Kentucky Edges Georgia 66-60

During the 2009-2010 season, Mark Fox’s first as Georgia’s basketball coach, the Bulldogs (14-6; 3-4) were forced to play a lot of zone defensive sets due to a lack of depth.  Coach Fox stressed that he preferred to play man-to-man, but he just didn’t have the personnel.

Before the start of this season, Coach Fox, on numerous occasions, expressed that this year’s team would play primarily man defense because of the bolstered bench support.

In Georgia’s 77-70 win over Kentucky earlier this month in Athens, the Dawgs used a physical man-to-man defense to frustrate the Wildcats offensively.

So why did Coach Fox have his team start the game on Saturday in a 3-2 zone?  And even further, why did he keep them in it for the entire first half (and chunks of the second)?

The strength of this Kentucky team is its perimeter shooting – they shoot 40% as a team from beyond the arc, which ranks 12th in the country.

In the first half on Saturday, Kentucky moved the ball around Georgia‘s zone, connecting on 6 of 12 from three-point range and building up a 39-24 halftime lead.  Freshman Doron Lamb, the Cats’ sharp-shooter/zone-buster, torched the Dawgs in the first half, knocking down 3 three’s en route to 11 points (he finished with a game-high 19 points).

Before the first media timeout, Georgia had already committed 3 turnovers and trailed 11-4.

During the game’s second half, Coach Fox got his team out of the zone and matched up with the Cats in a man defense.  After shooting 51.7% from the field and 50% from beyond the arc in the first half, Kentucky looked flustered offensively after the break, hitting only 31.8% of their field goal attempts.  The Cats followed up their 6 first-half three-pointers with a goose egg in the second, going 0 for 5 in their perimeter shot attempts.

Georgia fought and clawed till the end, and actually cut the Kentucky lead to 59-53 with 2:07 left following a Dustin Ware three-pointer.  On the next trip down the court, the Dawgs got a stop and had a chance to make it a one-possession game, but Trey Thompkins missed an open three-point look.  Kentucky’s Darius Miller got the rebound, got fouled, made two free throws and essentially sealed the game with the lead up to 61-53 with only a minute remaining.

The final score ended up 66-60 in Kentucky’s favor, and Georgia now finds themselves in the midst of their first two-game losing streak since dropping back-to-back games to Notre Dame and Temple back in 2010.

The missed three was a theme for Thompkins on Saturday, as he finished the game 0 for 5 from beyond the arc.  Trey only played 11 minutes in the game’s first half due to foul trouble, and he ended up with just 9 points on the day.  This was the first time this season that Thompkins failed to score in double-figures.

But misery loves company, and Georgia’s Travis Leslie wasn’t about to let his teammate struggle on offense all by himself.  Leslie was an icy 0 for 7 on field goal attempts Saturday, finishing with only 5 points.

The Dawgs are not going to win many games when their preseason All-SEC First Team players (Thompkins and Leslie) combine for just 14 points.

The only Georgia Bulldog that bothered to show up in Rupp Arena was junior Dustin Ware.  Ware led all Bulldog scorers with 18 points, and his 4 three-pointers were critical in keeping the game from becoming a blowout.

Georgia’s only other player to score in double-figures was junior Gerald Robinson, Jr., who contributed a quiet 12 points.  GR2 began conference play like a man possessed, averaging 18.0 ppg in his first five games.  In the last two games however, Robinson has looked tentative and reluctant to create, leading to just 19 total points.

The Dawgs are now anchoring the cellar in the SEC East with a 3-4 conference record.  At the SEC media days conference in October of 2010, Florida Coach Billy Donovan predicted that Georgia would win their side of the league.  At this point, with 5 of the remaining 9 games coming on the road, its starting to look like an 8-8 SEC record is more likely, with a 9-7 record being a “best-case scenario”.

Things don’t get any easier for Georgia, as they begin the week with a trip to Arkansas on Wednesday.  The Razorbacks are 4-3 in SEC play, and they are coming off a huge 89-78 victory in Nashville over Vanderbilt.  They dropped Tennessee at home 68-65 as well, so the Dawgs best not take them lightly.

Georgia gets Auburn at home on Saturday, so if they can collect themselves and get a win in Fayetteville Wednesday night, they have an opportunity to make this a big week.

The key word being “opportunity”.

Georgia vs Kentucky II

On Saturday, the Georgia Bulldogs (14-5; 3-3) will attempt to do something that a visiting team hasn’t done in Rupp Arena since John Calipari took over the reigns at Kentucky – win.

Coach Cal’s Cats boast a 28-game winning streak in Lexington.  At Kentucky (also known as “One and Done U”), they’ve taken the phrase “protect home court” to a whole new level.

Coincidentally, the last time the Wildcats dropped a game at Rupp was on March 4, 2009, to none other than the Georgia Bulldogs.

The Dawgs opened up SEC play this season with a thrilling 77-70 victory over the Cats in Stegeman Coliseum.  Since that game, Georgia has won just two of their last five, and they have dropped a couple of heart-breakers in Athens against Tennessee and Florida.  If the Dawgs hope to finish the season with a winning conference record, they will have to steal a game or two on the road.

Kentucky’s SEC schedule thus far has been a little less daunting than Georgia’s, with games against Auburn (0-6), LSU (2-3), Alabama (4-1) and South Carolina (3-2).  The Cats did suffer a hiccup at Bama, losing 68-66.  But other than that, they have cruised against rather inferior competition.

The Cats have had a week off since their 67-58 victory at South Carolina last Saturday, plenty of time to sit at home and stew about their upcoming game with Georgia.

Kentucky has four players scoring in double-figures in conference play – Terrance Jones, Brandon Knight, Darius Miller and Doron Lamb.  Leading the way is freshman big Terrance Jones (the guy Calipari referred to as a “selfish mother******”), who is pacing the Cats with 21.4 ppg and 8.2 rpg in league games.  Jones is a difficult match-up for Georgia’s Trey Thompkins because of his versatility – he can score the ball from inside and out (40% 3PT in SEC games).

Kentucky’s other freshman phenom is point guard Brandon Knight, who is peppering the SEC stat sheet with 15.8 ppg, 3.2 apg and 2.6 three-point field goals per game (at 43.3%).  He is an extension of Coach Calipari on the court, and his floor leadership is what gets this Kentucky offense going.

If Georgia is going to bust-up Kentucky’s home winning streak, then they must shut down Brandon Knight (again).  In the first meeting between these two teams, Gerald Robinson, Jr.’s defense on Knight was sensational, limiting him to just 10 points (his lowest output of the season in conference play), and not allowing him to connect on a single shot from outside the arc.

Robinson’s performance in the Florida game was probably his worst as a Bulldog.  He finished the game with only 7 points (the least he’s scored in an SEC game this year), and he had more turnovers (6) and personal fouls (4) than assists (3).

Robinson must put the Florida game behind him, because his team is going to need him to dominate the frosh Knight on Saturday.  GR2 scored 17 points and only committed 2 fouls when these two teams met in Athens – a similar performance this weekend would be perfect.

In their three SEC losses this season (Vandy, Tennessee, Florida), Georgia’s offense has looked a little too stagnant – almost robotic.  With the way that Fox’s triangle offense is designed, either Jeremy Price or Chris Barnes (whoever is in the game) receives the ball at the top of the key to begin the motion.  Because neither of these players is a threat to score unless they are within five feet of the basket, their man can sag off and stay in the paint – making it nearly impossible to get the ball into Trey Thompkins on the block.  Even if the ball does get down to Trey, the double-team can arrive that much quicker with the extra defender already in the paint.

Coach Fox has been blessed to have two very skilled offensive players at his disposal in Trey Thompkins and Gerald Robinson, Jr.  Why not have a couple of variations in the offense that allow these two to play a little two-man game?  If Robinson and Thompkins run a pick-and-roll from the wing position, good things will happen (just like they did for Florida’s Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton last Tuesday).

And of course, Georgia has to get better defensive rebounding from someone other than Thompkins.  In the Florida game, Trey brought down 13 boards, 8 of which came on defense.  Price and Barnes COMBINED for just 4 total defensive rebounds, enabling Florida’s bigs to clean-up on the offensive glass in the two overtimes.  Both of these guys are big kids (6’8″ and 250+ lbs), and there is no excuse for the way that they got pushed around underneath by Florida’s forwards.  Kentucky has a big frontline as well, and they are averaging nearly 14 offensive rebounds a game in the SEC.  If Price and Barnes aren’t physical on Saturday, Kentucky’s bigs will have a field day on the offensive glass.

By losing on Tuesday, Georgia put themselves in a tight spot at 3-3 in the conference, with more road games (6) remaining than home games (4).  Against Kentucky, the Dawgs will be facing the possibility of going below .500 in the league for the first time this season.

The good news is that Georgia is 2-0 this year when coming off of an SEC loss, and they are 4-1 in true road games.  The Dawgs responded emphatically to their losses against Vanderbilt and Tennesse by blowing out the state of Mississippi (Ole Miss and Missy St).

I don’t expect Georgia to blow out Kentucky on Saturday (4pm on ESPN).  The Cats will undoubtedly be looking to avenge their earlier loss to Georgia.

But I do think that the Dawgs will play with a lot of emotion in Rupp, and I expect to see a very strong effort from Coach Fox’s team.

Gators Best Dawgs 104-91 in Double Overtime

The Georgia Bulldogs (14-5; 3-3) certainly didn’t play their most complete game of the season last night against the #23 Florida Gators.  They turned the ball over too much (20 times to be exact) and they couldn’t defend Florida’s guard tandem of Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton – they scored 24 apiece.

But it’s hard to find too much fault in the Dawgs‘ overall effort, as they showed a lot of heart last night (especially near the end).

When Erving Walker scored with 3:08 left in regulation to put his team up 72-64, it appeared as though the game was over.  Fans started exiting Stegeman in hopes of beating the traffic for their commutes home.

I looked over at my buddy sitting next to me at the game and said, “Georgia is going to need some sort of Reggie Miller-type miracle to happen”.

And the Dawgs nearly got it.  Dustin Ware found Jeremy Price for a wide open dunk, and on the next possession Ware stole the ball and took it the length of the floor before getting fouled.  Dustin buried both free throws and all of a sudden Georgia was only down by four with 1:28 left.

After a missed three-pointer by Erving Walker, Georgia took the ball to their end of the floor before calling timeout to draw up a play with only 28 seconds remaining.  Coming out of the timeout, Gerald Robinson, Jr, who had been a non-factor for a majority of the game, canned a long three to bring his team within a point.

Florida’s Erving Walker connected on only one of his two free throw attempts, and the Dawgs now had the ball with 21 seconds to go and a chance to tie or win the game.  Things got a little frantic on this last possession, with Jeremy Price holding the ball in his hands at the three-point line with roughly six seconds left.  Price managed to find Ware though, who drove the ball to the basket and put up a shot that missed, but Trey Thompkins was there to put it back in with time expiring – sending the game to overtime.

Georgia had done it.  They had come back from eight points down in three minutes to send the game to overtime.

And in the first overtime, it looked like the Dawgs were going to win it.  Jeremy Price calmly sunk two free throws to put his team up 85-82 with only 6 seconds remaining.  At this point, it seemed as though the Dawgs had the victory – they were going to steal one away from the Gators in a game that they probably didn’t deserve to win.

