Dawgs Face Stiff Test in Kentucky

The last time the Georgia Bulldogs (11-2) men’s basketball team beat a Top 10 opponent was on Saturday February 14, 2004.

Do you know who the Dawgs beat that day?

The #4 ranked Kentucky Wildcats.

This Saturday Georgia will have the opportunity to knock off another Top 10 opponent when the #10 Kentucky Wildcats (12-2) roll into Athens (Georgia is currently receiving exactly one vote in that same AP poll).

Kentucky was projected to finish first in the SEC East this season, and after 14 games, it looks like that prediction could come to fruition.  The Cats are in the midst of a seven-game winning streak, and they have already knocked off three ranked teams (Washington, Notre Dame and Louisville).

The 2011 Kentucky team is different from the 2010 squad, which sent five players to the NBA.  The dribble-drive motto of last year’s team has been replaced by a new group of Cats that both prefer and can shoot it from the outside.  The Cats are currently 8th in the nation in three-point percentage at 41.9%, and they are netting over 8 three-pointers a game (1st in the conference).  Scoring has not been a problem for Coach Calipari’s team as they are ranked 18th in the country at 80.7 ppg (which is also first in the SEC).

Coach Cal basically goes with a seven-man rotation, with his starting five gobbling up a majority of the minutes.  The Cats’ starting backcourt is highlighted by freshman sensation Brandon Knight (18.3 ppg), along with juniors DeAndre Liggins (9.5 ppg) and Darius Miller (9.4 ppg).  Brandon Knight, a preseason All-SEC First Team selection, is leading his team in both scoring and assists (3.9 apg), while shooting a robust 39.8% from beyond the arc.  He is one of the best guards in the country, and this will likely be his only year of tenure under Coach Calipari.  Knight is so dangerous because he can hurt teams from the outside as well as in the lane – pick your poison folks.

Holding down the post is fellow freshman phenom, Terrance Jones, who was just recently named to the John R. Wooden Award Midseason 30 list.  Jones is averaging nearly a double-double every game at 17.1 ppg and 9.1 rpg – he has 5 double-doubles on the season.  He can score the ball from inside and out, and he is quite agile for a 6’8″ big.  Trey Thompkins needs to be careful when guarding the quicker Jones as to avoid picking up any cheap fouls.

Joining Jones in the frontcourt is senior forward Josh Harrellson, who is steadily improving each week, earning last week’s SEC Player of the Week Honor for his performances against Coppin State and Lousiville.  At 6’10” and 275lbs, Harrellson is a load inside, averaging 7.1 ppg and 9.4 rpg this season.  He has eight games already this season in which he has grabbed 10+ rebounds.

The Cats get great bench scoring from freshman sharp-shooter Doron Lamb.  Lamb is averaging 14.1 ppg and shooting a blistering 52.6% from three-point range.  The highlight of his season thus far came on December 22nd against Winthrop, a game in which he connected on 7 of 8 from beyond the arc en route to a career-high 32 points.  When Lamb is on the court, Georgia better be fully aware of his location or he will make them pay dearly.

This Kentucky team is the best team that Georgia will play all season.  They are tall, athletic and they score and rebound well (40.5 boards per game, first in the conference).  However, there is a slight chink in the Cats’ armor.  Both of their losses this season have come away from Lexington – Connecticut in the Maui Invitational and at North Carolina.  The common theme in both of these Wildcat losses: Terrance Jones was in foul trouble.  Against Connecticut, Jones picked up two fouls early and was forced to sit for a portion of the first half, enabling the Huskies to build up a 50-29 lead at the break (he finished the game with 4 fouls).  In the Cats’ 75-73 loss in Chapel Hill, Jones was in foul trouble the entire game before fouling out with 3 minutes remaining, finishing with just 9 points (his lowest output of the season).

If the Dawgs are going to be successful on Saturday, they have to drive the ball at Terrence Jones.  In the first nine games of this season, Gerald Robinson, Jr. averaged 14.9 ppg and 5.4 apg.  However, in the past five games GR2’s numbers have fallen significantly, scoring just 9.0 ppg and dishing out only 3.6 apg.  For whatever reason, Robinson has lost some his tenacity on offense.  On Saturday, Mark Fox will need GR2 to assert himself and push the ball into the lane.  Robinson can draw fouls on both Knight and Jones if he becomes the aggressor.

Kentucky is going to make three-point shots, you can bet on that.  Georgia has been dismal from beyond the arc this season and they are currently last in the SEC in both three-point shooting (30.9%) and three-point field goals made (4.2).  Neither Dustin Ware or Sherrard Brantley has made a three-point shot in the last three games, missing all 10 of their attempts.  One of these guys (hopefully Ware) has to get it together and knock down a couple three’s on Saturday.  If the Dawgs don’t have a legit three-point threat on the floor, it will allow Kentucky to sag down more on Thompkins and Price.

The atmosphere in Stegeman Coliseum last season for the Kentucky game was electric, and I expect Saturday to be no different.

The Kentucky football team will be taking on Pittsburgh at 12pm Saturday in the BBVA Compass Bowl in Birmingham, Alabama, so there might not be quite as many Cat fans in the Steg as usual (which is fine by me).

Georgia is currently in the midst of an eight-game winning streak, and they have yet to drop a game in Athens this season.  However, the level of competition that the Dawgs have played up to this point has been slightly below the talent that Coach Cal will put on the court Saturday.  Georgia hasn’t beaten a ranked team this season, with their biggest win being either UAB, Colorado or Georgia Tech – take your pick.

We are going to learn just how good Georgia really is after the Kentucky game, and we will know if they are legitimate SEC contenders or merely conference pretenders.