Why Georgia lost to Florida on Saturday

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There’s a reason the Florida Gators entered Saturday’s game with the 3rd best defense in the SEC in league games, and it’s because Mike White does a great job of mixing up his defensive looks. For nearly the entire game, Florida showed the Dawgs (9-8, 1-4) a full-court zone press on any makes or turnovers that they transitioned into a little half-court trap. The Gators ran some man-to-man, and they occasionally showed some match-up zone.

All of these sets were highly-effective at keeping the Bulldogs off-balanced offensively. Other than the initial stretch of the second half, Georgia’s offensive resembled a game of “Hot Potato” for much of this one. The Dawgs committed 20 costly turnovers in this game that led to 28 Gator points.

Another tactic that Mike White used with his team in zone was that he had his guys double Nic Claxton any time he touched the ball inside. This strategy worked well for Florida and really frustrated Claxton, who had 0 points in the first half. The sophomore had as many turnovers (4) as field goal attempts by the time the teams went to the intermission. Claxton would finish with 9 points in a game in which he constantly had defenders swarming him whenever he received the ball on the block.

Has anyone else noticed that Georgia has been pressed relentlessly for the majority of SEC play? Expect this trend to continue as teams will seek to exploit UGA’s glaring weakness – its guards – until the season ends on either Wednesday or Thursday of the SEC tournament. If you watch college basketball other than Georgia games, notice how good teams do not get pressed that often because it puts too much pressure on the defense to guard in transition. For UGA, though, this is not the case.

There were two stretches of this game that were particularly brutal for Tom Crean’s team. The first was the beginning of the game, which Georgia started out with 4 turnovers and misses on all 6 of its field goal attempts. Florida had an 8-0 lead less than 5 minutes into this game, which they basically used as a buffer for the remainder of the half as they took a 33-23 advantage into the break.

The other portion of this contest that was particularly hard to watch occured, unfortunately, in the final quarter of the game. After a nice drive and lay-up by Jordan Harris with 9:38 remaining, the Dawgs went on a nearly six-and-a-half minute drought that included 6 turnovers; the bleeding was stopped when Nic Claxton hit a pair of free throws to make it 55-50 Florida with 3:11 remaining.

This offensive lull was such a bummer after the offensive fireworks that the Dawgs displayed coming out of the locker room. Georgia started the second half red hot and went on a 19-7 run that enabled them to take a brief lead, and it served to wake up a Stegeman crowd that hadn’t really been given much to cheer for in the game’s initial 20 minutes.

Obviously, a large part of UGA’s struggles since conference play began can be attributed to the backcourt. However, guard play is not the only issue with this Georgia team. UGA’s frontcourt has begun to look rather ordinary as the Dawgs have gotten deeper into the SEC slate, particularly Rayshaun Hammonds.

Florida coach Mike White road his star player, Kevaughn Allen, during the last five minutes of the game, and Allen answered the call as he scored 7 of his game-high 13 points. Hammonds, who is still UGA’s leading scorer at 13.7 ppg, was nowhere to be found. The sophomore put up a goose egg and committed 4 turnovers; other than a big second half against Vandy, Hammonds has basically been a no-show in SEC play, where he’s now averaging just 5.4 ppg. Rayshaun’s inability to step and be an offensive leader is putting additional, and unnecessary, pressure on the Georgia guards.

I continue to see the hashtag #TrustTheProcess in regards to the program on Twitter, and I most certainly do. I have full faith in Tom Crean as both an innovative offensive coach and an excellent recruiter who will take this program to a higher level. However, I feel that this season is more about giving Crean a break for the dearth of talent that Mark Fox left behind at the point guard position, which is making life really hard for UGA in conference play.

Box Score:

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Examining Georgia & Florida by their SEC numbers

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Both Georgia (9-7, 1-3) and Florida (9-7, 1-3) will be looking to shake themselves out of a four-way tie for 9th in the conference when the teams lock up in Athens tomorrow. For UGA, the season thus far is going about as expected as the Dawgs were pegged to finish 13th in the SEC prior to the start of league play. Florida, however, has been a bit of a disappointment considering the media predicted the Gators to be the 5th best team in the conference before the season began.

The only common opponent that these two teams share currently is Tennessee, who bested Florida 78-67 in Gainesville last weekend; however, that result was a heck of a lot more competitive than the 46-point drubbing the Dawgs took at the hands of the Vols in Knoxville earlier this month.

Now that we’ve transitioned to conference play, statistics in SEC games become far more insightful than cumulative season stats. At this point, I’m not interested in how Rayshaun Hammonds performs against a Savannah State, Sam Houston State, Illinois State or Texas Southern; his play against conference competition, which hasn’t been stellar thus far (6.7 ppg), is a much stronger measuring stick.

Without further adieu, here is how the Dawgs and Gators stack up numbers-wise through four SEC games:

Offense

  • Scoring offense: Florida 12th (65.2), Georgia 13th (64.8)
  • FG%: Georgia 12th (38.8%), Florida 14th (36.6%)
  • 3-Point%: Florida 9th (30.8%), Georgia 14th (24.5%)
  • 3-Point FG per game: Florida 3rd (9.3), Georgia 12th (6.3)
  • Turnover margin: Florida 1st (+4), Georgia 13th (-3.8)

Defense

  • Scoring defense: Florida 3rd (67.8), Georgia 11th (80.2)
  • FG% defense: Georgia 11th (44.7%), Florida 12th (45.4%)
  • 3-Point FG% defense: Georgia 12th (35.4%), Florida 14th (38.1%)
  • Rebounding margin: Florida 10th (-3.8), Georgia 13th (-6.8)
  • Blocked shots: Georgia 1st (6.5), Florida 12th (2.8)
  • Steals: Florida 7th (6.5), Georgia 10th (5.8)
  • Defensive Reb.%: Florida 7th (67.5%), Georgia 14th (61.5%)

Other than a few outliers, both of these teams are near the bottom of the SEC in more than a few important categories. Neither squad has been impressive offensively, though Florida’s team defense hasn’t been too shabby. Statistically, I’d say the Gators have a slight edge, but the fact that the game is in Athens should tip the scales in UGA’s favor a bit. In other words, I expect a competitive game tomorrow.

Some thoughts on Kentucky’s 69-49 rout of Georgia

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The Georgia Bulldogs (9-7, 1-3) do not start many games off with 5 consecutive dunks. If someone had only watched the initial 5 minutes of this game and seen how the Dawgs built up their 11-6 lead over Kentucky, it would be hard to convince that individual that UGA would end up losing the game by 20 points. Georgia competed with the #12 Cats for 20 minutes, but then the magic ran out. Below are some of my thoughts:

Brutal second half for Georgia

The last five minutes of the first half and the first five minutes of the second half are largely thought to be the two most important segments of a basketball game. The Dawgs excelled in the former, but they got totally Ashton Hagans-ized in the latter. The freshman, who scored a career-high 23 points, lit Georgia up out of the intermission as he scored 7 quick points and helped bolster the Cats’ 4-point lead to 42-31.

The Dawgs began the second half offensively by missing their first 5 shots and committing 3 turnovers. UGA didn’t notch a field goal until Rayshaun Hammonds got a tip-in with 14:35 remaining in the game. Georgia shot just 19% from the floor in the second half, and they made only 2 of 14 from beyond the arc.

Confusing offensive identity

As mentioned, the Dawgs jumped on Kentucky early and exploited some rather poor defensive rotations by Coach Calipari’s team to the tune of five two-handed dunks. Georgia scored 18 of its 31 points in the paint prior to the break, then the Dawgs scored just 18 points the entire second half. Despite making only 2 of 13 three-point attempts through the first 20 minutes, Georgia kept chucking them up after the intermission and finished the game just 4 of 27 from the perimeter. All of this was confounding considering how easily UGA was getting the ball into the teeth of the Kentucky defense early on; it definitely felt like the Dawgs sort of let the Cats off the hook defensively.

Don’t get me wrong: I absolutely love Tom Crean’s commitment to shoot more three-pointers. That’s where the game has gone. Good teams get points consistently from beyond the arc, and it’s far past time that UGA join this fad. However, it’s just tough to watch right now because the Dawgs don’t have that many legitimate perimeter shooters.

Lack of star power for UGA

Georgia held Kentucky’s leading scorer Keldon Johnson, who nets nearly 16 points a night, in check in this one as he put up a goose egg. Unfortunately, UGA’s leading scorer, Rayshaun Hammonds, had another tough night; the sophomore went into the half with 0 points and 2 fouls after nearly 12 minutes of game time. Hammonds would finish with 11 points, but he never asserted himself into this game on the offensive side of the ball. Rayshaun’s struggles against ranked competition continued against #12 Kentucky, and he’s now averaging only 6.7 ppg in the three contests versus ranked SEC opponents.

Nic Claxton, who notched 9 points prior to the break, would net only 3 more the rest of the way. The Dawgs need more than 23 total points out of their leading scorers if they are going to pull an upset on a team of Kentucky’s calibre.

Coach Calipari had others on his team, namely Hagans, step up and shoulder the scoring load. Kentucky’s freshman point guard looks the part of a bona fide stud on both offense and defense, and he certainly got the last laugh inside Stegeman tonight after receiving a decent amount of heckling from the UGA student section.

Stats that jump off the box score:

  1. Kentucky had 40 points in the paint to Georgia’s 22.
  2. Kentucky had 43 rebounds to Georgia’s 35.
  3. Kentucky had 14 points off turnovers to Georgia’s 4.

Auburn too much for Georgia in 93-78 win

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The Georgia Bulldogs (9-6, 1-2) are going to continue to find the sledding fairly tough when they take on competition of the calibre of the #11 Auburn Tigers (12-3, 1-1), especially considering that Bruce Pearl has one of the best backcourts in the nation in Jared Harper and Bryce Brown. It’s no secret: guard play is the glaring weakness of this UGA team. Harper and Brown had no trouble exploiting the Dawgs’ Achilles Heel as they combined for 37 points on a 7 for 13 shooting performance from the three-point line in the Tigers’ 93-78 win over Georgia.

Believe it or not, this game was actually close for several stretches. Georgia came out of the half and cut a 10-point Tiger lead to just a 54-48 advantage following a triple by Teshaun Hightower with 17:05 remaining. It didn’t take long for Auburn to stretch the lead back into double-digits, though, as Harper connected on one of his 4 three’s to send the Tigers up 61-48 with 15:27 remaining.

Georgia sort of hung around for the remainder of the game, and by that I mean they stayed within 10 points at times; but the Dawgs couldn’t trim the Tiger advantage to single digits the rest of the way, and Auburn continued to push the pace.

After trailing 13-4 early on in this one, Georgia went on an 8-0 run and actually took a brief 22-20 lead on a Jordan Harris three-pointer with 11:20 left in the first half. The referees called the game pretty tight from the opening tip, and that kept Bruce Pearl’s team from ramping up the game’s tempo, which definitely benefited Georgia.

The Dawgs were in the bonus for over 10 minutes in the first half of play. Georgia took advantage and made 8 of 9 free throws. However, UGA stopped attacking as much and started to settle for too many threes, which is not a good look for this Georgia team as they went 4 of 12 from beyond the arc before the break; the Dawgs hit just 3 of their last 14 field goal attempts heading into the intermission, and Auburn took a commanding 48-38 lead into the half.

