Both LSU and Georgia searching for first SEC win

Something special will be on the line when LSU (9-5; 0-3) and Georgia (6-10; 0-3) meet inside Stegeman Coliseum tonight – a conference win.

Neither the Tigers nor the Dawgs have enjoyed their respective SEC schedules thus far, so there may be an air of desperation between these teams in Athens later today as one of them is guaranteed to leave the gym a winner.

Conference play – especially within a power conference like the SEC – can really change the complexity of a team mid-season, and often times it separates the real players from the guys that aren’t quite ready yet. Many teams around the country – not Georgia, of course – enjoy inflated offensive numbers prior to January as the majority of the squads that they face tend to be weaker opponents.

Prior to January 9th, LSU looked as if they might be something of an offensive juggernaut, pouring in over 77 points per game, with four players averaging in double-figures. However, since the start of SEC play the Tigers’ offensive has derailed, posting just 62.7 points a night.

To be fair, UGA is scoring only 55.7 points per conference game – the lowest output in the league.

LSU’s leading scorer – junior Shavon Coleman – was getting 14 points per game through the team’s first 11 contests. His performances in LSU’s three SEC games have been less desirable as Coleman has struggled to score only 7 points a night.

Sophomore point guard Anthony Hickey has been the Tigers’ most dangerous offensive weapon lately, netting almost 16 points per game in conference play. Georgia’s Vincent Williams, who is coming off a career-best 23-point performance at Missouri, will most likely be challenged by Coach Mark Fox to chase Hickey around the court this evening.

The Dawgs (plus Gerald Robinson, Jr.) lost 61-53 to nearly this same LSU team in Baton Rouge last season. In that game, Georgia failed to contain guard Andre Stringer, who sank 4 three-pointers and finished with 18 points. The Dawgs also had trouble handling big man Johnny O’Bryant III in the paint, where he tallied 14 points and 8 boards.

Both of these Bayou Bengal Tiger players will be in Athens tonight, and Georgia has got to find a way to deal with “Johnny O” as he is quite the imposing figure inside at 6’9″ and 262 pounds. O’Bryant is scoring 10.4 ppg this season, though he too has yet to break through in a conference game, accumulating just 18 total points in three games.

Next week’s schedule does not look promising for Georgia – they play Florida at home on Wednesday and then the Dawgs hit the road Saturday to take on Texas A&M in College Station.

A loss to LSU tonight would put this UGA team on a path that most likely ends with the Dawgs being 0-6 in their first six SEC tries.

Despite their slow start, with a 9-5 record the Tigers still have an opportunity to turn their season around.

Georgia’s current situation does not appear to have as much of a silver lining other than the hope that these next 15 games will provide valuable experience to the Dawgs’ younger players.

The last time a UGA basketball team began its conference slate 0-4 was the 2008-2009 season – that team actually got to 0-9 before nabbing a victory, finishing SEC play at 3-13. It was also the last season for coach Dennis Felton, who was fired mid-year after an embarrassing loss at Florida.

Missouri extends Georgia’s losing streak with a 79-62 home victory

The Missouri Tigers opted not to push the tempo against Georgia on Wednesday night, and the Dawgs obliged. For most of the game, Georgia seemed content to chew up shot clock on a majority of their possessions.

UGA was able to keep things within striking distance at the slower pace, but eventually the Dawgs’ inability to value the basketball led to their undoing. Georgia, who entered this game averaging over 15 turnovers per contest (270th in the nation), gave the ball to Missouri 19 times in Columbia. It is difficult for a team to maintain a half court game when they cannot keep the ball out of the other team’s hands.

Missouri looked as if they might pull away midway through the first half, with the Tigers pushing their lead to 13 points with six minutes left before the intermission. However, the Dawgs were able to head into the break trailing just 38-30 thanks to a 5 for 9 shooting performance from beyond the arc.

Heading into Wednesday’s game, the Georgia coaching staff had been harping on the fact that someone on the Bulldogs’ roster besides Kentavious Caldwell-Pope needed to begin scoring regularly. I doubt that any of them anticipated that Vincent Williams would be the player to step up and supplement the offense. Williams, who scored 13 points in the first half, finished with a career-best 23 points to go along with 4 rebounds and 3 assists.

