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Final thoughts on the 2018-2019 season as well as looking ahead

A short recap of the season

The Georgia Bulldogs (11-21, 2-16) were projected to finish 13th in the SEC prior to the start of the 2018-2019 season, and Tom Crean’s first UGA team fulfilled that prophecy as they ended up one spot above winless Vanderbilt.

Crean is going to get a pass on his initial year of running this program. For the first half of the season, he attempted to shift the tempo of this team from neutral to 4th gear almost instantaneously. That experiment did not go well, particularly in SEC play as the Bulldogs were turning the ball over at a torrid pace.

Eventually, Crean made the decision to put the fast-paced style of play on hold so that he could put this team in the best position to win based upon the players on the roster. The result: after 3 consecutive double-digit losses to Alabama, Ole Miss and Texas A&M, the Dawgs started to compete. Georgia lost a string of heartbreakers to LSU, Missy State, Ole Miss and Auburn before finally breaking through with an amazing 61-55 road upset at Florida.

The remainder of the season became rather dismal as UGA lost Rayshaun Hammonds to a foot injury, and the Dawgs dropped the last three games to Missouri (twice) and South Carolina in an unsightly fashion; Georgia shot below 40% from the floor in each of those games.

Ultimately, this team lacked the guards to be successful in conference play, which is why Crean cannot be faulted for the unsightly league record that this team produced.

Surprises from this year

Even though it was definitely expected of him, Nic Claxton’s ascension from year one to year two was certainly impressive. The sophomore led the Dawgs in minutes, points, rebounds, steals and blocks en route earning Second Team All-SEC honors in just his second season of college basketball. Last year, Claxton showcased flashes of his shot-blocking ability, which he regularly put on display this season. However, this year with Yante Maten’s departure, the sophomore took on a much larger role in the offense, especially as one of its primary ball-handlers. Claxton displayed a level of versatility this year that is atypical in a 6’11” big, and his talents have not gone unnoticed as he is showing up in the first round of NBADraft.net’s 2020 mock draft.

The most pleasant surprise of this Georgia basketball season had to be the development of junior Jordan Harris. The former 4-star recruit had failed to live up to potential in his first two years in Athens before being removed from the team by former skipper Mark Fox. Crean gave Harris a second chance, and the junior didn’t disappoint, particularly in the latter portion of the season. Harris scored in double-figures in 10 of the final 14 games for Georgia as he averaged nearly 12 ppg during that stretch, including a career-high 26-point performance in the SEC tournament loss to Missouri. Over the course of the season, Jordan morphed into this team’s best rim attacker off the dribble, and he should be a double-digit contributor in scoring for his senior season.

Players who need to improve

Prior to the start of the season, I expected both Rayshaun Hammonds and Tyree Crump to flourish under the new regime. In his freshman season, Mark Fox sort of forced Rayshaun Hammonds to play on the block with his back to the basket, and he looked visibly uncomfortable. Crump seemingly got pulled after every mistake under Fox, which made it nearly impossible for him to develop any type of offensive rhythm.

Coach Crean loosened the reins on both of these guys by playing Hammonds on the wing and letting Crump be Crump (which means shooting the ball a lot from beyond the arc). Once SEC play began, both of these players began to fade offensively. Hammonds ended up averaging just 9.7 ppg in conference games; Crump shot under 30% from the perimeter as he netted only 7.6 ppg himself. These guys should have been double-digit scorers for Crean this season, yet they couldn’t make it happen.

Looking ahead

To put it simply, Crean is recruiting at a Kirby-like level. After this weekend’s addition of 6’6″ wing Christian Brown, UGA now has 4 players coming in next year from the ESPN100 list, highlighted by McDonald’s All-American Anthony Edwards. Georgia currently has the #6 class in the nation for 2019, according to 247sports.com. The last time UGA had a Top 10 recruiting class in basketball was…

As exciting as this new crop of Dawgs will be for Crean next year, if Claxton departs early, which apparently is a possibility, it would certainly take some wind out of the 2019-2020 season’s sail. Georgia is already losing its best back-to-the-basket scorer in Derek Ogbeide, so losing Claxton would really put a damper on the Dawgs’ frontcourt. Personally, I believe he needs another year. At best, he goes in the second round, which means far less money. Also, I know that the fact that Claxton grew late in high school is a big reason why he’s such a good ball-handler, but it’s also a big reason why he often does not take the ball to the basket like a 6’11” center. Nic needs to stop attacking the rim with the ball on his shoulder like a guard, or the NBA will be a very unkind environment for him.

Should Claxton stay, Georgia could certainly be somewhere around the NCAA bubble next March.

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Dawgs fizzle in season finale against Gamecocks

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I think it’s safe to say that the South Carolina Gamecocks officially own the Georgia Bulldogs (11-20, 2-16) on the basketball court. After today’s 66-46 drubbing at the hands of Frank Martin’s team, the Dawgs have now dropped 6 straight contests to the team from Columbia.