Nic Claxton had consecutive possessions in the opening 20 minutes where he took Austin Wiley off the dribble and pulled up to knock down jumpers just inside the three-point line. Again, that’s a 6’11” center doing something that’s meant for a point guard. Insane.

Claxton finished with 15 points and tied his career-high 6 blocks. Auburn applied full-court pressure for most of the game, and Claxton routinely brought the ball up the court. While it is absolutely wonderful to have a center who can do this, I’m not certain it didn’t begin to wear the sophomore down as the game went on. In an ideal world, Georgia would have a guard or two that could handle this responsibility so that Claxton could spend more time in proximity to the rim.

The Tigers had 5 players end up in double-figures, but probably the biggest offensive spark came from reserve Anthony Mclemore, who scored 11 of his 15 points prior to the break. He was active on the glass and without the ball, and he really ignited an Auburn offense that started the game rather stagnant. When Mclemore entered the game, his team trailed 26-22 with a little over 10 minutes remaining; he was a major reason why Bruce Pearl’s team was able to take control of this game heading into the half.

Three tough stats that didn’t go Georgia’s way:

  1. Auburn outscored UGA 40-24 in the paint.
  2. Auburn notched 20 second-chance points to UGA’s 13.
  3. Auburn scored 21 points off of 16 UGA turnovers; the Dawgs had 15 POT themselves.

I hate to be a moral victory type of fan, but I found myself surprised that Georgia competed as much as they did in this one, especially considering what happened last Saturday in Knoxville. I certainly didn’t expect the Dawgs to have much of a lead, let alone for 5.5% of the game.

That being said, the struggle will continue to be real for Georgia whenever they face teams with above average backcourts. Unfortunately, I just described both of UGA’s opponents for next week: #18 Kentucky and Florida. Whoever designed this SEC slate for Tom Crean’s first jaunt through the league has a cruel sense of humor.

Bulldogs earn first SEC win of the season with home blowout of Vanderbilt

Vanderbilt coach Bryce Drew switched his team into a zone defense for the first time all game less than 5 minutes into the second half with the Commodores (9-5) trailing Georgia (9-5) 45-39. Inexplicably, Drew kept his team in this look for nearly the rest of the way, and Bulldog coach Tom Crean could not have been happier. After shooting just 2 of 12 from the perimeter in the game’s first 20 minutes, the Dawgs knocked down 7 of 14 three-point attempts in the second half and cruised to an 82-63 victory.

To be clear: this was just a one-point game at halftime, in Georgia’s favor. Typically, when a team begins to heat up from the outside, as UGA did on Wednesday, the opposing squad switches back into a man look. I’m not sure why Bryce Drew didn’t follow suit.

A huge contributor to UGA’s dominant second-half performance was sophomore Rayshaun Hammonds, who scored all 19 of his team-high points after the break. Rayshaun Hammonds started slow again after getting blanked against Tennessee in the SEC opener. The sophomore missed all four of his first-half field goal attempts as he looked out of sorts offensively to begin this one. Hammonds woke up quickly out of the intermission, however, as he scored 7 points before even 4 minutes had elapsed.

Teshaun Hightower provided a surprisingly productive 21 minutes for coach Crean, particularly in the first half. Hightower asserted himself more on offense as he made repeated concerted efforts to drive the ball at the rim, which resulted in 8 first half points to go along with 4 boards; the sophomore would finish with 11 points in the game. Of all the Georgia guards, Hightower is definitely the strongest candidate to take on the role of a legitimate point guard that can put some pressure on opposing defenses.

Defensively, the Dawgs did a great job of shutting down Vandy’s star point guard Saben Lee in the game’s second half. Lee gave Georgia fits prior to the break as he scored 10 points, with many of them coming near or at the rim. The UGA guards did a much better job of staying in front of him after the break, and they managed to limit Lee to just 2 second-half points.

Georgia definitely started this contest playing faster than it did last weekend in Knoxville against the Vols. The quicker pace created a helter skelter tempo early in the game that resulted in some sloppiness from both teams – Vandy had 7 turnovers in the first half to Georgia’s 8 giveaways; the Dores converted the UGA turnovers into 14 points prior to the intermission. The Dawgs quickly saw a 14-6 advantage turn into a 19-14 Vandy lead with a little over 11 minutes left in the half; Georgia had 4 turnovers during this stretch. Credit Tom Crean for settling his team down in the second half, where UGA committed just 4 more turnovers the rest of the way.

Georgia showed a lot of resilience in it win over Vandy on Wednesday night, especially considering the thrashing that the Dawgs received last weekend against Tennessee. Getting the conference win was absolutely crucial tonight as the Dawgs have a much taller task on Saturday when they travel to the Plains to take on the #11 Auburn Tigers.

Box Score:

Tennessee smacks Georgia 96-50 in a forgettable SEC opener

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Tennessee’s (12-1) 46-point win over the Georgia Bulldogs (8-5) this afternoon in Knoxville marked the largest margin of victory in the series since 1975, when Bernard King buried 18 field goals in a 36-point win for the Vols. The fact that Georgia scored a season-low 50 points certainly helped Rick Barnes’s team notch this accomplishment.

Much like last year, Georgia’s guard play is once again its Achilles heel. The Dawgs have no one that can put a defender on his back feet, and that’s a serious problem; especially when playing an elite team like Tennessee. As strong as UGA’s bigs may be, they will struggle to find offense against stout defensive teams that can exploit the Georgia backcourt. Tennessee pushed the Georgia guards well beyond the three-point line, which forced the Dawgs to attempt to start the offense 30 feet from the basket. No bueno.

The first half of this game was basically a train wreck for Georgia. Derek Ogbeide picked up 2 fouls in less than a minute to start the game. Not to be outdone, Nic Claxton tallied up 4 first half fouls and Rayshaun Hammonds picked up 3 himself. This trio had one more point (10) than total fouls before the break. Yikes.

Tennessee picked up Georgia full court on its first make in an effort to pressure the UGA guards and speed up Georgia’s offense. Let’s just say that Rick Barnes’s strategy worked out pretty well for his Volunteer team: UGA shot 33% from the floor and missed all 8 of its three-point attempts in the first half.

Georgia came out aggressive on defense to start this game by playing the Vols man-to-man. The foul trouble, however, forced Georgia to switch to zone, and Tennessee used the soft spots in that zone to heat up as they knocked down a barrage of mid-range jumpers. UGA’s defensive pressure seemed nonexistent as they forced Tennessee in to just 1 turnover in the game’s first 20 minutes. The Vols lit Georgia up from the field as they knocked down 57% of their shots, with stars Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield combining for 28 points prior to the break. Tennessee scored 53 points in the first half, which is the most points they’ve scored in a game all season before the intermission, and they took a 29-point advantage into the locker room.

For anyone still interested, they did in fact play a second half in Knoxville. Even with the huge lead, Tennessee continued to play with a greater level of intensity than Georgia. Even though Coach Barnes went deep into his bench following the intermission, his team still managed to extend the lead in this contest. Frankly, Tennessee is so talented that I’m fairly confident that the Vols’ bench would play a competitive game with Georgia, and they could quite possibly win.

Some lopsided stats from this one:

*Tennessee outrebounded Georgia 45 to 30

*Tennessee had 25 assists to Georgia’s 8

*Tennessee’s bench outscored Georgia’s 37-19

*Tennessee scored 25 points off turnovers to Georgia’s 3

*Tennessee scored 48 points in the paint to Georgia’s 26

The best thing Georgia can do is flush this one and focus on the SEC home opener coming up Wednesday against Vanderbilt, a team that UGA should be more competitive with.

Also, it wouldn’t hurt if Tom Crean could land a graduate transfer point guard that could step in and start immediately next season.

Box score: