The Georgia Bulldogs (12-14; 3-9) and LSU Tigers (16-10; 6-6) were projected to finish 8th and 9th in the conference, respectively, heading into the 2011-2012 season. At this point in the year, LSU has exceeded expectations while the Dawgs have come up a bit short.
The Tigers are riding a three-game win streak into Wednesday night’s game, while UGA will be looking shake off the remnants from last week’s losses in hopes of avoiding its third-straight conference loss.
LSU’s most recent win was a 68-58 victory over South Carolina in Columbia last Saturday, something Georgia failed to accomplish a week ago from Wednesday.
LSU Coach Trent Johnson, who was Fox’s boss at Nevada for four years, is on the verge of doing something special with this Tiger team in his fourth season as their leader. LSU hasn’t been listed on Joe Lunardi’s Bracketology or the ESPN Bubble Watch (yet), but a win over Georgia on Wednesday and they might start turning some heads with a winning SEC record.
The Tigers have knocked off two ranked teams this year – #10 Marquette and then-ranked #23 Mississippi State. LSU has defended home turf pretty well this season in conference play, notching a 5-1 record at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
When breaking down the Tigers statistically, it is hard to find any one category that they have really excelled at in league games (other than their 6 wins). Similarly to Georgia, LSU ranks outside the top half of the SEC in scoring offense, scoring defense, field goal percentage, field goal percentage defense and rebounding margin. I’ve only seen them play a couple of games this year and the best thing I can say about this Tiger team is that they know how to find ways to win at the end of games (unlike Coach Fox’s Dawgs).
The biggest problem for the Bulldogs on Wednesday will be finding a way to limit 7′ (260 pound) junior center Justin Hamilton, who is putting together a solid SEC season – scoring 15.8 points and hauling down 7.5 boards per contest. Hamilton is a lot to contend with in the paint, yet that will be the challenge for John Florveous and Co.
Freshman point guard Anthony Hickey has been superb running Coach Johnson’s offense so far this season, netting 10.6 points and dishing out nearly 4 assists in conference games.
Georgia’s Kentavious-Caldwell Pope has been in a horrid funk as of late, which probably played a large part in the team’s recent struggles against both Vanderbilt and South Carolina. In these two UGA losses, KCP mustered only 15 points while shooting an abysmal 6 for 25 from the floor. During the same stretch of games, Pope’s combined 1 for 14 performance from beyond the arc was equally forgettable.
In the Dawgs’ 3 SEC wins this season, KCP has averaged 15.7 points and shot nearly 35% on his three-point attempts. Conversely – in the 9 conference losses – Pope’s numbers are noticeably lower, with him scoring only 13.1 points and hitting just 31% from beyond the arc.
It is no secret to any UGA basketball fan that as KCP goes, so go the Dawgs.
I’m going to make one last plug for the NIT – probably out of blind love for Georgia more than anything else (like logic) – and I promise if LSU wins on Wednesday I will not mention this post-season tournament again on this blog for the rest of the season.
However, I cannot give up on the Bulldogs’ NIT chances when they are still ever so slightly within reach. All Georgia has to do is win in Baton Rouge, and then defend Stegeman against #11 Florida and South Carolina (even an optimist like myself has to chalk the impending game in Lexington down in the loss column for UGA).
Piece of cake, right?