All things told, this was a tough week for Georgia basketball. After 4 consecutive, heartbreakingly close losses, the Dawgs finally pushed through and earned a surprise upset win at Florida last Saturday. UGA followed their 2nd SEC win of the season with a pair of duds, with the one today being slightly more bearable to take in than the no-show against Missouri on Wednesday. If you are a fan of offense, then this week failed you terribly as the Dawgs scored a total of 85 points in both games. Sheesh.

Despite the lopsided final score, Georgia actually had an opportunity to get itself back in the game in the second half (the first half was almost Missouri-level painful, but we’ll jump into that a little later).

Coming out of the break, the Dawgs showed a full court 1-2-2 zone press that really tripped up the Gamecocks as they scored just 5 points in the initial 11 minutes of the second half. Following a pair of free throws from senior Derek Ogbeide, the Dawgs trailed Carolina 49-39 with 9:05 left. Considering that Georgia was down by 23 points at the break, it seemed unbelievable that the Dawgs had a shot to cut the lead to single digits after the atrocious 20 minutes of defense that Tom Crean’s team “played” in the first half.

Even though the Gamecocks managed only 2 field goals after nearly 13 minutes of play had transpired in the second half, the Dawgs failed to trim the Carolina advantage to under 10 points.

Other than some early sparks from both Derek Ogbeide and Nic Claxton, Georgia’s offense was fairly subpar on Saturday in Columbia. As has been the case all season, UGA couldn’t hang on to the ball as the Dawgs turned it over 20 times, and the Gamecocks converted those extra possessions into 24 points. Offensively, the Dawgs have done way too much dribbling and one-on-one basketball this week, which is not a good look for this team. Georgia has been at its best this season when the ball and players are constantly shifting and moving to different spots on the court. However, in today’s game, much like against Missouri, the Dawgs just didn’t look very poised on offense. It’s possible that with Rayshaun Hammonds done for the year, some of his teammates may be ready to call this season a wrap as well.

Tom Crean’s team had a field goal drought of 8:08 in the first half, and they followed that up by not scoring a field goal for the final 10:29 of this game. Even though they were losing multiple close games, this UGA team was still fun to watch; lately, that hasn’t been the case, and I have zero clue as to what this team’s mindset could possibly be as they head into the first round of the SEC tournament set to rematch a Missouri team that just held them to 39 points in Stegeman on Senior Night.

The only silver lining from this one is that it’s the last time that Georgia has to face Chris Silva, who had 24 points on the afternoon; he’s been an instrumental part of the Gamecocks’ current win streak against the Dawgs.

In addition to turnovers, here are a few more things that Georgia doesn’t do well:

  • Defensive rebound: UGA entered this contest tied for 12th in the SEC in offensive rebounds allowed, and they gave up another 13 today against South Carolina. The strength of this Georgia team is supposed to be its frontcourt, yet the Dawgs can’t keep opponents off the glass, which is confounding.
  • Turn teams over: not only is Georgia one of the worst teams in the conference in regards to turnovers, but the Dawgs are last in the SEC in forcing opponents into turnovers (9.9) – South Carolina committed just 9 today. Tom Crean preaches deflections and how critical they are and have been in his defensive systems, but Georgia fans have yet to see what that actually looks like; hopefully that strategy becomes more concrete next season.

Box score:

Missouri brings Georgia back down to earth in 64-39 thrashing

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The Georgia Bulldogs (11-19, 2-15) got destroyed by a Missouri Tiger team that entered last night’s game with just 2 more conference wins than the Dawgs, on Senior Night, nonetheless. After earning just its second SEC win of the season on the road in dramatic fashion against NCAA tournament-hopeful Florida, the Dawgs returned home on Wednesday to play arguably one of the worst games of basketball in the history of Stegeman Coliseum. How does THAT happen? My only surmise, as ridiculous as it sounds, is that Georgia could not handle its success of winning, despite the fact that it’s only happened twice, and the Dawgs entered this contest with the expectation that they would win. If anyone has any other theories, please share them below.

This game was nearly unwatchable. After more than 5 minutes of play, the score was still merely 2-2. The outside shooting was just atrocious as Missouri and Georgia combined to miss their first 25 three-point attempts.

UGA’s offense looked stagnant the entire night. The Dawgs did WAY too much dribbling and standing around. Tom Crean preaches playing fast and constant movement, but on Wednesday he was coaching statues. By halftime, Georgia had managed just 14 points on a 23% shooting effort that included too many selfish looks from numerous Bulldog players.

The second half was just a continuation in mediocrity for the Dawgs. Following the intermission, Georgia went almost 9 minutes without a field goal, and it wasn’t until JoJo Toppin connected on the first triple of his career that the Dawgs ended that drought. Unfortunately, by that point Missouri’s 9-point halftime advantage had blossomed to 38-19, and the route was officially on as the Tigers offense had begun to awaken.

There’s probably more that I could write about or discuss regarding last night’s game, but honestly, it was just so pitiful, that I’m kind of at a loss for words. The only silver-lining from Wednesday is the hilarity in the fact that these two teams could rematch in the first round of the SEC tournament next week if the Tigers remain a game behind Texas A&M.

