Georgia comeback falls short as Dawgs lose to Gophers in NIT

If only the Georgia Bulldogs could have just pressed the reset on the first half of today’s game with the Minnesota Golden Gophers, maybe they would have avoided their second loss in the preseason NIT.

Before the break, UGA committed 15 of its season-high 18 turnovers, which allowed the Gophers to take a 37-25 lead into the intermission.  Georgia was flustered early with Minnesota’s full court pressure, and they looked like they were rushing on offense for much of the game’s first 20 minutes.

There wasn’t any reset button though, and the Dawgs spent the entire second half trying to dig themselves out of the hole that they had created – which they nearly did.  Despite the fact that Charles Mann and Kenny Gaines combined for only 4 points on the night, UGA trimmed the Minnesota advantage to 65-62 following a three-pointer from J.J. Frazier.  But a free throw on the other end for the Gophers coupled with a missed three from Juwan Parker resulted in Minnesota sealing the 66-62 win.

Charles Mann had a really tough game, scoring zero points and committing 4 turnovers in the first half.  He must have gotten in the doghouse with Coach Fox at the half because he only saw the floor for 4 minutes after the break, and that was only because Kenny Gaines went out for a spell with a neck injury.

With Mann out, J.J. Frazier stepped up and played admirably, scoring 12 points to go along with 6 rebounds and 4 assists.  Even more importantly, the sophomore point guard did not give the ball away once.

Marcus Thornton recorded another double-double, scoring 14 points and snagging 10 rebounds, and freshman Yante Maten chipped in another 12 points.

Other than the turnovers, another major difference in this contest came from the perimeter, where Minnesota knocked down 10 three-pointers to Georgia’s 3.  The Dawgs connected on only 21% of their shots from the outside today, and they are now barely above 25% from beyond the arc as a team this season.  If UGA cannot locate its three-point shot, they are going to have some serious trouble putting up points this season.

While it definitely stings for Georgia to leave New York completely empty-handed, it should be noted that this is a descent Minnesota team, picked by many to finish 7th in the Big Ten this year – a team that could very well sneak into this season’s NCAA Tournament.

Coach Mark Fox’s team must regroup quickly before embarking on a road trip to Chattanooga next Tuesday to play the Mocks, a team that Fox Sports suggested could challenge for the SoCon title this year.

Advertisements

In battle of Bulldogs, the ones from Spokane win 88-76

Mark Fox has got to be wishing that Kyle Wiltjer was still living in Lexiington, Kentucky right now.

The junior from Portland overwhelmed the Georgia defense on Wednesday night, scoring 32 points from just about every spot on the court.

The Zags pounced on UGA from the start, opening up a 12-2 lead before 4 minutes had elapsed, following a three-pointer from Kevin Pangos.  To Georgia’s credit, though, they weathered the storm, bringing the Gonzaga advantage to 16-8 after a Charles Mann jumper with 13:38 remaining in the half.

However, the Dawgs failed to ever make it a one or two possession game.  Gonzaga would build a double-digit lead, and then UGA would make a small run, getting with 7, 8 or 9 points, only to have the Zags back up by 12 or 14 just minutes later.

Honestly, Gonzaga never really appeared threatened by Georgia.   Every time the Dawgs started to get close, Wiltjer or Pangos, who finished with 22 points, would knock down a timely bucket to keep UGA at bay.

Georgia’s last push came with 7:35 left in the game, when a layup by Neme Djurisic made it 65-57, in favor of Gonzaga.  But, 4 quick points by Wiltjer, and a minute later the Zags were back up by 12 points.  Ultimately, Gonzaga ended up coasting to an 88-76 victory.

The lone bright spot for the Dawgs was point guard Charles Mann, who played his best game of the season, scoring 23 points to go along with 6 rebounds, 5 assists and 4 steals.  Mann was the only UGA player that was able to create any offense against this bigger Gonzaga team.

This game exposed some glaring weaknesses in Georgia’s perimeter defense, which was unable to contain the Gonzaga backcourt.  All night, the Dawgs looked a step slow, allowing the Zag guards to drive the ball into the lane whenever they wanted.

Offensively, Georgia had its issues as well.  One thing that was quite clear from last night’s performance was that UGA does not have an inside game, or at least not when they play against real teams.  Marcus Thornton, who was coming off back-to-back 17-point efforts, was flustered by the bigger Gonzaga front court.  Thornton spent the entire game in foul trouble, scoring just 9 points and committing 4 turnovers; he had to be missing the smaller, less physical frontcourts of both Troy and Florida Atlantic.

Another chink in UGA’s offensive armor was on the perimeter, where the Dawgs continued to struggle from beyond the arc. After going 4 for 16 on three-pointers last night, Georgia is now shooting a frigid 26% on three’s this season.  Kenny Gaines, who is hitting only 26% himself, has yet to find his touch from a year ago.  Other than J.J. Frazier, who is knocking down almost 37% from beyond the arc, no one else on the UGA roster poses much of a threat from the outside.

Whether Coach Mark Fox can clean up some of his team’s faults remains to be seen.  None of his big men are going to grow any taller over the next few months, so it’s hard to envision much improvement in the frontcourt offense.

Kenny Gaines can and most likely will begin shooting better, which will certainly help.

But can anyone honestly say that after watching last night’s contest that this UGA squad looks like an NCAA tournament team?

Why Georgia has to beat Gonzaga on Wednesday

On Wednesday night in New York, the Georgia Bulldogs will play the Gonzaga Bulldogs inside Madison Square Garden as part of the preseason NIT.  This game represents an opportunity for both teams to secure an out of conference win against a worthy opponent.  For Georgia though, this contest is a chance for Coach Mark Fox’s team to prove its relevance in the college basketball world in prime time on a national stage.

Here are a few reasons as to why I believe that Georgia must win this game:

1. UGA has to prove being a good SEC team means something

Last season Georgia went 12-6 in the Southeastern Conference, and they were barely in the NCAA Bubble discussion.  Most pundits felt that the Dawgs had to win the SEC tournament to get in, giving them the same scenario that they basically face towards the end of every season.  For several years now, the SEC has been routinely sending just 3 or 4 teams to the Big Dance, making it pretty clear what the NCAA selection committee thinks about the quality of basketball played in this league.  Having another successful conference season just isn’t going to do it for Coach Fox this year (and I do think they will be a top 5 SEC team).  Fox scheduled games against Gonzaga, Colorado and Kansas State to bolster the RPI, which was an achilles heel for this team a year ago.  Playing in these games is not enough, though; UGA must show that they can beat high caliber teams outside of their own conference, and they’ve already blown one opportunity against their in-state rivals (whether Tech is high caliber or not remains to be seen).  Only winning the games against the Troy’s and Florida Atlantic’s of the world will earn Georgia another trip back to the postseason NIT, at best.

2. Mark Fox is due

The Georgia Bulldogs haven’t beaten a ranked opponent outside of the SEC since Fox’s initial team took down the then-ranked #20 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets 73-66 in Athens.  Matter of fact, CMF’s teams have only won two games against ranked opponents since the departures of Trey Thompkins and Travis Leslie.  In that same span of games, UGA has yet to beat a team ranked lower than 20th.  In Gonzaga, Georgia will be competing with a team that recently landed inside of the top 10 in both the AP and USA Polls.  The Zags, who are 4-0, have already beaten #22 SMU by more than 10 points. They have destroyed their other three opponents, winning all of the games by 40+ points.  Gonzaga is off to a great start this year, and more than likely they will go on to have a strong season.  When March rolls around, a win against the Zags could really serve to enhance an NCAA tournament resume, considering Gonzaga themselves will surely be dancing.

Make no doubt about, the Zags are incredibly talented. Through 4 games, they are averaging almost 95 points a night (7th in the country), with nearly 7 players scoring in double-figures. UGA needs its best game of the year out of junior Charles Mann, who could significantly impact this game should he manage to get some of the Zags’ starters in foul trouble. Georgia cannot go toe-to-toe with Gonzaga’s firepower for 40 minutes; but, if they could manage to get to the free throw line and slow the game down, the Dawgs could have a chance.

Here is Seth Greenberg’s take:

http://espn.go.com/video/clip?id=espn:11930403

Dawgs win third straight game, silence Owls

Seniors Marcus Thornton and Nemanja Djurisic continued their strong play from Friday night’s contest – a game in which they each of scored 17 points – against the Owls of Florida Atlantic on Sunday.  In this evening’s game, Thornton put the Dawgs on his broad shoulders and carried them to a 74-61 victory, scoring 17 again to go along with 12 rebounds and 5 blocks.

