Some observations of Georgia basketball as 2019 ends

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The preseason is essentially over for the Georgia Bulldogs (9-3). Even though the game against #9 Memphis this Saturday is not a conference game, it will be a difficult test nonetheless, and it sets the table for a REALLY challenging stretch of SEC games that has Georgia playing #17 Kentucky and #8 Auburn in the first week of SEC play.

With that being said, here are some observations and questions I have for this year’s UGA basketball team after seeing them play 12 games:

UGA is not a terribly deep basketball team (yet). Next year, Georgia will have more depth as the freshmen become sophomores. However, at the moment, the Dawgs have quite the drop off on the offensive end when Anthony Edwards and Rayshaun Hammonds are not on the floor.

Against Austin Peay, Hammonds picked up his 2nd foul with 13:54 left in the first half and the Dawgs leading 16-8. Edwards eventually got a blow, and the Governors started showing Georgia some 1-3-1 and 2-3 zone looks. The UGA reserves did not handle the Austin Peay zones well as they settled for long three-pointers; the Dawgs made just 2 of 12 from beyond the arc prior to the break. In addition, Georgia played carelessly as they gave the ball away 11 times before the intermission. The offense had zero purpose. On multiple possessions, UGA didn’t have anyone filling in the high post position in the middle of the Austin Peay defense, a tenet of any respectable zone offense. Georgia’s offensive futility allowed the Governors to close out the half with an 8-0 run to make it 31-26 at the break.

Hammonds has got to do better than last year at staying out of foul trouble because Crean needs some combination of him, Edwards and Sahvir Wheeler on the court at nearly all times.

Georgia’s defense is definitely improving. UGA shut the Governors’ offense down completely on Monday night as they held them to just 48 points. The Dawgs limited Austin Peay to merely 26% from the floor and only 15% from beyond the arc, and they permitted the Governors just 4 second chance points.

Tom Crean has most likely been preaching the importance of communicating on the defensive side of the ball because the Dawgs look far less lost than they did at the start of the season. Georgia’s rotations on defense were nonexistent at times in previous games, and that led to a number of uncontested drives and alley-oops for opponents. However, those plays are becoming less common, to the point that I don’t recall Austin Peay getting a single bucket in that fashion.

Georgia will need to continue to talk and be aggressive on defense with the hope that they can frustrate teams around the perimeter to take some pressure off its undersized frontcourt.

Could Donnell Gresham get an expanded role in this team’s offense? In his 4 years at Northeastern, Gresham made a lofty 41% of his three-point attempts, which is the reason that Crean courted him to this team. Crean’s offensive philosophy involves shooting triples at a high rate, so naturally he needed to add more outside threats to the roster to make that an effective strategy.

Prior to Monday, Gresham had connected on only 3 of his 18 attempts from perimeter this season. Against Austin Peay, the senior made 3 of 5 triples and ended up being Georgia’s second-leading scorer on the night with 11 points. So far this season, UGA hasn’t been highly-efficient from the three-point line, where Georgia is making just 30% of its attempts.

Tyree Crump, who is making only 31% of his three-pointers, is averaging over 7 attempts a night to Gresham’s 1.9. Georgia is going to score more points if these guys are taking 4 to 5 attempts each as I think Gresham will ultimately make more shots from the outside than Crump.

Rayshaun Hammonds cannot have a significant decline in offensive production once SEC play begins. In his first two years in Athens, Hammonds contributed way more in the non-conference portion of the schedule:

  • Freshman year: Hammonds averaged 7.8 ppg before the SEC slate; he scored only 5.9 ppg in league games.
  • Sophomore year: Hammonds averaged 15 ppg before the SEC slate; he scored just 9.9 ppg in league games.

Rayshaun is currently netting 14 ppg for the Dawgs and that needs to continue into conference play.

A closer look at the UGA offense

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Georgia’s (8-3) 73-64 win over Georgia Southern (8-5) was probably closer than most Dawgs’ fans had hoped. UGA trailed the Eagles by 3 points at the half, and Georgia’s little brother from down south actually held a 1-point advantage with 4:44 left in the game.

This result isn’t that surprising, though, considering that Georgia was coming off of a heroic double-overtime win over SMU, coupled with the fact that Tom Crean’s team is just really young. In this case, it’s better to reserve too much judgement until this squad starts grinding through its SEC schedule, which will be a much more telling measuring stick of the state of the UGA program.

