Georgia returns to Athens to take on Mercer

Tonight the Georgia Bulldogs (5-5) will take on the Mercer Bears (7-4), a team that the Dawgs had to rally to beat in Macon a year ago.  In last season’s game between these two squads, the Bulldogs overcame a late-game deficit to walk away with a 56-53 victory.

Despite losing their top three scorers from last year’s team, this group of Mercer Bears has learned how to score the basketball, averaging nearly 71 points per game.  The Bears enjoy shooting the three ball, tossing up almost 21 attempts from beyond the arc, where they are making just under 34% of those shots.

Mercer is fresh off of a tough 80-77 overtime road loss to 9-1 Seton Hall, which I imagine can only add extra motivation to the Bears hopes of stealing a win tonight in Athens.

The Bears leading scorer is sophomore Langston Hall, who is pacing his team with 13.4 ppg and 3.9 apg.  The former Chamblee High School standout is tall for a point guard at 6’4″, and he has a nice little stroke from the outside, where he is hitting over 36% of his three-point attempts.

In the paint, Mercer is led by senior Justin Cecil and junior Jakob Gollon, who are averaging 11.5 ppg and 10.7 ppg, respectively.

The Bears share a common opponent this season with the Bulldogs – South Dakota State.  Mercer lost to the Jackrabbits 74-61 in Macon back in November, one week after Georgia had beaten SDSU 72-61 in Athens.

The Bulldogs are returning to Stegeman after a 63-59 come-from-behind victory at Southern Cal last Saturday night, and I am interested to see how this team handles a little bit of success.  The game tonight against Mercer is by no means a pushover, and if the Dawgs fall back into some of their bad habits that have haunted them this season – scoring droughts, lackluster perimeter defense and poor rebounding – things could certainly get interesting in the Steg.

In Georgia’s victory over USC, the Bulldogs were only able to secure 3 offensive rebounds.  The main thing that I would like to see tonight (besides a UGA win of course) is a little fire and a lot more effort from the Dawgs’ bigs in attacking the boards after Georgia’s field goal attempts.

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Georgia Leaves LA with 63-59 Victory

The Georgia Bulldogs (5-5) did something on Saturday night that they haven’t done this season – they came from behind to win a game (it was the team’s first true road win of the year as well).

After heading into the break tied at 25-25, Southern Cal (4-7) outscored Georgia 22-14 ten minutes into the second half, opening up a 47-39 lead over the Dawgs.  The Bulldogs responded with a 12-4 run of their own, and after a Dustin Ware three-pointer the game was knotted up at 51-51 with just 4:38 remaining.

Kentavious-Caldwell Pope, who scored a career high 21 points on Saturday (as well as leading his team with 5 rebounds), showed a lot of maturity at the end of the game.  Pope committed a costly turnover with just over a minute left that resulted in a USC basket, cutting the Georgia lead to only one point.  On the ensuing possession however, he calming knocked down a huge three from the wing, putting his team up 60-56 with just 43 ticks left on the clock.  KCP also made a pair of clutch free throws with only 19 seconds left, keeping Southern Cal at bay and allowing Georgia to walk away with the 63-59 win.

The game was an overall excellent effort by the UGA basketball team, and it was refreshing to see the Dawgs play with so much heart after a series of underwhelming performances.

The guards carried Georgia on Saturday, combining for 57 of the team’s 63 points.  Pope and Ware both hit 4 three-pointers (Ware was 4-4), and the team finished 9 of 13 on their attempts from beyond the arc.  Defensively, Georgia’s guards were able to limit USC’s leading scorer, Maurice Jones, to just 11 points on 4 of 14 shooting from the floor.

Gerald Robinson, Jr. played one of his better games of the season, netting 17 points and committing merely 1 turnover.

The only negative to take away from the game was that the inside players were again invisible on Saturday night.  Georgia’s bigs combined for just 6 points, and they were outrebounded by a tally of 35-23.  UGA was almost nonexistent on the offensive glass, where they finished with only 3 boards.

I was happy to see Coach Mark Fox keep KCP and GR2 on the floor for nearly the entire game, playing his guards for 39 minutes and 36 minutes, respectively.

