Looking ahead to next year’s basketball season

After a quick exit from this year’s NCAA tournament, Georgia players were quick to reassure fans that they intend to be back next season.  Coach Mark Fox told the media that he was very excited about next year’s team.

But can this team – minus Marcus Thornton and Neme Djurisic – put together an effort worthy enough of returning to the field of 68?  Thornton and Neme combined for more than 23 points and nearly 13 rebounds a game, numbers that will be hard to replace.  Yante Maten, who finished his freshman campaign averaging 5 points and 4 boards a night, seems capable of filling Thornton’s shoes.  He may not put up Marcus’s All-SEC type numbers in just his second year, but if he can make a Travis Leslie-esque jump from his freshman to his sophomore year, Maten and the Dawgs should be ok without Thornton.

Replacing Djurisic is going to be more difficult. Neme was a versatile big that could stretch the floor with his creative ball-handling and three-point capabilities. Djurisic shot 34% from beyond the arc this season, and his departure leaves UGA with just three players – Kenny Gaines, J.J. Frazier and Houston Kessler – that made over 30% from the the perimeter this year. Georgia ranked near the very bottom of the SEC this season in three-point field goals made with 180 total on the year (putting them in a tie with South Carolina for 9th place). One of the Dawgs’ weaknesses this year was outside scoring, and losing Neme certainly doesn’t assuage that deficiency.

Next season, should Gaines, Frazier or both find themselves in foul trouble, Georgia will be very limited from the arc. Even Frazier, who ended the year with the team’s best three-point percentage at nearly 40%, shot the ball with less consistency in the latter parter of the season. After J.J.’s 37 point outburst at Missy State, SEC defenses started preventing him from creating space on the perimeter. Frazier shot 31% from beyond the arc in the 14 games following the contest in Starkville; in UGA’s first 19 games, J.J. had been making a robust 45% of his attempts from the outside. The scouting report on Frazier is out: stay close and keep a hand up, which is an effective strategy considering J.J.’s height.

While the Dawgs do have some intriguing prospects coming in next year in Will Jackson, E’Torrion Wilridge and Derek Ogbeide, none of them are deep threats. Ogbeide, who is considered a 3-star by Rivals and a 4-star by ESPN, should give Coach Fox a decent option off the bench to spell Maten. Jackson will also be expected to contribute early, providing relief to both Frazier and Mann at the point position. For the moment, though, Georgia does not have any shooters enrolling for the 2015-2016 campaign.

A strong perimeter game is a staple of a superior college basketball team. Ten of the sixteen teams that reached the Sweet Sixteen of this year’s NCAA Tournament make more than 35% of their three-point attempts. Of the top fifty teams with the highest three-point percentage in college basketball this season, twenty-one of them made this year’s tournament.

UGA should have a solid backcourt next season, but I fear that Coach Fox’s scarcity of shooters could ultimately have them returning to the NIT rather than the Big Dance.

Georgia’s trip to Charlotte ends in a loss to Michigan State

Just five days after being invited to the dance, Georgia was abruptly forced to leave.  March Madness can be cruel in that way.  A five-month long season can come to an end in the span of a couple of hours.

Such was the case for the Georgia Bulldogs on Friday in Charlotte.

Everything started off so well.  The Dawgs made 3 of their first 6 shots from the floor, and after a pair of free throws from Marcus Thornton, UGA led 11-5 with 14:23 to go in the first half.

Unfortunately, this lead was the biggest and only one that Coach Mark Fox’s team would own on the afternoon.

From that point, everything began to fall apart for UGA.  The Dawgs turned in their worst defensive performance of the season, in my opinion.  Georgia looked mystified in defending Michigan State screens, unable to decide how they wanted to attempt to stop it.

The result:  State either scored easy dunks when the post player slipped the screen, or one of the MSU guards was left wide open for a three, a shot that the Spartans did not struggle with on Friday, hitting 7 of 18 from beyond the arc.

In addition to their ineffective half court defense, Georgia refused to get back on misses and turnovers, which led to 19 fast break points for the Spartans (UGA had just 8).

Speaking of turnovers, the Dawgs had 10 at the break to go along with a team field goal percentage of just 28% – all of which enabled Michigan State to take a commanding 35-22 advantage into the intermission.

However, despite the Dawgs’ sloppy play, they still had their chances in the second half.  Twice Georgia possessed the ball down 39-37 with under 14 minutes to play and a chance to tie or take the lead, but all the Dawgs could muster were three  misses and a turnover.  MSU then put together an 8-2 run that boosted the score up to 47-39, in favor of the Spartans.

But credit Mark Fox’s team for fighting till the very last second, as they have all season.  Even though UGA trailed by 12 points with less than 90 seconds remaining, the Dawgs continued to attack the basket and draw fouls.  Georgia cut the Spartan lead to as low as 66-63 with only 21 seconds left, but Tom Izzo’s team stepped up and connected on its free throws, earning the 70-63 victory.

In its biggest game of the season, UGA failed to convert, hitting only 33% of its field goals and just 28% from beyond the arc.    Charles Mann played strong, leading the team with 19 points, and Kenny Gaines chipped in 15 points in just 20 minutes of play.

Marcus Thornton finished with a double-double, scoring 12 points and grabbing 10 boards, but he did not have his best game.  Offensively, Thornton looked similar to a version of himself from his sophomore year, unable to finish near the bucket, where he made only 2 of 8 shots.  He also struggled to defend State’s Brandon Dawson, who scored all 14 of his points in the second half.

Neme Djurisic and J.J. Frazier had tough games as well.  Neme hit just 2 of his 9 attempts from the floor for 7 points, and J.J. failed to knock down a single field goal, turning in a goose egg in the stat sheet.  In the last several games, Frazier has begun attempting more shots from inside the lane, which haven’t led to many buckets, possibly due to his small stature.

UGA ends the season 21-12 after the second-round exit from the NCAA Tournament.

I found it shocking when they flashed on the screen that this year was Michigan State’s 18th consecutive tournament appearance, a feat that seems unimaginable to a UGA basketball fan, pure fantasy.  Playing in the NCAA Tournament is something that happens for Georgia every five or six years, but for Tom Izzo’s teams, it’s an expectation.

Coach Mark Fox and his staff I’m sure would love to create similar expectations in Athens.

Georgia draws Sparty in the Big Dance

The Georgia Bulldogs (10) will play the Michigan State Spartans (7) in Charlotte on Friday in the second round of this year’s NCAA Tournament.

While the Spartans are March Madness regulars, Georgia will be making its first appearance in the NCAA’s since 2011.  In that game, Georgia was also a 10-seed and they played in Charlotte, losing 68-65 to the Washington Huskies.

MSU will be coming into this game red-hot, winning its final four games before losing in overtime to the #6 Wisconsin Badgers in the Big Ten Championship on Sunday.

The Dawgs and Spartans share one common opponent this season – Minnesota; Georgia lost to the Gophers before conference play began, while MSU topped Minnesota in overtime in a league game.

The Spartans appear to be very balanced on offense – much like UGA – with 4 players averaging more than 8 points per game.  Michigan State shoots the ball well, connecting on 47% of its field goals and nearly 39% of its shots from beyond the arc this season.

Coach Mark Fox will need a healthy Kenny Gaines on Friday if his Bulldogs hope to play into the weekend in the Queen City.

Hogs overpower Georgia in semifinals of SEC Tourney

Georgia Coach Mark Fox opted to hold Kenny Gaines out of Saturday’s game against Arkansas after he reaggravated a foot injury the day before in UGA’s win over South Carolina.  With Gaines sidelined, the Dawgs looked to Charles Mann and J.J. Frazier to pick up the slack in the scoring department – unfortunately, those two were frigid, combining for only 7 points on a combined 2 for 13 shooting performance from the floor.  The Dawgs struggled as a team offensively, connecting on just 32% of their field goal attempts, and Georgia lost 60-49 to the Razorbacks, ending UGA’s SEC Tournament.

The bad news is that Georgia took a step back on offense; the good news is that they should live to fight another day – that day being next Thursday or Friday in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

This game had a bad feel from the start, with Georgia mustering just 4 points through the first 8 minutes of play.  Despite the Dawgs’ offensive futility, Coach Fox’s team managed to hang around for much of the first half, but the Hogs closed out the final five minutes with a 13-5 run that gave them a 25-17 advantage at the break.

For the most part, Georgia never recovered from this point.

Arkansas pushed its lead to as much as 19 points after Anthlon Bell nailed a three pointer from the wing, making it 44-25 Hogs with 13:08 left.  UGA kept it moderately close for the remaining portion of the game, but the Dawgs never really threatened Arkansas in the final quarter of this contest.

Coach Fox got his best performances form Marcus Thornton and Cameron Forte, both of whom finished in double-figures.  Thornton netted 13 points to go along with 12 boards for a double-double, and Forte chipped in a solid 13 points off the bench.

Arkansas was led offensively by Michael Qualls, who scored 15 points on the afternoon.