The Bulldogs’ defense, which has been suspect at times this season, put forth one of its better efforts as UGA held a team that typically scores 79 points to just 64. In addition, the Eagles managed only 40% from the floor and they committed 13 turnovers that Georgia manufactured into 19 points.

However, my main interest in writing about this game is to focus on the UGA offense.

Assistant coach Joe Scott spent time on the Princeton staff in the late 90’s in the same capacity as his role at UGA. During his time there, Princeton enjoyed 3 trips to the NCAA tournament using an inventive offense that scored tons of points off of backdoor cuts that came from players moving well without the ball.

Scott’s influence on this UGA offense is certainly noticeable. Now that Georgia has two players that can drive the ball into the middle of the lane off the dribble (Anthony Edwards and Savhir Wheeler), the Dawgs are getting a number of buckets each game from players cutting to the basket from the baseline when those lower level defenders commit to the ball. Against Georgia Southern, the Dawgs had 4 alley-oop dunks, a play that has not been a staple of UGA basketball for some time (albeit, two of them actually came off of breaks).

Toumani Camara looked the best of anyone yesterday at getting himself into the soft spots of the Georgia Southern zone, and he was rewarded by this movement as he had his strongest game of the year in which he scored 16 points on an 8 for 8 performance from the floor (to go along with 7 rebounds). The key will be if Camara can maintain this time of production against more stout competition next month.

The offense comes to a grinding halt when both Edwards and Wheeler are not on the court, though. Georgia opened up a 10-2 lead in a little over 3 minutes to start the game. Anthony Edwards started out great as he knocked down two mid-range jumpers before hitting his first triple en route a fast 7 points. However, just like last game, the Ant Man picked up 2 fouls early and he had to head to the bench before the first media timeout.

Wheeler entered the game, but he eventually got a rest while Edwards was still sitting, and the Eagles turned an 8-point deficit into a 23-22 lead with a little over 7 minutes remaining in the half. With both the freshmen on the bench, the Dawgs offense turned into an uglier version of itself in which the ball just swung around the perimeter until someone hoisted up a deep three-point attempt.

The problem with this kind of offense is that Georgia really isn’t a good three-point shooting team right now. To be more exact, UGA is making just 29% of its attempts from beyond the arc, which has them in a three-way tie for 313th in the nation. That’s ineffective to the point where the three-point attempts are almost beginning to feel like turnovers.

What’s even more frustrating is that the Dawgs are great at scoring inside the perimeter, and a lot of that can be attributed to the work of the aforementioned Coach Scott. UGA is currently the 7th best team in the nation at making two-pointers (57%). Both the Ant Man and Wheeler can get by just about anyone and get the ball into the lane, but they just aren’t doing that enough, especially Edwards.

Late in the game against the Eagles, Edwards, who finished with 23 points, had two sensational drives off the dribble that resulted with him getting easy points at the rim. He needs to do this more. A lot more. First off, getting those buckets and seeing the ball go through the net will help him feel more comfortable from the perimeter (that’s exactly how he started this game). Plus, it puts so much more pressure on opposing defenses and will undoubtedly get Georgia to the foul line in a bonus capacity on a regular basis.

I know that Crean wants his teams to shoot a lot of triples, and I believe Georgia has the players to hit those shots, but this squad is so much more successful from the perimeter off the kick out pass than trying to get those shots off the dribble. UGA doesn’t necessarily need to shoot less three-pointers, but they do need to be conscious of how they are getting those attempts.

Georgia has one last tune up (Austin Peay) before the schedule becomes grueling: at #9 Memphis, #19 Kentucky and then at #8 Auburn. Much like Camara, I expect this team to continue to improve and get better as the season progresses and the freshmen grow and mature.

Dawgs win a thriller 87-85 over SMU in double OT

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The Georgia Bulldogs (7-3) double-overtime win over the SMU Mustangs (8-2) on Friday night in Athens may have only been a Quadrant III win in the eyes of the NCAA, but in some ways it was miraculous that UGA managed to come away with a victory at all.

