The Georgia Bulldogs (13-10; 4-7) never led once last night against the Vanderbilt Commodores (9-15, 3-8). I could probably just stop the blog post right there because that about covers it. The Dawgs have hit a new low. UGA just got blown out by the worst team in the SEC. Vanderbilt was 2-8 in league games coming into this contest, and the Dores had an RPI of 122. At this point, Georgia’s NIT hopes are now officially in doubt.
Despite the typical UGA start to a game – not scoring for the first 4 minutes and going 2 for 11 from the floor – the Dawgs managed to get to halftime trailing 39-31, which at the time seemed like a blessing. Georgia cut the Vandy advantage to as low as 48-47 with 13:20 left in the second half following a jumper by Turtle Jackson, and the Dawgs actually traded baskets with the Dores for a few minutes.
But eventually the UGA offense would go into one of its extended droughts that have become a trademark of Mark Fox coached teams. Following a bucket by Yante Maten, who finished with a game-high 20 points, that made it 56-53 Vandy with 11:10 remaining, the Dawgs would go nearly 7 minutes before converting another field goal. With 4:27 left, Derek Ogbeide put one in off the right side of the glass, but by then it was too late as the Dores lead had blossomed to 77-62 during this stretch. Final score: Vandy 81, UGA 66. Ouch.
Announcers and NCAA basketball media types will wax eloquently about how great Georgia plays defense. This is simply a myth. Yes, UGA is allowing the least amount of points in SEC games (65.7). However, that number is just a byproduct of the molasses-paced tempo at which this teams plays. Earlier this week, I referenced the Dawgs’ defensive efficiency, which measures the amount of points a team gives up per possession. This stat is gives a more accurate picture of a team’s defensive performance because it takes tempo (# of possessions) into account. Georgia’s defensive efficiency is smack dab in the middle of the SEC. Whether that is good, bad or just ok depends on how we view the overall defensive prowess of the league.
One thing is for sure, though, strong defensive teams don’t allow a team that’s making 8 triples a night to knock down 11 against them. Surely the Dawgs’ scouting report highlighted Vandy’s proclivity for moving the ball from side to side in order to get open looks from the perimeter, but for whatever reason UGA routinely had defenders closing out with their hands down or not closing out at all. Juwan Paker and Jackson (Parker in particular) often look like their feet are lodged in mud when attempting to defend on the perimeter. Vandy guards Riley LaChance and Saben Lee, who averaged a combined 23 points a night, tallied 38 total points against the Dawgs and seemed to be virtually impossible to defend off the dribble. Good defensive teams do not allow these things to happen.
Back to the offense. The bottom line is that Georgia has one player that can put the ball in the basket on a consistent basis, and he’s leaving Athens in a little over a month. Vanderbilt is the worst team in the SEC this year (although they could potentially swap spots with Georgia this weekend), yet I think that Maten is the only player who would start for them. I’d swap guards with the Dores in a heartbeat if the offer were proffered. Saben Lee is a freshman who is netting over 10 points a game for Vandy. He was rated a 4-star recruit by Rivals. Why don’t Georgia’s 4-stars step in and perform that way? Rayshaun Hammonds was 0-5 yesterday and couldn’t manage to hit a layup even with the much smaller LaChance guarding him on the block. Hammonds’s confidence has to be totally shot at this point because he doesn’t resemble anything of the player that he was at the start of the season. Jordan Harris isn’t with the team right now, but he’s failed to develop into anything more than a role player at this point. Tyree Crump, who started again last night, played only 6 minutes due to a couple of turnovers and failed to score. None of Georgia’s recent string of 4-stars have come close to performing at Lee’s level. Why is that?
It doesn’t get any easier from here for Georgia. Last night’s game was probably the second most winnable one for the remainder of the schedule (LSU at home being the most winnable). The Dawgs have #8 Auburn in Athens on Saturday, and the Tigers are coming off of a home loss to Texas A&M last night, so they will be pissed off. Then Georgia has a game at Florida, one at South Carolina, two against the #15 Vols and then one at home against the surging Aggies. Best case scenario, UGA goes 3-4 over that stretch and finishes the year 16-14. More than likely, however, the results will be worse as those are some of the best teams in the conference.