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?