South Florida tops Georgia 64-53 in SEC/Big East Challenge game

In his post game comments, Mark Fox lamented his team’s defense, saying that it “failed them” throughout the game tonight.

I think when Coach Fox watches the tape of his team’s 64-53 loss to South Florida tomorrow he is going to see that the offense was Georgia’s Achilles heel in this contest, especially down the stretch.

Donte Williams got a stick-back to tie the game at 50-apiece with 4:04 remaining, following an array of UGA offensive rebounds and flailing Bulls’ bodies.

After this basket, however, South Florida’s defense clamped down on the Dawgs, forcing Georgia into a slew of poor offensive possessions in which the ball circled the perimeter until a last-second shot was tossed up by a UGA player in an attempt to beat the shot clock.

The Bulls closed out the last 4 minutes of the game with a 14-3 run that crushed any hopes that Georgia might have had of stealing a game on the road in the newly constructed Sun Dome arena.

The South Florida offense was extremely balanced on Friday night with four players finishing in double-figures.  The Bulls were led by sophomore point guard Anthony Collins, who poured in 17 points to go along with 10 assists.

On the flip side, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope was the only Georgia player to score in double-digits, netting 19 points while shooting 50% from the floor.  When the Bulls heightened their defensive focus on KCP late in the second half it really exposed just how one-dimensional this Georgia team can be offensively.

Donte Williams was a ghost for much of the night, scoring 2 points on just 4 field goal attempts, while Neme Djurisic couldn’t find the rim, hitting only 3 of his 13 shots from the floor.

John Cannon tied his season-high with 8 points to go along with 3 rebounds, yet he spent the final quarter of this game on the bench.  Cannon appears to be the most gifted offensive big man on this team, and I think it’s imperative that he is on the floor during key stretches of games to take some of the pressure off of Pope.

Lastly, the Dawgs must get more production from the point guard position.  Against the Bulls, Vincent Williams and Charles Mann combined for a total of 3 points and 4 assists in 40 minutes of play.  When Georgia sees zone defenses, it is up to these guys to penetrate and draw defenders so that the zone breaks down (like how Gerald Robinson, Jr. did the past two years).

Looks like the Bulldogs will have to wait a bit to start their first win streak of the season.

Georgia visits South Florida in SEC/Big East Challenge

Georgia’s (2-4) basketball game at South Florida (4-2) this Friday night will likely go relatively unnoticed by most of the Bulldog Nation considering Saturday’s impending SEC football championship game.

However, this matchup with the Bulls should provide the Dawgs with a formidable challenge against a team that will likely be on the NCAA Tournament bubble late in the season.

South Florida is coming off its best year in the program’s history, winning 22 games as well as advancing two rounds in the 2012 Big Dance.  The catalyst from last season’s team – sophomore point guard Anthony Collins – returns to join a group of veterans that hope to make some noise once again in the postseason.

Collins, a consensus preseason Big East Second-Team selection, is netting 7.8 points to go along with 8.2 assists, ranking him 4th in the country in that category.  Despite his small stature, he is considered a lock-down defender who can wreak havoc upon opposing point guards.

The Bulls’ leading scorer this year has been Toarlyn Fitzpatrick, a senior big who is getting 13 points and nearly 7 boards per contest.  Fitzpatrick has a surprisingly soft touch from the outside, where he is knocking down over 40% of his three-point attempts.

Since the loss to Indiana, Georgia’s Kentavious Caldwell-Pope has been doing a much better job of letting the game come to him offensively.  In both of the losses to IU and Southern Miss, KCP appeared to be pressing a bit, making only 9 of his 36 field goal attempts.

However, against UCLA and East Tennessee State, a relaxed Pope connected on 10 of his 22 attempts from the floor.  In addition, KCP took only 14 three-pointers in those two games (of which he made 6), almost half the number he shot in the previous two contests.

Last Friday, Georgia carved up ETSU’s zone, dishing out 21 team assists and hitting over 63% of their field goal attempts – easily the team’s best shooting performance of the season.  I am intrigued to see what kind of defense South Florida coach Stan Heath throws at the Dawgs now that they have proven that they can move the ball effectively inside a zone.

