After demoralizing Tennessee in Athens earlier the week, the Georgia Bulldogs (11-6, 1-3) seemed poised to even up their SEC record in Starkville against a Mississippi State team that Sports Illustrated projected to finish just 11th in the conference in its preseason predictions.
This game was a great opportunity for Tom Crean’s team. I’m talking Quadrant I win opportunity.
Unfortunately, the Dawgs didn’t have the fortitude to keep the game even remotely competitive.
Here are my thoughts as to why:
1. Tough night for the Dawgs’ defense
Georgia started this game out about as flat as they have all year. UGA’s transition defense was nonexistent from the start as the Maroon Dawgs jumped out to a 10-2 lead before 3 minutes of game clock had expired. State scored nearly a quarter of its points (9) off of the break heading into the intermission.
The Dawgs entered this game 174th in the nation in opponent two-point field goal percentage (49.1%). It’s no secret that Tom Crean’s team is undersized, and the opposition is exploiting that weakness by driving the ball at the rim relentlessly. Mississippi State punished Georgia with 48 points in the paint, which marks the 3rd time in 4 SEC games in which the Dawgs have yielded 44 points or more inside. Other than Tennessee, the league has been absolutely brutalizing Georgia down low, and unfortunately, that’s probably not going to stop.
I mean, Mississippi State shot 62% from the floor; that should be embarrassing for a defense. The Maroon Dawgs entered this game averaging 10 assists per game in SEC play, yet on Saturday they dished out 21 dimes against a porous UGA defense. Sophomore Reggie Perry, who ended up with 22 points and 11 boards, looked like a man amongst boys as he got just about whatever he wanted offensively inside the free throw line. The only thing more painful than watching Perry shred the UGA defense was the constant reminder that he is a Georgia native that Mark Fox let slip out of state.
The UGA defense continues to be problematic for this team’s development. Georgia is now allowing over 74 points a night, which gives them the 274th best scoring defense in the country. In just SEC games, the Dawgs are giving up 78.5 per game, and that provides Tom Crean’s squad with the dubious honor of being the worst scoring defense in the league in terms of points allowed thus far. I’m curious to see what types of adjustments Crean makes to remedy this deficiency because his team sure isn’t getting any taller over the next two months.
2. Georgia’s offense became increasingly stagnant as the game progressed
In the first half, UGA ran a little dribble weave on offense that seemed effective as it kept State guessing and off-balanced. The constant motion being run up high led to some nice backdoor looks and dribble drives. Believe it or not, this was a 4-point game with less than 3 minutes remaining in the half.
For whatever reason, though, UGA got away from this offensive set and found themselves standing around a lot more following the intermission. I’ve said this before, but I suppose I’ll just keep saying it: Crean’s entire offensive philosophy is built around perpetual movement. When that’s not happening, things derail quickly. Need proof? Georgia made only 39% from the floor and just 17% from beyond the arc in this contest.
When UGA’s motion stops on the offensive side of the ball, players tend to settle for the easier shot, which in this team’s case is three-pointers. The problem, however, is that most of these attempts from beyond the arc tend to be contested looks, and the Dawgs don’t shoot a high percentage when that is the case. Georgia is hitting only 30.5% on the year (286th in the country) from the perimeter and just 27% in conference games (11th in SEC).
3. The Dawgs still don’t have a go-to guy
I know that Anthony Edwards is supposed to be that guy, but he’s just not there yet. Sure, he hit a game-winner to give Georgia its only win in Maui against Division II Chaminade. But against SEC competition, the Ant Man hasn’t shown up on a consistent basis.
Edwards didn’t score his first field goal in Saturday’s game until barely a minute remained in the first half, a half in which the Ant Man connected on just 1 of 6 shots. Edwards did end up with his season average of 19 points, but the majority of those were scored when the game was well out of reach. The freshman once again appeared as though he was pressing by trying to make difficult, off-balanced three-point shots off the dribble. He’s not doing Georgia or himself any favors when he’s playing that way offensively.
Another stat that is slightly concerning is the fact that Edwards is shooting just 33% from the floor in the team’s four true road games. When the rubber has met the road in conference play thus far, Edwards has failed to rise to the occasion. Hopefully he is learning from these experiences and can use them to grow as SEC play progresses.
Kentucky at Rupp on Tuesday. Ugh.
Current postseason projection: