Archive for January 2010
This Saturday, Georgia will be playing host to Bruce Pearl’s #8 Tennessee Volunteers in Athens at 5:00PM EST.
This will mark the Dawgs fourth-ranked opponent in their last five games.
Unless you have been living under a rock for the past two months, you are probably well aware of the drug/gun scandal that several Volunteer players were involved in.
The result of that incident: senior G/F Tyler Smith was kicked off the team and reserves C Brian Williams, G Melvin Goins and Lithonia, GA native G Cameron Tatum were suspended indefinitely (Goins and Tatum were actually re-instated onto the team earlier this week). These four players represented 40% of this team’s offensive production through the first 12 games of the season (Smith was the team’s leading scorer last year and was averaging in double-figures again this year).
Amazingly, this Tennessee team has won five games in a row with the help of only 6 scholarship players and a mix of walk-ons. Two of those wins were against #3 Kansas and #22 Ole Miss…go figure?
This Vols squad is led in the backcourt by Scotty Hopson, Bobby Maze and J.P. Prince (6’7″ brother of NBA player Tayshaun Prince). In his sophomore season, Hopson is leading Tennessee in scoring (13.5) and 3-point shooting (40.6%). His wiry 6’7″ frame allows him to shoot over defenders from the outside, but Hopson is not afraid to take the ball to the rim as well (he had a couple of very impressive dunks against Alabama).
Maze and Prince are chipping in 8.8 and 7.0 points/game, respectively, though neither of them is much of a shooting threat. Both of these guys play great defense, and rarely turn the ball over.
In the frontcourt, the headline name for UT is senior C Wayne Chism. If you have never seen Mr. Chism play, he’s easy to spot with his white headband that he sports about 3″ too high on his forehead.
Chism is the Vols leading rebounder at 6.5 per game to go along with 12.1 points. He is also actually a pretty good outside shooter, knocking down 39% of this 3-point attempts.
In the last five games, these four leaders have stepped up their efforts to compensate for the loss of their four suspended teammates. All of them are averaging more points per game than their season averages – Chism 15, Hopson 14, Maze 12, Prince 9.4.
Off the bench, Tennessee has gotten great play from sophomore F Renaldo Woolridge (6’8″, 208lbs) and freshman F Kenny Hall (6’8″, 220lbs). Over the past five games, Woolridge is averaging 7.4 points/5.4 rebounds and Hall is giving the Vols 8.4 points/6.0 rebounds (both guys only average 4.8 points/game on the season). Kenny Hall (from Stone Mountain, GA) is very active on the offensive glass, so the Dawgs better be aware of where he is on the court when shots go up and get a body on him.
I watched this team win at Alabama on Tuesday night, and it was interesting to see how their style of play has been affected by the loss of the suspended players. Bruce Pearl’s past teams at Tennessee have thrived off running a full-court press for a majority of the game, dictating a fast tempo and forcing opponents into turnovers. However, with less personnel at his disposal, Pearl’s team has been forced into playing a half-court game.
Bruce Pearl has never lost to the Dawgs since his arrival at Tennessee in 2005. His Vols have won 10-straight against Georgia, and will be looking to make it 11 on Saturday.
Men vs Boys – Wayne Chism is the only UT player that weighs 240lbs or more (he’s listed at 246). The Dawgs have 4 guys that tip the scales over that 240lb plateau – Chris Barnes – 240, Trey Thompkins – 247, Jeremy Price – 264 and Albert Jackson – 265. Georgia needs to make the most of this size advantage and bang down low on the thinner Vols. Dustin Ware and Ricky McPhee should be looking to dump the ball down to the Georgia bigs early and often. The Dawgs are third in the SEC in rebounding margin (+4.1), and in Saturday’s game UGA needs to continue its domination on the glass.
Kiddy Pool Depth – This “key” is somewhat tied into the first one in that it is focused on Georgia getting the ball inside early. Tennessee’s depth chart got axed by 33% after the scandal, which means that when a starter goes off a walk-on player enters. The Dawgs need to look to draw fouls on offense so that they can get into the Vols’ bench. This would give Georgia a rare talent-advantage over an opponent (usually its the Dawgs that are doing more with less).
