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 Scout.com’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?