Neme, who seemed to the be the catalyst for a majority of Georgia’s scoring plays, nearly messed around and got a triple-double, scoring 8 points, grabbing 10 boards and dishing out 8 assists.  The senior appears to be as comfortable as ever putting the ball on the floor this season, and for now, it is working for Coach Fox’s team.

UGA’s offense ran as smoothly as it has all year, with the Dawgs hitting cutters down the lane off of screens – the performance was vintage Fox, circa the days of Thompkins, Leslie and GR22.  Georgia had 15 team assists, and they shot a robust 46% from the floor.

The only other UGA player to score in double digits was Kenny Gaines, who chipped in 15 for the game.  Gaines definitely looks a lot closer to 100% than he did a little over a week ago, knocking down a three and throwing down a couple of thunderous dunks.

Charles Mann, who’s been hot and cold so far this season, struggled against the Owls, netting just 8 points, going 2 for 8 from the field.  He had trouble finishing on his drives tonight, and he seemed like he was forcing it at times.

Once Georgia took command of this game – carrying an 8 point lead into the break – they never really felt threatened by the Owls.  The Dawgs kept their advantage above 10 points for nearly the entire second half, coasting to their third straight win since losing to Georgia Tech in the season opener.

Coach Fox’s team turned in another solid defensive effort, limiting FAU to just 41% shooting from the floor.  The Dawgs dominated the rebounding battle, snagging 45 boards to the Owls’ 32.

Marquan Botley led all scorers with 20 points.

The Owls, who are now 1-3 on the year, were projected to finish in the lower echelon of the Conference USA.  While Georgia’s recent win streak has come at the expense of some pretty soft competition, the Dawgs have looked good winning.

Next week’s matchup with #13 Gonzaga will really give fans a chance to measure just exactly what kind of team Coach Fox has this year.

Dawgs win second game in a row, improving to 2-1

On Friday night, the Georgia Bulldogs made the Troy Trojans look every bit the part of a team that was projected to finish near the bottom of the Sun Belt Conference this season.  The Dawgs got the ball to the rim just about any time they wanted, whether in the half court set or on the run, helping them cruise to an 82-60 home win.

The game was really only close for about the first seven minutes, which was due mainly to the fact that it began tied at zero.  Neme Djurisic, who finished with 17 points, put UGA up 22-11 on a three-pointer with 13:47 remaining in the first half. Several plays later, Marcus Thornton, who also netted 17, threw down a dunk that gave the Dawgs a 27-16 advantage; Georgia’s lead stayed above double-digits for the remainder of the game.

From the opening tip, Troy looked completely outmatched in this one.  The Trojans defense was just plain pitiful, allowing Georgia players to routinely coast towards the basket virtually uncontested.  Mark Fox’s team scored an unprecedented 56 points in the paint, nearly 70% of the team’s offense on the night.

The Bulldogs enjoyed their second consecutive game with balanced scoring as Charles Mann and Kenny Gaines added 14 and 12, respectively, to compliment Thornton and Djurisic’s offensive production.

The lone bright spot for Troy was Wesley Person, whose NBA lineage includes his father Wesley Person, Sr., and his uncle Chuck Person, also known as “The Rifleman”.  Against the Dawgs, Junior led his team with 20 points in the losing effort.

I will say that while it is sometimes difficult to judge the level of play of a team when going against a lesser opponent, Georgia’s defense did look quite stifling tonight.  The Dawgs were quick to collapse on the ball when it got into the post, and they held Troy to under 37% for the game from the floor.  In addition, UGA snagged 43 boards to go along with 11 steals and 9 blocks.

The Dawgs have a game this Sunday against Florida Atlantic before they prepare for a big time showdown with the Gonzaga Bulldogs in Madison Square Arena next week.

Georgia gets first victory of the 2014-2015 season

Calling Georgia’s offense balanced on Tuesday night would be an understatement, considering that Mark Fox got double-digit scoring from five players against the Stoney Brook Seawolves in the opening game of the preseason NIT.  Charles Mann, Kenny Gaines, Yante Maten, Neme Djurisic and Marcus Thornton all eclipsed the ten-point threshold, with Mann leading the way with a team-high 15 points.  The Dawgs appeared to be in more of rhythm offensively, knocking down nearly 46% of their shots from the floor en route to an 80-70 win.

The Seawolves came out of the gates firing, though, building up a 16-8 lead in the game’s first four minutes ,with most of the damage being done by junior guard Carson Puriefoy.  During the aforementioned stretch, Puriefoy scored 9 points, and he finished the half with 21.

