The last time a Georgia Bulldogs (10-11, 4-4) basketball team won four consecutive Southeastern conference games was during the 2002-2003 season, which ended in turmoil for the Dawgs when coach Jim Harrick was forced to resign amid rampant cheating allegations. That season’s team, led by superstar Jarvis Hayes, pulled itself from postseason consideration, a postseason that might have featured a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.
On Wednesday night, Coach Mark Fox’s team will be looking to put together a similar SEC win streak when they take on the Tennessee Volunteers in Knoxville.
The Vols (11-9) have gotten out to a slow start in conference play at 3-5, but much of that can be attributed to the challenging schedule that they have played thus far. Much like Georgia, Tennessee was dealt an SEC slate that began rather top-heavy, playing Ole Miss and Alabama twice as well as traveling to Rupp Arena to take on Kentucky – UT beat Bama at home, but lost all of the other aforementioned games.
Tennessee has been tough at home this year, winning 3 of 4 league games and notching significant out of conference wins over #14 Wichita State and Xavier.
The Vols are a big, physical group, led by mammoth sophomore Jarnell Stokes, a 6’8″ (270 pound) forward who sets the tone inside for a Tennessee team that is fourth in conference play in rebounding at 36 a game. Stokes, who averages 12.6 points and 9.6 boards in league contests, has already tallied 5 double-doubles in his first 8 games.
On the perimeter, Georgia will have to find a way to contain junior wingman Jordan McRae, who is putting together a phenomenal junior campaign. In conference play, the Midway, Georgia native is scoring a whopping 17.3 points on 43% shooting from the floor. Most likely, McRae will guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and vice versa, which should provide fans with an intriguing match-up on both ends.
While Georgia has struggled to put up points in SEC games, averaging only 58 a night, the Dawgs are improving offensively. Though UGA has attempted a league-low 356 field goals through eight games, the Dawgs are making nearly 44% of those shots, which is fourth-best in the conference. Even more impressive has been Georgia’s outside shooting, where the Bulldogs are connecting on over 37% of their attempts from beyond the arc (3rd in the league).
At the center of Georgia’s offense stands last week’s SEC Player of the Week – Kentavious Caldwell-Pope – who has been nothing short of spectacular for Coach Mark Fox thus far. When gazing over the conference-only statistics, it’s hard to find a list that doesn’t have KCP’s name somewhere near the top. Pope is second SEC games in scoring (17.6) and steals (2.3). He is third in the field goal (51%) and free throw (86%) percentage categories, and KCP ranks fifth in three-point (43%) percentage as well. Pope even finds himself among the league leaders in rebounds with 5.5 boards per SEC contest. At the risk of gushing over the young man, I think it is safe to say that he is living up to his preseason First-Team All-SEC billing.
Georgia’s success away from Athens in SEC games this season can be directly attributed to Pope, whose calming presence on both the offensive and defensive ends has given this team the lift it has needed to win on the road.
KCP is providing veteran leadership to a young team, and amazingly, he himself is just a sophomore.