Old Spice Classic Woes Continue

So maybe playing in this year’s Old Spice Classic was not such a good idea for Mark Fox’s Georgia Bulldogs?

The Dawgs were 3-0 pre-Disney World, but the Magic Kingdom has not been kind and now they sit at 3-2 following a 65-58 loss to the Temple Owls (3-1).

There might be little too much tryptophan being consumed in the Dawgs‘ locker room at half time.  For the second straight day the Dawgs came out utterly flat following the break, surrendering 9 points in the half’s first four minutes prompting Mark Fox to remove all five starters with his team down 40-33.

He actually kept the reserves in for three minutes before bringing the starters back in.  To their credit, the Georgia back-ups only surrendered one basket and left the game with the Dawgs trailing 42-33.  Matt Bucklin – or Ollie from the movie Hoosiers – even saw a few minutes and managed to commit two personal fouls.

Coach Fox was clearly upset with his starters defensive effort, but I’m not sure if that justified sacrificing three minutes of offense in the second half when his team was already down by seven.

The Dawgs didn’t shoot the ball extremely well in the first half – 44.4% from the field – but they did look a lot more comfortable against Temple’s 2-3 zone (I guess the Owls watched the Notre Dame game).  Georgia did a nice job of being patient and working the ball into Trey Thompkins just beneath the free throw line where he could operate.  Thompkins looked much more comfortable on offense, scoring 10 first-half points and playing very well with his back to the basket.

After hoisting up 34 three-pointers against the Fighting Irish on Thursday, the Dawgs didn’t attempt a single three until Dustin Ware’s miss with just 45 seconds left in the first half.

Travis Leslie was very active in the first half, coming away with 3 steals and 9 points.

After combining for 19 in the first half, Georgia’s star tandem of Thompkins and Leslie pulled a “disappearing act” – scoring just 7 points total in the second half (Trey had 2 and Leslie had 5).

As a team, the Dawgs shot just 33.3% from the field in the second and connected on just 2 of 10 of their three-point attempts.

Were it not for Gerald Robinson, Jr., this game would have gotten a lot worse – GR2 scored 12 of his 16 points after the break and was virtually unguardable when he decided to take the ball off the dribble.  There was an eight-minute span in the second half where GR2 was the only Bulldog converting field goals.

The Dawgs were able to get the game as close as 54-51 with just 3:25 left following a basket plus the free throw by Travis Leslie.  However, Georgia was unable to get stops or defensive rebounds when they needed them down the stretch, and Juan Fernandez put the dagger in the game when he buried his first three of the night to put his Owls up 59-51 with just 2 minutes remaining.

Junior forward Scootie Randall came into the game averaging just 5.0 points per game, yet he torched the Dawgs for 18 points on 4 of 6 shooting from the field.

It’s way to early to push the “panic button”, but these last two games have definitely left a lot to be desired.  This is a team that was getting placed in a lot of analysts’ preseason Top 25’s.  Florida Coach Billy Donovan said that Georgia might be the best team in the SEC East this season.

So far, they haven’t looked the part.

Right now, Georgia is a very soft defensive team that is struggling to play strong for the entire possession.  Temple came into this game shooting just 43.9% as a team from the field – yet against Georgia the Owls got hot and connected on 50% of their field goals and nearly 36% of their threes.

On the offensive end, Georgia looks totally out of sync.  Travis Leslie is an exciting player who makes some spectacular dunks, but he seems to get lost when the Dawgs are running their offense in the half court set.  While Trey Thompkins was out, Jeremy Price was averaging 17.7 points per game.  In the two games since Trey’s return, Price has scored just 9 points total.  Georgia isn’t playing with any fluidity on offense – everything looks awkward or pressed.

At this point, GR2 appears to be the only player on Fox’s team that is comfortable playing offense in the half court.

Coach Fox has to figure out how to help this team find some chemistry on offense now that it’s star player is back in the mix.

The Dawgs will have an opportunity to get a win in Orlando on Sunday as they take on a Manhattan team that was drilled 74-45 by Texas A&M.