This game ended Georgia’s four-game losing streak, and it gave them their first true road victory of the season (as well as their first win over a Pac-12 opponent this year).

The Dawgs have four home games over the holiday break, and an opportunity to bolster their record to 9-5 heading into conference play.

After watching last night’s win, I’m thinking that this team may steal a few SEC games that they are not supposed to this season.

Dawgs Visit Trojans

When the Georgia Bulldogs (4-5) meet the Southern California Trojans (4-6) on Saturday night, fans should enter the Galen Center with tempered expectations in regards to either team’s offensive production.  The Dawgs are scoring 59.4 ppg to USC’s 53.7 ppg, ranking the teams 315th and 340th in the nation, respectively.  Georgia is in the midst of a four-game losing streak and still searching for its first true road victory.  Southern Cal is on a two-game losing skid of their own, while looking to find points from a young lineup featuring a junior, two sophomores and two freshman.

The Trojans leading scorer is sophomore point guard Maurice Jones, who stands at just 5’7″ and paces Southern Cal with 15.1 ppg and 3.1 apg.  The little guy is hoisting up over a quarter of the team’s field goal attempts, and he’s been rather successful beyond the arc, where he is knocking down nearly 36% of his three pointers.

On the inside, Southern Cal Coach Paul O’Neil gets his scoring from junior Aaron Fuller and Sophomore Dewayne Dedmon, who are pouring in 11.7 ppg and 7.0 ppg, respectively.  Dedmon is a load at 7′ tall and 250 lbs, probably why he leads the team with 7.0 boards per contest.  Both of these bigs are physical inside, so Georgia’s slew of skinny forwards need to be prepared to bang in the paint on Saturday night.

The Bulldogs’ second-half lulls (specifically in the first 10 minutes after the break) have been the team’s Achilles heel so far this season.  UGA has taken leads into the intermission in a number of games this year, only to come out with a futile second-half effort.  If the Dawgs could somehow learn to play for a full 40 minutes, they may actually take a few conference games this season (as well as the one in Los Angeles).

In light of these observations, I have a few suggestions for Coach Mark Fox and his staff:

1. Georgia cannot afford anymore scenarios where the lineup does not consist of either Gerald Robinson, Jr., Kentavious-Caldwell Pope, or both players at once.  College basketball games today consist of 8 television timeouts to go along with team timeouts and a designated halftime.  GR2 and KCP are both conditioned well enough to play for nearly the entire game, and for the Dawgs’ offense’s sake they may need to from here on out.  These two Bulldogs are providing over 44% of Georgia’s scoring, and it’s pretty evident that they are the only players on the team with the ability to create their own shot.  The UGA offense has been atrocious so far this year, but some of the most disturbing lapses have come when both GR2 and KCP were on the bench.

2. Coach Mark Fox must resist the temptation to switch his team into a long-term 3-2 zone, especially in the game’s second half.  Zones are meant to provide a brief defensive look to confuse a team’s offense, but by no means should they be used more heavily than a man defense (unless the team is Syracuse, who runs the 2-3 zone to perfection).  In Georgia’s losses to Cincinnati and Georgia Tech, UGA surrendered a barrage of wide open threes to both teams due to the zone’s inability to rotate to the open shooters.  The Dawgs are not a talent-laden group, but they have been playing fairly stout man-to-man defense this season – Fox has to make that their staple defense for 40 minutes.

To the Bulldogs credit, they are navigating through the nation’s 16th hardest schedule without the star power from a year ago.

I honestly believe that this game represents a winnable opportunity for Georgia if they can correct some of the mistakes that have plagued them in second halves this season.

UGA Basketball Recruiting Update

Mark Fox has one more scholarship to offer for the 2012 recruiting class, and it looks like he might be tapping into some of his prior Nevada connections in an attempt to land a four-star gem.

Meet Winston Shepard – an athletic 6’8″ wing who can create offense off the dribble and run the floor well.  Shepard hails from Henderson, Nevada, and he has narrowed his list of potential schools to Georgia, New Mexico, Oklahoma State, San Diego State, UTEP and UNLV.

ESPN.com ranks Shepard at #68 on their coveted 2012 ESPNU 100 list.