Junior big Donte Williams appears to have shaken of the early season cobwebs that plagued him the games against IU and UCLA, notching 12 points and 3 blocks in the matchup with ETSU.

This game will provide the Bulldogs with the opportunity to win consecutive games for the first time this season, and it will also be the first game this year in which the Dawgs have the full force of their starting five at the tip-off.

Georgia picks up win at home against East Tennessee State

The Georgia Bulldogs (2-4) put on a shooting clinic on Friday night in front of sparsely filled Stegeman Coliseum in a 54-38 win over the East Tennessee State Buccaneers.

The Dawgs connected on 63% of their field goal attempts, marking their best field goal percentage in a game this season (or last for that matter).

The Buccaneers showed Coach Mark Fox’s team a heavy dose of zone defense for the entire night, which the Bulldogs quickly figured out and exploited by getting the ball into the high post which allowed them to hit a number of backdoor cutters (Donte Williams).

ETSU actually jumped out in front of Georgia 11-10 after a three-pointer from freshman Lester Wilson with 12:13 left before the break.  UGA responded with a 15-0 run that saw them take a 25-11 advantage with less than 5 minutes remaining till halftime.  Georgia finished out the first half strong, taking a 31-13 advantage into the intermission, and the Buccaneers were never really able to recover from this deficit.

Twice in the latter part of the second half ETSU pulled within 11 points, and each time they were met with a Kentavious Caldwell-Pope three-pointer that helped to bolster the Dawgs’ lead.

KCP, who finished with a game-high 13 points, also snagged 7 rebounds and dished out 4 assists to go with his timely three-point baskets.

The Bulldogs were extremely efficient on offense, dishing out a season’s best 21 assists to only 17 turnovers.  Donte Williams, the beneficiary of many of those backdoor passes, chipped in 12 points, which mostly came in the form of thunderous baseline dunks.  Georgia’s offense last night looked much more like the version of basketball that UGA fans enjoyed when Trey Thompkins and Travis Leslie were still donning the Red and Black.

Even though the opposing team was undersized and missing its starting backcourt, it was encouraging to see how well the Dawgs handled playing against a zone defense.  Much like the UCLA game, Georgia once again made a conscious effort to get the ball into the paint, which led to 28 points.

If this team is a work in progress, then maybe we are starting to see the beginnings of a turnaround after the dismal start that saw UGA drop consecutive home games to Youngstown State and Southern Mississippi.

I’m not so sure that the Georgia team from two weeks ago would have won last night’s contest quite so handedly.

Georgia back at home to play host to ETSU

The Georgia Bulldogs (1-4) are on the verge of doing something that has yet to occur in the Mark Fox Era of UGA basketball – lose five consecutive games.

After going 0 for 4 in the Legends Classic, the Dawgs will look to rebound against the East Tennessee State Buccaneers (1-2) – another team that has gotten out to a less-than-desirable start to the 2012-2013 season.

The Buccaneers – projected to finish 4th in the Atlantic Sun – dropped their first two games of the year to Virginia Tech and UTC-Chattanooga before taking one on the road at Charleston Southern last Tuesday.

Both ETSU and Georgia have struggled to put the ball in the basket this season, ranking them 266th and 328th in the nation, respectively, in team field goal percentage.

The Buccaneers will be playing their second-straight game without their starting backcourt as senior guards Sheldon Cooley and Marcus Dubose remain indefinitely suspended due to a violation of team rules, leaving a majority of the scoring load on the shoulders of freshman forward Lester Wilson.

Wilson’s 19.3 points per game currently lead all Atlantic Sun scorers, and he has been chipping in 6 rebounds a night as well.

Despite Georgia’s two losses in Brooklyn, I (and many commenters on this blog) praised the Dawgs’ efforts in both games.  However, tonight UGA needs to get a real victory – as opposed to the moral variety – and it would be nice if it was rather convincing since they are at home playing against an undersized team that doesn’t have its starting guards.

After tonight’s game, the road gets a bit more challenging for the Dawgs, with back-to-back road contests at South Florida and Georgia Tech.