From Downtown!!! – Guess where Georgia ranks in the SEC at 3-point field goals made per game? If you guessed last, then “Yes! You are correct, Sir!”. The Dawgs are shooting only 33.2% from behind the arc, and making merely four 3’s a game (and McPhee is making 2 of them per contest). I’m not saying that I think that UGA should start chunking up 24 3-pointers a game like Mississippi State (Dawgs shoot 12/game), but it would be nice if they could take & make just a couple more. Thompkins is second on the team in 3pt% at a solid 39.1%, yet he has only taken 23 shots from there on the year. I wouldn’t mind if Trey started looking for a few more (like one or two) three-point shots a game…a couple more 3’s would remove some pressure on offense, and help open things up more in the paint.
Saturday’s game will give fans a rare chance to see a match-up between two walk-ons, both presumably of Scottish decent. If you haven’t guessed, I am referring to the Dawgs senior guard Ricky McPhee and Tennessee’s freshman guard Skylar McBee.
McBee made headlines when he hit a 3-point field goal with time winding down on the shot clock to all but seal the Vols upset victory over the then #1 Kansas Jayhawks. He received offers to play at East Carolina, Marshall, Santa Clara and Winthrop, but elected to stay close to home and walk-on at UT. This was probably a wise decision since he has been playing 15.5 minutes per game, contributing 4.8 points.
The elder McPhee (also known as the Pride of Lawrenceville) transferred to Georgia after two seasons at Gardner Webb University. This season, McPhee has started every game for the Dawgs and is averaging 9.8 points in 30.4 minutes. He has also established himself as Coach Fox’s best perimeter defender (and is certainly a crowd/blog favorite).
It will be interesting to see if these two players defend each other at all on Saturday. Both of them continue to serve as inspirations to future walk-ons and Scotts everywhere.
– I will be heading up to Athens with a few buddies for this one… If you can’t make the trip, the game will be televised on the Fox Sports Network and 750AM radio.
Any other thoughts on what Dawgs need to do to win this one?
It’s now Tuesday, and I am finally not feeling bummed-out about the meltdown that happened in Starkville last weekend. With a huge home game against the #8 Tennessee Volunteers looming on the horizon, it’s time to move forward.
The Georgia Bulldogs record sits at 8-8 (0-3 in SEC play), which is probably perceived nationally as being fairly unimpressive. However, as I mentioned last week this team (especially Coach Fox) is being recognized by people like Dick Vitale as a team that is overachieving. The Dawgs even snuck into ESPN’s “Weekly Watch” again this week (look at the “Conference Headlines” section), being referred to as a “tough out” in the SEC (if you watched the MSU game, Jimmy Dykes must have referred to Georgia as a “tough out” at least 3 times).
In my opinion, the Dawgs’ 8-8 record deserves to have an asterisks next to it. As of January 19, 2010, CBS Sportsline’s RPI Ranking has Georgia’s Strength of Schedule (SOS) as the 13th hardest in the country! Only 5 teams in the latest AP Top 25 poll had a higher SOS rating than UGA. Georgia has already played 4 teams ranked in the AP (make it 5 after Saturday), and 2 others are receiving votes (UAB & Missouri).
The Dawgs have gone up against 7 teams (beat 2 – GT, Illinois) listed in Joe Lunardi’s latest edition of Bracketology.
Mark Fox’s squad is literally 7 points away from being 10-6 (2-1 in SEC), and having a legitimate NCAA Tournament resume (assuming they had beaten Ole Miss and Miss St).
An 8-8 record won’t jump out off the computer screen to the casual sports fan outside of Georgia, but to me it looks pretty good.
Q: How do you lose a 13-point lead with only 4:16 to play in the game?
A: Commit 5 turnovers and score 2 points
When Albert Jackson made both free throws to put Georgia on top 65-52 with only 4:16 left in the game, I definitely was starting to think that the Dawgs could pull off their first SEC win of the season (and on the road at that).
But Mississippi State had other things in mind. The Bulldogs got into a full-court trap press that forced UGA into multiple turnovers, and essentially “all-out panic mode”. State made three 3-point shots (they were merely 5-25 from beyond the arc before that) and finished out the game with a 20-4 run.
This leaves the Georgia Bulldogs with an 8-8 record overall, and winless in the SEC (0-3). This was Georgia’s third straight game in which they led at the half yet still lost. I am still pleased with everything that Coach Mark Fox is getting out of this team that is generally less talented than it’s opponents (MSU was favored by 13.5), but I am also worried that the team’s morale could take a hit.
The Dawgs are staying in these games by mostly sheer will and effort, and today was no different as they pulled down an outstanding 18 offensive rebounds (a very telling “effort” stat). If the losses continue to pile up, will the effort eventually deteriorate?
