Coach Mark Fox’s Georgia Bulldogs (11-12; 2-7) injected a shot of adrenaline into the UGA basketball fan base in their win over Arkansas last Wednesday night. The victory ended Georgia’s four-game losing streak, and it kicked the Razorbacks off of the NCAA bubble.
Hopefully UGA’s big men enjoyed having the opportunity to dominate on the glass and in the paint earlier in the week, because that will not be the case when Georgia travels to Starkville to take on the #18 Mississippi State Bulldogs (18-5; 6-3) on Saturday. The Maroon Dawgs‘ Arnett Moultrie may be the best big man in the conference, scoring 17.4 points and hauling in an SEC-leading 10.4 rebounds per league game. The 6’11” junior from Memphis is certainly putting together an All-SEC season, emerging as the star post player for Coach Rick Stansbury as opposed to being just a complement to fellow junior Renardo Sydney.
Sydney, who is also a behemoth at 6’10” and 285 pounds, has been plagued his entire career with a bad attitude and a worse body fat percentage. The junior has had a disappointing season compared to expectations, averaging only 10.2 points in SEC contests. However, given his size advantage over just about any Georgia big, Sydney should be able to put the ball in the basket against the Dawgs on Saturday.
On the perimeter the other Dogs are led by eight-year returning senior Dee Bost, who seems as though he may be working towards a doctorate at MSU. Bost is having a superb SEC season, netting 15.4 points and leading the league with 6.2 assists per game. He is also a dangerous three-point shooter, sinking nearly 39% of his attempts.
As good as Bost shoots it from beyond the arc, he’s not the most dangerous three-point threat on this team. Sophomore Jalen Steele is connecting on 46% of his threes, leading a Mississippi State squad that hits almost 40% from that range as a team (3rd in the SEC).
Scoring has not been a problem for these Bulldogs as they are currently second in the conference with 71.8 points per SEC contest. Along with being third in the league from the perimeter, the Maroon Dawgs are third in field goal percentage as well at nearly 46% a clip.
If this Mississippi State team has an achilles heal it has been their team defense. The Maroon Dawgs are giving up 72 points per game to SEC opponents, which ranks them second to last in the conference. State has been especially bad at defending the perimeter, where they are allowing teams to knock down over 41% of their attempts from beyond the arc.
Even though Georgia has not won in Starkville since 2002, I do think they can give themselves a chance to win on Saturday if they can push the tempo of the game and make threes. The Dawgs have no business getting into a halfcourt game with the much larger Maroon Dawgs, yet they could (and by they I mean Gerald Robinson, Jr.) create some excellent scoring opportunities by pushing the ball up the court before Sydney and Moultrie can retreat to play defense.
If Dustin Ware and Kentavious-Caldwell Pope can capitalize on the open looks they are sure to see on Saturday Georgia could find themselves in a position to win late in the game.
With seven conference games remaining the Bulldogs have a chance to finish the season .500, which might get them into the postseason NIT tournament. Granted, winning four of the next seven games would mean sweeping Carolina, winning at LSU and then upending either Missy State, Vandy, Florida or Kentucky.
In 2006, the NIT selection committee revamped its selection process, doing away with the rule that said that teams must have a .500 record or better to play in the tournament. Despite the removal of this stipulation, every team selected for the tournament since 2006 has had a .500 record or better. Point being, Georgia had better get its record to at least .500 if they hope to be considered for this competition.
Participating in the postseason NIT would be an amazing accomplishment for a team that appeared lifeless over the last two weeks.
Georgia hasn’t strung two SEC wins together yet this season, and they’ve also failed to secure a conference road victory up to this point.
On Saturday at 1:30pm the Dawgs will have an opportunity to break both those trends.