Georgia looks to rebound against Vanderbilt Sunday at 1:00PM

The Georgia Bulldogs (12-13; 3-8) still have a shot at getting into this year’s NIT Tournament, but after Wednesday night’s loss to South Carolina they certainly have their work cut out for them.

For Georgia to have a realistic chance of getting selected by the NIT committee, they would be best served by bolstering their overall record to .500 before season’s end.  In other words, the Dawgs probably need to win 3 of the 5 remaining games.  One of those games is on the road in Lexington against Kentucky, meaning that Georgia should set its sights on winning 3 of the other games against Vanderbilt, Florida, South Carolina or at LSU.

If Coach Mark Fox’s team could take 3 more games they would finish somewhere just below the midsection of the SEC standings, giving them a potentially very winnable first-round conference tournament match-up.

The point I’m trying to make is that the Dawgs still have goals to shoot for this season, and accomplishing them starts with beating Vanderbilt (18-8; 7-4) on Sunday.

Georgia played the Commodores tough in Nashville back in January, hanging around until the very end when Vandy was able to pull away and secure a 77-66 home victory.

Vanderbilt’s starting five features three players – John Jenkins, Jeffrey Taylor and Festus Ezeli – who are all slated to be drafted to the NBA in 2012 according to  Taylor and Jenkins are averaging 18.6 ppg and 18.3 ppg respectively, which ranks them first and second in the conference in that category in SEC games this season.  Both of these players are deadly from beyond the arc, where Taylor is connecting on 60% of his shots to Jenkins’ 46.1%.

Ezeli, who was starting to work himself back into the lineup the last time Georgia faced Vandy, has stepped up his game over the past five outings, netting 14.4 ppg during that stretch.  He is a tough match-up for a Bulldog team that lacks anyone with his size, strength or athleticism.  I expect to see more of the same match-up zone on Sunday that UGA utilized against Mississippi State in an attempt to provide help to the undersized bigs with Ezeli.

In the first game between these teams in Nashville, Coach Fox kept the game played at a halfcourt tempo which seemed to work fairly well for the Dawgs.  However, prior to the debacle in Columbia last Wednesday, Georgia had been enjoying a lot of offensive success in their wins over both Arkansas and Mississippi State when they pushed the pace of the game with their speedy backcourt.  I am definitely interested how exactly Fox plans on attacking this Commodore defense on Sunday.

With Vanderbilt’s 18-8 record (7-4 SEC) and RPI rating of 26, they are probably locked into this year’s NCAA Tournament.  However, the ‘Dores have a brutal stretch of games to round out their conference schedule – at #1 Kentucky, #12 Florida at home and then at Tennessee.  If Vandy were to slip up and drop a game to either Georgia or South Carolina, they could run the risk of finishing 8-8 in the conference and needing an SEC Tournament win to feel safe about their postseason security.  I anticipate that Coach Kevin Stallings’ team will arrive in Athens on Sunday hungry to notch their fourth conference road victory of the year.

The Dawgs didn’t respond to well to success last week against Carolina.  I wonder how well they will handle a little adversity following a loss?

Gamecocks edge Dawgs 57-56, ending UGA win streak

Freshman Kentavious-Caldwell Pope had another chance to ice a game for the Georgia Bulldogs (12-13; 3-8) tonight, attempting a three-pointer from the wing with just 6 seconds remaining in the game and his team trailing by a point.  Unlike in the Mississippi State game though, this shot caromed off of the front of the rim and the South Carolina was able to walk away with a 57-56 victory.

To be fair to KCP, he did knock down a really big three with 2:43 left in the game that tied things up at 53-apiece.

Georgia didn’t lose the game tonight because of Pope’s missed shot.  Rather, the Dawgs were extremely careless with the ball in the second half which allowed the Cocks to hang around and eventually take the lead.

The Bulldogs, who came into the game averaging a league-low 9.3 turnovers per game in SEC play, gave the ball back to Carolina 7 times in the final 10 minutes of the second half.

