Dawgs Look For Payback In Knoxville – Saturday @ 1PM (CBS)

I’ve had a full day now to absorb and take in Wednesday’s devastating home loss to Vanderbilt.  I’m not going to lie, it was a pretty glum trip back down 316 into Atlanta after the game (just like after the Tennessee, Florida and Xavier games).  This loss stung extra bad for so many reasons – it was another squandered opportunity to beat a team with a high RPI; Georgia blew its chance of solidifying the second place position in the SEC East; and, it was the fourth consecutive gut-wrenching mid-week loss in Stegeman Coliseum in 2011.

But I am still a fan of this team, as I know that everyone reading this blog must be as well – honestly, anyone who follows UGA basketball has to be a pretty devoted fan because the Dawgs have given us so little to be excited about for so long now (2007 tornado SEC tournament aside).

Except for this year.  There was reason to be excited for the 2010-2011 season.  Georgia (17-8; 6-5) returned two preseason All-SEC First-Team’ers, and they finally had the point guard they were missing last season that could create off the dribble (Gerald Robinson, Jr.) – the Dawgs were projected by some to contend for the SEC East title, and by many to earn an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.

And I still believe that can happen.  I don’t know why really, because the last four or five games have definitely left a lot to be desired.  But I just can’t envision an ending to this season that doesn’t have Georgia winding up in the NCAA tournament.

ESPN’s Doug Gottlieb can – he currently has the Dawgs as “out” of the tourney.

Analysts do not control the Dawgs destiny though, only they do.  And as difficult as it is going to be to go into Knoxville and take a game from the Vols (it hasn’t happened in over a decade), it could happen.  Remember, Tennessee won the first game between these two teams on a questionable last-second rebound and put-back by center Brian Williams.  After the game, even Williams was heard on Sportscenter expressing his surprise at the fact that he wasn’t called for an over-the-back foul.

The Dawgs must get back to playing basketball like they did during the first six SEC games – the team that beat Kentucky at home and that throttled Ole Miss and Missy State.  Georgia’s offense during this initial stretch was averaging 79.2 ppg.  In the last six games however (5 SEC + 1 Xavier), the offense has slowed down dramatically, with the Dawgs netting just 62.3 ppg.

A lot of this decline in scoring has to do with the play of Georgia’s Trey Thompkins, who is scoring just 12.5 ppg over his past six games – hardly the work of a future NBA first-rounder.  I realize that Trey is seeing more double-teams than last year, but he must find away to work around them or the Dawgs will continue to wither.  He needs more support from his teammates, but Trey also must play smarter with the basketball when he sees the trap coming.

Travis Leslie and Marcus Thornton will probably alternate on Tennessee’s star guard, Scotty Hopson.  Hopson is fourth in the conference in scoring at 17.8 ppg, and he is shooting a robust 46.3% from beyond the arc.  At 6’7″, he is a very difficult match-up for opposing wings not just because of his jump shot, but he can also drive the ball to the rim.  A solid defensive effort from Leslie will be key to Georgia’s success on Saturday.

The last thing that I want to hit on regarding this game is toughness.  Over the past six games or so, Georgia has become progressively softer on the inside.  Vanderbilt, a sub-par rebounding team at best, racked up 23 offensive rebounds on the Bulldogs in Stegeman on Wednesday.  With the amount of size that Georgia has on the inside, this is inexcusable.  Thompkins, Jeremy Price and Chris Barnes all weigh above 250 pounds.

Tennessee is the best offensive rebounding team in the league with 14.8 per night.  If Georgia’s bigs can’t man-up and put a body on someone on Saturday, then it will be another long day on the boards for the Dawgs.  Vols center Brian Williams is extremely active on the offensive glass, where he leads the conference with 3.7 o-rebs per game.

In staying with the “toughness” theme, the next time an opposing player drives the lane I’d love to see Jeremy Price put him on the deck.  It is becoming increasingly frustrating to watch Price pick up ticky-tack fouls, and then flail his arms in the air in frustration at the referees.  Jeremy is not the best athlete on the court, and he’s certainly never going to be a consistent scorer for this team.  But he can be a fierce rebounder and a tougher interior defender, which is something this team needs right now.

Other than that, it’s put up or shut up time for the Dawgs.

They are 2-8 against the RPI Top 50, and they don’t have many chances left to improve on that record.  Actually, they have three chances: @ Tennessee, @ Florida and hoping that Ole Miss can go on a little run and bolster their #60 RPI into the coveted “Top 50”.

The silver lining heading into Saturday’s game is that this Georgia squad is 6-2 in true road games this year.  Matter of fact, the Bulldogs have the 9th best road winning percentage in the country (out of 347 Division-I teams).  This is the statistic that the Dawgs will hang their hats on come selection time, so winning another away game is crucial.

The less-silvery lining is that the University of Georgia’s Men’s Basketball team has yet to defeat Bruce Pearl inside Thompson-Boling Arena.

Sounds to me like they are due.