Despite Puriefoy’s performance, Georgia managed to carry a 48-41 advantage into the intermission.  But once Georgia was able to contain Puriefoy, the Dawgs began to open up more of a lead down the stretch.  UGA held the game’s leading scorer to zero field goals after the break, and even though Puriefoy finished with 26 points, he was pretty much shut down in the second half.

After corralling Puriefoy, UGA pushed its lead beyond 20 points a couple of times; but, some late threes from Stoney Brook in mop-up time enabled the Seawolves to trim the score to just ten.

Yante Maten, who scored 11 points, made several nice drop-step post moves on the block.

Kenny Gaines did not start in this one, but he looks as though he is starting to regain his form, contributing 13 points, which included a pair of three-pointers; he also had an explosive dunk off of a fast break, showing that his legs seem to have recovered from his recent bout with mononucleosis.

The most improved player from a year ago, though, may be sophomore J.J. Frazier, who has developed an ability to penetrate and use excellent body control to finish around the rim (or at least get fouled).  Frazier peppered the stat sheet tonight with 8 points, 4 assists and 3 rebounds, and most importantly, no turnovers.

Overall, Georgia’s play was much improved this evening against an opponent picked by most to win the American East Conference in the preseason.  Now that Georgia is off their radar, hopefully the Seawolves can string together a 20+ win season and secure the AEC title.

Not that I am insinuating that this was a resume-building win.

Dawgs drop the opener to rival Georgia Tech

Charles Mitchell, who had spurned Georgia twice already on the recruiting front, torched the Dawgs in Atlanta on Friday night for 20 points and 9 rebounds en route to an 80-73 Georgia Tech victory.  Mitchell was one of Fox’s targets coming out of Wheeler High School a few years ago, but the young man opted to go to Maryland.  Last year, when Mitchell chose to leave Maryland to return to the state of Georgia so he could be closer to his grandmother, he again snubbed UGA, selecting Tech as his new basketball destination.  Despite these choices, last evening he appeared to be playing possessed, with a chip on his shoulder, almost. And, Mitchell gives the Yellow Jackets something that the Dawgs desperately need: a post who can play with his back to the basket.

Much like in the exhibition game last week, Georgia’s offense looked clunky, making just 27% of its shots in the game’s opening half.  The Dawgs ended the game hitting nearly 42% from the floor, but Mark Fox’s team appears to be lacking scoring options, especially when Charles Mann has a 3 for 11 shooting performance.  While Fox’s offensive scheme involves a lot of motion and picks, without playmakers it simply does not work.  This system still needs players who can slice their way into the lane from the wing position, and right now, I’m scratching my head wondering who on Georgia can fill that roll?

Despite starting poorly, UGA managed to hang around in this contest, cutting the lead as low as 4 points after a Marcus Thornton bucket with 14:39 left in the game and Georgia Tech up 50-46.  However, back-to-back field goals by Charles Mitchell – one of them an awkward dunk off a break – pushed the Jackets lead back up to 8 points.

Whenever Georgia managed to get close, Tech would pull away.  Quinton Stephens, who led all scorers with 22 points, was a menace for UGA all night, connecting on 6 of his eight shots from beyond the arc.

The Dawgs’ best performance was turned in by Djurisic, who finished with 18 points, helping to keep his team around before the intermission with some timely three-pointers.

Cameron Forte wins the award for the most efficient performance of the night, scoring 5 points and grabbing 3 rebounds to go along with a steal and a block, all in just 4 minutes of play.  Forte’s lack of presence on the court as the game progressed was perplexing since he was giving his team a viable scoring option.  Last season, Forte’s defense is what limited his playing time; whether that has improved or not, he needs to be in the lineup more because this team needs all the help it can get on the other side of the ball.

This loss is going to sting (pun intended).  Georgia Tech does not look like a very good team, and it seems likely that they will end up near the bottom of the ACC, just as was projected by numerous media sources.  Whether this game will hurt UGA’s NCAA hopes later in the year probably shouldn’t be of much concern to Georgia fans because right now this Dawgs’ team does not have the looks of an NCAA tournament team.

What should worry Dawgs’ fans is that Mark Fox has now dropped four straight to the Jackets, which hasn’t happened since the 1960’s (back when Tech was in the SEC).  Georgia gets a slew of cupcake games before taking on Gonzaga in New York on November 26th as part of the preseason NIT.