Georgia played probably its most complete game of the season in the 60-56 loss to UCLA, making a concerted effort to feed the ball inside which led to UGA scoring 24 points in the paint (only the second time this season they have eclipsed the 15-point mark in this category).  The Dawgs also shot a season-low 11 three-pointers, which is a trend that will hopefully continue throughout the remainder of the year.

Georgia is not a very good shooting team, connecting on only 36.5% from the floor and barely over 30% of their shots from beyond the arc.

As a fan of this team, you would like to see them continue to take more shots that occur closer to the basket.

Bruins outlast Dawgs 60-56 in consolation round of Legends Classic

The Georgia Bulldogs dropped their fourth consecutive game on Tuesday night, losing a hard-fought battle with the #11 UCLA Bruins.  Despite the fact that the Dawgs are in the midst of a losing streak, as a fan, I am much more encouraged by what I saw transpire in Brooklyn over the past two days.

Last week, Georgia appeared outmatched in both of its games against Youngstown State and Southern Mississippi.  However, Coach Mark Fox was able to reach his team and demand more before the games in New York, which saw the Dawgs go toe-to-toe with the #1 and #11 teams in the country (Indiana and UCLA, respectively).

Last night’s game against UCLA was the first time this season we have seen Georgia play patiently on offense, working the ball inside and back out until they found the best shot.  Fox’s team dished out 15 assists to just 10 turnovers, marking only the second time this year they have been on the plus side of that differential (reminiscent of Georgia’s first two teams under CMF).

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope did not attempt a shot until less than 7 minutes remained in the first half, yet at the time his Bulldog team was leading 22-14.  KCP, who had been pressing a bit lately, allowed the game to come to him on Tuesday, finishing with a team-high 16 points to go along with 8 rebounds and 3 assists.

Despite Pope’s improved play, he did commit a costly turnover on a critical possession in which Georgia trailed UCLA by 3 points with less than a minute remaining.  The Bruins trapped KCP at the top of the key, and Kentavious fell awkwardly to the ground while attempting a pass against his body to the right side of the court.  Unfortunately for UGA, the Bruins’ Norman Powell made one of the ensuing free throws, giving his team a two-possession advantage that the Bulldogs were unable to overcome.

UCLA played last evening’s contest without regular starter David Wear, which opened the door for freshman phenom Shabazz Muhammad to make his first collegiate start.  Muhammad took advantage of the opportunity, responding with a game-high 21 points.

Georgia’s scoring was more balanced against the Bruins than it has been all season, with three players – Donte Williams, Neme Djurisic and John Cannon – finishing with 8 points.

Though this Bulldog team is clearly a work-in-progress, if they can bring the same effort and intensity that they played with in Brooklyn to all of their games I think that this bunch may win more games than people might have predicted seven days ago.

Georgia and UCLA meet in consolation round of Legends Classic

Georgia will take on the #11 UCLA Bruins tonight in the Barclays Center as part of the consolation round of the Legends Classic.  Considering that the Dawgs have yet to win a game in this tournament, it seems only fitting that they should be playing their last game in its loser’s bracket.

The Bruins arrived at this juncture via an upset-minded Georgetown team that shocked UCLA 78-70 in a game that featured the debut of blue-chip wingman Shabazz Muhammad.  Muhammad came off the bench (for now) to score 15 points in 25 minutes of play, but his efforts were not enough to help his UCLA team avoid its first loss of the season.

The most interesting storyline in this game (if you are a Dawgs fan) is that UCLA’s bench includes Tony Parker, a former Georgia high school basketball standout who chose the Bruins over the Dawgs during his recruiting process last spring.  Parker has been coming off the bench so far this season for Coach Ben Howland, chipping in 6.7 points per game.

This UCLA team has a huge frontline – featuring the Wear brothers (Travis and David) – that is hauling in over 44 boards per game, ranking them 23rd in the nation in that category.  The Wears both average double-digit scoring, though this team’s leading scorer through its first four games has been Jordan Adams (another Georgia native).

Adams, a freshman from Lawrenceville, has been netting 23.5 points per game for a Bruin team that averages over 80 points per night.  The addition of Shabazz Muhammad to this offense should make them even more high-octane as the season progresses.

If Coach Mark Fox’s team has any hopes of righting the ship this year than he is going to need his star player – Kentavious Caldwell-Pope – to be a little more consistent on offense.  KCP has had just one game this year (Youngstown State) in which he has shot over 50% from the floor, and after last night’s 4 for 15 effort he is now connecting on just 33% of his field goal attempts through four games.

While I understand that KCP’s strength is his outside shot, he can be somewhat streaky and I would like to see him not settle for quite so many three-pointers.  In his freshman season, Pope put up 56% of his field goal attempts from beyond the arc (214 in all).  Although KCP hoisted up a lot of threes, I also remember him creating more of his shots off the dribble when compared to this year, where nearly two-thirds of his attempts are coming from the perimeter.

Last season, KCP shot 10 or more three-pointers in only five games; he has already put up 10 or more from beyond the arc in three of Georgia’s first four games.

Georgia’s biggest challenge tonight will be finding a way to bring the same energy and enthusiasm to the Barclays Center as they did last night against Indiana.  I am sure the Dawgs’ players were disappointed in the loss to the Hoosiers, but I also think that they probably took some comfort in the fact that they hung with the nation’s top team for 30 minutes.

UCLA, on the other hand, just lost its first game of the season and will probably want nothing more than to whip UGA to get that bad taste out of their mouths.  I am anticipating that the Bruins will show up to the game with a bad attitude, and the Bulldogs better not be resting on any moral laurels from last night or they could get embarrassed.

Georgia hangs around, eventually falls 66-53 to #1 Indiana

I do not think that any Georgia basketball fans expected the Dawgs to take a one-point advantage into the half after the performances by this team last week.

However, Coach Mark Fox’s team showed up in Brooklyn poised and ready to challenge the #1 Indiana Hoosiers on Monday night, limiting Indiana to just 4 first-half field goals.

The Dawgs’ 30-29 halftime advantage was even more surprising considering that Kentavious Caldwell-Pope – the team’s leading scorer – did not find the bucket until connecting on a three-pointer with 3:05 remaining before intermission.  KCP scored 6 points before the break, finishing the game with a team-high 14 (tied with Vincent Williams) despite shooting a dismal 4 for 15 from the floor.

The Hoosiers seemed content with launching up shots from the perimeter in the game’s first 20 minutes, which enabled Georgia to keep things interesting for longer than most expected.  However, Coach Crean clearly directed his team to attack the basket after the break so that they could put pressure on the Georgia bigs.

UGA actually extended the lead to 38-34 with 15:44 remaining following a lay-up by Nemanja Djurisic until a TV timeout occurred that clearly woke up the sleepy Hoosiers.  After the short rest, Indiana went on a decimating 30-9 run that left Georgia down 64-47 with only a few minutes left in the game.

Jordan Hulls, who had been relatively quiet all night, nailed 3 three’s during this stretch, helping to put away this pesky Bulldog team.

Kudos to the Dawgs for playing their best game of the season by far, and against the nation’s best team at that.  Even though the Dawgs were once again out-rebounded – tonight by a tally of 35-21 – they seemed far more intense on the defensive end as a whole when compared to the team’s first three games.

Both teams struggled to put the ball in the basket during the first half.  The problem was that for Indiana this was unusual, but for Georgia it was more or less par for the course.  The Dawgs hit 34% of their field goal attempts this evening in New York, just 3 percentage points lower than their season average.

The Dawgs showed a lot of class and heart tonight in a hard-fought loss to a much more talented Indiana team.

But moral victories aside, this game highlighted a lot of the same offensive issues that have plagued this team since the start of the season.  Georgia does not have a post player that can accept the basketball on the block and score (consistently), and they certainly do not have any pure shooters on the roster (KCP included).

Hopefully the Dawgs can bring the same energy to the consolation game tomorrow night versus the loser of the UCLA-Georgetown match-up.

Georgia set to challenge #1 Indiana in Brooklyn

The Georgia Bulldogs (1-2) are in the midst of a bit of an early season slump, dropping consecutive games at home to Youngstown State and Southern Mississippi.  If the Dawgs want to get the bad taste out of their mouths from those two defeats, unfortunately, they are going to have to do it against the top team in the country – the Indiana Hoosiers.

