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.

Box Score:

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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.

Box Score

Temple hands Georgia its first loss of the season

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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.