Being that UGA is the only school on the young man’s list that is located East of the Mississippi River, it seems likely that Fox is the main hook keeping the Dawgs in the running for Shepard…or possibly the allure of starting immediately in the SEC?

Yellow Jackets Use Big Second Half to Topple Dawgs 68-56

“We’re not tough enough or good enough in any area”, said Georgia Bulldog (4-5) Coach Mark Fox following his teams’ 68-56 loss to the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets on Wednesday night.  The Dawgs dropped their fourth straight game last night, and they did it in similar fashion to their other four losses this season.

Georgia took a 29-25 advantage into the intermission after a first half that featured some pretty stifling UGA defense and an offensive explosion for Gerald Robinson, Jr.  GR2 came off the bench to score 16 of his team-high 20 points before the break, repeatedly beating Tech defenders down the court on self-made fast breaks.

Unfortunately for the Bulldogs though, every basketball game includes a second half, which is where Georgia has been particularly awful in games that they have lost this season.  Guess what?  Wednesday night was no different…

Georgia Tech opened the first 10 minutes of the game’s second half with a 21-7 run.  During this same time span, the Dawgs made just 2 of 12 field goals and committed 6 turnovers.  As a fan, it is becoming almost unbearable to watch this team open up the second half – I’m seriously considering watching only the first 20 minutes of every SEC game this season and then imagining the rest.

Another game-changer from last night’s debacle was that Coach Mark Fox once again opted to move his team into its extended 3-2 zone after the intermission.  Similarly to the Cincinnati game, the Georgia zone failed to cover the perimeter, allowing Georgia Tech guard Jason Morris to roam free and score all 15 of his points (a team high) in the second half.  Morris knocked down a pair of threes after the break, the second of which put the Jackets up 51-39 with just 8:13 left, all but sealing the Tech victory.

Someone might want to remind Coach Fox that an extended 3-2 zone is not very effective when two of the guards defending the perimeter are merely 6′ tall.  In my opinion, this UGA team is much better off in a man defense from here on out.

Georgia was once again unbelievably inefficient on offense, shooting under 35% from the floor as a team and committing 5 more turnovers than assists.

The Dawgs bigs were utterly overwhelmed by the Jackets, losing the rebounding battle 34-30 and getting outscored in the paint 34-14 (with most of UGA’s inside scoring coming off of GR2 drives).  Georgia’s forwards combined for just 8 points on 3-13 shooting, and that number is including a three-pointer by senior Connor Nolte, who could be considered a wing by outside observers.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, touted as a prolific outside shooter, continues to miss from the outside.  On Wednesday, KCP made just 3 of his 12 attempts, bring his field goal percentage to a lackluster 38.6% on the young season.

At this point, I have seen more than enough of this Georgia basketball team to see that this is going to be a VERY LONG season.  This Dawgs’ team can’t shoot the ball, and they are almost nonexistent in the paint.

The problem, however, is that the team you are watching stumble through these second-half meltdowns is the product of two Mark Fox recruiting classes.  Remember folks, Trey Thompkins, Travis Leslie and Jeremy Price were all brought in by Dennis Felton.

For the record, I want Coach Mark Fox to be the guy that turns Georgia basketball into a successful program.  But right now things aren’t looking so good this year, or in the immediate future.  Next season’s lineup should feature KCP, Vincent Williams and the same cast of unproductive forwards, who I don’t envision improving that much during their stints in Athens.

The Dawgs have nearly 10 days off to take final exams and attempt to find some semblance of an offense before playing on the road at Southern Cal on December 17th.

Let’s hope that these guys test better than they shoot.

Rivalry Week: Jackets Visit Dawgs

This movie was playing in theatres the last time Georgia Tech...

The year was 1976…A hot, young actor by the name of Clint Eastwood directed and starred in the classic western, The Outlaw Josey Wales.  A band by the name of Hall & Oates was climbing the Billboard charts with their new hit single, “Sara Smile”.  Yours truly had not quite been born yet…

Do you know another reason why 1976 was a significant year in American history?  It marked the last time that the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (4-4) won a basketball game in Athens, Georgia.

The Georgia Bulldogs (4-4) have not experienced a ton of success on the hard courts over the past thirty-something years, but one thing has remained a constant during that same time period – the Dawgs do not lose to their in-state rivals inside of Stegeman Coliseum.

