I think most UGA basketball fans would agree that Mark Fox’s first season has been a pleasant surprise. This year we have seen Trey Thompkins develop into one of the best post players in the SEC. Travis Leslie’s improvement and play has been exceptional, and he has shown up on ESPN’s “Top Plays” nearly as often as Kentucky’s John Wall.
This team has won a slew of games that on paper it probably shouldn’t have – Georgia Tech, Illinois, Tennessee and Vanderbilt – and has lost some very close games to some very good teams – Kentucky, Ole Miss, Miss St, Tennessee.
Overall, we want to think that this year’s team has improved from the dismal 2008-2009 campaign in which the Dawgs finished 3-13 in the SEC and had their coach fired before season’s end.
But sometimes the proof is in the pudding, and it sure would be nice to justify this improvement with a win over Alabama (4-7 SEC; 14-11 overall) on Saturday. A victory against the Crimson Tide would give Georgia (3-8 SEC; 11-13 overall) its 4th SEC win (one more than last year), a wonderful piece of supporting evidence that this program is in fact moving in the right direction.
Alabama is led by first year coach Anthony Grant, who like Mark Fox, is transitioning from a mid-major schedule to the rigors of the SEC. Grant was extremely successful at his last job with Virginia Commonwealth, leading the Rams to the NCAA tournament 2 out of the last 3 years.
And also like Fox, Grant’s Crimson Tide squad has beaten several big name teams this year – Baylor, Michigan, Mississippi State and Arkansas. The Tide have suffered three one-point losses this season in SEC games, making them a mere 3 points away from possibly being 7-5 in the conference.
The strength of this Alabama team is its intense, pressure defense. The Tide are first in the SEC in scoring defense, surrendering only 61.4 points a game (they rank 55th nationally in this statistical category). They are holding SEC opponents to only 40.8% shooting from the field, and 26.8% from beyond the arc. The Tide have held opposing squads under 60 points seven times this season.
On the offensive side of things, the picture is not as pretty for Alabama. The Tide rank 11th in the conference in scoring offense at 61.1 per game, and have struggled in the half court set due to inconsistent outside shooting.
Alabama returns four starters from last year’s team that beat the Dawgs in Tuscaloosa 75-70.
Senior point guard Mikhail Torrance and sophomore forward JaMychal Green are leading the Tide in scoring in conference games at 14.8 each. At 6’5″, Torrance is a tough match-up for most point guards in the league. He likes to push the ball up the court and get his team into transition quickly (remember that they don’t score as efficiently in the half court). He is also a pretty good outside shooter, knocking down 35% of his three-point attempts. Torrance compliments his scoring with a team-leading 5.4 assists per game.
JaMychal Green is the scoring , rebounding (7.1 in SEC play) and shot-blocking leader (1.88 per game) in the Tide’s rather large frontcourt. He is a very skilled athlete at 6’9″/220 lbs, and rumor has it he turned down Kentucky to come to Tuscaloosa. Green is has posted 5 double-doubles already this season.
Junior Chris Hines starts at the other forward position, however, fellow junior Justin Knox rotates into the game quickly as these two guys share a lot of minutes. Hines is 6’8″ and 220 lbs, while Knox stands at 6’9″ and tips the scales at 240 lbs. Neither of these players scores many points (Hines – 3.3; Knox 5.7), but both provide some serious beef inside defensively.
The other two starters for the Tide are both natives of the state of Georgia, freshman forward Tony Mitchell (6’6″) and junior guard Senario Hillman. Mitchell has had a very solid freshman campaign, averaging 9.3 points, 5.4 rebounds and making 34% of his three’s in SEC Play. Hillman is another one of the Tide’s three-point threats, connecting on 34% of his three’s and averaging 7.8 points in conference games (he also scored 19 on Georgia in last year’s game).
Coach Grant’s team does not have a lot of depth, as they only play roughly eight guys night in, night out. Junior guard Charvez Davis and senior point guard Anthony Brock are the only other reserves (other than Knox) that typically see the floor. Both of these guards are hitting nearly 37% of their three-point attempts in SEC play, so you have to be aware of where they are on the court.
A Couple of Keys
A phrase that is used and manipulated by corporations everywhere nowadays in an attempt to attract consumers. In regards to the basketball game being played on Saturday, I am referring to Alabama’s JaMychal Green. Green has struggled with foul trouble all season. He has fouled out of three games, and he has committed four fouls in eight other contests. He is such a big part of Bama’s offense and defense that it would be very beneficial to the Dawgs if they could get him on the bench (or better yet, out of the game).
Jeremy Price needs to do a better job of making strong post moves, and getting Green up in the air. In the Tennessee game, Price’s offensive attempts against Wayne Chism were too slow and deliberate. He was unable to get Chism to commit fouls, and rather, Wayne usually just blocked Price’s shots.
Hopefully Thompkins and Price can attack the Alabama defense and get Green to pick up some early fouls.
Potentially Dangerous Situation
As we know by now, Georgia’s guard play has been somewhat of an Achilles heel for this team all season. The match-up that Ware, McPhee, Leslie, EA and Vince Williams have against the Crimson Tide on Saturday does not look favorable for the Dawgs. Alabama’s pressure-style of man defense coupled with their long bodies (Torrance at 6’5″ and Mitchell at 6’6″) could make it very difficult on Georgia’s undersized guards. UGA is last in the SEC in turnovers at 16.5 a game!
How will the cookie crumble on Saturday?
Something’s Gotta Give
As mentioned earlier, Bama is locking down SEC opponents on defense, holding teams to 40.8% from the field and 26.3% from three-point range.
Georgia is currently second in the conference in both field goal and three-point percentage, at 47% and 38.2% respectively. The Dawgs are shooting slightly better at home in SEC games, hitting 47.8% from the field and 40.6% from beyond the arc.
The game tips off at 4:00PM EST.
If you aren’t heading to Athens, the game can be seen on Comcast’s Peachtree TV (channel 7; HD channel 802).