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.