John Cannon transferring, Charles Mann honored and Georgia’s dwindling RPI

JC

First things first – brace yourselves – John Cannon has decided to transfer.  This news should not come as much of a surprise to Georgia basketball fans as Cannon has spent way more time on the bench than on the court this season.   In his three years at UGA, Cannon never averaged more than 9 minutes a game, and he wasn’t even getting 5 minutes a night on the floor this season.  In the junior’s public statement he cited that he would “consider other opportunities to play basketball and get my degree”, which I hope for his sake means that he will be heading to the small- to mid-major level.

Charles in charge

Kudos to UGA sophomore point guard Charles Mann for being named as a member of the Second Team All-SEC.  Mann contributed in so many ways this year for Coach Mark Fox, netting 13.6 points, 5.1 rebounds and 3.4 assists in conference play.  If Georgia hopes to make a run in Atlanta this weekend for the SEC Tournament they will need Mann’s leadership and driving ability from the point guard position.

RPI woes

The Dawgs haven’t been on the court since their big win in Baton Rouge last Saturday, yet UGA’s RPI has already dropped from 70 to 75 (as of today).

The main thing that is killing Georgia’s RPI at this point is a lack of wins against the RPI (1-50), where UGA is an ugly 0-6.  This shortcoming has to be the culprit responsible for the fact that LSU – a team that the Dawgs’ beat twice this year – is back ahead of Georgia with an RPI of 72.  In addition to the season sweep of the Tigers, UGA also outranks them in strength of schedule, 68 (UGA) to 75 (LSU).

Georgia fans should start learning several Missouri and Arkansas cheers for the games later this week since both of these teams could help bolster UGA’s RPI with more wins.  Mizzu’s RPI sits at 52 and the Hogs are at 57, meaning that if each of these teams could win a game or two they could possibly crack the RPI (1-50) and potentially give Georgia 3 wins versus that RPI grouping.

While wins by Mizzu and Arkansas would certainly help, UGA is most likely going to have to help themselves by winning a few in this tournament.  Even after finishing tied for second in the final SEC standings, Georgia still remained unmentioned in the latests “Bubble Watches” from ESPN and CBS Sports.

Jerry Palm, CBS’s Bracketologist, had this reply for a Dawgs’ fan last Sunday:

Personally, I believe if Georgia wins Friday and Saturday they will get an at-large bid to the Big Dance. Anything short of that, though, and it’s most likely NIT time for the Dawgs.

UGA secures huge road win and ends season 3rd in SEC

How will they replace Kentavious Caldwell-Pope’s scoring?  Where will the offense come from?  Surely they cannot win as many games after losing the SEC Player of the Year to the NBA draft…

These concerns were the consensus question marks surrounding Coach Mark Fox’s team heading into the 2013-2014 season from just about every major media source that previews college basketball.  This year’s team was picked to finish somewhere around 10th or 11th in the SEC before the season began.

Sophomores Charles Mann and Kenny Gaines had different ideas.

Georgia’s backcourt combined for 44 of UGA’s 69 points today in Baton Rouge, hoisting the Dawgs on their backs and carrying their team to a critical 69-61 road win against LSU.

The UGA duo played lights out on Saturday with Gaines scoring 20 points for the 4th time in the last 7 games.  The sophomore was white hot in the first half, connecting on all four of his three-point attempts.

The entire Bulldog team was hitting shots before the intermission, making over 52% of their attempts from the floor.  The problem wasn’t UGA’s shooting, though, it was their ball security.  Georgia committed 13 first-half turnovers, yet they still managed to take 30-28 lead into the break due to some poor LSU shooting.

The Dawgs held a 21-18 advantage over the Tigers with 11:24 left before the half after a three from J.J. Frazier.  Georgia remained stuck on 21 points for nearly 6 minutes until Kenny Gaines hit a three to reclaim a 24-22 lead.  During that 6-minute drought, UGA committed 5 turnovers, and the only thing that kept them in the game was the fact that the Tigers could not find the rim.

In the second half, Charles Mann took over, scoring 16 of his game-high 22 points and snagging 7 of his game-high 10 rebounds (yes, Mann secured his first double-double of the season in probably the most important game of the year).  Mann basically did what he does best: he got the line, where he made an incredible 12 of 14 attempts.

Georgia held an 11-point lead with less than 8 minutes left, and they were barely challenged for the remainder of the game other than a very brief LSU spurt that saw the Tigers cut the UGA advantage to 65-59 after an Anthony Hickey three-pointer.  Charles Mann immediately buried a pair of free throws that shot the lead back to 8 points, and Georgia notched its 12th conference win of the season.

As far as LSU’s offense is concerned, the Tigers were led by Andre Stringer’s 22 points.

LSU’s leading scorer – Johnny O’Bryant – was a non-factor, mustering only 5 points while committing 5 turnovers.   Coach Fox had a masterful game plan for JOB, doubling down on him at almost every opportunity.  O’Bryant appeared flustered with the UGA defense, which held him to a season-low in scoring in conference play.

For Georgia, this victory was absolutely enormous.

The Dawgs finish the year 18-12 overall and 12-6 in the SEC, giving them the 3-seed in next week’s conference tournament.

Georgia will get the winner of the Ole Miss vs. Vanderbilt/Mississippi State game in the quarterfinals round on Friday night.

The NCAA selection committee may or may not have UGA on its radar, but after winning 8 of their last 10 games to close out the regular season the Bulldogs are making themselves harder and harder to ignore.

Dawgs in Baton Rouge playing for a chance to dance

Another bubbly Saturday

No, a win today over LSU will not punch Georgia’s ticket to the NCAA Tournament.  Georgia’s RPI of 79 is not attractive enough yet for them to be considered tourney material (yet).

A victory this afternoon would certainly boost UGA’s RPI (as would wins by Davidson, Temple, Western Carolina, Georgia Tech, Missouri, Arkansas, Georgia Washington, Chattanooga, Colorado and Woffford, according to CBS’s Bracketologist Jerry Palm).

The RPI ranking system is an amorphous mess, and it is completely out of Georgia’s control.

The only thing that Coach Mark Fox and his team can earn for certain today is the 3-seed to the SEC tournament next week, and to do that the Dawgs must complete a season sweep of the LSU Tigers.

A key factor in UGA’s 91-78 home win over LSU earlier in the year was that the Tigers’ leading scorer – Johnny O’Bryant III (JOB) – was in foul trouble the entire game.  JOB played just 14 minutes in that game, which hampered LSU’s ability to score and defend inside.

When O’Bryant was in the game, however, he was extremely effective, scoring all 9 of his points in 10 minutes of the second half.

Speaking honestly, JOB is probably the best legitimate big man in the SEC, averaging almost 17 points and 8 rebounds a night in conference play.  If O’Bryant manages to avoid foul trouble this time around, UGA is going to have a much tougher Tiger team on their hands this afternoon.

Making matters even more challenging for the Dawgs is the fact that LSU is still in the hunt for an at-large bid themselves with an RPI rating of 64.

Today’s game should have a “playoff” feel to it.

Georgia’s three-point game

Throughout the season, broadcasters and journalists have type-casted this UGA basketball team as a hard-nosed bunch that likes to score the basketball close to the rim (which is fairly accurate), lacking in much of anything resembling a perimeter game.

Interestingly, though, with one game remaining in the season UGA currently sits at 3rd in the SEC in three-point shooting in conference games, knocking down nearly 36% of its shots from beyond the arc.

While the Dawgs only average a little over 5 threes a night in league play, I was surprised by the team’s successful shooting rate from the perimeter.

A big contributor to Georgia’s exterior offense has been sophomore Kenny Gaines, who is making almost 42% of his three-point attempts in SEC games, which is 4th in the conference.

Dawgs notch 11th conference victory with win over Missy State

The Georgia Bulldogs started slow in tonight’s regular season home finale against the Mississippi State Bulldogs, trailing 12-6 after over 8 minutes of play.

Coach Mark Fox called timeout with 11:50 left before the break and appeared to light into his team for their lack of effort.

Whatever Fox said certainly worked as UGA outscored Missy State 31-12 over the next 11 minutes, giving them a commanding 37-24 halftime lead.

During that stretch, Kenny Gaines, Charles Mann and Marcus Thornton combined for 24 of the Dawgs’ first half points.

After the intermission, Georgia continued to open up its advantage over the other Bulldogs.  With just under 8 minutes remaining, Kenny Paul Geno (KPG) buried a three from the corner that gave UGA a 61-37 lead.

The Dawgs coasted to the 66-45 victory, holding the Maroon Dogs to a season-low 45 points.  Missy State has now lost 12 consecutive SEC games, and a large part of tonight’s loss can be attributed to the team’s atrocious shooting.  MSU finished tonight’s contest connecting on only 34% of its field goal attempts, and the Maroonies shot an ugly 0 for 15 from beyond the arc.

Georgia was led offensively by the trio of Gaines, Thornton and Mann, who scored 14, 13 and 10 points, respectively.

Marcus Thornton’s point total tonight was bolstered from a pair of three’s, and the junior finished a perfect 2 for 2 from the perimeter.  Thornton is now 5 for 9 on the season from beyond the arc, giving him the best three-point percentage on the team.

