Tom Crean proclaimed that his team was going to shoot the three, and he wasn’t lying. His Georgia Bulldog squad hoisted up 27 of them last night against Savannah State. He also alluded to the idea that the Dawgs would play more up tempo, which they certainly did as UGA put up 70 field goal attempts – an impressive feat considering the Dawgs coughed the ball up 23 times. In last year’s 79-54 season-opening win over Bryant, Georgia took just 60 shots from the floor. UGA’s 110-76 win over Savannah State marked the first time the Dawgs have eclipsed the century mark in scoring since 2007, when a Dennis Felton-led squad put up 107 on Jacksonville State in that season’s first game.
One thing is for sure, Georgia basketball looks different this year. Clearly, Crean has drilled it into his players heads that he wants them to get shots up earlier in possessions. Georgia had just one shot clock violation against the Tigers, and I don’t anticipate that we will see too many more of those this season. From the opening tip, the Dawgs were pushing the ball on both makes and misses. This speed of play is a welcome change of pace from the Mark Fox days, when the game could at times be slowed to a crawl as players purposelessly moved the ball around the perimeter.
In the halfcourt set, Crean has this team properly spaced and ready to attack. Savannah State tossed a lot of junk trap zones at Georgia since they were clearly overmatched and unable to play man. The Dawgs routinely found soft spots in the zone on the perimeter that turned into open threes, or, when players penetrated, two guys moved to open spots and made themselves available to receive the ball. Crean seems to have simplified the offense for this team in a way that promotes creativity. Watching Mark Fox’s offense wasn’t fun for the fans, and it couldn’t have been much fun for the players as they routinely looked like they were trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. Crean’s style appears to be the antithesis of what Georgia basketball has been for the past decade, and that is refreshing.
The Dawgs were not without fault, however, as they let a Tiger team that lost 11 players from a year ago cut a 25-point halftime lead to just 9 points after Zaquavion Smith hit a three-pointer to make it 63-54 with a little over 14 minutes left to play. Georgia’s defense overall looked sloppy; the guards did not provide nearly enough resistance against the Savannah State penetration. Luckily, Nicolas Claxton, who scored 15 points to go with 13 boards, was there to clean things up near the rim as the sophomore tallied up 5 blocks, but that’s not always going to be the case when Georgia faces stiffer competition (like on Tuesday at Temple).
The 23 UGA turnovers were unfortunate as well, especially considering that point guards Turtle Jackson and Tye Fagan led the way with 3 apiece. Ultimately, those turnovers didn’t hurt against the Tigers, but they will eventually become problematic as the season progresses if the Dawgs can’t find a way to clean things up.
All and all, though, this was definitely an entertaining first game. Crean is highly-animated on the sidelines. He daps players up when they succeed, and he waves his arms maniacally in frustration when they err . He’s clearly way more Kirby Smart than Mark Richt as far as where he wears his emotions, which is smack-dab on his sleeve. Make no doubt about it – this is a rebuilding year. But, it’s going to be fun to watch.