Georgia comeback falls short against #3 Michigan State

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Georgia’s first 60-something minutes of basketball in Maui definitely felt alarming. This team, which is headed by the top recruit in the nation, Anthony Edwards, was supposed to be clearly better than last year’s squad. Yet, after getting dismantled by Dayton a day before, the Dawgs looked primed for another whipping as Sparty held a 52-31 advantage at the break. Coach Izzo’s team at one point in the second half was up by 28 points as Georgia fans sat wondering how this UGA team somehow appeared even worse than the one from the contest against the Flyers.

Eventually, Anthony “Ant Man” Edwards snapped out of a 3 for 18 shooting funk that he’d been harboring on the island and remembered that he’s the projected #2 pick in the NBA draft. Edwards spent the second half terrorizing the Michigan State defense as he hit 7 triples and scored 33 of his 37 game-high points. The freshman was so locked in that his teammates seemed content to step aside and let him go off, which turned out to be a decent strategy as the Dawgs made a game out of what was at one point a lopsided blowout.

Twice Georgia managed to cut the Sparty advantage to just 4 points, and each time State responded with a clutch three-pointer to keep the Dawgs at bay. Even though UGA failed to make it a one-possession game after the intermission, Edwards’s Herculean effort that nearly brought his team back from the dead salvaged what could have been a really depressing holiday tournament.

It wasn’t all Edwards

While the Ant Man’s offense was certainly instrumental in this comeback, Tom Crean deserves a lot of credit for shifting his team into an extended 2-3 zone midway through the second half and keeping them in it. After shooting a blistering 56% from the floor prior to the break, Sparty knocked down a more pedestrian 44% following the intermission. The Georgia zone took MSU out of its offensive rhythm, and the Spartans stopped getting as many easy looks close to the basket as they did in the first half.

Transition defense must improve

The game against Dayton and the first half of the one with Sparty really exposed UGA’s transition defense, or lack thereof. The Dawgs struggled to hit shots in the first 20 minutes of today’s contest (31%), and State capitalized on the Georgia misses by pushing the ball and scoring off the primary and secondary break.

The second half saw a decline in the number of transition opportunities for Sparty, but that is more a tribute to Edwards and the UGA offense connecting on over 50% of its attempts from the floor. By making shots, Georgia gave itself time to get back and set up the aforementioned zone that frustrated State. However, Crean and his staff must coach these guys up so that they don’t let so many misses on the offensive end turn into quick points on the other side of the court.

Up next

The Dawgs will take on Division-II Chaminade in the ultimate consolation game on Wednesday. The Silversords call Hawaii home, which is most likely how they slipped into this field. Hopefully, Georgia doesn’t have too much trouble dispatching a less talented opponent in its final Maui Invitational appearance.

Crean’s team takes on NC Central next week in Athens before a difficult road test at Arizona State on December 14th. The game in Tempe will be Georgia’s next opportunity to measure itself against a quality opponent.

Dawgs get a reality check from Dayton in Maui opener

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For Tom Crean, the first game of the Maui Invitational DID NOT go as planned. His Georgia Bulldogs (4-1) were thoroughly whipped by the Dayton Flyers (4-0) from the opening tip on a nationally televised game in one of the premier holiday tournaments. The Dawgs laid a dud in a contest that could have been a nice stepping stone for a program, and a coach, that is trying to gain relevance outside the state of Georgia.

Twice in the second half the Dawgs briefly threatened Dayton by trimming the lead to 13 points, but on each occasion the Flyers responded with three-pointers that quickly put to rest any hopes that Georgia had of making this contest at all competitive.

Dayton manhandled UGA on both sides of the ball for pretty much the entire game. The Flyers defense sped Crean’s young team up and forced them into 23 turnovers. The Dawgs’ offense began this game incredibly stagnant as they battled the shot clock, dribbled too much and settled for too many contested jumpers. UGA had not faced a team of this calibre yet, and it was evident by how lost the Dawgs looked offensively.

Conversely, Dayton had little trouble putting the ball through the net, especially forward Obi Toppin, who had 12 points before the first media timeout. Georgia foolishly tried to defend Toppin with just its bigs, and that strategy proved futile as the sophomore hit 9 of 11 from the field en route to a game-high 25 points. Considering that UGA’s frontcourt is not its strength, one has to wonder why Crean didn’t begin this game with his guards doubling down to help on Toppin.

