Dawgs at Hogs

The Georgia Bulldogs (14-6; 3-4) are in the midst of a two-game losing streak – their first of 2011.

Last Tuesday, the Dawgs fought their way back at home against the Florida Gators, only to lose in double-overtime 104-91.  Georgia followed up the Florida loss by dropping one on Saturday in Lexington to Kentucky 66-60, a game in which the Dawgs All-SEC tandem of Trey Thompkins and Travis Leslie combined for just 14 total points.  Needless to say, it was a tough week for the Bulldog basketball program.

This is a Georgia basketball team that was labeled before the season as a “program on the rise“, with NCAA Tournament expectations.  With a 3-4 conference record, those expectations are close to being seriously derailed.  If Georgia hopes to remain in the postseason discussion as March draws near, the Dawgs must have (at the least) an 8-8 SEC record (beating Xavier at home on February 8th would be wonderful as well).  Assuming that Georgia can hold serve and win out its remaining conference home games, that would still leave them a win shy of the eight-win mark.

Translation:  The Dawgs are now in the unfavorable position of needing another SEC road win.

On Wednesday night (weather permitting), Georgia will look to get back on track against an Arkansas Razorback (14-6; 4-3) team that is riding a two-game winning streak.  The Razorbacks are coming off of their signature win of the year thus far, an 89-78 upset at Vanderbilt.  Junior Rotnei Clarke torched Vandy for 36 points, and gave the Commodores their first home loss of the season (despite only getting 16 minutes and 6 points from sophomore star Marshawn Powell).

Clarke was brilliant last week for the Razorbacks, scoring 52 points in their wins over Auburn and Vanderbilt, earning him the “Player of the Week” honor in the conference.

This Arkansas team has literally been living and dying with Rotnei Clarke’s offense so far in SEC play.  In the Hogs’ four league wins, Clarke has been sensational, averaging 20.0 points and connecting on nearly 57% of his three-point attempts.  However, in all three of Arkansas’s SEC losses this season, Clarke has been held in single-digits, averaging just 3.3 points and making less than 15% of his three’s.

If Georgia’s Travis Leslie can keep Rotnei in check on Wednesday night, it will put a lot of pressure on the rest of the Razorback squad to make outside shots.  As a team, Arkansas shoots merely 26.9 % from beyond the arc, and they are netting under 4 three-point field goals per game (2nd worst in the conference).  Coach Mark Fox has looked to Leslie all season to shut down opposing perimeter players, and Wednesday night should be no different.

The Arkansas frontcourt is highlighted by 6’7″ Marshawn Powell and 6’9″ senior Delvin Johnson.  Powell, named the league’s “most underrated player” by Rivals.com coming into the season, is a smooth big that is leading this team in conference scoring at 13.7 ppg.  The veteran Johnson is netting 11.7 points to go along with a team-high 2.7 block in SEC play.

Arkansas Coach John Pelfrey prefers to run with a three guard starting lineup (the tallest of which is 6’3″), and it has left his team a little vulnerable on the glass.  The Hogs are currently dead-last in the SEC with a -6.0 rebounding margin, and they are surrendering a conference-worst 95 offensive boards to opposing teams (nearly 14 per game).

Georgia, on the other hand, is leading the SEC in both rebounds (40.1 per game) and rebounding margin (+7.3).  The Dawgs have the ability to dominate this Razorback team on the boards, and Leslie, Thompkins, Price and Barnes should be loading up on second-chance scoring opportunities.

I have full confidence that both Trey Thompkins and Travis Leslie will bounce back on Wednesday – they are too good not to.

The player that Coach Fox most desperately needs to shake out of his current funk is junior Gerald Robinson, Jr.  Through the first five SEC games of this season, Robinson looked like arguably the best guard in the league, averaging 18.0 ppg and hitting 53% of his shots from beyond the arc.  GR2 put on a clinic from the free throw line, knocking down 23 of his first 24 attempts from the charity stripe.

In the last two games, however, it has been a different story.  Robinson has looked tentative on offense, scoring just 9.5 ppg and making only one three-pointer.  Probably the most shocking statistic for GR2 last week – he did not attempt a single shot from the line.

Robinson is obviously a very talented player that is in a bit of a slump.  If Georgia is going to start winning again and get things pointed back in the right direction, they will need his leadership on the court.

In ESPN’s first “Bubble Watch” of the season, Georgia was listed in the SEC as a team with “Work left to do” (right now, Kentucky is the network’s only “lock”).  At the moment, the Dawgs are on the outside looking in of this year’s NCAA Tournament.

A win in Fayetteville on Wednesday night (coupled with a win over Auburn on Saturday) could put Georgia back on the right side of that “bubble”.