2012-2013 Season Wrap Up

Sorry for the lack of entries – I was unable to watch the LSU game due to work, and then I had to immediately shoot down to Amelia Island for a wedding, not leaving much time to write about Georgia basketball.

I was able to follow the flow of the UGA-LSU game on ESPN’s Gamecast however, and I was certainly amazed by the Dawgs’ ability to overcome a 20-point first-half deficit, almost tying the game with under a minute remaining.

At 15-17 overall, Georgia would be attempting to make history by getting an invite into the NIT, considering no team without a winning record has received a bid since 2006 when the selection committee removed the “must have .500 or better record stipulation”. Honestly, it feels like this basketball season is over.

All and all, I have to say I am pleased with what transpired on the court this year for Coach Mark Fox’s team. After an abysmal 2-7 start to the season which included home losses to Youngstown State and Iona, Georgia rallied to win 13 of their next 23 games, finishing at eighth place in the new fourteen-team SEC.

During the Dawgs’ initial slump, Coach Fox appeared to be gliding towards a hot seat. However, when conference play finished and UGA had won 9 games, members of the media began rumoring that CMF might be the league’s Coach of the Year (deservedly so). Florida’s Billy Donovan won that award, but I am not sure if what Fox did with this year’s UGA team isn’t more impressive.

Looking ahead to next year, any person who even remotely follows Georgia basketball knows that the success of the 2013-2014 teams relies heavily on whether Kentavious Caldwell-Pope returns for another season or not. Should Pope return, UGA would possess a lot of offensive firepower with more-seasoned versions of Charles Mann, Kenny Gaines and Brandon Morris.

Mann, who was named to the SEC’s All-Freshman team this year, could be an All-SEC first-team player by as early as next year. Towards the latter part of this season, Mann really began to come into his own at the point guard position, consistently attacking defenders and driving the ball to the rim. In three of UGA’s final six games, Mann got himself to the foul line for double-digit attempts – he finished with 14 or more points in all three of those games. With his size, his level of play can only go up as he gains maturity.

Should KCP choose to return, I think he would enjoy a lot less double-teams and traps next season as teams will have to pay more attention to Mann and Gaines – Pope may actually have the opportunity to show NBA scouts what he can do in one-on-one type situations.

A KCP-led Georgia basketball team would have a legitimate chance of finishing in the top five of the SEC, and I would feel pretty confident that they could earn an NCAA-berth.

However, if Pope decides to leave for the NBA in the next two weeks, obviously UGA basketball fans will have to temper and readjust their expectations.

Whether KCP stays or goes, Coach Mark Fox is going to have to play with less depth at the guard position, since both Vincent Williams and Sherrard Brantley will be graduating. Not that either of the aforementioned players were key elements of this season’s team, but both of them shot better than 36% from beyond the arc, consistently making key shots late in games for this young team this year.

Georgia’s two incoming freshmen – JJ Frazier and Juwan Parker – are both guards, but neither player will be ready to make significant contributions next season (ESPN rates each as a two-star recruit).

For the sake of the UGA basketball program, everyone needs to cross their fingers and hope that KCP wants to play one more year donning the Red and Black.

Dawgs open up with Tigers in first-round of SEC Tourney

The first time Georgia (15-16,9-9) and LSU (18-11,9-9) met this season, the Dawgs rode Kentavious Caldwell-Pope’s 22 points en route to a 67-58 home victory – their first SEC win of the season. The victory over the Tigers set the Bulldogs off on a run in which they would win 5 of their next 6 games, with the lone loss coming at Florida.

LSU had a “UGA-like” resurgence as well following the loss to the Dawgs, which put them at 0-4 in league play. Since that game, the Tigers have posted a 9-5 conference record, notching wins over Missouri, Alabama and Arkansas.

A large part of LSU’s improved play has rested on the broad shoulders of sophomore big man Johnny O’Bryant III, who has put together an All-SEC calibre season. In conference play, O’Bryant averaged 14.7 points and 9.4 rebounds. The 262-pound forward has registered 11 double-doubles in his 18 SEC games this year. In the loss to Georgia back in January, O’Bryant netted 16 points to go along with 14 boards.

Containing O’Bryant’s physicality in the paint will be a challenge for the Dawgs on Thursday. However, Georgia’s biggest challenge in their first tournament game could be more emotional than physical. After suffering yet another heart-breaking road loss at the buzzer in Tuscaloosa on Saturday, UGA must regain its poise and be ready to deal with a competitive LSU team.

No team in the SEC has had worse luck away from home than Georgia this season, with the Dawgs losing in overtime to Ole Miss as well suffering 2-point, 1-point and 3-point losses at Arkansas, Vanderbilt and Alabama, respectively.

Obviously, how deep UGA goes into the tournament in Nashville relies heavily on the play of KCP, the SEC Player of the Year. The sophomore averaged 18.4 points, 6.6 rebounds and 1.9 steals in league games this season, and he played an integral part in all 9 of the Dawgs’ league wins. The true measure of an MVP is how important he is to his team’s success, and Pope – without question – has been absolutely essential to this UGA squad.

In the latest NBAdraft.net projection for the 2013 draft, the site had KCP going at the 30th pick of the first round – the last pick.

Win or lose on Thursday, hopefully it will not be Pope’s last game as a Bulldog.

Bama’s Releford sinks a half-court shot, downing Georgia 61-58

When Trevor Releford launched the basketball from beyond halfcourt with time expiring, a small part of me expected it to go in. Of course, less than a second later, the ball swished through the net, giving Alabama a 61-58 home victory over the Georgia Bulldogs.

After trailing the Tide 50-41 with less than six minutes remaining, Georgia mounted a 17-8 run that ended with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope burying an NBA-range three-pointer to tie the game at 58-apiece.

UGA actually possessed the basketball with the game knotted at 58-58 and only 17 ticks left on the clock. Unfortunately, freshman Charles Mann turned the ball over and the aforementioned prayer hoisted up by Releford was answered.

For Georgia to even be in a position to win this game at the end after the way that they played in the first half was quite a feat – UGA made only 26% of their field goal attempts before the intermission, mustering just 18 points.

Alabama made their first four field goal attempts with three of those coming from beyond the arc, helping the Tide to open up a 13-3 advantage less than four minutes into the first half. The Dawgs fought for much of the game to overcome this early deficit, and had they not started so poorly the game may not have come down to Releford’s desperate toss.

UGA was led offensively by KCP and Neme Djurisic, who scored 14 points apiece in the losing effort.

The loss sends the Dawgs to 9-9 on the season in conference play, and they will take on LSU in the second round of the SEC tournament next week in Nashville.

Considering that this team began the season 0-3 in the league, finishing up even in SEC games is a credit to Coach Fox and his team.

Dawgs head to Tuscaloosa to wrap up SEC play

The Georgia Bulldogs (15-15,9-8) are coming off consecutive home upsets over Tennessee and Kentucky that have them in a position to finish the regular season with a winning record, both overall and in conference.

In his latests SEC Power Rankings, ESPN’s Myron Medcalf slated the Dawgs at the #7 position in the league, calling them “dream killers” for their recent home victories inside Stegeman.

For Georgia to get above .500 on the season, though, they must accomplish something that no other SEC team has been able to do this season: win at Alabama.

The Tide (19-11, 11-6) are a perfect 8-0 in Tuscaloosa this year, and they could jump to a 2nd place finish in the league with a win over Georgia on Saturday if a few teams ahead them were to lose.

While Bama has struggled lately, losing three of their last four games, it should be noted that all of those losses came on the road.

Over the past five games, however, junior point guard Trevor Releford has been playing his best basketball of the season, scoring more than 20 points a game and connecting on 11 of 22 shots from beyond the arc.

In the first match-up between these two teams, Georgia managed to keep Releford in check, holding him to 9 points on just 3 field goal attempts. Alabama won that game though, suffocating UGA defensively, holding Georgia to only 45 points and below 31% from the floor.

Team defense has been both of these teams’ bread and butter this year in league play, with Alabama (59.8) and Georgia (62.4) ranking 2nd and 4th in the conference, respectively, in points allowed in SEC games. No doubt Saturday’s contest will be any different, and the team that gets to 60 points first just may win this one.

Coach Mark Fox has been able to guide this team and help them grow as this season has progressed in a way that has seen them improve in some very critical areas of the game: scoring, rebounding and turnovers.

Through the first 16 games of the season, CMF’s team managed to average only 59.7 ppg, yet in the last 14 contests they have increased their output to over 62 points a night. UGA has also seen a marginal improvement in team rebounds over the same spans of games.

The most significant gain that this Bulldog team has enjoyed since the beginning of SEC play is in their ability to value the basketball. Through the first eight conference games, UGA was turning the ball over nearly 16 times a game, but in the last nine contests Georgia is only giving it away 13 times a night, limiting opposing teams field goal attempts.

Alabama played last Tuesday and they should be well-rested for their home finale. The Dawgs, on the other hand, will be playing on just a day’s rest after beating Kentucky in Athens late Thursday evening.

A UGA win on Saturday coupled with a Tennessee or Arkansas would see the Dawgs head into next week’s SEC tournament with the 7-seed. Should both those teams lose tomorrow – and Georgia wins – the Dawgs could move as high as the 6-seed.

Georgia keeps bursting bubbles, beats Kentucky 72-62

Georgia headed to a timeout after Kyle Wiltjer hit a three-pointer that cut the UGA lead to 50-47 with 7:47 left in the game. For the first time Thursday night, the Kentucky faithful were on their feet making noise in Athens. The Dawgs had held a 10-point advantage over the Wildcats a little over a minute before this break in the action, but that lead had been cut down to just a possession ball game.

This moment was the exact point in the game when Georgia was supposed to crumple under the pressure of this furious Kentucky onslaught.

Unfortunately for the Cats, Georgia chose to respond, reeling off 12 straight points and opening up a 62-47 advantage with less than four minutes remaining. Georgia would go on to win from here 72-62, possibly putting an end to Kentucky’s NCAA hopes.

UGA’s team defense was tenacious on Thursday, holding the Cats to only 37% from the floor and just 62 points.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who scored 6 points during Georgia’s critical 12-point run, finished the game with 24 points and 10 boards for his sixth double-double of the season.

While KCP was once again the floor general for the Dawgs, Coach Mark Fox received magnificent play from both Donte Williams and Nemanja Djurisic.

Williams, who was a perfect 8 for 8 from the free throw line for the first time in his young life, contributed 10 points to go along with 8 rebounds. Donte played extremely strong inside for his team tonight, and his ability to make free throws may have been the difference in the game.

Neme snagged 6 boards himself, and he also netted 12 points, including a pair of monster three-pointers in the second half that helped UGA preserve their lead over Kentucky.

Credit Mark Fox for the turn around that this team has undergone right before our eyes this season. Against Kentucky, UGA committed just 10 turnovers; over the past three games, Georgia has given the ball away only 28 times, which is a major improvement for a team that was leading the conference with over 18 turnovers a contest earlier in the year.

The Dawgs followed up the Tennessee win with another dominant effort, and at 9-8 in the SEC they will travel to Alabama on Saturday with a chance to challenge for the 7-seed in this year’s league tournament.

One thing is for sure, this team will be ready to make some noise in Nashville next week.

Georgia looks to burst Kentucky’s bubble in Athens

ESPN’s Joe Lunardi, the network’s NCAA Tournament guru, has Kentucky currently placed in his “First Four Out” portion of the field, which implies that the Wildcats are riding the NCAA “Bubble” hard. A loss to the Georgia Bulldogs on Thursday night in Athens could certainly put a major damper on the Cats’ postseason hopes, meaning Coach Calipari’s team will probably be treating this game similarly to a playoff match-up.

However, the stakes in tonight’s game are pretty high for the Dawgs as well, who need a win to keep pace with Tennessee (10-7), LSU (9-8) and Arkansas (9-8) if they hope to avoid the dreaded 8-/9-seed game in this year’s SEC Tournament (UGA is in the 9-spot at the moment).

Since losing “Mr. Do-Everything” – freshman Nerlens Noel – Cal’s team has mustered just a 3-3 conference record (if you include the Florida game in which Noel went down with the knee injury). Noel anchored the Kentucky defense, averaging 4.4 blocks and nearly 10 rebounds a game. Over the past five games without Noel, the Cats have allowed SEC opponents to score 70 or more points in four of those games, which is definitely concerning since Kentucky had only allowed three league teams to post 70 points or more over the previous ten games.

Coach Cal’s team has not been able to get it together away from Rupp without the services of their big man, dropping road games at Tennessee and Arkansas (last Saturday). If the Cats want to dance this March, they will have to find a way to sneak out of Stegeman with a win on Thursday.

Offensively, Kentucky’s scoring is extremely balanced, with five players averaging over 8 points per game. Leading the way is freshman guard Archie Goodwin, who is netting a team-best 12.1 points per SEC contest.

For Georgia, Thursday’s game against Kentucky gives the Dawgs another chance to even up their overall record, which currently rests at 14-15. In addition, a victory over the Cats would greatly help UGA in its attempts to jockey for a slightly higher seed than 8 in next week’s SEC Tournament.

With Kentucky’s athleticism, I would be surprised if Kentavious Caldwell-Pope gets many good looks at the basket in this one. Coach Mark Fox will need more aggressive point guard play from freshman Charles Mann, who is coming off a career-high 18 points against Tennessee in game in which he repeatedly attacked the rim off the dribble.

Las Vegas is giving Kentucky a 3.5-point edge in this one, which may provide UGA with a little extra fuel leading up to the game.

While nearly 10,000 people packed into the Steg to see Tennessee last Saturday, I anticipate a near-capacity crowd Thursday night in what should be the most prestigious home game of the season.

Hopefully Georgia is ready.

Discussing UGA’s SEC tournament seed scenarios

Florida secured the SEC regular season title with their 64-52 win over Alabama on Saturday. The victory also assures the Gators of the 1-seed in this year’s conference tournament, meaning they will take on the winner of the 8/9 game on Friday afternoon in Nashville.

With only one week of the regular season remaining, Georgia (14-15,8-8) is currently residing in the 8th spot in the league. Were the conference tourney to begin today, the Dawgs would take on LSU on Thursday and the winner would earn a rematch with Florida.

Current SEC Standings
Florida 13-3
Alabama 11-5
Kentucky 11-5
Ole Miss 10-6
Missouri 10-6
Arkansas 9-7
Tennessee 9-7
Georgia 8-8
LSU 8-8
Vanderbilt 7-9
Texas A&M 7-9
Auburn 3-13
Mississippi St. 3-13
South Carolina 3-13

UGA plays Kentucky at home on Thursday before traveling to Tuscaloosa to challenge Alabama in their regular season finale.

The highest that Georgia could finish this season is 6th in the league. For this to occur, the Dawgs must win out this week and get some help from Arkansas and Tennessee – Arkansas drops consecutive games at Missouri (possible) as well as their home final against Texas A&M (maybe impossible), and Tennessee manages to lose a game to either Auburn or Missouri.

Should Georgia drop both contests this week to UK and Bama, the Dawgs could plummet all the way to the 11-seed, assuming that both Vandy and the Aggies win each of its remaining games and LSU wins one. While UGA could probably win a game or two playing the 14-seed and then potentially the 6-seed, Georgia would likely be dog-tired (pun intended) by the time Friday rolled around, where they would be playing a well-rested 3-seed team (again, assuming UGA won both the 1st and 2nd round games).

If the Dawgs split games this week – which seems like the most probable result – Georgia would be in a thick of a race between UT, LSU and Vandy, with the 7-, 8-, 9- and 10-seeds at stake.

I think that this Bulldog team has the ability to make a run in this year’s SEC tournament, especially considering their road pedigree in league play. However, should UGA land in the 8/9 game, it would take an incredible effort for the Dawgs to beat the league’s best team on zero days rest.

Let’s all hope for the 6-, 7- or 10-seed.

Dawgs beat Vols 78-68, completing season sweep of UT

Georgia freshman Kenny Gaines only played 8 minutes on Saturday, but he made the most of his time on the floor late in the game against the Vols. With Tennessee trailing UGA 50-45 and under 6 minutes remaining in the game, Charles Mann found Gaines in the corner where the frosh cooly buried a three-pointer, putting UGA back up by 8 points.

Gaines hit another monster three from the baseline minutes later, helping to extend the Dawgs’ lead to 62-50 with less than 3 minutes remaining.

Kenny put the stamp on the UGA victory by finishing a three-point play the old fashioned way off of another assist from Mann, giving Georgia a 67-58 advantage with only 1:25 left.

Prior to tip-off in this one, Fox had listed Gaines as a “game time” decision – thankfully, Gaines’s heel bruise seemed good enough to play on and Kenny was able to play a major role in Dawgs’ win.

A major concern for Georgia heading into today’s game with Tennessee centered on dealing with the Vols’ star point guard, Trae Golden, who had been scoring 19 points per game during the team’s recent six-game winning streak.

Charles Mann – UGA’s freshman point guard – stepped up and played his best game of the season while taking Golden completely out of his game. On offense, Mann took the ball right at Golden en route to the rim at nearly every opportunity, getting to the line for 14 free throw attempts (of which he made 12). Mann’s aggressiveness led to a career high 18 points to go along with 8 assists, and he had Golden in foul trouble for the entire game.

Defensively, the 6’4″ freshman was too tough for UT’s point guard, limiting the smaller Golden to merely 4 points on an abysmal 1 for 10 shooting performance.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope had his hands full on defense for much of the afternoon as he was matched up on Jordan McRae, who finished up with 35 points before fouling out.

However, KCP gave Georgia another excellent effort inside Stegeman today, scoring 25 points and grabbing 9 boards – just one short of his fifth double-double of the year.

UGA did an excellent job inside dealing with the UT bigs, who came into this contest with some of the better rebounding numbers in the SEC. Georgia outrebounded Tennessee by a count of 38-34, and the Dawgs scored 30 points in the paint to the Vols’ 14.

The win today puts Georgia at 8-8 in the conference and 14-15 overall, giving UGA a realistic shot of getting into this season’s NIT Tournament, should they manage to win another game or two.

This loss may have devastating consequences for Tennessee as the Vols have now dropped two games to the Dawgs (RPI 141), and I imagine they will find themselves on the outside of the NCAA Bubble tomorrow morning.

For Georgia, showing the ability to bounce back from such a difficult loss at Vandy on Wednesday to grab a victory against a very hot team displays a lot of maturity.

The atmosphere inside the Steg this afternoon was energetic as the home crowd of nearly 10,000 fans enthusiastically voiced their support of this young Bulldog team.

I anticipate an even bigger crowd on Thursday night when Georgia hosts the John Calipari-led Kentucky Wildcats.

Georgia looking to bounce back at home against red-hot Vols

Since enjoying a five-game winning streak that saw their conference record boost to 6-4, Georgia has been slumping as of late, losing four of the past five contests. Three of those losses – Ole Miss, Arkansas, Vandy – came on the road, and all ended in heartbreaking fashion for Coach Mark Fox and his team. In each of those three games, Georgia had an opportunity to win at the end, but they failed to do so.

In the middle of February, the Dawgs seemed poised to avoid the opening round of Wednesday games in this year’s SEC Basketball Tournament. However, the loss to Vandy coupled with the difficulty of UGA’s remaining schedule has left the door open for the possibility of Georgia ending up with one of the dreaded bottom four seeds. The Dawgs wrap up SEC play with games against Tennessee, Kentucky and Alabama, all of whom are currently sitting on or around the NCAA bubble, meaning they can ill-afford a loss to a team like Georgia (RPI of 141). Each one of these opponents will be trying to avoid a letdown against UGA, and the Dawgs should receive an intense effort from all of these squads.

On Saturday, UGA will host the hottest team in the conference – Tennessee – for a rematch inside Stegeman. Since losing to Georgia back on February 6th in Knoxville, the Vols have reeled off six-straight wins, including upsets of Kentucky, and most recently, Florida.

When Georgia and Tennessee first met last month, the Vols were without starting point guard Trae Golden, who was dealing with a hamstring injury. In the 68-62 home loss to the Dawgs, Tennessee struggled offensively without their primary ball handler, turning it over 13 times.

Since returning to Coach Martin’s lineup, Golden – a junior from Powder Springs, GA – has been sensational, scoring nearly 19 points per game to go along with 4 rebounds and 1 SEC Player of the Week award.

Tennessee’s other two stars – Jordan McRae and Jarnell Stokes – have been playing out of their minds lately as well. Over the past 6 games, McRae has been averaging 20 points a night, and he ranks third in the league in conference scoring at 18.3 per contest.

On the inside, Stokes has owned the glass, leading all SEC players at 10.5 boards per league game. Stokes has registered 12 double-doubles already this season, and he is a major reason why the Vols have outrebounded opponents in 11 of the past 12 games.

In a cruel twist of fate, Georgia may be without freshman Kenny Gaines once again on Saturday as he is still dealing with a deep heel bruise – he will be a game time decision, per Coach Mark Fox. Gaines was instrumental in UGA’s win at Tennessee last month, sparking his team with 12 points off the bench.

If Gaines cannot go for Fox, Georgia will need Charles Mann, Brandon Morris and Neme Djurisic to step up and provide offensive support to Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who will most likely be blanketed by Vols’ defenders all afternoon.