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Next Up: Temple

If there is any silver lining in the Dawgs double-overtime loss to Notre Dame last night, I suppose it’s that the game tonight against the #20 Temple  Owls (2-1) will not tip-off until 7:30pm – giving everyone the opportunity to watch The Iron Bowl at 2:30pm (Notre Dame plays California at 5:00pm).

Both Georgia (3-1) and Temple blew second-half leads in their games yesterday, and now the two teams will meet in the loser’s bracket of the Old Spice Classic.

Temple is currently ranked in both the AP and Coaches polls, and the Owls were predicted to win the Atlantic 10 by Rivals.com.

The strength of this Owls team is its tough, physical man defense.  Through their first three games, Temple has been surrendering a mere 54.0 points per game and limiting opponents to just 35.2% from the field.

On offensive it’s been a different story for the Owls – they are averaging just 64.7 ppg (259th in the nation) and shooting a rocky 43.9% from the floor (171st in the nation).  I watched their game last night against the Cal Bears, and it’s pretty clear that this Temple team isn’t going to scare many teams with their shooting prowess – the Owls shot 33.3% on field goals and a dismal 2 of 19 from beyond the arc.

The Temple frontcourt features Atlantic 10 Preseason Player of the Year Lavoy Allen.  Allen, a 6’9″ senior, is currently averaging 11.3 ppg, 6.0 rpg and 3.7 assists.  He looks more comfortable with the ball when facing the basket, and he is a surprisingly good passer for a big man.

Alongside Allen is the man with two first names, 6’11” junior Michael Eric.  Eric is netting 8.7 ppg, 6.0 rpg and a team-leading 2.7 blocks.  He is very athletic for a guy his size, and attacks the basket with a quickness not seen in too many 6’11” bigs.

Georgia’s Jeremy Price and Chris Barnes will need to clean up their interior defense tonight unless they want Allen and Eric to repeat what Notre Dame did in the paint.

The Owls are led in the backcourt by junior point guard Juan Fernandez.  Fernandez was named to the Atlantic 10 preseason All-League Second Team after coming off a strong sophomore season in which he averaged 12.4 points and 3.6 assists per game.

If there is a shooter to be weary of on this Temple team, it’s Fernandez – last season he hit 45.3% from beyond the arc.  He has started out sluggish from three-point range this year, knocking down just 2 of his first 14 attempts.  But all good shooters snap out of their funks eventually, and Georgia needs to be conscientious of where Fernandez is on the court so he doesn’t get it going from outside.

Personally, I thought that the return of Trey Thompkins would mean that things would open up even more on the inside for senior big Jeremy Price.  Last night, Price proved me wrong – he finished 0-0 from the field and mustered just 3 points in 20 minutes before fouling out.

Against this aggressive Temple defense, Price has to be more active on the opposite block when the ball goes down into Thompkins.  The Owls will look to lend a lot of help in the paint when Trey has the ball, and Price needs to make himself an available target for his teammate.

At the risk of sounding over-confident, I feel like Georgia matches up really well with this Temple team (Las Vegas does not agree however, making the Owls a 4-point favorite).

Gerald Robinson, Jr. should be able to exploit Juan Fernandez in the half-court set and get into the lane and create for himself (and his teammates).

Trey Thompkins got his first game back out-of-the-way – I expect him to be a little closer to form tonight.  Allen is a solid post player, but he is no Trey Thompkins.  If Trey can get things going from the outside, Allen will be in for a LONG night.  Defensively, I think that Trey can really limit Allen’s offense if he can initiate contact and keep him with his back to the basket when he has the ball.

The Georgia guards must put their 26.5% three-point shooting performance that they had last night against Notre Dame behind them (Dustin Ware and GR2 were a combined 5 of 21 from beyond the arc).  The guards should get some nice looks from outside using the high-low game, and hopefully more of the shots will fall tonight.

This is another great early season test for Mark Fox’s Dawgs, and another opportunity to try to add a big out-of-conference win to their tournament resume.