Announcer Jay Bilas stated before the game that roughly 30 NBA scouts were on hand for this matchup to see both Toppin and Georgia freshman Anthony Edwards. While Toppin certainly bolstered his NBA stock, Edwards failed to demonstrate why he is currently projected to be the 2nd pick in next year’s draft. The freshman had only 2 points at the half and finished with just 6 after an abysmal 2 of 10 shooting effort to go along with 3 turnovers. I realize that this was only the 5th game of his collegiate career, but I expected Edwards to be able to get points off the dribble, regardless of the team or defender; Dayton’s Rodney Chatman (from Lithonia, GA) had Edwards bottled up the entire game.

UGA’s other leading scorer, Rayshaun Hammonds, had a forgettable morning himself as he mustered up as many points (5) as he did fouls (5). Hammonds never got going in this one due to being in foul trouble the entire contest. The junior led the Dawgs with 91 personal fouls last season, which is strange since he’s not a shot blocker or an overly physical defender. I’m not sure why Hammonds can’t avoid fouling, but with the lack of depth on this team, he’s going to have to figure it out or SEC play is going to be brutal for this squad.

Hammonds and Edwards had just two points between them at the half, so it wasn’t surprising to see Georgia heading to the intermission trailing 43-25.

It’s still early in the season and UGA has a lot of guys playing their first year of college basketball, so I’m hoping this debacle can be chalked up as a learning experience and something this team can grow from. However, Georgia’s shot selection and overall ineptness on offense against a quality opponent felt eerily similar to what transpired on that side of the ball last season when the Dawgs struggled to get points, as they were 10th in the SEC in scoring in conference games. In addition, last year Georgia led the league in turnovers per game because they didn’t value the basketball, much like today.

The Dawgs actually shot it well today as they hit 49% from the floor; however, it’s really hard to win games when the opponent gets 8 extra possessions via turnovers, especially when that opponent is a potential NCAA Tournament team.

Dawgs topple Tech in Athens 82-78

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After three cakewalks to begin the 2019-2020 slate, Tom Crean’s team got its first test of the season as the Georgia Bulldogs (4-0) took on their in-state rival, the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (2-1). This Georgia Tech team surprised a lot of people in its season opener when they went into Raleigh and got an 82-81 win over N.C. State, a team the media projected to be 5th in the ACC.

The game started out a little rocky as both teams were no doubt feeling some pregame jitters as it took almost 3 minutes before Michael Devoe, who netted 34 points, broke the scoring drought with a triple. The Dawgs didn’t get on the board until Rayshaun Hammonds knocked down a jumper after nearly 5 minutes had eclipsed.

Georgia had trouble dealing with Tech’s size inside, especially with the presence of 6’10” senior James Banks, who ended up with 6 blocks on the night. UGA tried to force the issue a little too much earlier on in the paint via their bigs; Georgia is going to face the challenge of dealing with bigger opposing frontcourts all season, but they seem to get to the rim better off of cuts from the wing position, especially when those cutters are Hammonds and Anthony Edwards.

Shockingly, the Dawgs managed to surpass 80 points despite the slow start.

Georgia’s offense COULD become dangerous

Even with a double-digit lead late the in the game, the Georgia offense remained aggressive in attacking the rim. Gone are the Mark Fox days of yore of running shot clock down the stretch and hoping to hold onto leads. Tom Crean’s team is playing fast no matter the time or situation, as evidenced by the high-flying alley-oop that Toumani Camara caught from Sahvir Wheeler with less than 3 minutes remaining in the game.

Rayshaun Hammonds was obviously the star of the night offensively has he played his best game of his career (and certainly his best first half) in which he scored 26 points to go with 9 boards. The junior from Atlanta was unconscious through the initial 20 minutes of this contest as he poured in 19 points on an array of triples and layups.

Freshman Anthony Edwards struggled in the first half as he failed to convert a field goal and mustered just 2 points. Josh Pastner had his team moving in and out of zone defenses, but no matter the look, whenever Edwards touched the ball he immediately had a second Tech defender shading over near him. Edwards tried to press things offensively and didn’t find much success on that side of the ball prior to the intermission.

However, when Hammonds headed to the bench with 26 points and his 4th foul with 10:16 left in the game and the Dawgs up 56-48, Edwards took over and scored 9 points during the nearly 5 minute stretch that Hammonds sat on the bench. He ended up with 16 second half points, and he did a much better job of waiting until he had the matchup he wanted before attacking off the dribble; Edwards also moved great without the ball as he scored multiple baskets off of backdoor cuts to the rim. Even though he was an all-world recruit, it’s still hard to believe that this was just his 4th collegiate game because he looks so comfortable on the court.