But then Erving Walker drove the ball the length of the floor and nailed an NBA-range three-pointer to send the game to a second overtime.

It felt like the air was let out of the building (and the Georgia basketball team).

Georgia forgot to show up for the second overtime, and Florida took advantage.  The Gators out-scored the Dawgs 19-6 on 7 points off of turnovers and 6 second-chance points.  Florida’s Chandler Parsons must have been ready to head back to Gainesville, because the senior scored 9 points in the second OT, shoving the nail into the coffin.

When you play a team as good as Florida, you cannot give the ball to them 20 times because they will make you pay.  The Gators got 25 points off of Georgia turnovers, which was a major difference-maker in this game.  Georgia’s Gerald Robinson and Travis Leslie were the leading culprits, with six turnovers apiece.

To Leslie’s credit though, all six of his turnovers came in the first half.  Travis cleaned up his game, and gave Coach Fox a monster second-half effort, scoring 16 of his 21 points after the break.

Robinson, however, did not show up for the Dawgs on Tuesday night.  GR2 picked up 2 fouls early in the game, forcing him to sit for 15 minutes in the first half.  Other than the three-pointer he hit at the end of regulation, Robinson never seemed to return to the game.  He finished with just 7 points, his lowest output this season in an SEC game.  GR2 picked a tough night to lay an egg.

Florida center Vernon Macklin led his team with 23 points and 9 rebounds, punishing Georgia’s Jeremy Price and Chris Barnes on the block.  His 23 points was a season-high, and 6 of his 9 boards were of the offensive variety.

This was the second time this season in which Georgia has allowed an opposing SEC center to set a season best against them.  Vanderbilt’s Festus Ezeli dropped 18 points on the Dawgs in Nashville, which is his highest output thus far this season in SEC play.

Price and Barnes (if they are capable) must give Georgia better interior defense as the season moves forward.  They cannot continue to play the role of “dinner” to opposing SEC centers.

Junior Trey Thompkins, who played valiantly through an apparent ankle injury, led Georgia with 13 rebounds as well as 20 points.  Right now, Trey is the only big on the team that is consistently blocking out and defensive rebounding (8 of his 13 boards came on the defensive glass on Tuesday).  Price and Barnes finished with just 4 defensive rebounds between them, which is unacceptable.

Travis Leslie probably put it best after the game, saying that this was a “devastating loss”.  He is right – it was a devastating loss.

Georgia now sits at 3-3 in the conference, with impending trips to Kentucky and Arkansas on the schedule.  After winning in Athens, the Gators are now in the driver’s seat in the SEC East with a 5-1 record.

If you want to assure yourself of a winning conference record, then you must protect your home court.  The Dawgs are now 2-2 at home in SEC games, and they can ill afford to drop another one inside of Stegeman Coliseum if they hope to play their way into this year’s NCAA tournament.

The Dawgs will have three days to rest and regroup before heading to Lexington to take on a vengeful Kentucky Wildcats team on Saturday.

The Cats are off this week, and they have yet to lose a game in Rupp Arena under John Calipari’s tutelage.

Needless to say, the uphill climb starts now for the Georgia Bulldogs.

Georgia Gets #23 Florida on Tuesday

The Georgia Bulldogs (14-4; 3-2) have quite a week ahead of them, arguably their most difficult of the season.  On Tuesday, the Dawgs will match-up with the #23 Florida Gators, and then this Saturday Georgia will travel to Lexington for a rematch with the #16 Kentucky Wildcats.

Needless to say, Georgia will need to bring their “A games” for both of these contests.

Florida currently sits atop of the SEC East division with a 4-1 conference record.  Should Georgia win on Tuesday, they would put themselves (most likely) into a multi-team tie for first – not a bad place to be before going to Kentucky.

One of the unsung heroes of this Georgia team that I feel deserves a bit of recognition is junior guard Dustin Ware.  Since the beginning of SEC play, Ware has really stepped up his game and been a solid floor general for Coach Mark Fox.  Through the first five conference games, Dustin has dealt out 26 assists to just 2 turnovers, making his robust 13.0 assist-to-turnover ratio tops in the SEC (the next closest player is Ole Miss’s Chris Warren at 4.0).  On the season, Ware’s assist-to-turnover ratio sits at 4.12, ranking him second in the nation in that category.

Dustin has also begun to embrace his role as this Georgia team’s perimeter threat, connecting on 45.5% of his three-point attempts in league games (he is netting 2 three-point field goals per SEC game) and averaging 8.6 ppg.

Coach Mark Fox will need more of the same from Ware on Tuesday if his Georgia Bulldogs hope to upend the first-place Gators, who returned all five starters from last year’s NCAA tournament team.  Florida coach Billy Donovan starts a veteran lineup (3 seniors, a junior and a sophomore), and like any experienced lineup the Gators have been playing smart basketball, leading the SEC with a 1.6 assist-to-turnover ratio (UGA is second at 1.4).  The Florida scoring this year has been about as balanced as you can get, with four starters averaging in double-figures and one (Alex Tyus) at 9.5 ppg.

Sophomore guard Kenny Boynton is leading the Gators’ scoring charge in SEC play with 14.4 ppg.  Fellow guard, junior Erving Walker, is adding to the total with 13.2 ppg in conference games.  Both of these guys seem to be in range as soon as the ball crosses the half court line, meaning Georgia’s guards need to be prepared to defend the extended perimeter.  On the season, Walker has been the more consistent three-point shooter, connecting on over 41% of his attempts (to Boynton’s 30.2%).  In league games however, Boynton has started out red-hot, knocking down 38.2% of his shots from beyond the arc.