I thought that Georgia’s bigs gave them very good minutes today. Albert Jackson scored a season-high 11 points to go along with 6 rebounds (if he hadn’t made the turnover at the end that led to a Phil Turner 3-pointer I might go so far as to say he played a perfect game). Jeremy Price played hard and finished with 6 points, 5 rebounds and 3 assists (unfortunately, he too had a terrible turnover at the end that led to Miss St points). Chris Barnes only played 12 minutes, but he was productive as he grabbed 4 rebounds (3 offensive) and scored 3 points.
All and all, the UGA bench gave Coach Fox a much better performance today. Thompkins picked up his 2nd foul with 8:47 left in the first half…after the State player made the two free throws, the UGA lead was cut to 18-15. This was the last action that Trey would see for the rest of the half, yet his compatriots were able to build the lead up to 41-30 at the break.
Travis Leslie finished with a pretty good line – 14 points, 15 rebounds, 5 assists and 4 steals – but he got a majority of those stats in the first half. Mississippi State clamped down on Leslie in the second half, holding him to only 2 points on 1 of 7 shooting from the field. However, Leslie did catch two more backdoor alley-oop dunks (he leads the country in this statistic with 6 on the season), and he continues to be my favorite player for his relentless hustle (and highlights).
Miss State came into today’s game averaging nearly 10 three-point field goals a game. At the half, State had only made one. The Bulldogs heated up in the second half to hit 7 more threes, and their defensive intensity did a complete 180 from the lackluster performance in the first half.
MSU guards Dee Bost and Phil Turner led the Bulldogs with 15 apiece, and Varnado added 14 points, 14 rebounds and 6 blocks.
Georgia ran a 3-2 zone defense for almost 85% of the game (it felt like), and for the most part it worked well as the Dawgs were able frustrate MSU from beyond the arc – State shot 8 of 31, or only 25.8% (they usually shoot over 41%).
At the end of the game though, it seemed like the Bulldogs were getting better penetration from Bost which led to more wide-open 3PT looks on kick-outs (I would have like to see Fox switch to a man-to-man defense with 3:30 left).
This was a tough one to swallow…what’s everybody else think?
This Saturday, the Georgia Bulldogs (8-7) travel to Starkville in search of their first SEC win of 2010 to take on the Mississippi State Bulldogs (13-3). Finally! The Dawgs get to play an unranked team (although Miss St is receiving votes in both polls).
Mississippi State returns all five starters from last year’s team that accomplished the following: won the SEC Tournament, earned an NCAA Tournament bid and beat Georgia twice (once in Athens and once in the SEC Tourney). Needless to say, expectations of a bigger season in 2010 are alive and well in Starkville (upsetting in-state rival Ole Miss last Saturday probably helped too).
Miss State is led by 7th-year senior center (just kidding) Jarvis Varnado, who is most famous around the conference for his shot-blocking ability. This year has been no different. Varnado is swatting 5 shots a game and has already had two 8-block games. Remember his 10 block performance he had against UGA in 2008? Let’s hope that he doesn’t come close to that total again this Saturday.
Varnado sets the tone for this Mississippi State defense which is tops in the SEC, surrendering only 59.6 points per game (this ranks #23 in the country in team scoring defense) and holding opponents to 35.9% from the field (also best in the conference). Guess what? Those are not the only two categories that State is leading the SEC in…they are also grabbing 42.2 rebounds a game. So they play great defense and rebound well (which means they are limiting teams to only one shot), sounds like the Dawgs have their work cut out for them.
On offense, Miss State uses Varnado’s size inside to play a high-low game and open up the perimeter for shots. The Bulldogs are (once again) leading the SEC in team 3-pointers made at nearly 10 a game, and in 3-point percentage at 41%.
State’s 3pt gun-slingers include juniors Ravern Johnson (14.6 pts), Kodi Augustus (9.5pts), Barry Stewart (11.1 pts) and sophomore point guard Dee Bost (11.6 pts). Augustus is the only player mentioned above that is listed as a “forward”, but even he tends to lurk outside the blocks and look for jump shots. But hey, when you have Jarvis Varnado owning the paint (13.9 pts/10.9 rbds a night) I guess that’s a luxury the other players enjoy.
What Georgia Should Look to Do:
1. Take Jarvis Out of the Game – In their win over Ole Miss last Saturday, the Bulldogs (MSU) used a 2-3 zone defense in the second half to control the tempo of the game and outscore the Rebels 43-33 en route to an 80-75 win. The Dawgs cannot allow this to happen. Mississippi States wants a slow-paced game so that they can pack in their zone and let Varnado have ownership of the paint. UGA needs to get Travis Leslie and Ricky McPhee running the court from the start – the quicker the balls transitions to the other end, the less time Jarvis has to get back on defense.