This loss leaves Georgia 0-5 against the RPI Top 25 on the season, but the Dawgs should still feel secure about their NCAA bid.  The latest Bracketolgy from Joe Lunardi projected UGA as a 10-seed, but at this point I wouldn’t be surprised if they landed anywhere between 7 and 12.

Regardless of today’s game, hats off to Coach Fox and his team for putting together another successful campaign.  Along with finishing 3rd in the SEC this year, UGA seems destined for a meaningful postseason, which is something that hasn’t  happened often for basketball teams from Athens in the past decade.

Georgia bests South Carolina 74-62

With Georgia up 67-62 and time winding down on the shot clock, J.J. Frazier stepped up and buried a three-pointer from well outside of the top of the key to put a huge nail in South Carolina’s coffin, giving UGA a 70-62 advantage with just 42 seconds remaining.

The Dawgs would go on to win the game 74-62, avenging a pair of regular season losses to the Gamecocks.

Georgia looked like a veteran team on Friday night, managing to hold steady every time South Carolina put together a run.  The Dawgs committed only 7 turnovers in this one, and Coach Mark Fox’s team had four players finish in double-figures, with Marcus Thornton leading the way with 15 points.

Maybe the most notable performance of the evening came from freshman Yante Maten, who recorded his first career double-double, scoring 13 points and nabbing 10 rebounds.  Maten scored a critical bucket late in the game on a play in which completely sealed his defender, received the ball on the block and then finished with a dunk, giving the Dawgs a 63-58 lead with under 3 minutes to play.

Unlike the previous two games against Carolina, Georgia started well, and they avoided giving the ball away under pressure.  UGA’s backcourt trio of Charles Mann, Kenny Gaines and J.J. Frazier combined for a whopping zero turnovers in this contest.

Mann and Neme Djurisic were the other Dawgs’ players to end up in double-digits, scoring 11 and 12 points, respectively.

Despite this win, ESPN’s Joe Lunardi still has UGA locked in at the 9-seed.  However, Georgia’s rematch against #21 Arkansas on Saturday should provide Mark Fox’s team with an opportunity to improve its NCAA seed.

A big question going into tonight’s SEC Tournament game

South Carolina won its second game of the SEC Tournament in wacky fashion last night, converting three free throws with less than a second on the clock after an ill-advised foul by an Ole Miss guard.

The Cocks’ win sets up a third game between them and the Dawgs, with Carolina owning the regular season sweep over Mark Fox’s team. I couldn’t find any information as to whether South Carolina has ever beaten UGA three times in a season, so if anyone knows please post below.

At the moment, ESPN’s Joe Lunardi is projecting Georgia as a 9-seed, and the network’s “Bubble Watch” has the Dawgs as a lock. However, maybe its just my nature as a long-time UGA basketball fan, but I still feel uncomfortable about Georgia’s NCAA Tournament bid should they lose tonight’s game to Frank Martin’s team, which would be UGA’s third loss to a squad with an RPI of 105.

Without further adieu, I pose the following question to some of the Bulldogs’ biggest basketball fans:

Discussing Georgia’s SEC Tournament seed

Georgia’s win on Saturday coupled with losses by Ole Miss, Arkansas and Texas A&M made the Dawgs the benefactor of a four-way tie for third place.  Since Georgia had the best record amongst the tied teams, UGA earned the 3-seed in this week’s SEC tournament.  The cookie certainly crumbled in Georgia’s favor yesterday.

The double-bye could not have come at a better time for Coach Mark Fox as it will give his starting two-guard, Kenny Gaines, an additional day to receive treatment and to heal from a minor foot injury.  The Dawgs will play the winner of the Ole Miss vs. Missouri/South Carolina, with Georgia most likely playing the victor from a Rebels-Gamecocks matchup (SC beat Mizzou earlier in the year and the Cocks improved as the season progressed, while the Tigers have been mostly pitiful throughout).

Playing either South Carolina or Ole Miss would be intriguing for the Dawgs, considering UGA was swept by the Gamecocks, but then in turn did the sweeping themselves against the Rebels.

In the latest Bracketology reports, ESPN still has Georgia sitting at an 8-seed, and CBS, for whatever reason, has inexplicably dropped the Dawgs down to a 10-seed.

Kudos to Coach Mark Fox and this bunch of Dawgs for posting consecutive 20-win seasons the past two years, marking only the second time in program history in which that feat has transpired.  That wasn’t the only history that was made on Saturday, though – the Dawgs’ win on the Plains was its 6th conference road win of the season, setting a school record for that category.  Georgia’s road toughness is definitely an attribute that should serve them well in the NCAA Tournament.