Probably the most difficult Florida player for teams to match-up with is 6’9″ senior Chandler Parsons, a preseason All-SEC Second Team selection.  Parsons, who is officially listed as a forward, is not afraid to shoot it from the outside, as he is making 47.1% of his three-point attempts in SEC games.  He has been doing it all for Coach Donavan in conference games, averaging 10.2 ppg and leading his team in both rebounding (7.6 rpg) and assists (4.4 apg).  Parsons has been in a bit of a slump lately, however, mustering just 6.0 ppg and shooting only 33% from the field over the past three games.  Georgia’s Travis Leslie will most likely be assigned to him, and hopefully he can frustrate Parsons and keep him out of rhythm offensively.

The remainder of Florida’s frontcourt is rather big as well, with seniors Vernon Macklin and Alex Tyus standing at 6’10” and 6’8″, respectively.  Macklin has gotten out to a great start in conference play, averaging 11.6 ppg and 6.4 rpg.  Both of these guys play well on offense with their backs to the basket.  Trey Thompkins, Jeremy Price and Chris Barnes are going to have to work hard to defend Macklin and Tyus, as well as keeping them off of the boards.

This is a very strong Florida team, with a 4-1 record in games played outside of Gainesville and an RPI rating of 19 (Georgia’s RPI is currently 42).

But so is Georgia.

Coach Donovan has some very flattering words for the Dawgs in his pregame press conference on Monday:

“I think on any given night, watching Georgia play, I’m hard-pressed to believe that they are unable to line up against anyone in the country.  Ohio State’s #1 in the country, they’re undefeated, we played them.  Georgia and Ohio State play on a neutral court, it would be an unbelievable game.”

There are a lot match-ups to get excited about in tonight’s game:

Georgia’s guard tandem of Gerald Robinson, Jr. and Dustin Ware versus Florida’s Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton.

Travis Leslie and Chandler Parsons, two of the SEC’s best wingmen, will be squaring off on the offensive and defensive ends.

Last year, Trey Thompkins played some of his best basketball against Florida, averaging 22.0 points and 6.5 boards in the team’s two meetings.  Alex Tyus will undoubtedly be looking to redeem himself on Tuesday night by shutting Trey down.

And throw in the fact that the Gators have lost their last two games in Stegeman, and you’ve got the makings for a great basketball game (probably why ESPN is airing it live at 7:00PM EST).

The Dawgs have sold-out Stegeman for all three of their SEC home games this season, and I expect that Tuesday night’s game will be played in front of another capacity crowd.  The atmosphere inside the Steg should be electric (with it being Florida and all), and personally, I cannot wait to get inside the building.

Georgia has done a great job of protecting their home turf this year, sporting a 9-1 record in Athens.  Despite suffering their first home loss of the season to Tennessee last Tuesday, ESPN’s Joe Lunardi kept the Dawgs in this week’s Bracketology.

Will the Dawgs get their tenth home win on Tuesday?

Georgia Coasts Past Mississippi State

The Georgia Bulldogs (14-4; 3-2) continued their dominance over the state of Mississippi on Saturday, throttling Mississippi State 86-64 (Georgia also has wins over Ole Miss and Mississippi Valley State).

If you were a Georgia fan, this was a very fun game to watch.  If you were a Mississippi State fan, you probably didn’t watch past the halftime break.

Georgia was exceptionally efficient on offense, connecting on nearly 50% of their field goal attempts to go along with hitting 11 of 19 from beyond the arc.  The Dawgs played unselfishly, which led to 19 team assists, with Dustin Ware leading the way with 6 dishes.

The Dawgs jumped on Mississippi State early, opening the game with an 11-2 run before State took a timeout with 17:02 left to catch their breath.  Unfortunately for MSU, the timeout didn’t work.  Georgia went on to hit 6 three-pointers in the first half, building up a lead that got as high as 19 points in the first half.  The Dawgs took a 42-29 lead into the intermission.

Things didn’t improve for Mississippi State after the break, with Georgia going on a 17-9 run and taking the lead to 59-38 with 12:49 remaining in the game.  From that point on, the Dawgs were on cruise control.

Georgia came out of the gates on Saturday and gave Coach Mark Fox another sound defensive effort, holding MSU to under 42% from the field and 29.2% from three-point range.  The Dawgs owned the glass, out rebounding State by a tally of 48 to 23.

Georgia was relentless on the boards, hauling down 17 offensive rebounds which led to 14 second chance points (MSU had just 2).

Coach Mark Fox benched Jeremy Price to start the game, and Price responded with a solid effort – 11 points and 5 rebounds in 25 minutes of play.  Price was strong with the ball inside, and he kept his composure on the defensive end, limiting himself to just 2 personal fouls.

Maybe Fox should bench Price more often?

Trey Thompkins was silky smooth as usual, scoring 15 points and grabbing 7 rebounds.  There was a play in the game’s second half that really showcased Thompkins’ versatility – Trey secured the defensive rebound, then proceeded to take the ball the length of the court before making a beautiful bounce pass to a cutting Gerald Robinson, Jr. that resulted in an easy lay-up.  How many 6’10” power forwards are there in college basketball that can successfully run the point guard position on the fast break?

Mississippi State was led by their NCAA rule-breaking duo, Dee Bost and Renardo Sidney.  Bost finished the game with 20 points, and Sidney chipped in 15.

This was another great win for Georgia, putting them back above .500 with a 3-2 SEC record.

An interesting statistic – Georgia has followed up both of its conference losses this season with 22-point blowouts.  This is a true credit to the character of this team and the leadership of Coach Fox.  When this team has lost SEC games this year, they haven’t laid down and licked their wounds.  On the contrary, the Dawgs have responded with dominating performances.