Sahvir Wheeler and Tyree Crump came up huge tonight in supporting roles on offense. Wheeler, who is just a treat to watch, continues to create offense off of penetration for both himself and his teammates as he finished the night with 5 assists. Crump played within himself and did not force his shots from the perimeter as he notched 11 points, which included some timely three-pointers to keep the Jackets at bay in the second half.

This Georgia team has not had this many potential scoring options on offense since the 2015 NCAA Tournament team that included Kenny Gaines, Charles Mann, Marcus Thornton, J.J. Frazier, Neme Djurisic and Yante Maten.

Georgia’s offense tonight was so much more effective from the left side of the court, which I attribute to Hammonds performance. He doesn’t really have a right hand, so to speak, so on nights like tonight when Hammonds has it cooking it makes sense that UGA would keep the ball on that side where he is more comfortable operating.

The UGA defense looked better this evening than it has this season

Despite allowing Devoe to reach 34 points, overall, the Georgia defense played fairly well. The Dawgs were intense for most of the game as they jumped into passing lanes and managed to notch 8 steals while forcing the Jackets into 15 turnovers. Crean’s team also outrebounded Tech by a count of 42-40, which is impressive considering the Jackets had a height advantage inside.

Tom Crean came to Georgia with the reputation of putting together long defenses that pressured teams to the half court line and created a lot of deflections and steals. That’s certainly how his most successful Indiana teams played. Tonight, UGA had that look on defense, and it’s exactly how this Georgia team will need to play every night since they will be the smaller team more often than not.

Up next

This evening’s victory of the Yellow Jackets marks the 5th in a row for Georgia, and it give the Dawgs a solid dose of momentum as they prepare to head to Maui next week for a challenging tournament that begins with a tough opener against an undefeated Dayton team. The winner will most likely face Michigan State in the second round.

Box Score:

Georgia beats Citadel 95-86 in the game that defense forgot

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The most glaring disparity between the Georgia Bulldogs (2-0) and The Citadel Bulldogs (0-2) was that UGA had Anthony Edwards and the other Bulldogs did not. Edwards scored a number of important baskets down the stretch in this game, but none were more critical than his answer to Hayden Brown’s bucket to make it a one possession game (87-85, UGA) with 3:04 left. On the ensuing possession, the Ant Man floated from underneath the goal to somehow find a crease to stick in a lay-up that Georgia desperately needed that put the Dawgs up 89-85 with 2:40 remaining.

Edwards finished with a game-high 29 points to go along with 5 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 steals. He is so good with the ball around the rim that I hope that he doesn’t just settle for perimeter shots as he did at times tonight, especially when he’s knocking down just 2 of 9 from beyond the arc.

Georgia’s guards could be really good

In addition to having a potential NBA lottery pick on the roster, UGA has two solid guards in freshman Sahvir Wheeler and graduate transfer Donnell Gresham.

Wheeler is so good at getting everyone involved in the offense. At one point in the first half, he penetrated into the lane on three consecutive possessions and dished out assists to Rayshaun Hammonds, Tyree Crump and Amanze Ngumezi for 7 straight Georgia points. He has a knack for drawing the attention of multiple defenders, which translates into scores of open looks for his teammates. Wheeler played an incredibly productive 21 minutes in which he scored 10 points and handed out 8 assists. The fact that he nearly notched a double-double in just half the game is somewhat astounding.

While Gresham does not possess the dribble-drive threat of Wheeler, he provides Georgia with a steady presence from the perimeter both offensively and defensively. The senior shot over 40% from beyond the arc during his tenure at Northeastern, and hopefully Coach Crean can find ways for him to get more looks moving forward with this UGA squad. Gresham ended up with 10 points on a 2 of 4 shooting performance from the perimeter, and he was one of the few Bulldog defenders that understood defensive positioning in this one as he snagged 5 boards to go along with 3 steals.

What’s up with Georgia’s defense?

The guy I mentioned at the top of the post – Hayden Brown – scored a career high 26 points tonight in Stegeman. Last year, he averaged 7.2 a night. The Dawgs should be embarrassed about how easy Brown made things look tonight in Athens, because he is not a 20+ points a night kind of player.

The UGA defense – both the halfcourt and transition – is still a work in process. WAY too often the Charleston Bulldogs had players skating free to the bucket against Georgia’s defense nearly unopposed. Currently, UGA’s help defense is super sloppy, which is a big reason Citadel scored 86 points and shot almost 50% from the field. Georgia’s perimeter defense needs work, too, as the Dawgs were slow to close out all night on shooters, and Citadel took advantage by canning 14 triples (42%). This was surprising considering that Citadel was second in the country last year in three-point attempts per game (36); it’s their modus operandi, if you will, which made me think Georgia would have appeared better prepared.

At what point does the green light turn red?

I’m aware of the old adage that basically says that you never tell a shooter not to shoot because they will eventually shoot themselves out of a slump. However, did Tyree Crump reach that tipping point this evening? Crump hoisted up three-pointer after three-pointer despite not having a ton of success; he finished 2 for 11 from beyond the arc. The senior has the potential to become a real hinderance to this team’s offense if he is going to continue to take shots from the outside on nights when he clearly just doesn’t have it.

Final thoughts

This was just the second game of the season, so the Dawgs continue to get a pass for sloppiness and missteps. Hopefully this team can find a way to improve quickly because after Delaware State this Friday the schedule becomes more daunting as they have Georgia Tech and the Maui Tournament on the horizon.

But hey, it could be worse. I mean, at least they didn’t lose to a mid-major on their home court like Kentucky tonight.

Box score:

Dawgs overwhelm WCU late

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Quite possibly the biggest takeaway from Georgia’s 91-72 win over Western Carolina tonight in the season opener is that there really aren’t any significant takeaways. Last year, the Dawgs opened the season by blowing the doors off of Savannah State 110 to 76, and many fans clamoured that the “Tom Crean Era” of offense had officially begun. In reality, Georgia had one of the least efficient offenses in 2019 SEC play as they struggled to score points in league games.

Obviously, people didn’t expect the Catamounts, who were projected to finish 7th in the Southern Conference prior to the start of the season, to hold a 58-57 lead with a little over 9 minutes remaining in the game. But this is an incredibly young Georgia team playing in its first game together EVER. UGA has its own little Kentucky-like situation going on right now, and it’s on Tom Crean to determine the best combinations of his new talent with returning starters Rayshaun Hammonds, Tyree Crump and Jordan Harris (when he returns December 20th from his 9-game suspension for an “internal matter”).

Here’s what went well:

Freshman sensation Anthony “Ant Man” Edwards lived up to all of the hype that’s been following him around since he set foot in Athens. Edwards finished with a game-high 24 points to go along with 9 boards. His three-point shot appeared effortless as he buried 4 of 7 attempts, and 3 of those came in the second half and helped ignite an 11-2 Georgia run that put the Dawgs up 79-65 with just 2:25 left. Edwards looks comfortable with the ball in his hands, and he seemingly has no trouble facilitating offense from the point guard position.

Edwards, however, is projected to be the #2 pick in next year’s NBA Draft, so his success was somewhat expected. The surprise of the night had to be freshman point guard Sahvir Wheeler, who came off the bench to spark the UGA offense. Wheeler pushed the tempo while he was in the game, and he showed a strong prowess for finishing at the rim. The lefty ended up with 19 points and 3 assists, and I don’t really see how Crean can keep him out of the starting lineup for much longer. Wheeler’s ability to penetrate and keep defenders on their heels should free the Ant Man up for more open looks from the perimeter.

Areas for concern:

The losses of Nic Claxton and Derek Ogbeide left a gaping hole in the Georgia frontcourt as those two combined for over 32% of the scoring and nearly 40% of the rebounding. It’s no secret that UGA’s interior defense will more than likely be the Achilles’ heel of this team. Western Carolina’s Carlos Dotson, a load at 6’7″, 270 lbs and a member of the preseason All-SoCon Team, notched 17 points to go along with 15 boards as he manhandled the Georgia bigs in the paint. Amanze Ngumezi, who Crean will be counting on to hold it down in the interior, mustered just 4 points in 9 minutes of play due to his 4 personal fouls. Ngumezi is going to have the tall task of defending the opposing team’s largest player(s) all season, and unfortunately for him, that job is only going to become more challenging when this team enters conference play.

Georgia’s other forward, junior Rayshaun Hammonds, still looks like an unfinished product offensively. Hammonds shot just 2 of 12 from the floor on Tuesday as he struggled both around the rim and with his outside shot. With all these newbies on the court for the Dawgs, Hammonds has to be a steady presence on offense to keep teams more honest in how they defend the Ant Man.

Up next:

The Dawgs have a week to practice before returning to action next Tuesday when they host The Citadel inside Stegeman.

Box Score: