When Georgia (10-11; 1-6) and Tennessee (10-12; 2-5) met earlier this season in Athens the Bulldogs emerged victorious in a low-scoring overtime battle. The win was Georgia‘s first SEC victory of the year, and it offered a glimmer of hope to this team’s season with a home game against Ole Miss on the horizon.
The Rebels turned the glimmer off, and Kentucky and Auburn smothered and stomped on it. The Dawgs are neck-and-neck with South Carolina for the worst conference record with a 1-6 mark. Tonight Georgia will be coasting into Tennessee riding a three-game losing streak and a couple fumes.
The Vols’ season, however, is not lost, despite a less than lofty 2-5 SEC record. Tennessee was recently brutalized at Kentucky 69-44, yet they now get to enjoy a pair of home games against the two conference bottom-feeders – UGA and USC. The Vols have a great opportunity in front of them to boost their SEC record to one game short of .500.
Couple the Kentucky loss with the two winnable games on their plate and I would say what Georgia is going to encounter in Knoxville tonight is a nasty, yet inspired, bunch of Volunteers.
And Tennessee is one team that does not need to be any nastier.
The Vols play intense, physical man defense and they hit the glass tenaciously, probably why they are second in the conference in team defense (limiting team’s to 60.4 ppg) and rebounding (37.6 rpg). Tennessee’s starting forwards – Jeronne Maymon and Jarnell Stokes – resemble NFL defensive ends. Maymon has been playing particularly well as of late, averaging 14.3 points and 10 rebounds over his past three games.
Sophomore point guard Trae Golden – a native of Powder Springs, Georgia – scored 16 points in the losing effort against the Dawgs in Athens. He has really been in a funk over the past four games since these two teams met, shooting just 20% from the floor and scoring only 6 points per contest. Georgia’s Gerald Robinson, Jr. needs to get after Golden defensively so as not to allow him to break out of his slump against the Dawgs tonight.
Coach Mark Fox doesn’t have a whole lot to be pleased about lately regarding this team, but if there is one area where the Dawgs have shown improvement it has been in their team defense. In Georgia’s first three conference losses, the Dawgs allowed Bama, Florida and Vanderbilt to all eclipse the 70-point mark on the scoreboard.
Since those games however, UGA has only allowed one team – Ole Miss – to net more than 60 points. The Dawgs have climbed up to 7th in the SEC in scoring defense, allowing teams 65.1 points per game.
Granted, it’s hard to say if these defensive numbers are solely because of Georgia’s effort. The Dawgs are now the worst shooting team in the SEC at 35.2% from the floor in conference games. I suppose it is very possible that Georgia’s nightly ensemble of bricks clanking off the rim could be lulling opposing offenses to sleep, taking away their will to score.
Either way, as cliché as it sounds, for Georgia to pull off the upset tonight and get their first conference road win they are going to have to continue playing sound man defense and they MUST start to hit some shots.
I do not have a whole lot of closing thoughts, but before wrapping this thing up I’d like to toss Kentavious-Caldwell Pope a bone. I’m not sure if anyone else has noticed, but in several of Georgia’s games this year the Peachtree TV announcers have criticized the freshman’s defense, citing that Coach Fox wants to see improvement in this area of his game.
I can’t say that I understand these criticisms, nor do I think that they are warranted. In nearly every game I have seen Pope play I have been extremely impressed with his defensive stance (especially considering he’s 6’5″) and how active his hands are as well. Furthermore, KCP is now tied for second in the SEC with Arkansas’s BJ Young in steals at 2.0 per game.
In regards to the game, I got nothing else to say.
Maybe Georgia will surprise me.