The Dawgs should enjoy this win, but be ready to work tomorrow because they have a very tough week ahead of them – Florida in Athens on Tuesday and then off to Lexington on Saturday for a rematch with Kentucky.

Georgia looks to bounce back against Missy State

The Mississippi State Bulldogs (10-7; 2-1) will take on the Georgia Bulldogs (13-4; 2-2) this Saturday in what will be a critical game for both teams, with the winner earning an above .500 record in the conference.

I cannot express how happy I am that Georgia will finally play Mississippi State WITHOUT Jarvis Varnado manning the paint.  Varnado, the SEC’s all-time leading shot blocker, only lost to Georgia once in his career (in five games), and he rejected 24 of the Dawgs‘ shot attempts.  Varnado swatted 6 shots in MSU’s 72-69 win over the Dawgs last year in Starkville, a frustrating game in which Georgia blew a 13-point lead with only 4:16 remaining.  He will certainly not be missed in Athens this Saturday.

Don’t let State’s 10-7 record fool you – this is a team that has been playing most of the season without two of its best players – sophomore Renardo Sidney and junior Dee Bost.  Sidney missed games at the beginning of the year due to an NCAA suspension, and then he was suspended for a few more after brawling with teammate Elgin Bailey before a preseason tournament game in Hawaii.  The NCAA punished Bost as well with a nine-game suspension for not withdrawing his name from the 2010 NBA Draft by the established deadline.

Both of the players are back now and starting, and MSU is beginning to play more like the team that projected to win the SEC West (at the moment they sport a 2-1 conference record).

Mississippi State, much like Tennessee, will look to play very physical against Georgia on Saturday, and they have the personnel to do it.  At 6’10” and 270 pounds, Renardo Sidney is an absolute tank on the inside.  The preseason All-SEC Second Team selection is netting 14.4 ppg and 5.8 rpg, and he has a surprising soft touch on his short-range jumper (52.7% from the field).  Joining Sidney on the block is senior forward Kodi Augustus, who is averaging just under a double-double per game in SEC play with 9.0 ppg and 10.7 rpg.

Dee Bost runs the show in the front court, leading this team with 7.0 apg to go along with 16.0 ppg.  He is very good at getting past his defender and into the paint, where he can either look to score or kick it out to one of his sharp-shooters – Ravern Johnson or Riley Benock.  Senior marksman Ravern Johnson leads this State team in scoring with 18.5 ppg, and he’s connecting on 37% of his three-point attempts.  Benock is only chipping in 7.6 ppg, but he is deadly from beyond the arc, nailing over 45% of his attempts.  Both of these guys can get white-hot during games, with Johnson hitting 3 or more three-pointers in nine games this season (Benock has gone for 3 or more three’s in six games).

In Georgia‘s two SEC losses this season (Vandy, Tennessee), Trey Thompkins was double- and triple-teamed when he received the ball on the block.  I definitely expect to see Mississippi State attempt to guard Trey in a similar manner, or at least until the Dawgs show that they can handle it (which Georgia didn’t do well against Vandy or Tennessee).  Coach Mark Fox has to find ways to get his guys spaced so that when the double-team goes to Thompkins, he has a viable option on offense to pass to.

This is a veteran Mississippi State team (starting 3 seniors, a junior and a sophomore) that has already won its first SEC road game (at Ole Miss).  However, they do have one glaring weakness, and that is the fact that they haven’t done a great job of protecting the basketball through their first three conference games.  MSU is turning the ball over more than any other team in the SEC at 17.0 per league game.  If the Dawgs play the same brand of intense defense on Saturday that they played against Tennessee last Tuesday night, Mississippi State will give them the ball a number of times.

Trey Thompkins, Gerald Robinson, Jr. and Travis Leslie are obviously the nucleus of this Georgia Bulldogs basketball team.  In league play, Robinson is scoring 18.3 ppg, Thompkins 18.0 ppg and Leslie 16.8 ppg.  They are without a doubt the heart and soul of the Georgia offense.

However, one interesting thing to note:  in all four of Georgia losses this year, no one else besides Trey, GR2 or Leslie scored in double-figures.  In the Dawgs’ two SEC wins over Kentucky and Mississippi,  other players (Ware and Price) scored more than 10 points as well.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – Ware and Price (or another big?) have to supplement the scoring of the Dawgs Big Three (Trey, GR2, Leslie) for Georgia to become more consistent on offense.

For anyone who attended or watched the Tennessee game, the result was heartbreaking.  I can only imagine how upset the players must have felt.  This game on Saturday will provide Georgia with a great opportunity to bounce back and get another conference win.

But this Mississippi State team is going to come into Athens and they will be ready for a fight (sorry Renardo Sidney, no pun intended).

In my opinion, this is a must-win for the Dawgs, especially since they have Florida up next and then they are at Kentucky.  If Georgia loses to State, they will have to beat both the Gators and the Cats just to get back above .500 in conference play.

Georgia is 8-1 at home this season, and they are 2-1 when coming off of a loss.

Can Mark Fox’s team rebound on Saturday after dropping the buzzer-beater last Tuesday?

Dawgs Lose Heartbreaker At Home

Well, I can honestly say that I have never been to a game before where the winning points were added to the scoreboard with both of the teams at their respective benches.

But that’s what happened in Athens on Tuesday night, as Tennessee came into Stegeman Coliseum and stole one (59-57) from Georgia (13-4; 2-2)  in front of a sell-out crowd.

The Vols had the ball with 27 seconds remaining and the scored knotted at 57-57.  The ball ended up in the hands of freshman Tobias Harris, who missed a three-pointer from the corner with only 6 seconds left.  Tennessee center Brian Williams went over Georgia’s Chris Barnes for the offensive rebound, and then proceeded to put the ball back up and in as time expired for the win.