Tonight’s game features two teams teetering on the brink of .500, in a state that is brimming over with high school basketball talent.  If Coach Mark Fox and Brian Gregory want to stick around at their respective programs, they are going to have to do a better job of keeping the local talent in state.

The Dawgs are looking to stop a three-game losing streak, with the most recent loss coming at home last Friday night to the Cincinnati Bearcats.  Tech is on a little two-game skid of their own, following back-to-back losses to Northwestern and Tulane.

The strength of the Jackets’ lineup resides in its backcourt, where they are led by juniors Glen Rice, Jr. and Mfon Udofia.  Rice and Udofia lead the team in scoring with 14.8 ppg and 11.9 ppg, respectively.  Both players can hurt opposing defenses off the dribble, or from the outside where they are each connecting on over 33% of their three-point attempts.

Slowing down the Georgia Tech guards is certainly a must for the Bulldogs if they hope to be successful tonight.

However, defense has not been what’s been ailing the Dawgs so far this season.  UGA’s Achilles heel this year has been its atrocious second-half play.  Coach Mark Fox must find a way to keep his team focused after the intermission so that they can avoid the second-half offensive droughts that have plagued his team this season.

In Georgia’s four losses to Cal, Xavier, Colorado and Cincinnati, the Bulldogs were outscored in the first 10 minutes of these game’s second halves by a grand tally of 84-31.  Frankly, that statistic is embarrassing.

I think that there is a great chance that the Bulldogs could head into the break of tonight’s game leading the Yellow Jackets.  The question, however, is can they bring any intensity out of the locker room to finish out the game?

Cincinnati Tops Georgia 57-51

The Georgia Bulldogs (4-4) lost their third game in a row on Friday night, blowing a nine-point first-half lead to the Cincinnati Bearcats.  This game was similar to the losses to both Xavier and Colorado – Georgia played a decent opening half only to fizzle coming out of the break.

In Friday night’s contest, the Dawgs‘ offense was anemic following the intermission, scoring only 8 points in over 13 minutes of play.  The Bearcats capitalized on the Georgia drought, scoring 19 points during the same time span to take a 40-38 lead.  After two incredibly lucky offensive possessions by UGA, which included Dustin Ware being fouled on a fade away three-pointer with the shot clock expiring and Marcus Thornton scoring on a self-pass, Georgia went up 43-40.

Unfortunately, Coach Mark Fox kept his team in a 3-2 zone that left Dion Dixon wide open, allowing him to bury 3 three-pointers and also the Dawgs.  After Dixon’s onslaught from the perimeter, Georgia trialed Cincy 49-43 with only 2:44 left – the Dawgs were unable to overcome this last burst of offense by the Bearcats.

Dixon wasn’t the only Bearcat hurting Georgia from the outside on Friday night – Sean Kilpatrick, who lead all Cincy scorers with 22 points, knocked down 3 of his 4 threes in the game’s second half.  The Dawgs were unable to rotate their zone to Kilpatrick in the corner, where he stood and shot uncontested three after uncontested three.

Fox’s game management in the last 5 minutes was certainly difficult to understand.  With the game tied at 43-43, Georgia had Dustin Ware, Vincent Williams, Nemanja Djurisic, Donte Williams and Marcus Thornton on the floor – in other words, they didn’t have either of their only two players (KCP or GR2) on the court who could create their own shot.  Fox stuck with this group for the next 2 minutes, and they amassed 2 turnovers and 2 missed field goals, while Cincy built up a 49-43 lead.

Interestingly, Coach Mark Fox opted not to call a timeout to get his best scorers back into the game for some key possessions, and it might have cost his team an opportunity to come away with a win on Friday night.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope played brilliantly in the first half, scoring 13 points and creating 3 steals on defense.  Once again though, KCP went missing after the break, failing to score until he hit a meaningless three with 10 seconds left in the game.

Georgia shot their typical 36% from the floor, connecting on only 2 of 14 from beyond the arc.

Cincy shot nearly as bad as the Dawgs from the outside, but when the game was on the line in the second half the Bearcats made the shots that counted.