At the end of regulation, the Dawgs had to stop the Mustangs not once, not twice, but thrice before forcing the game into overtime thanks to a jump ball and a lackadaisical turnover on an inbounds play. Not to pile on the Ponies too much, but they also kicked away a 5 point lead with 30 seconds remaining in the first overtime. SMU even had a shot to take the lead in the last 40 seconds of the second overtime only to come up short.

The Ponies’ inability to finish on second chances at the end of this one was sort of a microcosm of the night as they got outscored 22-19 by UGA on second chance points despite bringing down an astounding 26 offensive boards.

The moment, or moments, were never to big for freshman Sahvir Wheeler, who scored both the tying basket in the first OT and the go-ahead bucket in the second one to win the game for Georgia. Anthony Edwards is obviously the most special talent on this team, but one could come up with a decent argument that Wheeler is equally as important. Since the departure of J.J. Frazier, Georgia has been desperate for a point guard that can attack opposing defenses off the dribble and get the ball into the paint, and it appears that Wheeler is more than capable of fulfilling that role for Tom Crean’s team (9 points, 8 assists).

The simplicity of Georgia’s offense

Crean’s offense is definitely a players’ offensive that permits a lot of creativity from the perimeter. It’s obvious why he is recruiting at a much higher level than Mark Fox: this offense is built to let players freestyle and take advantage of open opportunities. Rayshaun Hammonds has the freedom to screen high and pop for Wheeler or any of the other UGA guards. When the ball moves from side to side, players instinctively reposition themselves into the soft spots of the defense or cut towards the basket. After shooting an abysmal 2 for 24 from beyond the arc in Tempe last weekend, the Dawgs rebounded with a 37.5% effort at home in Athens, which was a much needed improvement. Crean’s offense is far more aesthetically appealing when the shots are falling from the perimeter.

Even when the Ant Man struggles, as he did last night (6 of 17 from the floor for 16 points), he can still facilitate offense in Crean’s system because his teammates are generally on the move. SMU regularly had a second defender shading over towards Edwards when he possessed the ball, but the freshman was savvy enough to not force too many shots and make smart passes. Edwards will have off nights like last evening, but he still stays active on both sides of the court (his block at the end of regulation to prevent an SMU layup was crucial).

Rayshaun Hammonds had arguably his best game of the young season. Crean has him positioned on the wing and at the top of the key, which gives the junior the option to either shoot a triple or take his defender off the dribble, which is typically advantageous for Hammonds as he’s going to usually draw the other team’s tallest defender. Hammonds notched a double-double with 21 points and 11 boards, and he buried a huge three-pointer from the wing with 2:29 left in the second overtime to put the Dawgs up 85-82. The key to all of this production is that Hammonds was able to log 37 minutes due to the fact that he committed only 3 personal fouls. Suffice to say, with the loss of Amanze Ngumezi to the transfer portal, Hammonds needs to figure out a way to stay out of foul trouble for the rest of the season.

Still work to be done on the defensive end

Tom Crean’s defensive philosophy is predicated on his players being able to create as many deflections as possible. Anthony Edwards has been challenged by his coach to ramp up his deflections per game (7.5) to the likes of former Hoosier Victor Oladipo (12+).

Georgia’s defense has so much potential to wreak havoc with how long and athletic they are. On the perimeter, UGA pestered the SMU offense and forced the Mustangs into a 25% shooting effort from the perimeter. However, the Dawgs have some serious communication issues that must be ironed out because they surrendered 3 alley-oop dunks, which is kind of unacceptable, and too often SMU was able to move the ball into the middle of the zone, which led to the whole thing falling apart and 50 points in the paint for the Ponies. The Dawgs are going to be undersized in every conference game they play this season, so talking will be critical if they have hopes of tightening up their defensive rotations.

Welcome back Jordan Harris

Jordan Harris better stay on Crean’s good side for the rest of the season because he’s too valuable to this team to not be on the court for 20-something minutes a night. Harris made his presence felt immediately upon entering the game when he scored on a sweet spin move that allowed him to finish all alone on the left side of the rim. The senior also put an exclamation point on the first half when he snagged a miss from Hammonds mid air and flushed it before time expired. In a productive 17 minutes, Harris scored 9 points, grabbed 4 boards and logged a steal. Considering this was his first time on the court this season, I’d say he has to be happy with this output. I can’t wait for both him and Wheeler to join the starting lineup on a regular basis, especially with the athleticism that Harris brings to the defensive side of the ball.

