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?

Georgia loses to Vandy, falls to 0-3 in conference play

The Georgia Bulldogs (9-8; 0-3) put up a gutsy effort in Nashville on Saturday afternoon, but they came up a bit short in the end, falling 77-66 to Vanderbilt.

After getting thumped by the Florida Gators in Gainesville on Tuesday night, the Bulldogs came out and played an inspired first half led by sophomore Donte Williams’ 8 points and 3 rebounds.  Williams stormed out of the gates a man possessed, scoring Georgia’s first 4 field goals of the game.  Unfortunately for Donte, he battled with foul trouble for most of the game and ended up with 12 points before fouling out with 2:01 left.

The Dawgs’ defense applied good pressure on the perimeter, holding Vanderbilt – a team averaging nearly 10 three-pointers a game – to just 5 for 15 shooting from beyond the arc in this one.

Gerald Robinson, Jr., a native of Nashville, played possibly his worst half of basketball as a Bulldog before the break, connecting on only 1 of his 6 field goal attempts and committing 4 turnovers.  However, his Georgia team was able to withstand a 13-5 Vandy run that put the Dores up 30-24, and the Dawgs went into the intermission still very much in the ball game, trailing Vanderbilt by a score of 36-32.

Robinson turned things around in the second half though, finishing with 15 points and team high 6 rebounds.

The offensive hero for Georgia was freshman Kentavious-Caldwell Pope, who led the Dawgs with 19 points to go along with 5 rebounds and 2 steals.  KCP scored 12 of his total points after the break, including a torrid stretch in which he was unconscious, making 3 three’s in as many minutes with the last one putting his team up 45-44 with 13:53 remaining.

In the end though, Vanderbilt executed like a veteran team down the stretch and they never let Georgia cut the game down to one possession in the final 4 minutes.  The Dores were solid from the line in the closing moments of this contest, knocking down 8 of 10 free throws in the final 2 minutes.

John Jenkins was the leading scorer for Vanderbilt with 18 points, but it took him hitting just 3 of 12 field goals to get to that total.

Just as I start singing Nemi Djurisic’s praises he goes and lays an egg – scoring just 3 points and committing 2 turnovers and missing a critical lay-up with less than 90 seconds remaining that would have brought Georgia within three.  Vanderbilt’s Lance Goulborne made numerous plays in this game that highlighted just how incredibly unathletic Djurisic is on the court.

Even though Georgia has yet to win a game since the change of year, it is hard not to feel good about this team’s effort in today’s game with an SEC title-contending team in Vanderbilt.

The Dawgs were coming off an embarrassing loss to the Gators, and they responded by playing competitively with Vandy on their own court for 39 minutes.

UGA may be 0-3 in SEC play, but this team is starting to grow on me.

Georgia travels to Nashville in search of first conference win

Vanderbilt’s starting five features three players – John Jenkins, Jeffrey Taylor and Festus Ezeli – who are projected to be taken in the 2012 NBA draft.  Georgia, shockingly, doesn’t have any players named on that list.

The Commodores have gotten out to a 2-0 conference start, mirroring the Dawgs 0-2 SEC record.

UGA hasn’t won at Memorial Gym in six years, and the Bulldogs sport an ugly 11-46 all-time record against the Dores in Nashville.

Needless to say there isn’t a lot of mojo moving in favor of the Dawgs heading into Saturday’s contest.

However, Vanderbilt’s season has not been without its mishaps – the Dores have dropped 4 games (though they’ve won 12), including losses to Cleveland State and Indiana State.  Despite the fact that Las Vegas currently has Georgia slated as a 14-point underdog in this one there is an opportunity for Georgia to keep the game close.

The Bulldogs chances of staying competitive in Saturday’s game depend heavily on their ability to defend – more specifically, their ability to defend junior guard John Jenkins.  Jenkins has been sensational so far this year, scoring just under 20 points per game and shooting a blistering 46.2% from beyond the arc.  He has only hit below 30% from the three-point line in two games this season – Cleveland State and Indiana State.  In both of those losses the opposing teams used a relentless defender to hound Jenkins for the entire game, limiting his open looks.  Should Coach Mark Fox employ a similar strategy against Vandy I imagine that Kentavious-Caldwell Pope would be the player he deploys to guard Jenkins, since he similar in stature.

On the inside, Georgia will have to contend with supremely athletic wing Jeffery Taylor and powerful big man Festus Ezeli.  Taylor is second on the team in scoring with 17 ppg to go along with 5.4 rpg.

Ezeli, who was suspended for the first 6 games of the season, brutalized the Georgia bigs last season, averaging 14 points and 11 boards in his two games against the Dawgs.  Considering that Festus had his way with comparably sized opponents like Jeremy Price and Chris Barnes last year, I fear what he may do to this season’s crop of slim UGA forwards.

If Georgia hopes to contain some of Vandy’s firepower, then they are really going to have to clean up their defensive act fast.  Through two conference games the Bulldogs are yielding 72 points per contest and they are allowing opposing teams to make nearly 53% of their field goal attempts, which is second-to-last in the SEC.

The only Georgia player who has been consistent in both of the conference games has been freshman Nemanja Djurisci.  Nemi (or the Menace of Montenegro) is netting 12 points and hauling down 5.5 boards per SEC game, and he appears to be the only UGA big that is not afraid to take the ball to the basket against opposing defenders.

Will Georgia drop its 7th straight game in Nashville and fall to 0-3 in conference play?  Or, will the Dawgs show up with some intensity, put up a fight and possibly shock Coach Kevin Stallings’ team?

Gators wallop Dawgs 70-48 in Gainesville

If you had told me before tonight’s game that Florida’s Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton would be held without a field goal until less than 5 minutes remained in the first half, I would have speculated that the Dawgs were giving the Gators all that they could handle.

Apparently Florida is a pretty deep team though, and despite the slow start for Billy Donovan’s backcourt in this one his Gator team was able to find scoring from other sources.

After falling behind 7-0 right off the bat, the Dawgs were able to crawl back into the game and only trailed Florida 13-9 following a heady off-the-backboard-self-pass-basket by Nemanja Djurisic.  Djurisic’s first-half offensive production, which included 10 total points, was critical to keeping the Bulldogs from being blown out before the intermission.

Florida reserve guard Mike Rosario scored 7 unanswered points to open up an 18-9 Gator lead with 9:44 left in the half.  Then freshman sensation Bradley Beal went nuts from beyond the arc, knocking down 3 (of his 4) threes prior to the break which opened up a 33-13 Gator lead.

Thankfully Nemi was able to sink 2 open three-point attempts that enabled the Dawgs to head to the locker room trailing 35-21.

Florida was on cruise control for most of the second half though, increasing their lead to 47-26 with 16:53 remaining in the game, following an Erving Walker three-pointer.

Georgia did make one last push at the Gators late in the game, and they were able to trim the margin to 56-43 after Dustin Ware knocked down his second shot of the half from beyond the arc.  The Bulldogs 10-4 run, however, was probably aided more by Florida’s lack of interest at that point than by Georgia’s own play.

Whatever the case, the Dawgs’ success was short-lived and the Gators closed out the game with a 14-5 run, securing a 70-48 victory along with their first conference win of the season.

The game never really felt that close and aside from Nemi Djurisic, who finished with 14 points and 6 rebounds, most of the Georgia players looked overwhelmed and out-matched in Gainesville on Tuesday night.

Kenny Boynton and Bradley Beal led the Gators with 17 points apiece, and sophomore big Patrick Young snagged 10 rebounds to go along with 8 points.

Georgia shot their typical 37% from the floor against Florida, and they were an abysmal 1 for 9 from the free throw line.  The Gators, on the other hand, hit 50% of their field goal attempts and made a stellar 15 of 18 free throws.

The result from Tuesday night’s game should not have come as a shock to many UGA basketball fans.  Along with being 0-2 in SEC play, Georgia has now dropped 10-straight contests at Florida, dating back to 2002.

As ESPN announcer Jimmy Dkyes mentioned 42 times on Tuesday night, the Dawgs are too thin inside and should be hurt by the lack of an inside game (thanks for the keen insight).  Despite the obviousness of Dykes’ comments, he is absolutely right and tonight’s game was just another example of how limited Coach Mark Fox’s team looks when playing against stronger opponents.

At Vanderbilt on Saturday.


Georgia hits the road to take on Florida Tuesday night

The Georgia Bulldogs (9-6; 01) and the Florida Gators will both be searching for their first conference win of the season when the two teams square off in Gainesville on Tuesday night.  The Gators should be in a particularly nasty mood after suffering a 67-56 loss at Tennessee on Saturday in their first SEC game.  Couple that with the fact that Georgia hasn’t won at the Stephen C. O’Connell center since 2002 and it should be pretty clear that the Dawgs have quite a challenge awaiting them.

The 56 points that Florida put up in Knoxville was their worst offensive output of the season and highly uncharacteristic of this Gator squad that has been scoring at a torrid pace so far this year.  Florida ranks 6th in the nation with nearly 84 points per game, and they have been deadly from behind the arc where they are sinking just under 41% of their three-point attempts (11th in the country).  The Gators are basically a well-oiled machine on offense, dishing out 17 team assists per contest (9th in the nation) and sporting an assist-to-turnover of 1.47, tying them for 6th in the country in that category.

All five of coach Billy Donovan’s starters are scoring in double-figures, but the strength of this Gator team resides in its backcourt, which may be tops in the SEC.  Junior Kenny Boynton has gotten out to a phenomenal start this season, leading his team with 19.1 ppg and making over 45% of this three-point attempts.

Senior point guard Erving Walker has been his usual self, scoring 13.4 ppg to go along with 5.1 apg.  Despite Walker’s small stature (5’8″) he is very good at driving the ball to the basket and drawing contact.

As if it wasn’t enough that Florida brought back the duo of Boynton and Walker this season, they also added a freshman sensation in guard Bradley Beal who is scoring 14.1 ppg and hauling down over 5 boards per contest.

Georgia Coach Mark Fox should have his team in a man defense for most of Tuesday since this hot-shooting Gator team would no doubt feast on the open looks that come against zone defense.  The Dawgs’ will need to be physical and relentless on the defensive end if they hope to hang around in this game.

UGA is 1-2 in true road games this season, and Tuesday’s contest will mark the first SEC game away from Athens for the young Kentavious-Caldwell Pope.

Any thoughts on how Georgia can pull this one out?

Dawgs drop SEC opener to the Crimson Tide

Georgia Bulldog (9-6; 0-1) Coach Mark Fox put his team in a zone defense for the entire first half in the hopes of encouraging Alabama (12-3; 1-0) to take more shots from the outside.  Alabama, who came into the game shooting just 27.2% from beyond the arc, responded by lighting Georgia up for 6 three-pointers before the break.

Freshman Trevor Lacy was responsible for 3 of the Tide’s first-half threes, and he tallied 17 of his game-high (and career high) 19 points before the intermission.  He had been making only 26.7% of his three-point attempts entering the contest, yet on Saturday night Lacy ended up hitting 3 of his 4 perimeter shots.

The Tide used the outside shots to surge ahead of Georgia, taking a 38-26 lead into the break – a lead which could have easily been 38-23 had it not been for a buzzer-beating three-pointer from Bulldog senior guard Dustin Ware before the half (his only points of the game).

The Dawgs did not let up after halftime though, using a mixture of zone and man defense that enabled Georgia to go on an 11-4 run that brought the score to 52-48 with 9:18 remaining.  Unfortunately, this run seemed to wake up the more talented Alabama team who then responded with a 12-2 run of their own, extending their lead to 64-50 with just 5 minutes left.  At this point the game was out of the Dawgs’ reach and Bama coasted to a 74-59 victory in Athens.

The Bulldogs had a tough night shooting from the perimeter, connecting on just 4 of their 17 attempts.   Georgia must shoot the ball better from beyond the arc (especially at home) if they hope to pick up some conference wins this season.

Alabama crushed Georgia on the boards (as to expected), out-rebounding the Dawgs by a tally of 35-20.

The lone bright spot for the Bulldogs was the play of freshman Kentavious-Caldwell Pope, who finished the game with a season-high 22 points on 6 of 9 shooting from the floor.  This game marked KCP’s first SEC contest and he certainly rose to the occasion, almost single-handedly keeping his team in the game for most of the night.  Pope continues to be active on the defensive end of the court as well, picking up 4 steals against the Tide on Saturday.

The rest of Georgia’s guards struggled to be productive in the conference opener.  Gerald Robinson, Jr. ended up with 11 points but it took him 15 field goal attempts to reach that total.  In Robinson’s defense though, I do think he feels a need to push things a bit on the offensive end since he doesn’t have much to work with in the paint.

Vincent Williams and Dustin Ware, who both played well throughout December, combined for just 3 points (all Ware’s) and 2 assists against the Tide.

The highlight of the Dawgs’ defensive effort had to be the fact that they were able to hold Alabama star forward JaMychal Green in check most of the night, limiting him to only 8 points and forcing Green into 9 turnovers.

Despite the final score you have to give this Bulldog team credit for coming out and playing competitive basketball against one of the better teams in the conference for nearly 32 minutes.  I had extremely tempered expectations for this team prior to the start of SEC play, but after Saturday night’s game I feel like the Dawgs could pick up as many as 6 conference wins.

Sadly though, Georgia is on the road for both its games next week against Florida and Vanderbilt.  Florida got thumped by Tennessee yesterday which means that the Dawgs will most likely be taking on a rather upset Gator team in Gainesville on Tuesday evening; and Georgia is rarely successful when playing on the raised court in Nashville.

I fear that by this time next week the Dawgs will have an SEC record of 0-3.

Georgia opens up SEC play with Alabama on Saturday night

The Georgia Bulldogs (9-5) begin their 2012 Southeastern Conference schedule on Saturday in Athens against the Alabama Crimson Tide (11-3).  This Alabama team is going to look nothing like the slew of small-conference foes that meandered through Stegeman Coliseum (and almost won – see Winthrop game) over the December holiday break.

Rather, the Tide are an athletic, physical bunch that should contend for the conference title.  This Bama team is almost identical to the one that beat Georgia twice last season, when the Dawgs frontcourt featured Trey Thompkins, Travis Leslie and Jeremy Price.

Alabama coach Anthony Grant has always been known for preaching defense, and his team this year has bought in hook, line and sinker.  The Tide play a smothering man defense that has them peppering the national team defensive rankings in nearly every category that counts – yielding just 55.6 points per game (9th) and holding opponents to 36.4% (6th) from the floor and 25.9% on three-point attempts (5th).

The Tide have already held four opponents this season under 50 total points, with two of those victims being Maryland and Georgia Tech (a team the Dawgs lost to earlier in the year).

Alabama’s star power resides in its frontcourt where they feature senior JaMychal Green and junior Tony Mitchell.  Green, a preseason All-SEC First Team member, has been slowly working his way back into the Tide’s rotation after suffering a shoulder injury that kept him out of the team’s wins over Oklahoma State and Jacksonville.  He did play 22 minutes in Bama’s win over Georgia Tech earlier this week, and he should be ready for even more minutes against the Dawgs on Saturday.  Green is a load to handle in the paint, and he leads this team in scoring with 15.3 points per game.

The high-flying Tony Mitchell (All-SEC Second Team selection) plays alongside Green on the block where is netting 15.1 points and bringing down a team-leading 7.4 boards per contest.  He’s generally regarded primarily for his athleticism, but Mitchell can actually be quite effective from the perimeter where he’s knocking down nearly 35% of his three-point attempts.

Sophomore point guard Trevor Releford has done an excellent job of running Coach Grant’s offense this season, contributing 12.4 points to go along with 3.4 assists.  Georgia’s Gerald Robinson, Jr. has been in a bit of a defensive funk lately, and he’ll need to snap out of it by tomorrow in order to slow Releford and this Alabama offense down.

The Dawgs are riding a five-game win streak into Saturday’s conference match-up, albeit it came against fairly weak competition.  However, Georgia’s offense has improved dramatically since the start of the season when 8-minute scoring droughts were regular occurrences.  Over the past three games, the Bulldogs are shooting 47.4% from the floor and nearly 39% from beyond the arc.

Freshman Kentavious-Caldwell Pope has had a pretty successful first half of the season, leading the team with 14.1 points to go along with 5.3 rebounds per game.  The real season starts now though, and Georgia desperately needs KCP to continue to play at a high level as the Dawgs navigate their way through what should be a challenging SEC schedule.  I am interested to see how Pope handles the intense defensive pressure of a conference game, especially on Saturday where he will be facing maybe the best defense in the SEC.

On paper Georgia does not stack up well against the Tide, who are loaded with talent and firepower.  However, this Alabama team does like to press and push the tempo after missed field goal attempts, which could in effect serve to help the Dawgs stay competitive in this game.  Georgia’s lack of an inside presence has made their halfcourt offense unproductive, and the Dawgs are clearly at their best when the guards are running the court and scoring in transition.

Bama does not shoot the ball well from the outside – just 27.2% on threes – so don’t be surprised if Coach Mark Fox mixes in some zone defense to entice the Tide into putting it up from beyond the arc.

The atmosphere should be a little more raucous inside Stegeman on Saturday night compared to December since football season is over and the students should be back from winter break.

Honestly, I’m not sure what to expect from Coach Mark Fox’s team in their first conference game.  Earlier in the season the Dawgs struggled to score to start the second half, though recently they have been sluggish out of the gates.  At times Georgia has pushed the ball up the court relentlessly, while at others they have fumbled through halfcourt offensive sets for minutes on end.

The season starts in Athens on Saturday – what does everyone think?