The Hoosiers, who came into the season ranked #1, have come roaring out of the gates, posting a Division I-best 94.3 points per game.  Indiana is making over 53% of their field goal attempts, including a near 40% mark from beyond the arc.  This Hoosier team currently has five players scoring in double-digits on a nightly basis, led by their sensational sophomore Cody Zeller.

Zeller, who showed up on every preseason All-American First-Team and National Player of the Year list, is pacing Indiana with 17.7 points and 8.7 boards.  He likes to play with a lot of physicality inside, so the Georgia bigs must be prepared to match his toughness or they will likely be feasted upon.

Zeller is joined in the paint by fellow big man Christian Watson, who is chipping in over 14 points and 8 rebounds per game himself.  The senior from Birmingham is a nice complement to Indiana’s all-everything center, and he also plays very strong on the block.

The NBA and its coaches use a statistic called player efficiency to help them evaluate a player’s performance.  Efficiency is calculated by totaling a players points, rebounds, assists, blocks and steals, and then subtracting from that number the player’s total number of field goal misses, free throw misses and turnovers.  This result can then be calculated on a per minute basis, and then stretched out over the length of an entire game to compensate for guys that don’t get as many minutes.

Last year, the NBA’s top five most efficient players – 1) Lebron James 2) Kevin Love 3) Kevin Durant 4) Dwight Howard 5) Chris Paul.  In other words, this statistic seems to accurately reflect whom fans may guess would be the most productive players in the league.

Just out of curiosity, I decided to calculate the player efficiencies for the Bulldog roster through the first three games, since there has been a decent amount of grumblings amongst the UGA basketball fan base about some of the lineups Fox has been utilizing (or not utilizing).

Georgia’s top five most efficient players thus far (using a per minute efficiency calculation and then stretching that number out to 40 minutes to compensate for lack of playing time, etc.):

John Cannon – 25.3, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope – 23.7, Brandon Morris – 18.9, Tim Dixon – 18.7 and Nemanja Djurisic – 9.5

It should be noted that Neme’s efficiency of 9.5, though high for the Bulldogs, is a pretty mediocre number when compared to players across the country.

I think that the main takeaway from this brief mathematical endeavor for UGA fans should be that John Cannon needs to be playing more for this team because he is producing consistently when he is on the floor for Coach Mark Fox.  Cannon has legitimate center size and the ability to score the basketball inside when he receives it with his back to the basket.  Fox could use a player like Cannon on Monday night to match some of Zeller’s toughness in the paint.

At this point the Dawgs’ confidence has to have been shaken considering what transpired in Athens over the last week.  Will Georgia step onto the floor of the Barclays Center wide-eyed and shell-shocked at the prospect of taking on the nation’s best team?  Or, will the Dawgs play loose with a “nothing to lose” mentality?

Considering what Georgia has already experienced in the initial stages of the Legends Classic, I believe it is fairly safe to say that things cannot get much worse.  Anyone tuning in to this game will expect the Dawgs to lie down so that Indiana can take them out behind the woodshed.

Although, maybe a game away from Athens is just what the doctor ordered for Coach Fox’s bunch.

Southern Miss edges out Georgia 62-60 in overtime

A major question coming into the 2012-2013 season for this Georgia Bulldog (1-2) basketball team centered on how much improvement the Dawgs would see in their big men after a season and off-season under the tutelage of Coach Mark Fox.

The answer:  Not much.

After being pushed around and out-rebounded in their first two games, the Georgia bigs once again lost the rebounding advantage (36-27) – this time to a much smaller opponent.

Coach Fox tried to open the game in a man defense, but Marcus Thornton, Neme Djurisic, Tim Dixon, etc. were unable to contain on the outside, allowing the quicker Southern Miss players to slash to the basket for easy baskets.  The Golden Eagles opened up a 15-3 lead with 12:07 left before the break after a lay-up by Neil Watson.