2. Man Defense, give it to my man – Should Rick Stansbury be so bold and allow his Bulldogs to play man-to-man against Georgia, UGA should look to get the ball to Thompkins nearly every time. If Trey can get the ball and square up to the basket from about 15′-18′ out, I don’t think that Varnado can guard him off the dribble in space.
Las Vegas has Mississippi State favored over the Dawgs by a whopping 14.5 points! Guess the odds-makers think UGA is heading to Starkville to lay an egg.
The game tips off at 3:00pm EST and will be televised on ESPN2. If you don’t have a TV or you haven’t paid Comcast in a while you can always listen for free on 750AM.
With the Rebels up 78-76, Ole Miss guard Eniel Polynice was in-bounding the ball under the Dawgs’ basket with 5 seconds left on the shot clock (26 ticks left in the game). Travis Leslie was defending his man with his back to Polynice. Polynice then proceeded to throw the ball off Leslie’s back, stepped in-bounds to pick up the ball and then finished with a lay-up over Trey Thompkins to put the Rebels up 80-76 with only 11.5 seconds left (essentially sealing the win and making it on to Sportscenter’s “Top Plays”). What a disheartening way to lose?!?!
Georgia came out of the gates running and gunning (certainly not the Bulldogs style), with Thompkins leading the way. Trey hit his first 6 field goal attempts and had 13 points before the game was even 10 minutes old (unfortunately he went scoreless for the next 19 minutes).
Mississippi tried to dictate a fast-paced game early by coming out in an extended 3-2 zone defense, trying to jump into the pass lanes. Georgia handled it very well and was successful in getting a lot of cutters going to the rim. The first half was played a bit sloppy by both teams, but the Dawgs held a 43-42 lead at the half (I couldn’t believe UGA had 43 points at the half!).
Countless basketball analysts always preach about the last four minutes of the first half and the first four minutes of the second half as being the most important of the game…last night’s contest was no exception.
The Rebels came out of the half in an intense man defense that was forcing the Georgia guards to work well outside the perimeter (making it difficult for them to get the ball inside). In the first 9 minutes of the second half, Thompkins only attempted 2 field goals and didn’t score until he knocked down a pair of free throws for with 10:57 remaining.
Georgia also came out in the second half in a man defense (they played mostly zone in the first) and this may have been a costly mistake. Rebels’ star Terrico White attacked UGA defenders off the dribble and netted 8 points in the first 3 minutes…opening up a 52-47 lead.
Georgia did eventually drop back into a zone was able to draw even with Ole Miss with 9:35 left in the game.
If you look at the box score it’s tough to find reasons why Georgia lost this one. The Dawgs had only 13 turnovers (half of the number they had against Kentucky) to go along with 14 assists (a positive assist/turnover ratio). UGA out-rebounded the Rebels 36-31 and got to the free throw line more (34 attempts for Georgia, 26 for Ole Miss).
I thought that all and all the Dawgs played pretty well and just lost a close game to another ranked opponent.
Travis Leslie put in another great effort, scoring 17 points, grabbing 8 rebounds and dishing out 4 assists. His streak of appearing on ESPN’s “Top Plays” ended at two, although he did make a couple of plays that I thought were possibly worthy – an alley-oop dunk on a pass from Trey Thompkins (same as play against Tech); a come-from-behind block that he made on a fast break.
Ricky McPhee hit 5 of 9 field goal attempts and finished with 15 points. He did surrender those points to Terrico White at the start of the second half, but that was a tall order asking McPhee to guard one of the SEC’s best guards.
From the bench, I thought that Chris Barnes and Jeremy Price both gave the Dawgs solid contributions. In merely 8 minutes, Barnes scored 4 points and pulled down 4 boards. Price attacked the offensive glass all night, bringing in 6 offensive rebounds and 8 in all (if only he could have knocked down one of his two put-backs in the last 1:30 of the game Georgia would have tied it up).
Moving forward, UGA is going to have to get more production from the back-up point guard position. Against the Rebels, freshman PG Vincent Williams had 4 turnovers in only 6 minutes! When Dustin Ware wasn’t in the game, the offense essentially came to a halt.
I haven’t said anything up to this point, but I do not understand the role that sophomore Russian Drazen Zlovaric plays. In 6 minutes last night, he clanked two jump shots. On the season (142 total minutes played), he is shooting a robust 25% from the field (8 of 32) and has yet to connect from behind the arc in 6 attempts. What exactly is his role?
As it stands, Georgia is now 8-7 on the season and 0-2 in SEC Play.
What’s everyone thinking?
Mississippi (12-3) is ranked #21 in the AP poll and #23 in the Coaches. Seeing a trend here? Wednesday night’s game in Athens will mark the Dawgs’ third straight game against a ranked opponent (Georgia Tech & Kentucky being the other two).
Ole Miss returns all five starters from last year’s team, along with freshman forward Reginald Buckner. Buckner (6’8″, 233lbs) has provided some much-needed size on the inside for the Rebels, averaging 2.2 blocks and nearly 5 rebounds per game. Last season Ole Miss finished 10th in the conference in blocks at 3.3 a game; this year they are 4th in the conference at 6.2 a game.
The main thing that the Rebels do well is score (a very important part of the game of basketball). Ole Miss is leading the SEC in scoring at 83.6 points a game. They have five players that average in double-figures (balanced enough?).
Leading the way for the Rebel attack are guards Chris Warren (junior) and Terrico White (sophomore), who are both averaging 16.7 points per game (or 40% of Mississippi’s offense). White exploded on to the SEC basketball scene last year as a freshman, averaging 13.7 points and winning the league’s SEC Freshman of the Year award. He built up a reputation as a Sky-Walker after throwing down a monster dunk on Kentucky’s Patrick Patterson last season. White flirted with the idea of going pro following his freshman year, but unfortunately for Georgia he decided to come back and give college another try (and thus has Ole Miss ranked and ready to get an NCAA tournament bid).
It will be a homecoming game of sorts for Ole Miss reserve, Zach Graham, who is providing some effective bench production at 10.7 points and 3.9 rebounds a game…Graham is a native of Suwanee, GA.
Ole Miss is leading the SEC in assist-to-turnover ratio at 1.31, which is probably fairly common of teams that return a lot of players. They play smart with the basketball and will probably not be very intimidated by the fact that they are on the road.
“Keys to the Game”
Play to Your Strengths – so far this year it seems that the Dawgs have been most successful when they slow the game down, and get physical inside (with Thompkins, Barnes, Price and Jackson UGA is equipped with a plethora of meaty bigs). Georgia is actually 4th in the conference in rebounding margin at +3.2 a game. Georgia needs to dictate a slow pace in this one so that their bigs can have time to get down and work the offensive and defensive glass. One way to slow things down considerably is to pack it in and run a half-court zone defense. Mississippi State did this for a majority of the second half in their upset win at Ole Miss last Saturday…I think the Dawgs would be wise to mimic this strategy.
“Help! You know I need somebody. Help! Not just anybody. Help… – The Dawgs’ starters (or the “Big Four” as I like to call them) are playing way too many minutes. Ware and McPhee each average just under 30 minutes a game, while Thompkins is notching 28.9 and Leslie 25.4 (and all four go well above their averages against stronger opponents like Georgia Tech and Kentucky). This cannot continue if Georgia hopes to finish the season strong. Several bench players need to step up and become regular contributors…Jeremy Price, Chris Barnes and Ebuka Anyaorah, I am definitely looking your way on this one. All three of these guys have provided sparks off the bench in games this year, but none of them have done it on a night in/night out basis.
– Terrico White and Trey Thompkins were teammates last summer on the USA’s Under-19 basketball team
– Since losing at home to Wofford, Georgia has won 6 straight at home
– Travis Leslie is averaging 1.5 ESPN “Top Plays” highlights per game over the last two contests
The game tips off at 8pm Wednesday night and will be televised on the SEC Network (aka Peachtree TV)…as always on the radio at 750AM.
It appears that CMF and his upset-minded Georgia Bulldogs have caught the attention of a few of ESPN’s more prominent basketball analysts.
Dick Vitale, also known as “Dicky V” in the college basketball world, awarded Fox with his Co-Coach of the Week award (sharing it with Arizona State’s Herb Sendek).
Fox also got a “shout out” from ESPN college basketball analyst Andy Katz in his “Weekly Watch” edition (check it out here – middle of the page under Coaching Props To…).
CBS Sportsline now has the Dawgs at #89 on its RPI ranking, which for Georgia is a tremendous improvement from prior seasons. Hopefully UGA can continue to climb that ladder over the rest of the season.
One last note – I made reference to the difficulty of this year’s schedule in an earlier blog and CBS apparently agrees, ranking the Dawgs’ strength of schedule (SOS) at #34 in the country!