Gamecocks Host the Bulldogs

Before examining the Georgia Bulldogs (9-9) next opponent, I want to share a couple of uplifting notes about the Dawgs’ 1-4 SEC Conference record.

The casual on-looker might dismiss this 1-4 record as a bad start to conference play.  However, two very important points need to be considered: strength of schedule (thus far) and home/away games.

The combined record of the Bulldogs’ first 5 opponents (Kentucky, Ole Miss, Miss St, Tennessee, Florida) is 80-19, with an overall SEC record of 18-9.  Every team that the Dawgs have played has a winning conference record (and overall).

The combined record of the Dawgs’ next 4 opponents (SC, Arkansas, Vandy, Auburn) is 47-33, with an overall SEC record of 11-11 (I only used 4 teams because they play SC again after Auburn).  Georgia still has to lace up its shoes and play these games, but in theory the competition should not be as strong as what UGA has already faced.

Another point to consider is that of the remaining 11 SEC games, the Bulldogs will get to play 6 of them in Athens (where they are 9-2 this year).

That being said, Georgia is still 0-6 in “true” road games this year and 0-3 in the conference.  It’s time for Mark Fox to go out and get his first SEC road win (especially since UGA has lost in Columbia the last two seasons).

On Saturday night, the Bulldogs head to Columbia, SC to take on the South Carolina Gamecocks aka “The Fighting Devan Downeys”.

The Gamecocks win last Tuesday night over the #1 Kentucky Wildcats was extra amazing considering the hit that their roster took earlier this season.

Coming into the 2009-2010 season, the Gamecocks were returning 4 starters  from a team that finished 21-8 last year.  Needless to say, many ESPN analysts were predicting the ‘Cocks would earn a trip to this year’s NCAA tournament.  During the 5th game of the year against Miami, 6’7″ senior forward Dominique Archie was lost for the season with a sprained knee – he was averaging 14.4 points and 6.0 rebounds.  After the 7th game, 6’7″ junior power forward Mike Holmes was dismissed from the team by Coach Darrin Horn for repeatedly violating team rules – he was averaging 9.4 points and 4.3 rebounds.

Before the loss of both starters, the Gamecocks were off to a hot 6-1 start…they are 6-7 since (yet 3-3 in SEC play and again, they did beat #1 Kentucky).

To say that the South Carolina offense revolves around Devan Downey is a gross understatement – he is the offense.  In their first six games in SEC, Downey is taking nearly 39% of the ‘Cocks field goal attempts!  His 22.4 points per game is tops in the conference, and 8th in the country.  He shoots the ball pretty well from 3-point range, and has an endless supply of running trick shots…Downey is a tough match-up for any guard in the country (including John Wall).

Fellow senior guard Brandis Raley-Ross is the only other Gamecock player scoring in double-figures, averaging 10.4 points and shooting a solid 41.7% from 3PT.

On the inside, 6’9″ junior forward Sam Muldrow is very active on defense, blocking 3.4 shots a game (which is second in the SEC behind Jarvis Varnado).  He is also contributing 9.2 points and 5.7 boards.

Other than Downey, no one on this Gamecock roster really jumps out at you.

South Carolina’s style of play is not going to light up the scoreboards or highlight reels.  They basically look to play a half-court game on both offense and defense in order to keep it low-scoring and close going into the final minutes…then they turn the reigns over to Devan Downey and see where he can take them.

I am not doing any “Keys to the Game” for this one.

If the Dawgs are going to go into Columbia and steal an SEC road win, they simply need to get back to what they do well – offensive/defensive rebound, strong help defense and pounding the ball inside on offense.

South Carolina is last in the SEC in rebounding margin at -3.6 a game.  Georgia’s bigs should be licking their chops going into this one, determined to own the glass.

Defensively, I am still looking to see more of the 1-2-2 defense that Mark Fox brought to Athens.  However, I want to see the version that was used against Miss St, Tenn and the first 10 minutes of the Florida game – contesting 3’s and ROTATING underneath.  Against the Gators, the Dawgs’s bigs were consistently out-of-place underneath when the ball was swung quickly around the perimeter.  Hopefully Coach Fox worked the kinks in the practices on Thursday and Friday.

On offense, I think the ball needs to go down to Trey early and often.  It’s so hard to win on the road in this conference, but when you have a superstar like Thompkins in the paint he needs to be used to get everything going at the beginning of the game.  If Trey can get a couple buckets at the start, it’s going to open things up for everybody else – meaning Ricky McPhee, Dustin Ware and Travis Leslie.

Lastly, the turnovers have to be significantly reduced.  The Dawgs rank last in the SEC with an abysmal -3.2 turnover margin per game.  On top of that, the Gamecocks are leading the conference with 9.4 steals per game as a team.  Everybody needs to play strong and smart when they have the ball – no panicky or silly passes.  In my opinion, I’d rather see a guy being trapped take a 5-second call instead of throwing it to the other team…at least with the 5-second call you get to set up your defense.

I believe this game will be  more suited to the Dawgs’ half-court style of play (more so than say the Missouri or Florida games).  It’s should be fairly low-scoring, and will probably go down to the wire.

The game tips off at 7pm and will televised on the Fox Sports Network (channel 48 for all you Comcast customers).

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