Prior to this horrific run of careless basketball Georgia had built up a 46-39 lead at the 9:11 mark, which was aided by a pair of Sherrard Brantley threes and a couple free throws from KCP.  However, 3 turnovers and 4 misses later the game was tied with only 4:58 left.

The other point in the game where I thought UGA failed to capitalize and pull away from USC was in the first half, when the Dawgs had bolstered their lead to 16-9 following a three-pointer from senior Dustin Ware.  Ware’s three capped off a 12-2 Georgia run, and it looked as if they might be able to open up a sizeable advantage heading into the break.

Instead, Carolina responded with a 9-2 run of their own, tying the game at 18-18 with less than five minutes to play in the half.

The performances of the UGA bigs hurt the team nearly as badly as the late-game turnovers.  South Carolina showed Georgia a gimmicky trap zone for most of the night, forcing the Bulldog guards to pass, limiting their roles in the offense.  The Georgia big men had a plethora of nice looks at the basket, but they were unable to take advantage of many of them.  Marcus Thornton, Donte Williams, Neme Djurisic and John Florveus shot a combined 8 for 27 from the floor, or  just under 30%, which is a totally unacceptable shooting percentage for a group of post players (typically coaches like these guys to make around 45%+ of their attempts considering they are usually from very close in).

Neither team had much offense tonight with Carolina making 38.8% of their attempts to UGA’s 35.1%.

USC senior Malik Cooke led all scorers with 13 points, while Georgia was led by senior Gerald Robinson, Jr., who finished with a team-high 11 points to go along with 7 rebounds and 6 assists.

In his post-game interview, Coach Mark Fox sounded pretty disappointed in his team.  Fox kept lamenting the fact that the UGA players appeared tired all day (during shoot-around, etc), and that their fatigue carried over into the game and the way that they played.   He chastised his team for playing weak-mindedly and for not protecting the ball.

I can’t say that I can disagree with many of his complaints.

Dawgs looking for third-straight SEC win in Columbia on Wednesday (7PM)

The last time the University of Georgia‘s Men’s basketball team won three-straight regular season SEC games was nearly five years ago.

On Wednesday night in Columbia, Coach Mark Fox’s Dawgs will have an opportunity to reach that milestone.

If the Bulldogs (12-12; 3-7) are still resting on their laurels from their recent wins over Arkansas and Mississippi State though, all the momentum that UGA has built up in the last week could be flushed down the toilet.  Remember, as bad as South Carolina (9-15; 1-9) has been this season, they did knock off Alabama at home back in January for their lone conference win – a feat that Georgia could not accomplish in Athens.

Furthermore, should this UGA really be sleeping against anyone?

Last season, South Carolina’s Bruce Ellington was possibly the best freshman in the conference not wearing a Kentucky jersey.  In his rookie campaign, Ellington carried the Gamecocks, scoring 12.8 points and dishing out over 3 assists per game.

However, if their was one team that Bruce fared particularly poorly against last year it was Georgia; the reason – Gerald Robinson, Jr.  Ellington may suffer from nightmarish flashbacks upon first glance at Robinson, who limited him to just 9 total points on 4 of 24 shooting from the floor in both the Cocks’ losses to UGA.

Should GR2 continue to frustrate Ellington on Wednesday, Coach Horn’s Carolina team could be in for a long night.  Ellington has been having a decent sophomore season since returning to the team from football, netting 11.4 points as well as 3.6 assists in SEC contests.

The only other Carolina player scoring in double-digits in conference games this year is senior forward Malik Cooke, who is leading the Cocks’ frontcourt with 10.8 points per contest.

Ellington and Cooke are the scoring leaders on a team that, like Georgia, has struggled to put the ball in the basket in league games this year.  The Gamecocks are right below UGA in total points at 59.6 per game, and they are only connecting on 38.4% of their field goal attempts (two spots ahead of Georgia, who is last in the SEC at 37.6%).

This game should present the Dawgs’ bigs with another chance to win a rebounding battle as the Cocks are hauling in a league-low 29.7 boards per contest.

Georgia has started to right the ship on this season, beginning the second half of the SEC schedule with a pair of victories.  The Dawgs’ two leading scorers – Gerald Robinson and Kentavious-Caldwell Pope – have been on fire as of late, averaging 20 and 19 points each over the last two games, respectively.

Another conference win on Wednesday would set UGA up with a monster Sunday showdown in Athens against Vanderbilt, a team Georgia played very competitively on the road earlier this year.  There is no doubting that the Dawgs are on the cusp of putting together an impressive little run after what transpired last week.  I mean, Georgia must be hot if the AJC’s local bandwagoner/hot-air blower Mark Bradley felt compelled to mention them for the SECOND time this season (24 games in).

Even though South Carolina has lost five-straight games – four of those losses coming on the road – they will no doubt be excited about returning home with a chance to notch their second conference victory.

Can Coach Fox’s team continue to keep this train rolling?

What a week for Georgia basketball!

Last week was definitely the best of the season thus far for Coach Mark Fox’s Georgia Bulldogs.  They dismantled Arkansas at home on Wednesday night, and then followed that performance up with a shocking overtime upset in Starkville over the then-ranked #18 Mississippi State Bulldogs.

It seems that UGA fans and readers of this blog were not the only ones noticing these two stellar Georgia performances.

In ESPN’s College Basketball “Weekly Watch”, Georgia was listed under the “More teams that impressed us” category.  Writer Myron Metcalf had this to say about the Dawgs:

“The bottom of the SEC is rising up and causing some serious problems for the top. The Bulldogs crushed Arkansas at home and followed that up with perhaps the most surprising result in league play — maybe more so than UT over UF — when they upset Mississippi State in Starkville by two in overtime.”

Congratulations are also in order for senior point guard and leader Gerald Robinson, Jr., who was awarded the SEC Men’s Hoops Player of the Week award for his efforts last week.  GR2 rang up 40 total points in the UGA victories, two of which were a pair of crucial free throws that put Georgia up by 4 points in the waning seconds of the Mississippi State game.

Have a great Monday and look for a write-up on the South Carolina game coming in the next day or so.

Georgia upsets Mississippi State 70-68 in overtime

The Georgia Bulldogs (12-12; 3-7) accomplished a multitude of firsts on Saturday afternoon in their overtime win over #18 Mississippi State – first win against a ranked opponent, first SEC road win, first time this season the Dawgs have strung two conference wins together, etc.

The Bulldogs’ 70-68 overtime victory today was UGA’s first win in Starkville since 2002, and definitely one of the bigger conference road wins over the past decade.

The game looked like it might slip away towards the end of overtime when Jalen Steele connected on three-pointer (that touched everything), putting his team up 66-65 with only 1:22 remaining in the game.

Georgia’s Kentavious-Caldwell Pope responded with probably his biggest offensive play of the year on the ensuing possession, backing his defender off with the dribble and then stepping back to bury a monster, go-ahead three-pointer that gave UGA a 68-66 advantage with just 68 seconds left.

The Dawgs got a stop on the next Missy State possession, and then senior Gerald Robinson, Jr. canned both free throws to put Georgia up 70-66, sealing the UGA victory with 26 ticks left on the clock.

Though KCP was the hero of the afternoon for Coach Mark Fox’s team, this win was truly the result of an overall excellent team effort.  Robinson, Dustin Ware and Donte Williams all scored in double-figures, finishing with 13, 11 and 11 points, respectively.

Williams and Marcus Thornton did an amazing job of containing State in the paint, limiting Arnett Moultrie to only 12 points.  Moultrie had been especially dominant in SEC home games this season, averaging 21 points per contest.  However, he was never able to establish himself on Saturday as Georgia’s match-up zone enabled the guards to double-down on him and reduce his looks at the basket.

The Dawgs did surrender 21 points to Missy State senior Dee Bost, but it took him going 3 of 10 from beyond the arc to get to that total.