Both the Dawgs and the Owls will be looking to avoid a second-straight loss, so expect both teams to play with a sense of urgency (which should make for an exciting game).

This Temple team is going to win a lot of games this year (and possibly their conference), and a “W” over the Owls would really look to the NCAA Selection Committee in March.

Dawgs Fall In Double OT

Trey Thompkins makes a surprise return to the lineup, and Georgia (3-1)  loses its first basketball game of the season to Notre Dame 89-83.

Not exactly how many people might have scripted it.

Georgia went into the half leading Notre Dame 37-25.

Last season, six of the Dawgs SEC losses came in games in which Georgia actually held the lead at the break.

The Dawgs were given an opportunity to show their growth from last season by closing out a game that they had total control over.

This did not happen.

I attribute the Dawgs second half collapse to three things: an inability to adjust their offense to Notre Dame’s 2-3 defense, poor interior defense and even poorer free throw shooting.

In the second half, Notre Dame coach Mike Brey switched his bigger Irish team into a 2-3 zone defense, daring Georgia’s guards to shoot it from outside.  The Dawgs shot it from beyond the arc, but not very well as they connected on just 9 of 34 attempts (or 26.5%).

At times, Gerald Robinson, Jr. was able to penetrate the zone and get into the lane and create – but this did not happen often enough.  It seemed like Georgia was more content with swinging the ball around the perimeter until something opened up from three-point range.

It would have been nice to see Georgia push the ball a bit more and not give the Irish so much time to get back and settle into their zone.

I already noticed a few comments on my last post about the defensive play (or lack there of) by Georgia’s bigs last night.  In the second half, Notre Dame bigs Tyrone Nash and Carleton Scott feasted on Jeremy Price and Chris Barnes like they were Thanksgiving leftovers.  Nash scored 9 points in the second half and finished with 18, and Scott matched his 9 and finished the game with 11 before fouling out with 1:42 left to play.

Price and Barnes repeatedly allowed the Irish bigs to receive the ball WAY to close to the basket, resulting in a barrage of Notre Dame points in the paint.

During the stretch of play in the second half in which Notre Dame outscored Georgia 35-18 (from 17:42 down to 0:37 left in the game) the Dawgs missed 8 consecutive free throw attempts.  They finished 10 of 20 on the night from the charity stripe, and were probably left wondering if they could have won the game in regulation if only they could have knocked down a few more.

But you do have to give the Dawgs credit – they definitely fought until the buzzer sounded.  Even though they were down 62-56 with only 43 seconds remaining in regulation, Georgia scrapped and clawed and tied the game up on a tip-in by Trey Thompkins with just 9 seconds remaining.

Personally, I thought Georgia was going to pull it off at the end of the first overtime after GR2 knocked down a jumper with 41 seconds left to put the Dawgs up 69-68.  The Irish missed a couple of shots on their last possession, but kept securing the offensive rebounds until Ben Hansbrough was fouled by Dustin Ware on a put-back attempt (this could have been a no call in my opinion).  “Psycho B” knocked down 1 of 2 from the line, though, and the game went on to a second overtime.

It was great to see Trey back out on the court again – he appeared to be slimmer and certainly had less hair.  Trey looked a tad rusty on offense, missing shots he normally makes and traveling 3 times.  But I thought his defensive play was solid – bringing down 10 rebounds (8 defensive) and blocking 3 shots.

I haven’t seen ESPN’s Sportscenter yet today, but I have to imagine that Travis Leslie’s one-handed alley-oop dunk and his Dominique Wilkins-esque windmill both made the “Top Plays” segment.  Leslie led the Dawgs with 23 points and a team-high 9 rebounds.

Notre Dame forward Tim Abromaitas lived up to his top billing, scoring 25 points including 4 of 5 from beyond the arc.  Georgia really didn’t have an answer for this guy all game, and when the Irish needed buckets he was there to provide.

This was a tough loss because it would have looked great on UGA’s tournament resume to have a win over a quality Big East opponent.

Hopefully it will serve as a learning experience though, and next time Georgia goes into the half with a lead the Dawgs will come out of the locker room and put their opponent away.