On Thursday night the Georgia Bulldogs (13-15; 4-10) will travel to Lexington to take on the #1 Kentucky Wildcats, who will be celebrating a time-honored college tradition that is sure to die out under the reigns of Coach Calipari – “Senior Night”. While Coach Cal is running the show, the Wildcat basketball program may want to consider changing this event to “Sophomore Night” as it would be much more relevant to Cal’s teams.
This Kentucky squad features two seniors, Elloy Vargus (rarely used) and Darius Miller, who torched the Bulldogs for 19 points in Athens back in late January.
At 6’8″ tall, Miller is a mismatch-making machine at the guard position. His 19 points against UGA mark his best offensive output of the season in a conference game, and 12 of those points came from beyond the arc (where he was a perfect 4 for 4).
Kentucky is 14-0 in SEC play and 28-1 overall, making them nearly flawless. The Wildcats lead the conference in both scoring offense (74.4 ppg) and scoring defense (58.9 ppg), and they have the best player in the country in freshman Anthony Davis – probably why they opened up the betting lines as a whopping 21-point favorite over the UGA Dawgs.
Davis has all but locked up SEC Player of the Year honors, averaging 16 points, 9 rebounds and over 5 blocks per league game.
Before totally dismissing the Bulldogs‘ chances in this game and chalking it up as a Kentucky blowout, it should be noted that Georgia actually held a 14-11 advantage over the Cats with 12:55 left in the first half when these two teams met earlier in Athens. Unfortunately, Kentucky began exploiting Georgia’s zone rotation by knocking down perimeter threes, allowing them to open up a 38-26 halftime lead (one that UGA could never overcome).
The Dawgs went on to lose to the Cats 57-44 in that game, but Georgia did manage to stay within one point of Kentucky in the second-half scoring, largely in part due to a shift to man defense combined with a lack of Wildcat player focus/interest on offense.
Coach Mark Fox faces no easy task in trying to decide how he wants his team to defend the scoring behemoth that is Kentucky. He could play zone, which would take pressure off of the Georgia bigs in trying to deal with Davis and Miller. However, Kentucky is a great shooting team that makes nearly 40% of its three-pointers, making zone defense very risky as it could yield a lot of perimeter points.
Should the Bulldogs attack the Cats with a man defense, that would certainly help them match-up better on the outside, but it might leave the Dawgs vulnerable on the inside against the Kentucky bigs.
Georgia notched a 90-85 win at Rupp Arena three years ago on a Senior Night behind 30 points from Terrance Woodbury (Dustin Ware had 18). In that game, Georgia was on fire from beyond the arc, knocking down 11 of their 16 attempts.
If UGA hopes to keep the game this year close a similar shooting effort will be required.
I recently corresponded with Mike Scullin – owner of the website NIT-ology – who still has Georgia on the “NIT bubble” following last week’s upset of then-ranked #12 Florida. Scullin had this to say about what UGA needed to accomplish to get into this year’s NIT Tournament:
“At this point, Georgia is likely going to have to find a way to get to .500 following the SEC tournament in order to have a shot at an NIT bid. While the NIT lifted the official requirement for teams to be at least .500 to garner an at large bid years ago, there still have been no below .500 teams selected to date. At this point, it would probably take beating Kentucky and South Carolina and winning the first round in the SEC tournament to do it, which is an awfully tall order. This would give Georgia a 16-16 record with an RPI around 87, which I can confidently say would get them in.”
Beating Kentucky alone certainly sounds like a “tall order”, but considering this Georgia team’s knack for winning games they probably shouldn’t have this season – #18 Notre Dame, Mississippi State and #16 Florida – can you really say it’s totally out of the realm of possibilities?