Georgia did not shoot the ball particularly well – 40.6% from the floor – but they out-hustled MSU all afternoon and won their second-straight battle of the boards, out-rebounding the Maroon Dogs 37-31.

Mississippi State came into the game playing the worst perimeter defense in the conference, and Georgia was able to exploit their opponent’s weakness, connecting on nearly 43% of their three-point attempts.

Before wrapping this entry up I have to throw one more bone to sophomore Marcus Thornton.  Thornton brought his lunch pail to the gym today, leading Georgia with 9 rebounds (4 of which were offensive) and giving the Dawgs a very physical inside presence.  If Marcus can continue to bang like he did today for the remainder of his career he will become a very productive player for Coach Fox.

Lastly, congratulations to Coach Fox and his team on a solid road victory over a ranked Mississippi State team.  The Dawgs have responded to a dismal 1-7 start in conference play by winning their first two games in the second half of the SEC schedule.

Georgia now not only has a chance of playing themselves into the post-season NIT tournament, but they may catapult themselves into the middle of the SEC pack if they can keep the momentum rolling next Wednesday night in Columbia, South Carolina.

Don’t look now, but the Georgia Bulldogs are riding a two-game winning streak (their first of 2012).

Dawgs to visit Starkville in search of first SEC road victory

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.

Bulldogs snap losing streak, throttle Razorbacks

To say that everything went Georgia‘s (11-12; 2-7) way in the first half of Wednesday night’s game against Arkansas would be an understatement.

The Dawgs – a team averaging 55 points a game in conference play – rang up 43 points before the intermission against the Razorbacks, taking a 19-point lead into the halftime break.  Georgia made over 56% of their shots from the floor, scored 20 points in the paint (to Arkansas’s 6) and out-rebounded the Hogs by a count of 25-10.  Usually the Dawgs are on the receiving end of this kind of domination.

Gerald Robinson, Jr. was untouchable, torching the Razorbacks for 17 first-half points to go along with 4 assists and 3 rebounds.  GR2 finished with a game- and career-high of 27 points on 10 of 13 shooting from the floor as well as 5 assists and 5 boards.

Even Marcus Thornton, yes Marcus Thornton, buried a three from the wing with to put the Dawgs up 26-11 with 6:57 remaining before the break.  And then he hit another with less than 12 minutes left in the game to give Georgia a 60-33 advantage!

Arkansas looked nothing like the team that upended Michigan, Mississippi State and Vanderbilt on Wednesday night.  Coach Mike Anderson’s team appeared lethargic and soft on defense, and UGA exploited the Hogs’ sluggishness to the tune of 81 points – a team-high in SEC play this season – compared to Arkansas’s 59.

This game marked the first time in 2012 that Georgia has gone over the 70-point mark – the Dawgs hadn’t eclipsed 70 since their 92-86 overtime win over Winthrop back on the 27th of December.  UGA was efficient on offense, making nearly 54% of their shots and dishing out 15 team assists.

The Bulldogs were on cruise control for most of the second half, opening up a lead that nearly reached 30 points.  Georgia unloaded on the Hogs from beyond the arc, knocking down 9 of their 20 attempts.

UGA owned the glass on Wednesday night, easily winning the rebounding battle by a count of 41-20.

Even though Robinson contributed a third of the Dawgs’ points, Georgia’s scoring was quite balanced with three other players finishing the game in double-digits.  Freshman Kentavious-Caldwell Pope had a solid performance, chipping in 18 points on 60% shooting from the field.  Neme Djurisic and Marcus Thornton added 14 and 10 points, respectively.

The Georgia players should sleep well tonight knowing they finally put an end to their SEC losing streak which had gotten to four games.  More importantly, South Carolina dropped another road game at Tennesse, allowing the Dawgs to shake free of the Gamecocks and pull themselves out of the bottom of the SEC standings.

The Dawgs get two days off before traveling to Starkville to take on the Maroon Dogs this Saturday.