For the remainder of the game, Fox sat his team in a zone, which permitted Southern Miss’s left-handed shooter Jerrold Brooks to connect on 5 of his 10 three-point attempts en route to a team-high 17 points.  It wasn’t just Brooks who feasted on the zone however, as the Golden Eagles scored 30 points in the paint on Thursday night to the Bulldogs’ 12.  Even this morning, I am still unable to shake the haunting images of the Southern Miss posts sliding around the heavy-footed UGA bigs for bucket after bucket.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who has been the lone bright spot on this otherwise dimly lit team, had an off night, hitting only 5 of his 21 shots from the floor.  With the supporting cast that KCP has around him this year, he cannot have off nights.

Despite Pope’s poor offense, he did manage to contribute in other ways for his team with 6 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 steals.

In his post-game comments, Fox harped on his team’s poor free throw shooting, citing that the Dawgs made only 11 of 21 attempts from the stripe.  Making barely over half of your free throws won’t win you many games, and in last night’s case, these misses may have been the difference in a win or a loss.

Georgia’s shooting as a team was slightly improved from Monday night’s 32% performance, but still sub-par overall at just 38.5% against Southern Miss.

If I were to offer a quick analysis of this year’s UGA team through three games I would say that they do not shoot very well, they are soft on defense and the boards, and they only have one player that can score.  I am sorry that I cannot offer more positivity, but up to this point this team has not given me much to work with.

The scariest prospect to start concerning yourself with right now as a Georgia basketball fan is not the impending match-up with #1 Indiana (though that deserves merit).

Right now, I’m envisioning what this team will look like next year without KCP, who I am thinking may not choose to return to endure another season with this group with the allure of the NBA as another option.

Georgia looks to rebound against Southern Mississippi

The Georgia Bulldogs (1-1) return to action Thursday night to take on the Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles in Athens, just a few days after falling 68-56 in Stegeman to the Youngstown State Penguins.

The Golden Eagles were projected to finish in the middle to latter half of the Conference USA league this year by a majority of the preseason previews.  In their season-opener, however, Southern Miss outlasted Western Kentucky 67-64 at home for an overtime victory.

The Golden Eagles lost three starters (as well as their coach) off last year’s NCAA Tournament team, meaning that first-year skipper Donnie Tyndall will most likely be in rebuilding mode this season (also known as “Georgia mode” in local circles).  JUCO transfer Michael Craig should make the biggest impact on offense this year for Southern Miss – the junior wing netted 13 points and 8 rebounds in the team’s first game.  Craig, who stands at 6’7″, is the tallest player on this undersized Golden Eagle team that plays significant minutes.

I can imagine that the past few days of practice have been rather unpleasant for the Georgia big men.  After yielding 15 offensive rebounds to a smaller Jacksonville team, the Dawgs were out-rebounded by a tally of 42-31 on Monday night by Youngstown State.  On Thursday evening, Georgia will once again have a distinct height advantage, and hopefully for the post players’ sake they can command control over the offensive and defensive glass.

UGA’s shooting on Monday – much like last season – was horrid, with the Dawgs connecting on only 32% of their field goal attempts.  All of the players not named KCP combined for a 7 for 35 performance from the floor, leaving players, coaches and fans wondering if anyone from this team will be able to step up and provide some offensive support to Pope this year.

Coach Mark Fox has been quiet as to whether junior Donte Williams will see the floor on Thursday.  Williams, who has been held out of the first two games due to disciplinary reasons, should be the Dawgs’ top scoring and defending big man this season, and Georgia could definitely use his presence on Thursday night (if not just to get a game under his belt before facing Indiana next week).

After Monday’s home loss to the Penguins, I (along with many other fans) am really at a loss when it comes to expectations for this year’s Bulldog team.  In the season’s first Coaches Poll, Georgia showed up in the “Others Receiving Votes” portion.  Kentavious Caldwell-Pope was named First-Team All-SEC in the preseason, and he was one of six SEC players selected to the Wooden Award Preseason Top 50.  Even Neme Djurisic received a plug from CBS Sports, naming him to their “30 Players Likely to Breakout” field.

These accolades had me hoping for a significant improvement upon last year’s 15-17 campaign.  At this point, I am not holding my breath for too much.

Hopefully Thursday night the Dawgs can take some steps in the right direction to help restore some of those initial perceptions.