Big week for UGA basketball starts with Tennessee on Wednesday

Coach Mark Fox’s team has gotten out to an 0-3 start in conference play, but this week presents the Bulldogs (9-8; 0-3) with a great opportunity to dictate the direction of the season.  Georgia’s first three SEC opponents have all been conference contenders, with a combined SEC record of 7-2.

The Dawgs get Tennessee and Ole Miss at home over the next four days (who are a combined 2-4 in SEC play), and both games are potentially winnable for UGA (the second being more winnable than the first).

Should Georgia buckle down in Athens and take both of these contests they could be sitting at 2-3 by week’s end, giving themselves and UGA fans reason to look ahead to the remainder of the season.

A split would be less satisfying and might leave the Dawg Nation with some reasonable concerns heading into next season.

If Georgia can’t defend the Steg and they drop both games then, well, it’s going to be a LONG, LONG season.

Wednesday night’s opportunity pits Georgia against the Tennessee Volunteers (8-9; 1-2), who may be one of the tougher sub-.500 teams in the nation.  The Vols’ arduous schedule has already seen them play games against Duke, Memphis (twice), Pittsburgh, Florida, Mississippi State and Kentucky (with the Gators being the only team out of that bunch that UT beat).  Tennessee did lose to all of the previously mentioned teams not named Florida, but four of the six losses were by just 5 points or less.

Unlike Vols’ teams of late, this bunch actually shoots the basketball pretty well, knocking down 46% of their field goal attempts and 38% of their three’s.

Sophomore point guard Trae Golden has been rock-solid for the Volunteers so far this year, leading his team in both scoring and assists with 14.2 and 5.4, respectively.

The other Tennessee player averaging in double-figures is junior behemoth Jeronne Maymon, who is netting 11.5 points to go along with a team-high 7.7 rebounds per game.  Maymon appears to be carved out of stone at 6’7″ and 265 pounds, so the Georgia bigs best be ready to bang on Wednesday evening.

If the Dawgs hope to right the ship this week in Athens then they are going to have to tighten up their team defense.  Through the early portion of conference games, Georgia is second to last in points allowed (73.7) and field goal percentage defense (52.2%).  These are not acceptable defensive results for a team struggling on the offensive end of the court, where the Bulldogs are tallying only 57.7 points per contest in SEC play (also second to last).

Another area on the floor where Georgia has really been getting man-handled is on the boards.  The Dawgs at the moment sport a -7.3 rebounding margin in conference games, which is better than just one other team – Arkansas.

Georgia desperately needs the Dustin Ware of late December 2011 to return to being an active member of this team’s offense.  In the final three holiday games before the new year, Dustin was netting 15.3 points and canning almost 57% of his shots from beyond the arc.  Since the SEC season began Ware has been a virtual ghost, averaging under 6 points and hitting only 27% of his three-point attempts.  His fellow guards – Kentavious-Caldwell Pope and Gerald Robinson, Jr. – could sure use some scoring support in the backcourt.

The tip is at 8:00PM and Georgia should be prepared for a physical game with the Volunteers inside Stegeman.

Will the Dawgs notch their first conference win of the season on Wednesday?