Georgia has lost two straight games, and Arkansas is in the midst of a five-game losing streak.
But guess what? Nobody cares!
The beauty of the conference tournament is that everybody gets a clean slate, a chance to start over and try to make something special happen over a long weekend.
Mark Fox’s Georgia Bulldogs should be very excited about the opportunity that they have to give a little payback to this Arkansas Razorback team. Back in February, the Hogs overcame a 15-point halftime deficit in Athens to hand Georgia a 72-68 loss at Stegeman.
The second half of that game was painful to watch. The Hogs pressure defense frustrated Georgia’s offense, forcing 11 UGA turnovers and limiting the Dawgs to only 40.9% from the field. Arkansas, on the other hand, shot a blistering 64% from the floor and were led by Courtney Fortson’s 19 second-half points (he finished the game with 27).
Sophomore guard Courtney Fortson is the man on this Razorback team. He is similar to South Carolina’s Devan Downey, minus the three-point shot. He is very fast with the basketball in his hands, and he can past defenders to the rim.
Fortson’s numbers in SEC games this season were pretty impressive – 18.0 points, 5.4 rebounds and 5.9 assists (first in the SEC). The only knock on him is his field goal percentage, which sits at 35.5% on the season. In the first meeting between these two teams, Georgia did not have an answer on how to stop this guy.
His complement in the backcourt is sophomore guard Rotnei Clarke. Clarke is the shooter on this team, hitting 37.5% from beyond the arc and netting 12.1 points per game in SEC play this season. The Dawgs did a great job of being aware of where Clarke was on the court in the game in Athens, limiting him to only 2 points.
On the inside, the Hogs are led by freshman Marshawn Powell and senior Michael Washington. Were it not for the “Diaper Dandies” on Kentucky (Wall, Cousins), Powell would probably be in line for this year’s SEC “Freshman of the Year” award. In conference play, he is scoring 15.1 points and grabbing 6.9 boards a night, while shooting 50.5 % from the field. Washington is pouring in 11.3 points and nabbing a team-leading 7.0 rebounds a game in SEC play.
The Arkansas bigs gave the Dawgs post players fits in the second half in Athens. Washington scored 13 of his 15 after the break, and Powell got all 11 of his points in the second. The Dawgs were unable to stop either of these guys once they got the ball in their hands on the block.
Keys to the Game
Attack the Zone
Over the past one and a half games, Georgia’s offense has looked inept. This is the same offense that led the SEC in team field goal percentage (47%), three-point percentage (39.6%) and assists (15.0/game).
Both Kentucky (in the second half) and LSU showed the Dawgs a lot of zone defense, emphasizing pressure on the perimeter. Georgia’s guards could not get the ball inside or penetrate, and Travis Leslie (especially) was uncharacteristically ineffective – over the past two games, Leslie has scored a total of 15 points and shot 7 of 22 from the floor.
When teams show the Dawgs man defense, the UGA offense works like a well-oiled machine – backdoor cuts, great interior passing and a plethora of Leslie dunks.
But the Dawgs have to be more effective when they see zone. Ware has got to be more of a penetration threat from the point guard position. Ricky McPhee and Travis Leslie cannot merely swing the ball back to the top of the key – they must do a better job of getting the ball into Trey Thompkins (and the other UGA bigs), and they have to be able to create (at least some) off the dribble. If Leslie can dribble the ball into the zone and draw defenders, it will open up so much inside for the Georgia bigs.
Slow Down Courtney
In the first meeting between these two teams, Courtney Fortson scored 27 points and got to the free throw line 16 times (he made 12 of them). Mark Fox must adjust his defense (zone?) to make it more difficult for Fortson to get into the paint.
This is tricky since you can’t give too much help on Fortson or he will be able to find Clarke for wide open three-point shots.
I am interested to see how Fox chooses to play the Arkansas star.
In Thompkins We Trust
Trey Thompkins finished the season second in the SEC in scoring this at 18.9 points per game. He came in fourth place in the conference in rebounding this year with 8.4 per contest. He is a great emotional leader on the floor, and he has openly expressed how much he loves Georgia and how he wants to be a part of turning this program around (he is definitely one of my favorite Dawgs’ basketball players ever).
It’s hard to ask more of this young man considering how much he already does for this team, but Coach Fox needs Trey’s defense more than ever against Arkansas. Georgia cannot afford to have Powell and Washington pour in points in the paint, and it is going to be on Trey’s shoulders to make sure that doesn’t happen.
The game is scheduled to tip-off Thursday night at 8:45PM Central Time, 9:45PM Eastern. Since it’s the fourth and final game of the day, there is a very good chance that it won’t get started until 10:00PM or later.
Go ahead and email/call your boss and let him or her know that you might be in a bit late on Friday, because this one is going to go into the wee hours of the night!