From my seat at the game, it was pretty difficult to tell whether or not Williams committed a foul on Barnes when he went after the rebound.  Regardless, Chris Barnes HAS to come up with that board – foul or no foul – or at least bat the ball up in the air and send the game into overtime.

Although, I did hear Brian Williams say on Sportscenter this morning, “I’m surprised they didn’t call a foul.”

This game, though offensively-challenged, was very competitive, with the largest lead being seven points (when Georgia was up 28-21 with 4:45 left in the first half).  Both Georgia and Tennessee shot under 43% from the floor, largely because each team played intense, physical defense for 40 minutes.

The Vols did an excellent job of defending Trey Thompkins on the block, limiting him to 13 points on 4 of 13 shooting from the field.  Tennessee made it difficult for Trey to receive the basketball near the basket, and even when he did get it in his hands it was only a matter of seconds before he was doubled-up.

Thompkins began the first minute of second half with two straight baskets, giving his Dawgs a 37-35 lead.  In the game’s final 19 minutes though, Trey only scored one point (on a free throw) and missed his two field goal attempts.  Georgia will not win many games this year when Thompkins attempts just 4 field goals in a second half.

Gerald Robinson, Jr. was superb in the first half, scoring 12 points and connecting on all four of his shots from the field (including 2 of 2 from beyond the arc).  In the second half however, Robinson was a ghost, going 0 for 3 from the floor and scoring just 2 points.  For whatever reason, Robinson stopped creating on offense after the break.

I thought that Travis Leslie, who led the Dawgs with 14 points, had a resilient second half considering that he missed his first three shots coming out of intermission.  Leslie’s dunk on his own three-point miss was not only a brilliant display of athleticism, but it was also a critical basket that Georgia desperately needed after not scoring for over 4 minutes (bringing the Dawgs to within one after he hit the ensuing free throw).

Jeremy Price, who dealt with foul trouble for most of the game, was a non-factor for Coach Mark Fox on Tuesday.  He played just 9 minutes, finishing with 2 rebounds and 0 points.  Price’s point totals in the first four conference games have been 2, 2, 12, 0, for an average of 4.0 ppg.  Georgia has to have another big that can score on the block when Trey is seeing double-teams, and if Price isn’t that guy, then someone else needs to step up.

Tennessee was led offensively by Tobias Harris and Scotty Hopson, with both players finishing with 15 points.

The UGA student section did an excellent job of making noise and giving the Steg a vibrant atmosphere.  I would like to give them props as well for their clever chant of “Where’s your daddy?”, used every time Bruce Pearl’s son Steven handled the ball (which wasn’t often).

This is going to be a tough loss for Georgia to swallow, and if you listened to Coach Fox on the post-game show – he sounded utterly dejected.  The Dawgs did themselves a huge favor last Saturday by winning on the road in Oxford, only to cough one up at home.  Now the pressure is back on for Georgia to win a few more games away from Athens if they hope to finish with an above .500 SEC record.

The game this Saturday against Mississippi State just became a must-win.

Georgia Hosts Tennessee (minus Bruce Pearl)

Georgia (13-3; 2-1) hosts Tennessee (11-6; 1-2) on Tuesday night in what will be the first of three straight home games for the Bulldogs.

Tennessee has been a Jekyll and Hyde kind of team this year, with a little more Jeckyll showing up lately than Hyde.  The Vols have been sensational in some of their wins over teams like Villanova, Pittsburgh, Memphis and Vanderbilt.  However, several of Tennessee’s losses (Oakland, Charlotte, USC, College of Charleston) have left fans and analysts scratching their heads.

As most of you are probably already aware, the Vols are playing their first eight SEC games without head coach Bruce Pearl due to an SEC-imposed penalty.  Pearl was found guilty of some illegal contact with recruits, and Tennessee went ahead and took some lumps in hopes of lessening the impending NCAA sanctions.

The Pearl-less Vols have gotten out to a 1-2 start in conference play, but they are fresh off an impressive 67-64 comeback win over in-state nemesis Vanderbilt.

Tennessee relies heavily on their starting guards for offense, beginning with junior Scotty Hopson, who leads this team in scoring with 16.5 points per game.  At 6’7″, Hopson is a difficult match-up for opposing guards because he shoots the ball well from the perimeter (35.1% from three-point range), yet he can also take defenders off the dribble and attack the rim.  Coach Mark Fox will probably assign Travis Leslie to guard Hopson, which could be difficult considering Leslie will be yielding three inches in height.

Junior Cameron Tatum and senior Melvin Goins round out the Vols’ backcourt, scoring 10.5 ppg and 8.2 ppg, respectively.  The 6’6″ Tatum will be a tough assignment for either Gerald Robinson, Jr. or Dustin Ware, depending upon who guards Goins.  Don’t be surprised if Tennessee tries to isolate Tatum on the block to exploit his size advantage over the UGA backcourt.

The Vols have some serious beef inside in freshman phenom Tobias Harris (6’8″, 220lbs) and senior big Brian Williams (6’10”, 278lbs).  Harris has gotten out to a great start in his rookie campaign, netting 15.6 ppg and 7.6 rpg, showing everyone why he was named’s top power forward prospect for the Class of 2010.  He is a versatile big with a nice touch and the ability to take players off the dribble.

Big Brian Williams, the Vols leading rebounder at 8.1 per game, is coming off a monster effort in the win over Vandy in which 8 of his 12 boards came on the offensive glass.  Georgia’s Jeremy Price and Chris Barnes will have to keep a body on this guy to limit Tennessee’s second chance opportunities.

This Tennessee team does not shoot the ball particularly well (Scotty Hopson and Skylar McBee excluded), hitting 43.8% from the field and just 32.4% of their three’s (ranking them near the bottom in the SEC in both categories).  They do, however, like to push the ball and take it to the rim.  This team’s offense works best when it’s in transition.

The Dawgs would be best-served by playing this game at a half-court tempo, and working the ball inside and out.  The Vols do not have much depth, especially in the paint.  If Georgia can deliver the ball to Thompkins and Price on the block, they can attack Harris and Williams and hopefully draw some early fouls.  After those two players, the Vols do not have another big scoring more than 4.0 points per game (coincidentally, neither does Georgia).

The Bulldogs should continue to ride junior guard Gerald Robinson while he is hot.  Robinson’s play in his first three conference games has been nothing short of amazing.  In SEC play, GR2 is tied with teammate Trey Thompkins for third in the league in scoring at 19.7 ppg.  He is shooting  50% from the field, 60% from beyond the arc and 94% from the free throw line.  Lately, it has seemed like anytime the ball has been in his hands good things have happened.  Against Tennessee on Tuesday, I’d like to see Robinson continue to look to create offense from the wing.

I was a little disappointed yesterday when I saw that Georgia had dropped out of the AP Top 25 poll after going 1-1 on the road last week.  The Dawgs are still receiving votes in both polls, but their tenure in the Top 25 was pretty short-lived.  Georgia is not yet a household name when it comes to basketball, and the SEC continues to get limited respect nationally as a basketball conference, with #12 Kentucky being its only team that is currently ranked.  Alok Pattani of ESPN’s College Basketball Blog Nation recently rated all 32 of the NCAA’s Division I conferences – the SEC was 7th.  Before league play began this season, SEC teams played 12 games against teams from the Big East, Pattani’s highest-rated conference…they split the match-ups 6-6.

There is a silver lining in this though, and that is that all six of Tennessee’s losses this season have come against unranked opponents.  When the Vols have faced nationally ranked teams, they are undefeated (with wins over Villanova, Pittsburgh and Memphis).

Georgia is a stellar 8-0 this season when playing at home in the cozy confines of Stegeman Coliseum.  The Dawgs are coming off arguably their best offensive output of the season, and they have won 10 of their last 11 games overall.

Can the Bulldogs keep the momentum rolling Tuesday night against the Vols?

Dawgs Rout Rebel Black Bears 98-76

The Georgia Bulldogs (13-3; 2-1) put on an offensive clinic in Oxford on Saturday night, whipping Ole Miss on their home court 98-76 and getting Coach Mark Fox his first (hopefully of many) SEC road win.

I cannot remember a more efficient offensive performance by a Georgia team in the past decade (if anyone can please comment and add a link).  The Dawgs shot 63.5% from the field as a team, had five players score in double-figures and only had one player (Donte Williams) shoot under 50% from the field.

Georgia set the tone early, jumping out to a 7-0 lead on a Dustin Ware three-pointer and a bucket and some free throws from Jeremy Price.  The Rebels were able to close the gap to 9-5 with 17:03 left in the first half, but that was as close as it would get.  The Ole Miss crowd was taken out of this game before it even started.  It was so quiet you could hear Houston Nutt’s (in attendance) thumbs fervently crunching text messages on his Blackberry.

Georgia shot a sizzling 67% from the field in the first half, with Gerald Robinson, Jr., Trey Thompkins and Travis Leslie scoring 13, 11 and 10, respectively.

I’m trying not to gush over the Dawgs’ offense too much, but it was unbelievable how successful they were against Ole Miss.  Mark Fox’s Bulldogs dished out a season-high 26 assists, while limiting themselves to only 7 turnovers.

And can someone please tell me where the Georgia Bulldog team that shot just 60.1% from the line before SEC play went?  The Dawgs were nearly perfect from the line on Saturday, burying 26-27 from the charity stripe and making all 17 of their second-half free throw attempts.  Through the first three SEC games, Georgia is now shooting 88.2% from the free throw line, which is by far tops in the conference.

Gerald Robinson put in another superb effort, and he is starting to look like one of the better guards in the conference.  GR2 led the Dawgs on Saturday with 22 points and 5 assists, and he looked real smooth doing it.  Robinson shot it well again from the perimeter, sinking all three of his three-point attempts – he’s hitting 60% of his shots from beyond the arc in conference play.  GR2 could become totally unstoppable with an outside shot, since he can blow by most defenders off the dribble.

As if GR2’s offensive output wasn’t enough, he also locked-down Ole Miss’ leading scorer, Chris Warren.  Warren came into the game netting nearly 19 points per game, yet on Saturday he mustered just 9 points on 3 of 12 shooting from the floor, his lowest scoring tally of the season.  Robinson frustrated Warren early and often, and he didn’t even hit a field goal until nearly 10 minutes had elapsed in the first half.  GR2 has now shut down two of the SEC’s best point guards – Kentucky’s Brandon Knight and Ole Miss’ Chris Warren…pretty impressive stuff.

Trey Thompkins really peppered the stat sheet on Saturday, scoring 21 points to go along with 4 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 blocks.  Offensively, Trey looked like an NBA lottery pick, canning shot after shot.

After the Vanderbilt game, there seemed to be a sense of frustration among the Georgia fan base with regards to the play of  Jeremy Price and Dustin Ware.  Bulldog fans wanted more from this team’s veteran role players, and on Saturday they got it.  Dustin Ware stepped up and poured in 15 points to go along with a team-leading 9 assists.  Ware looked confident and ready to shoot on offense, hitting 2 of his 3 three-point attempts.  Price rebounded (no pun intended) well from the Vandy game as well, finishing with 12 points and leading Georgia with 6 boards.

All and all, it was truly just a great team effort.  Georgia appeared poised from the beginning, and they looked like a team deserving of a national ranking.  And most importantly, the Dawgs (and Coach Fox) finally got the monkey off their back and won an SEC road game for the first time in over a year.

The Dawgs now sit at 2-1 in league play, and they will head home for a three-game home stand against Tennessee, Mississippi State and Florida.  Getting this road win at Ole Miss was huge, and it gives Georgia a great opportunity to build up a solid conference record.

P.S.  The Colorado Buffaloes beat Oklahoma State on Saturday 75-71, making them now 3-0 in the Big 12 and 14-4 overall.  Georgia beat the Buffs 82-74 back in November without the services of Trey Thompkins.  This win is beginning to look like a “quality win” (especially if analysts note that it was without Trey), and I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see Colorado end up in the NCAA Tournament in March.

Georgia travels to Oxford to take on Mississippi

The last time that the Georgia Bulldogs (12-3; 1-1) won an SEC road contest was March 4, 2009, when the Dawgs beat Kentucky in Rupp Arena 90-85.

The Bulldogs coach that day – Pete Hermann from the “Dennis Felton Era”.

There is no doubt that Mark Fox has begun to right the ship at Georgia.  But if the Dawgs are going to have a successful season in the SEC, they must win some league games away from Stegeman Coliseum.  Under Fox’s tutelage, Georgia now sports an 0-9 record in SEC road trips.  If you want to impress the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee in March, you have to win away from home in your conference.

Plus, if Georgia continues to lose SEC road games, there is always the risk that the pressure will escalate and it could become more of a mental thing.

This Saturday, Georgia will travel to Oxford to take on a Mississippi Rebels (12-5; 0-2) team that was projected to finish near the top of the SEC West this season.

The Rebels share three common opponents with the Dawgs – Arkansas State, Mississippi Valley State and Saint Louis.  Ole Miss beat those three teams by a combined total of 48 points.  Georgia, on the other hand, won by a tally of 13 total points (it should be noted that they were without star Trey Thompkins in the MVSU and Saint Louis games).

This Ole Miss team starts and stops with senior point guard Chris Warren, a preseason All-SEC Second Team selection.  Warren has unlimited range from the outside and he isn’t shy about shooting it, averaging over seven three-point attempts per game so far this season.  He paces the Rebels with 18.9 ppg and 4.1 apg, while knocking down nearly 35% of his shots from beyond the arc.  And similarly to Vanderbilt’s John Jenkins, who the Dawgs faced on Wednesday, Warren doesn’t need a lot of space to get his shot off – Dawgs’ defenders need to keep as close to him as possible.

Joining Warren in the backcourt is fellow senior Zach Graham.  The 6’6″ Graham is more of a catch-and-shoot guard, averaging 13.9 ppg.  Graham isn’t a dual-threat like Chris Warren, but he is a streaky shooter that can make teams pay if he’s left open.

The Rebels are a little thin in the paint, with junior Terrance Henry and sophomore Reginald Buckner holding things down.  Henry (6’9″, 205lbs) and Buckner (6’8″, 233lbs) don’t give Ole Miss too much scoring on the inside (both players average under double-digits), but both players shoot over 50% from the field and bring down over six rebounds apiece per game.

The Rebels shoot the ball very well, hitting 46.7% of their field goal attempts and 74.7% of their free throws (which is tops in the conference).  Ole Miss is third in the SEC in scoring offense, averaging 76.8 points per game.

Georgia looked like an entirely different team defensively against Vanderbilt than they did against Kentucky.  Against the Commodores, the Dawgs seemed a step slow defending on the perimeter, and they were pretty soft inside.

If the Dawgs are going to win at Ole Miss this Saturday, things are going to have to tighten up on the defensive end.  I’m not sure who will be chasing Chris Warren around – Dustin Ware or Gerald Robinson, Jr. – but whoever it is better be ready to go.

Georgia’s defense is getting its third-straight test against an SEC team scoring in the high 70’s – actually, Kentucky ranks first in the league in points per game, then Vanderbilt and then Ole Miss.

Gerald Robinson has gotten out to a sensational start in his first two conference games, averaging 18.5 ppg and knocking down 3 of his 7 three-point attempts.  The last couple of games, GR2 has looked virtually unguardable when he gets the ball on the wing.  He has an ultra-quick first step to go along with an explosive burst, making him one of the hardest players in the conference to defend.  I think that Robinson should have the “green light” to create every time he has the ball in his hands against a man defense.

In the loss at Vandy on Wednesday night, Robinson, Thompkins and Travis Leslie scored 82% of Georgia’s points (and Trey only had 13).  If Georgia is going to win on the road in this league, they must get better production from their role players – Jeremy Price & Dustin Ware.  Through two conference games, Price is 2 of 10 from the field with 4 total points; Ware is 4 of 16 from the field with 13 total points.

Now I’m not saying that Price and Ware should be scoring in double-figures every night, but they do need to score closer to their season averages for Georgia to be effective on offense (especially in game’s when Trey isn’t scoring – see Vandy).  Price is netting 8.1 ppg and Ware is at 6.9 ppg – if they can contribute close to these numbers on Saturday I feel confident that Georgia can win.

This will be the second straight game for Georgia against an opponent that is coming off of a loss.  On Thursday night, Mississippi lost to its in-state rival Mississippi State 69-64, making the Rebels 0-2 in SEC play.  After Saturday’s game, Ole Miss goes on the road to Vanderbilt and then LSU.  You had better believe that the Dawgs will have the Rebels full attention, as they will not want to drop their third straight conference game.

Before the loss in Nashville on Wednesday night, Georgia had not dropped a game since falling to the Temple Owls at the Old Spice Classic back in November.

How will Mark Fox’s team deal with coming off of a loss?

Tip-off is at 5:00pm EST and the game will be televised on the Fox Sports Network.