Tonight’s win puts UGA at 17-12 on the year and 11-6 in the SEC.

At this point, Georgia controls its own destiny in regards to the 3-seed in the SEC tournament.  If UGA can win in Baton Rouge on Saturday then they will be the 3-seed regardless of what either the Vols or Hogs do this weekend.

However, should the Dawgs lose to LSU they could find themselves in either the 4- or 5-seed, where they would most likely face Florida (should they both win) in the semifinal round.

I know that I have harped on this point already, but Georgia looks like a team that could run to the finals of the conference tournament if it could avoid seeing Florida before that point.  Kentucky appears extremely vulnerable right now, getting a sloppy home win over Alabama last night to end a two-game skid.

I believe UGA could still sneak into the NCAA tournament with a win at LSU and two SEC tournament wins.  Tonight’s win should drop the Dawgs RPI into the high 70s, and a road win at LSU could get Georgia’s RPI very close to the upper 60s.

The lowest-rated teams to receive at-large bids to the NCAA tournament are as follows:  #67 Southern Cal and #64 Marquette (2011), #63 N.C. State (2005) and #63 Stanford (2007).

If Georgia wins the next three games, I think they have a decent chance of sneaking into the recently expanded 68-team NCAA tournament this year.

Arkansas pressure too much for Georgia

In the first meeting between Arkansas and Georgia in Athens – a game which UGA won 67-61 – Michael Qualls scored just 3 points on a 1 for 10 shooting performance from the floor.

Unfortunately for the Dawgs, Qualls made amends for that game on Saturday inside Bud Walton Arena, where he scored 20 points to go along with 3 steals.  Throughout much of the game, Qualls served as the catalyst in the Hogs’ full-court press, which gave Georgia fits for much of the afternoon.

Arkansas turned UGA over 16 times in Fayetteville with Brandon Morris and Charles Mann leading the way with 7 and 6, respectively.  In Georgia’s press offense, Morris and Mann are usually the primary ball-handlers, so when they are coughing it up a combined 13 times to the other team things typically don’t pan out well for the Dawgs.

Despite all of the turnovers, Arkansas could not put Georgia away in the second half, seemingly leaving the door open for a UGA comeback.  After shooting nearly 60% from the floor before the break, Arky went cold in the second half, making just 40% of its field goal attempts and connecting on only 1 of 9 shots from beyond the arc.

The problem, though, was that UGA shot the ball worse, hitting less than 30% of its field goals following the intermission.  Aside from Kenny Gaines and Marcus Thornton, Georgia did not have much going on on the offensive end of the floor.  Gaines, who connected on 6 of 9 threes, scored a game-high 25 points, and Thornton chipped in 13 points to go along with 6 boards.

Charles Mann, who had as many turnovers as points, only scored 2 points in the second half, and he sat on the bench for the final stretch of the game after Coach Fox appeared tired of watching Mann’s carelessness.

Georgia did cut the Arkansas advantage to as low as 5 points after Kenny Gaines hit a pair of free throws to make it 65-60 with just 4:43 remaining.  But the Hogs responded immediately and in less than a minute the score was 70-60 after Rashad Madden connected on the team’s only three-pointer of the half.

UGA didn’t have another run in them, and the Hogs cruised to the 87-75 victory.

A disconcerting by-product of yesterday’s loss is that Georgia’s hold on third place in the SEC is now a lot less secure.  Both Arkansas and Tennessee are just one game behind the Dawgs in the standings with two games remaining on the conference slate, and these two teams would win any kind of two-way or three-way tie-breakers that might exist with UGA should their conference records end up the same.

Georgia has a winnable home game against Missy State on Tuesday, but then the Dawgs have to hit the road again for a difficult regular-season finale in Baton Rouge versus the LSU Tigers.

Arkansas and Tennessee’s final two games seem less daunting than Georgia’s since each team has a much easier road game this week.  The Hogs get Ole Miss at home before heading to Tuscaloosa to play Alabama (6-10).  The Vols travel to Auburn (5-11) before ending the season at home against Missouri.

Obviously anything is possible and there is still week of basketball to be played, but Georgia’s chances of reaching the finals of the SEC basketball tournament seem much more favorable as the 3-seed.  At the 3-seed, UGA could avoid Florida – the only team that truly seems unbeatable in this conference.

At the 3-seed, Georgia could potentially play in a winnable semifinal game against Kentucky, a team that is currently in the midst of a two-game losing streak and reeling from Saturday’s loss to SEC bottom-dweller South Carolina (4-12).

Georgia has two games left on the schedule, and the only way to ensure a 3-seed in the conference tournament is to win both of them.