While Georgia shot the ball very well in Columbia – 46% from the floor and 59% from beyond the arc – they were unable to keep the Tiger bigs off the offensive glass. Mizzou secured 12 offensive boards, led by Alex Oriakhi’s team-high of 8 rebounds to go along with his 13 points.

The Tigers had five players finish in double-figures, and they made 9 three-pointers to nearly match Georgia’s 10 from the perimeter.

For the Dawgs, KCP was the only player other than Williams to score in double-digits, pouring in 15 points (including 3 three’s).

Again, for Georgia to shoot the ball as well as they did against Missouri and still lose by 17 points is a real testament to this UGA team’s carelessness with the ball.

The Dawgs typically are not nearly as successful from the floor as they were tonight, and couple that with their turnover problem and UGA is only scoring on barely over 30% of their possessions this year.

The loss to Mizzou puts Georgia at 0-3 in the conference for the second-straight season.

The Dawgs will have two days to prepare for a Saturday evening home game against LSU.

Georgia hits the road to take on another ranked team

The Georgia Bulldogs (6-9; 0-2) failed their first SEC road test of the season against Florida.

Epically.

If the Dawgs have not figured out a way to move the ball against a full-court-trap press defense, then they could be in for another drubbing on Wednesday night in Columbia, Missouri when they go up against #16 Mizzou Tigers (12-3; 1-1).

Mizzou caught a tough break last week when senior forward and leading-scorer Laurence Bowers went down with a knee injury. Bowers, who was putting up 16.8 points and 6.9 rebounds a night, missed his team’s game at Ole Miss last Saturday because of the knee, and his Tiger squad went down 64-49 to the Rebel Black Bears.

He is expected to miss Wednesday night’s game as well.

Though Bowers will certainly be sorely missed, Mizzou runs through junior point guard Phil Pressey, a Wooden Award watch-list member who is averaging 13.4 points, 7.4 assists and 3.4 boards per game. Pressey is a tough match-up because of his quickness, and he enjoys getting his teammates around him involved in the offense.

This Mizzou team is extremely deep, and Georgia fans may recognize some of their players from previous UGA basketball games in which they were wearing different uniforms.

Junior wingman Ernest Ross, who is scoring just under 10 points a game, transferred to Missouri from Auburn. Ross averaged over 13 points a contest in his second season at Auburn, including a 30-point effort in an overtime loss in Athens on February 5, 2011.

For anyone that made it to the Steg to watch Georgia play Pepperdine at the tail end of 2009, you may recall senior (then a sophomore) guard Keion Bell, a high-flying athlete who netted nearly 19 points per game as a member of the Waves. Bell has become a starter for Mizzou this year, where he is scoring 8.2 ppg.

So while the Tigers will be playing short-handed on Wednesday against the Dawgs without Bowers, they still have a strong line-up with guys like Ross and Bell, who were both the stars at their respective former schools.

A loss to Missouri would mark the second-straight season in which UGA began the conference basketball schedule 0-3.

The Tigers should be in a feisty mood following the beatdown that they received from Mississippi, and I anticipate that Coach Frank Haith will have his team prepared to play with a lot of intensity.

Georgia is coming off of a pair of losses in Florida and Missy State, but the question remains if the Dawgs have the firepower to play up and down for 40 minutes with a team of Missouri’s calibre.

Georgia drops second SEC game in a row, falling 72-61 to Missy State

On an afternoon which the University of Georgia honored members from the school’s 1983 Final Four basketball team, the current Bulldogs put on a performance that fans are probably trying their best to forget.

After an exciting first half that saw Mississippi State take a narrow 36-35 lead into the break, both offenses came out flat to start the final twenty minutes. With 7:38 remaining in the game, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope made a free throw that cut the State advantage to just one point at 52-51.

It was at this exact moment that MSU guard Jalen Steele decided that he wanted to win the game, making three shots from beyond the arc on consecutive possessions. Steele’s last three-pointer during this span put his team up 62-51 with only 5 minutes left, ensuring that the Maroon Dawgs would secure the road win and start out the SEC season 2-0.

KCP, who looked as if he was going to have a monster game after scoring 14 points in the first half, was unable to convert on any of his 6 field goal attempts after the intermission – a sure recipe for disaster considering he is UGA’s only real scoring threat. Pope made a pair of free throws, finishing the game with a team-high 16 points.

The Dawgs put up a herculean effort on the glass, winning the rebounding margin by a count of 44-37. What was particularly impressive was Georgia’s success on the offensive boards, where they brought down 17 rebounds.

Once again, however, it was the team’s shooting that ultimately led to their demise. UGA shot under 33% from the floor and just 59% from the free throw line on 32 attempts. In his post-game interview, Coach Mark Fox seemed unable to explain his team’s inability to perform from the charity stripe in games other than the players need to take more responsibility.

I wish that Fox has spoken more about his substitution strategy after the game, because I left Stegeman perplexed as to why starter Brandon Morris only played two minutes in the game’s second half. Morris, who ended up logging just 11 minutes in this one, scored 4 points before the break on two nice moves that he made off the dribble, and he appeared to be raising Georgia’s energy level. Yet, Fox chose to leave him on the bench for 90% of the second half.

The Dawgs 0-2 start to conference play is troubling because today’s game was considered by most to be one of their easier home games. On Wednesday, Georgia heads to #10 Missouri for a game that could get rather ugly in a hurry (a la last week’s Florida game).

Red Dawgs host Maroon Dawgs this Saturday

Coach Mark Fox’s Georgia Bulldog (6-8; 0-1) team has had roughly 48 hours to lick their wounds and try to regroup after receiving a 77-44 shellacking at the hands of the Florida Gators in Gainesville last Wednesday.

The silver lining in the loss to the Gators is that it was pretty much the result that was expected.

However, when UGA takes the court on Saturday against Mississippi State (6-7; 1-0), the Dawgs should feel a sense of urgency to protect home court and get a win because a loss could set the tone for what could end up being a dismal season.

Georgia’s performance in their season-opener sent them right back down to the basement of the latest ESPN SEC Power Rankings – no real shocker there.

Mississippi State, who was projected to finish last in the conference prior to the start of the season, currently sits at the 11th spot in the SEC ranks. For all the struggles that the maroon Dawgs have had so far this year, they did win their first conference game 56-54 over South Carolina, marking the team’s third win in the last four games. While the Bulldogs have gotten out to a slow start, much of that can be attributed to the fact that they were playing without star junior guard Jalen Steele, who fractured his wrist earlier in the season. Steele returned to the lineup two weeks ago, and his team has won 2 of 3 games with him netting 10 ppg during that same stretch.

This particular match-up may not be suitable for basketball fans that enjoy offense, as both State and UGA are scoring towards the bottom-tier of the country’s teams at 62.5 ppg and 59.4 ppg, respectively (Georgia is now 321st in the nation in that category).

MSU’s leaders on offense – along with Steele – are sophomore big Roquez Johnson and freshman Fred Thomas, who are both averaging double-figures in points per game.

The Dawgs play at #10 Missouri next Wednesday, meaning that if they hope to avoid an 0-3 start to conference play it would behoove them to get a win in Athens on Saturday.

With the way that Georgia handled (or did not handle) the Gators’ full-court pressure earlier this week, I would not at all be surprised to see MSU look to play this game up-tempo.

Hopefully Fox’s team will be prepared with a better response than what we saw in Gainesville.

Gators rout Dawgs in SEC opener

The Georgia Bulldogs first conference game of the season did not go well.

Coach Mark Fox’s young team, facing the 11th-ranked squad in the country on the road, got out to what can only be described as the worst start imaginable for an inexperienced team away from home.

Billy Donoans’s Gators came out of the gates applying relentless full court pressure, forcing the Dawgs into 4 turnovers on their first 5 possessions.  By the time five minutes had elapsed, Georgia found themselves on the wrong end of an 11-0 run.  

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope did not even find his way into the scoring column until eight minutes remained before the half.  The Bulldogs were frustrated into near meltdown-mode offensively, and their leading scorer refused to assert himself.

Credit Florida senior Kenny Boynton for the defensive performance he put on KCP on Wednesday night.  Boynton may have struggled to find offense, scoring just 7 points on 2 of 8 shooting from the floor, but he made up for it on the other end of the court, holding Pope to only 11 points on the night (on 4 of 10 shooting).

The Gators took a 28-15 advantage into the break, which seemed rather shocking considering just how lopsided this half felt as an observer.

Florida proceeded to begin the second half much like it started the first, opening up with an 8-0 run.  Following a lay-up by Tim Dixon with 16:45 left in the game, the Gators lead had ballooned to 36-19.

