Georgia and Auburn Open Up 2011 SEC Tournament

Las Vegas has given the Georgia Bulldogs a 10-to-1 shot to win this year’s SEC Tournament.

The Dawgs don’t have to win the whole thing though (as nice as that would be) to earn an at-large berth into the NCAA Tournament; they just have to win one or two games – depending on which sports media website you have bookmarked on your internet browser.

Georgia will play the Auburn Tigers in the first game of the conference tournament at 1:00PM in the Georgia Dome.  This game will be the second meeting between these two teams within the state of Georgia this year, with the first coming earlier this season in Athens.

Jeremy Price scored 22 points in that game and the Dawgs beat the Tigers 81-72, but it took them an extra five minutes to do it.  Auburn’s Ernest Ross scored a season-high 30 points in the game, and his Tigers connected on 9 three-pointers (also a season-high) en route to a very close road loss.

As I mentioned in my last post, the Bulldogs are an astounding 13-1 when Price – “The Refrigerator from Decatur” – scores in double-figures – make what you will with that statistic.

To Georgia’s credit, Trey Thompkins and a few other UGA players were dealing with a flu bug due to some bad chili from the road trip to Arkansas – but the Dawgs team effort against Auburn that day did leave a lot to be desired.

Ross ended up putting together a nice sophomore season for the fighting War Eagles, averaging 14.3 ppg as well as 6.4 rpg in SEC play.  He was also the team’s most consistent outside threat, connecting on nearly 39% of his shot attempts from beyond the arc.

If the Bulldogs show up hungry and ready to play defense on Thursday, this game won’t even be close.  In conference games this season, Auburn made only 31.0% of their three-point attempts and just four three’s per contest (which was next to last in the conference).  The fact that Georgia let this Tiger team drop nine three’s on them in Athens is inexcusable.  The Dawgs really improved their three-point percentage defense over the course of the year though, limiting SEC opponents to just 31.4% from beyond the arc (which ranked third in the conference).  If Georgia can do a good job of closing out and contesting Auburn’s perimeter shots, they should put themselves in a great position to win.

Another area where this game could be won or lost will be on the boards, where both of these teams have found success this season.  Auburn averages 12.9 offensive rebounds per league game, which is third in the SEC.  Georgia, conversely, is second in the conference with 27.0 defensive rebounds per game.  Which team will play with more energy on Thursday and win the battle of the boards?

This is a much improved Auburn team that Georgia will be playing in the Dome.  Since the loss to UGA, Auburn has gone 3-4 in SEC games, and two of those losses were by just two points each (Alabama and Arkansas).

The main thing that concerns me heading into this game is the difference in mindsets for both of these teams.  Auburn finished the season 11-19 overall and 4-12 in the conference – it’s safe to say that barring a miraculous four-game run, they will not be playing any basketball after this week.

That being said, the Tigers should enter this game with nothing to lose, which could translate into a loose and relaxed Auburn team.

Georgia, on the other hand, has a bit more added pressure with a potential NCAA at-large berth on the line, and thus they run the risk of playing tight.  If the Dawgs were to slip up and drop this game to the Tigers, UGA would certainly be on the first bus to the NIT.

On top of that, a couple of well-known ESPN college basketball analysts have hinted that the Bulldogs may need to win two games to get themselves off the “bubble” (meaning wins over both Auburn and Alabama).

Hopefully Coach Mark Fox has his starting five keyed-in and ready to take care of the task at hand (Auburn), because none of the bubble watches, bracketologies or “potential play-in games” matter if Georgia doesn’t win this first tournament game.

The Georgia Bulldogs definitely have a team that is capable of winning this SEC Tournament, and the bracket couldn’t have worked out any better in their favor, with both Florida and Vanderbilt on the opposite side.

If the Bulldogs are going to go on a run here in Atlanta this weekend though, they will have to have the support of the Georgia fan base.  It would be awesome to see the UGA fan base come out to the Dome on Thursday and turn it into Stegeman Coliseum.

Georgia fans have the shortest commute by far of any other SEC team.  Whether you have to take a late lunch, a half day or miss class, I personally think it would be well worth it to head on down to the Georgia Dome to pick up some tickets and support this UGA basketball team.