Up next:

Georgia hosts Georgia Southern on Monday night in Athens.

Georgia runs NC Central out of the gym 95-59

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After seeing the Dawgs (6-2) get a taste of some real competition in Maui last week, it was hard to get excited about another creampuff matchup, which is what Georgia got tonight in its opponent, North Carolina Central (2-6). Although, after having Division II Chaminade take them to the brink, the Dawgs certainly couldn’t afford to overlook the Eagles.

NC Central has sputtered out of the gates to start the season, but they were projected to win the MEAC prior to the opening tip of this year, so maybe they are not quite as bad as they’ve shown thus far.

Fans that took in this game that expected to see Amanze Ngumezi in the starting lineup were caught off guard to learn that the UGA big would not play due to what sounded like a slew of internal issues that have been building up recently, according to Tom Crean.

The Eagles were dealt a more significant blow to their starting five, though, as junior Randy Miller, the team’s second leading scorer (14.3 ppg), also couldn’t suit up this evening because of a nagging injury.

Better offensive spacing

At times tonight, Georgia’s offense looked entirely fluid. On consecutive possessions in the first half, Tye Fagan and Sahvir Wheeler attacked the middle of the Eagles’s zone and found Toumani Camara and Christian Brown, respectively, on backdoor cuts that resulted in easy points at the rim.

Georgia had it cooking from beyond the arc against NCC, especially in the first half, where the Dawgs hit 7 of 14 attempts. UGA’s success from the perimeter during the initial 20 minutes came from improved spacing that allowed guards to attack the zone and free up teammates on the wings for open looks.

However, the Dawgs were still far too sloppy with the basketball as they committed 16 turnovers, with 10 of them coming before the break. Even with the excellent passing that Tom Crean’s team displayed throughout this game (19 team assists), those dishes were too often followed up by a wing or big dribbling too much on a break and kicking the ball out of bounds. UGA’s inconsistency on offense is hopefully the result of growing pains as this young team is still learning how to play with one another.

Anthony Edwards was a boy amongst men against the Eagles in Athens. The freshman only logged 7 minutes following the intermission, but it didn’t matter since he wasted no time getting his stats in the first half: Edwards notched 19 of his 21 points to go along with 3 assists and a pair of steals before the break. The freshman hit multiple triples of the stepback variety that served to reiterate just why NBA scouts are salivating over the prospects of obtaining this young man’s services next year.

This contest was close for a couple of media timeouts, but with over 11 minutes left Georgia had built up a 21-9 lead after Anthony Edwards buried 1 of his 4 three-pointers. By halftime, the Dawgs held a 50-35 advantage after a first half that saw them hit over 52% from the field.

Tom Crean kept his team motivated after the break as the Dawgs opened up the second half with a 13-2 run that was capped off by a Tyree Crump triple with a little over 15 minutes left in the game. The first 5 minutes following halftime is a critical segment of a basketball game, and Georgia definitely owned this one.

Size mattered on Wednesday night in Athens

Defensively, Georgia’s length overwhelmed the Eagles as the Dawgs created deflections and forced NC Central into 14 turnovers. This was definitely the type of game that Georgia is built to dominate on defense; where this team will struggle is when the opponent has a decent frontcourt (see Dayton and Michigan State games). Unfortunately, there are a lot of SEC teams with solid bigs, so UGA is going to have to figure out how to win those matchups despite their deficits in the paint.

The Dawgs held the Eagles to under 35% from the floor, but as I mentioned earlier, NC Central was without Randy Miller, who is the only other player on this squad to average double-digit scoring on a nightly basis, so the Eagles seemed destined to flounder offensively in this contest.

Below are some numbers that really jump off the stat sheet and illustrate just how much of a factor Georgia’s size advantage played in this one:

Rebounds: UGA 54, NCC 25

Points in the paint: UGA 52, NCC 26

Second chance points: UGA 23, NCC 13

Up Next:

The Dawgs have over a week off from any live action to hit the books and prepare for final exams before returning to the court next Saturday in a tough road matchup in Tempe against Arizona State. The Sun Devils are currently 5-2 with a win over St. John’s and a 3-point loss to #7 Virginia on their resume. Tom Crean’s team will be presented with an excellent challenge in trying to steal a road win against a quality Pac12 opponent.