibly regimented set that didn’t allow for a lot of variation or creativity.

Under Crean, I expect to see Georgia push the ball in transition quite a bit more. When Crean was at Indiana, his teams ran a lot of extended, high-pressure defense that forced opposing teams into turnovers and rushed shots. These miscues allowed the Hoosiers to push the ball up the court relentlessly.   For the first three years of Crean’s tenure at Indiana, the Hoosiers were in rebuilding mode. However, once they started reaching the NCAA tournament on a regular basis, starting in 2011, Crean’s teams finished in the top twenty nationally in scoring 4 of the next 5 seasons.  Once the guy had his players and systems in place, his team had little trouble putting the ball in the basket.

Let’s get back to the Dawgs, though.  Georgia doesn’t return a single player that averaged in double-digits in scoring last year.  To think that Crean is going to just swoop in and turn this bunch into an 80+ppg juggernaut instantaneously would be asinine.  The Dawgs’ top returning scorers are William Jackson, Derek Ogbeide, Rayshaun Hammonds and Tyree Crump.  If Georgia is going to finish higher than the second-to-last spot that the media pegged them at it’s going to depend on the growth of both Hammonds and Crump under Crean.  Both of these guys were 4-star recruits coming out of high school, yet neither of them has lived up to their respective billings since arriving in Athens. To be fair to these players though, they weren’t given much freedom to be creative with the ball under Fox, so it will be interesting to see if they make the jump that Georgia so desperately needs them to this year under Crean.

Defensively, the Dawgs could be better this year as Jordan Harris (also a former 4-star recruit) returns to the team along with sophomore Nicolas Claxton, who I expect to be quite the shot-alterer this season.  While I’m hoping that Crump is a starter since I feel that he’s this team’s most legitimate backcourt scorer, the Dawgs could boast the most left-handed heavy lineup in the country should Crean decide to start Harris, Hammonds, Ogbeide and Claxton alongside Turtle.

Georgia brings in five new freshmen, with the 6’9″ 4-star forward Amanze Ngumezi and the 6’6″ 3-star wing JoJo Toppin being the most intriguing.  Ngumezi is a large-framed kid who was brought in to fill the void that Maten’s departure created. Obviously that’s not going to happen over night, but he’s going to be relied on to contribute off the bench right away.  Toppin is a high-flyer who should help Georgia with his slashing ability, which is something UGA hasn’t gotten from the wing position since Brandon Morris played.

Ultimately, this team is riddled with a lot of unknowns: new coach, new system, new players.  Let’s be clear – this is definitely a rebuilding year.  Georgia was 7-11 in the SEC a season ago and 18-15 overall; the Dawgs are going to have to fight to finish around .500 this year.  But that’s ok because I’m POSITIVE that this team will be more fun to watch.  Georgia fans need to think long-term in regards to Crean. I’m not talking Mark Fox “10-year plan” long-term; I’m thinking more like three.

Georgia won’t finish 13th in the league either.  The Dawgs will definitely prove the doubters wrong and end up 11th or 12th in the SEC, mark my words.