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.