Eye-popping stats

  • Missouri had 50 rebounds to Georgia’s 28 (the Tigers also had 16 offensive boards)
  • Missouri shot 45% from the floor compared to Georgia’s 25%
  • UGA did not have one player finish in double-figures
  • Missouri had 40 points in the paint to Georgia’s 14

Box score:

Dawgs end losing streak (and possibly Florida’s NCAA chances)

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Georgia closes one out

Jalen Hudson hit a jumper to cut Georgia’s (11-18, 2-14) advantage to 51-50 with 4:13 left in the game. On the road in a must-win game for the home team, this was the moment where UGA should have folded. Instead, the Dawgs went 4 for 4 from the floor during the final 4 minutes, which enabled Tom Crean’s team to preserve a 61-55 victory that snapped a 13-game conference losing streak.

This one had to feel good for just about everyone involved.

Jordan Harris, who was less involved offensively as he had been recently, converted maybe his biggest field goal of his career on a drive that sent the Dawgs up 59-55 with only 27 seconds remaining.

Nic Claxton also contributed two buckets during the aforementioned stretch. Claxton finished with a career-high 25 points as he shouldered the majority of the offense in this one with teammate Rayshaun Hammonds playing limited minutes due to a foot injury. Claxton knocked down both his three-point attempts, and he abused the Florida big men off the dribble for much of the night. This effort by the Georgia sophomore was certainly the first time this season he has played the part of “go-to” man for this team for the entire game, and it’s certainly a good look for Claxton.

UGA’s man defense

Tom Crean and his staff deserve a huge “attaboy” for the scout job and defensive strategy that they put together for this one. Coach Crean had his team matchup in a man defense for most of this contest, and Florida had no answer, especially as the the UGA defenders switched on nearly everything in an attempt to better contest perimeter shots. After the initial 6 minutes of play, the Gators had scored only 6 points as they struggled to adjust to the relentless Georgia pressure.

Georgia’s defensive numbers in this game were just sublime. UGA held the Gators to their second-lowest offensive output in SEC play, with lowest being the 54 points Florida mustered against Kentucky; the Gators shot under 40% from the floor, and they made only 5 of their 21 three-point attempts. KeVaughn Allen, who’s been netting nearly 15 points a night in league games, managed just 5 points on a forgettable 1 for 10 shooting performance. Georgia did such a good job of blanketing Allen that at times it was easy to forget that the senior was even participating in this contest.

The only flaw in the Georgia defensive effort was the Dawgs’ inability to secure defensive rebounds, which has been a struggle for this team all season. UGA entered this game 11th in the league in defensive rebound percentage (67%), which is the number of defensive boards a team gets plus the number of offensive rebounds yielded divided by its total rebounds. This statistic basically illuminates how well a team is at preventing opponents from getting second-chance opportunities because the higher the defensive rebound percentage, the less offensive rebounds a team is allowing. On Saturday, Georgia yielded 12 offensive rebounds to the Gators, and fortunately for Tom Crean’s team those only resulted in 6 second-chance points for Florida.

Dawgs flip the script

The basic narrative for a UGA basketball game this season, especially in league play, has been something like this:

  • Georgia takes lead early
  • Dawgs get careless with the ball and fall apart towards the end of the first half (most likely trail by double-digits)
  • UGA plays itself back into the game to start second half
  • Georgia either fades down the stretch and inevitably loses (possibly in heartbreaking fashion)

This one started out according to script, with UGA opening up an 18-8 advantage with 11:18 left in the half after Claxton buried a triple. The Dawgs were careless with the basketball as they turned it over 11 times in the first half, and those mishaps led to 15 Gator points. However, UGA’s defense kept them in it and that was a huge reason why Georgia trailed by just a point at the intermission. As frustrating as it must have been for Tom Crean to see his team shoot 55% from the floor prior to the break and still be down, he had to take some satisfaction in that the giveaways did not turn into a huge Florida lead.

The Gators came out of the gates firing on all cylinders to start the second half as Mike White’s team scored 6 quick points to build up a 34-27 lead. But Georgia hung around and methodically continued to chip away at the Florida advantage until Tye Fagan buried a triple that helped his team retake the lead 41-39 with over 11 minutes of gametime remaining. Even more importantly, Georgia only turned the ball over 4 times following the intermission, and Florida managed just 1 point off those hiccups.

The end of the game, which I covered at the top of this post, was obviously different than the last 4 game’s story lines because Georgia learned how to close out and finish.

Final thoughts

This team has been on the cusp of snapping this losing streak for two weeks now, and the fact that the Dawgs, who have suffered a string of crushingly close losses, continued to play with a lot of fight and intensity is a testament to both the players and Coach Crean.

Georgia ending its losing streak without its second-leading scorer is just another aspect of this contest that makes last night’s win even more amazing. Add in the salt that Florida fans have to be feeling considering that A) this transpired on their court and B) this loss could eliminate the Gators from an at-large bid, and UGA fans should be all smiles on Sunday.

Box score: