Gators Come to Athens

The Florida Gators (9-4 SEC; 20-8 overall) roll into Athens this Saturday to take on the Georgia Bulldogs (4-9 SEC; 12-14 overall).

The Gators have won three games in a row, including a 75-62 win over the Tennessee Volunteers last Tuesday.

Barring a total meltdown, it appears that Billy Donovan’s team has just about played itself into this year’s NCAA Tournament.  However, after Saturday’s game with Georgia they have Vanderbilt at home and then they conclude the regular season at Kentucky.  Needless to say, the Gators definitely want/need to get another SEC win, and their best chance is probably against the Dawgs.

Back in January, Florida pounded the Dawgs 87-71 in Gainesville.  The Gators forced Georgia into 19 turnovers, and scored 50 points off Bulldog turnovers and second chance shots…it was not a fun game to watch if you were Dawgs fan.

However, last year the Gators handled the Dawgs 83-57 in Gainesville, only to be beaten in Athens 88-86.

This Florida team is better than last year’s squad, though.

The Gators might have the best backcourt in the SEC, and certainly one of the best in the country.

Sophomore point guard Erving Walker is averaging 16.1 points and 5 assists per game in SEC play, while hitting nearly 37% of his three-point attempts on the season.  In the first meeting between these two teams, Walker torched the Bulldogs for 21 points and dished-out 10 assists.

Freshman guard Kenny Boynton is scoring 13.4 points in conference games, and he too dropped 21 points on Georgia back in January.

On the inside, the Gators frontcourt features juniors Chandler Parsons (6’9″), Alex Tyus (6’8″) and Vernon Macklin (6’11”, 240 lbs).   Parsons is having a big junior season, averaging 11.8 points and 7.7 rebounds per SEC contest.  He also has a nice touch from the outside, burying 36.1% of his three-point tries on the year.

In conference play, Tyus is scoring 13.2 points and nabbing 7.5 rebounds per game.  In the first game against the Dawgs, Tyus led the Gators with 23 points.

Rounding out the Florida frontcourt is center Vernon Macklin, who is contributing 11 points and 4.8 boards a night in SEC games.

The Gators are very balanced on offense, and they can hurt teams from both inside and out.  Other than Kentucky, Florida is probably the second most talented team in the league.

It will be very interesting to see how Georgia comes out on Saturday following another back-breaking road loss.

Keys to the Game

Breaking the Press

I know that this is a pretty simple “key”, but the Dawgs’ 19 turnovers coupled with their inability to handle Florida’s full-court pressure were two big reasons that they were blown out in January.  There were too many times when the ball was thrown errantly down the middle of the court, resulting in a turnover.

Florida is going to show Georgia a full-court trap press on Saturday until the Dawgs show that they can handle it.  McPhee and Ware have got to be conscious of where they are on the court when they break to the ball.  There have been too many instances this season when a Georgia guard has received the in-bounds pass near the corner of the court, right on the baseline.  This is just asking to get trapped!  The Dawgs have got to find ways (set some picks maybe?) to get the ball in the guards hands closer to the middle of the court so that they have room to operate (and are less likely to get trapped).

Georgia needs to break the Gator press, and then work to get this game moving at a snail’s pace.

Get Inside

In Thursday night’s loss at Vanderbilt, Travis Leslie and Ricky McPhee each played 41 minutes.  Dustin Ware played 40 and Thompkins a mere 34.  I realize that these are young men in probably the best shape of their lives, but one day off is one day off no matter how you look at it.  Tired legs can make even the best shooters’ jump shots come up just a bit short.  The Dawgs would be well served by getting the ball inside and pounding the glass.

Saturday Magic

Mark Fox’s Bulldogs are undefeated (4-0) this season in Saturday afternoon SEC home games.  Two of those wins were over Tennessee and Vanderbilt – both were and are still ranked.

Florida Coach Billy Donovan has taken note as well, saying earlier this week, “For me, personally, it’s more about moving into third place in the SEC East. We’re all jockeying for position right now and maybe we can catch Vandy for second, but we’re going up against a Georgia team that I think everyone in our league will attest plays very well at home.”

Side Note…Say What?

The Atlanta Journal Constitution (AJC) has stated that the Georgia’s basketball team’s only tangible goal left this season (barring a miraculous SEC tournament championship) is to play the role of spoiler…starting with the Gators.

I respectfully disagree.

A win over Florida would give Georgia 5 SEC wins, and a legitimate shot at getting their 6th of the year in the season finale at LSU (I am not going to be so bold as to predict a win over Kentucky).  This would DOUBLE the number of SEC wins for this team from last year’s sum of three.  That would be a pretty good accomplishment.

Not to mention that should Georgia win on Saturday, they will put themselves in a position to reach .500 on the season, and possibly earn an NIT berth (this is again assuming a win at LSU, and then two wins in the SEC Tournament).

Making the NIT is another tangible goal for this young team.

The game tips off at 4:00PM EST on Saturday.  I have to be in Charlotte for work, so I’ll be watching it on the SEC Networks (aka Peachtree TV).  The game is sold out, so it should be an awesome atmosphere!

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Dawgs Lose in Overtime 96-94

Ricky McPhee knocked down a pair of free throws with 53 seconds left to put his Georgia Bulldogs up 74-68.  The Dawgs were less than a minute away from earning their first road win of the season, and against a Top 25 team at that.

But Vanderbilt’s senior point guard Jermaine Beal had other plans in mind.  Beal was able to get to the rim and finish on two lay-ups in merely 11 seconds, and following an Andre Walker three-pointer the Commodores were down only 77-75 with 24 ticks left.

The ‘Dores then fouled Dustin Ware, sending him to the line for two shots.

Ware missed them both.

A.J. Ogilvy tipped in a missed Beal shot on the other end, Leslie missed an out of control jumper and the game was going to overtime.

In overtime, Vandy built up a 92-86 lead with 28 seconds left, but Ware knocked down back-to-back three’s and the Dawgs actually ended up with Chris Barnes at the line shooting a free throw with the score 96-94.  Barnes intentionally missed the shot, and Ware was able to track down the offensive board…but with only 0.9 seconds left he had to toss up a near impossible shot that fell short (Leslie grabbed it out of the air and put it in but the buzzer had already sounded).

Had the Dawgs not suffered a defensive let-down in the game’s final 53 seconds, one could go so far as to say that they played a near perfect game.

Georgia shot 46.5% from the field and 47.6% from beyond the arc.  The Dawgs out-rebounded Vandy 35-32, and they only committed 10 turnovers.

The fact that Georgia was able to go into the half down only 5 was an accomplishment within itself.  Trey Thompkins picked up his second foul with 8:15 left in the half, and he didn’t see the floor again until after the break.

The Dawgs had five players score in double-figures, with Travis Leslie leading the way with 22 points, 10 rebounds and 5 assists (he also showed up on Sportscenter’s “Top Plays” once again).

The Dawgs are now 4-9 in the SEC, and 12-14 overall.

Mark Fox can add the Vandy game to his team’s collection of heartbreaking SEC losses that they have suffered this season – Ole Miss, Miss St, South Carolina and Arkansas.

It’s mind-boggling to think that Georgia has now lost 5 conference games this year by a total of 14 points.

Georgia has three games remaining on its schedule: Florida and Kentucky at home, and LSU at their place.

If the SEC Tournament were to start today, I’d have to say that I like the Dawgs seed.  Georgia would get Ole Miss in round one (a team that UGA had beat in Athens), and the winner of that game would play Vandy in round two.  Another bonus of having the East sixth seed  is that it keeps Georgia on the opposite side of the bracket from Kentucky.

Ok, that was my attempt to cheer everybody (including myself) up following last night’s nail-biter.