If the Georgia Bulldogs (16-7; 5-4) hope to be a part of this year’s NCAA Tournament, then they are going to have to win another conference road game – there are no two ways about it.
Following their loss to Xavier on Tuesday, the Dawgs‘ RPI rating took a big hit, dropping them nearly ten spots down to #44 according to the latest reports. The Colorado Buffaloes, a team that Georgia beat earlier in the season, are not doing the Dawgs any favors when it comes to the RPI category. The Buffs, who began Big 12 play with three-straight wins, have now lost six of their last seven games. At the moment, Georgia is being credited with a “quality win” for their victory over Colorado, but if the Buffs can’t right the ship the Dawgs may lose that QW before season’s end.
The Bulldogs have road games remaining against South Carolina (4-5), Tennessee (5-4), Florida (8-2) and Alabama (7-2). The smart money says that Georgia’s best chance to earn another win away from Athens is going to be this Saturday at 4:00pm in the Colonial Life Center.
The South Carolina Gamecocks have had an up-and-down SEC season thus far, winning some games that surprised people (Vanderbilt and at Florida) and losing some that left fans scratching their heads (specifically, their home loss to Auburn).
Lately however, it’s been a lot more “down” for the Cocks, as they have lost two-straight and four of their last five.
This is a young South Carolina team that starts two freshmen, two sophomores and a lone senior. The Cocks have been somewhat challenged offensively in conference play, averaging just 65.4 ppg and shooting an unsightly 39.2% from the field.
The Gamecocks offense revolves around the three-point line, where they are hoisting up over 22 shots per game (nearly 34.0% of their team’s field goal attempts). In their four SEC wins, Carolina has connected on nearly 35% of their shots from beyond the arc. In their losses however, the Gamecocks have been limited to under 27% from the perimeter. This is a team that is living and dying from the outside in conference play.
A big challenge for the Dawgs on Saturday will be trying to defend the Cocks from the outside. Three-point defense has not been a strength of this year’s Georgia team, as the Dawgs are allowing opposing SEC teams to knock down nearly 35% of their attempts from beyond the arc (making them 9th in the league in that statistical category).
In conference games this season, Coach Horn has been getting over 60% of his teams’ scoring from three players – freshman Bruce Ellington (14.7 ppg), sophomore Ramon Galloway (11.9 ppg) and senior Sam Muldrow (12.7 ppg). Ellington plays point guard, but similarly to his predecessor Devan Downey, Bruce looks to score first and pass second. When he is on, so are the Gamecocks – Bruce is netting 19.5 ppg in SEC wins, yet just 10.8 ppg in the losses.
Georgia’s Gerald Robinson will likely be asked by Coach Mark Fox to defend Ellington on Saturday. Robinson is coming off a great defensive effort from Tuesday, limiting Xavier superstar Tu Holloway to just 3 of 13 shooting from the field. Georgia could benefit greatly in Columbia from some more good defense from GR2.
Senior big Sam Muldrow is not just scoring for this Carolina team, he is leading them in rebounding (8.3 rpg) and blocked shots (4.6 per game). Muldrow is an excellent interior defender who leads the SEC in blocked shots, a category that his team ranks first in as well. He can also step outside and knock down shots from beyond the arc, where he is connecting on 33.3% of his attempts in conference play.
Saturday will most likely be tough sledding for Georgia’s Trey Thompkins. Thompkins, who is leading Georgia in both scoring (16.0 ppg) and rebounding (7.8 rpg) in SEC play, will probably be defended by Carolina’s shut-down forward Sam Muldrow. Furthermore, Trey should once again see plenty of double-teams, much like he has in the previous seven games (I believe Tennessee was the first team to exploit this tactic).
Georgia’s level of success on offense will depend heavily on how well Trey handles the double-teams, as well as how well his teammates move without the ball. By now, having his star player doubled-up on the block should be no surprise to Coach Mark Fox. However, his team hasn’t been extremely efficient up to this point when shown this defensive look. Can Fox get his players in position to take advantage of the defensive overloads?
Despite Georgia’s recent troubles at home with consecutive Tuesday night losses to Tennessee, Florida and Xavier, the Dawgs have been strong away from Stegeman this season. UGA is 5-2 in true road games so far, and a win on Saturday in Columbia would assure them of a winning away record regardless of what happens in the final three road games (which is an important criteria that the Tournament Selection Committee observes).
Columbia has not been an easy place for Georgia to play recently though, as the Dawgs have lost three-straight to the Cocks in the Colonial Life Center. South Carolina is 10-4 at home on the season, yet they are just 2-3 in Columbia in conference games.
Following Vanderbilt’s big 81-77 win over Alabama last night, Georgia now finds itself in the midst of a four-way tie with the Vandy, Tennessee and Kentucky. Saturday’s game is a great opportunity for the Bulldogs to climb the SEC East standings, as well as build up a little momentum before heading home to play #24 Vanderbilt next Wednesday.
In Coach Fox’s first season as the UGA basketball coach, his team won 6 conference games. Tomorrow night, this year’s team has a chance to tie that mark (with another six games remaining), a sign that the program is in fact moving in the right direction.