For most of the second half, Florida merely toyed with Georgia, setting themselves up for wide open three after wide open three.  With 12:06 remaining, Florida’s lead approached thirty points (53-26) after freshman Michael Frazier hit his second shot from beyond the arc.  At the 8:35 mark, the Gators advantage had blossomed to 62-31.

Florida made 12 of their 26 three-point attempts, which really made the score unbalanced considering UGA was only able to hit one shot from the perimeter.

When the final horn sounded, Georgia had committed 19 turnovers which factored greatly into the Gators 77-44 blowout.

Florida was led offensively by guard Mike Rosario, who scored a game-high 19 points.

In the first conference game of their young careers, Charles Mann and Brandon Morris finally looked like freshman – tentative and unsure of what to do with the ball.  The two players combined for just two field goals in a total 47 minutes played.

The loss tonight to Florida puts an end to Georgia’s four-game winning streak.  The Dawgs had clearly not faced an animal with teeth like the Gators during their recent stretch of games, and tonight’s UGA performance highlighted a plethora of areas in which this team must improve (ball security, press break, etc.).

While the Gators were heavily favored heading into this match-up, the outcome turned out to be even more disproportionate than anticipated.  

However, Georgia must find a way to regroup quickly so that they will be prepared to hold serve at home this Saturday against Mississippi State in a game that should serve as a good indicator of just how this SEC season might go for the Dawgs.

Georgia opens up SEC play in Gainesville

The Georgia Bulldogs (6-7) will begin conference play on Wednesday as they head south to take on the #11 Florida Gators (10-2).

The Gators returned a solid core of players – Kenny Boynton, Patrick Young, Erik Murphy – this season from a team that was just a basket away from reaching the Final Four in last year’s NCAA Tournament. ESPN’s Myron Metcalf likes Florida to win the SEC, citing senior forward/center Erik Murphy as a critical portion of that prediction. Murphy – Florida’s second-leading scorer at 12.1 ppg – is a big body to contend with inside at 6’10”, yet he possesses a surprisingly soft touch from the outside, hitting over 45% of his three-point attempts.

Unfortunately for Florida Coach Billy Donovan, Murphy is listed as “doubtful” for the game against Georgia, and he may miss up to two weeks with a rib injury.

The Gators will definitely miss Murphy’s offense on Wednesday night, and his absence is certainly a huge plus for a UGA team that could use any and every possible advantage available in their first SEC road game of 2013.

Coach Mark Fox’s defense must capitalize on the weakened Florida lineup by centering much of their defensive focus on shutting down senior guard Kenny Boynton. Boynton, a preseason First-Team All-SEC selection, leads the Gators with nearly 14 points per contest, and he is an extremely streaky shooter with the ability to change games quickly from the perimeter.

However, in each of Florida’s two losses this season – Arizona and Kansas State – Boynton struggled to score, managing just 16 total points on a combined 6 for 21 shooting performance from the floor. In both of the aforementioned games, Boynton shot woefully from beyond the arc, making only 2 of his 12 attempts.

The message for the Georgia backcourt: Stop Boynton and you might stop Florida.

If the Dawgs can contain Boynton and not let junior Patrick Young hurt them too much in the paint, they may find themselves hanging around late in the game – Vegas doesn’t think so though, slotting Georgia as an 18-point underdog in this one.

Young is monster in the frontcourt, standing 6’9″ and weighing nearly 250lbs (most of which appears to be solid muscle). He is chipping in over 10 points and almost 7 boards a night for Billy Donovan thus far.

Georgia is riding a four-game win streak into Gainesville, though I would like to note that the team they face on Wednesday night is going to look nothing like the squads UGA entertained in Athens in December. In addition, this game will be the first conference game of the year for the freshmen, meaning that “playtime” is over for Charles Mann and Brandon Morris – from here on out, the defenders are going to be bigger and quicker across the board.

Finally, Coach Fox must continue to get solid offensive production from sophomore big Nemanja Djurisic. The Montenegro Express has been scorching hot the past two games, averaging 19 points and 6 rebounds. The Dawgs have to be able to rely on Neme to help supplement some of the scoring in SEC play so that Kentavious Caldwell-Pope does not have to do it all himself.

Oh yeah – the last time Georgia won a game at the O’Connell Center was over a decade ago (2002).