The Georgia Bulldogs (11-8, 1-5) haven’t quite hit rock-bottom. That opportunity will come on Tuesday night when they play 1-5 Missouri in a game that could have the loser tied for the worst record in the SEC, depending on Vanderbilt’s result this week. Any optimism that UGA fans harnessed prior to this season is certainly coasting on fumes at this point. The fervor surrounding Tom Crean’s historic top five recruiting class feels like a distant memory after watching his team lose at home to an Ole Miss squad that entered Saturday with a NET ranking of 125.
What’s happened to the offense?
Earlier in the year, Georgia’s offense was entertaining to watch. Once the ball got into the high post, the Dawgs routinely hit cutters slashing down from the short corner for easy finishes at the rim. Did that happen once yesterday?
Ole Miss coach Kermit Davis through a slew of junk zone defenses at UGA, with traps occuring around the baseline and on the wings. Instead of moving, Tom Crean’s team just stood around. Georgia shot 31% from the floor and scored only 20 points in the paint against a Rebel team that had been allowing SEC opponents to connect on 45% from the field. Coach Davis’s team is not known for its suffocating defense, despite how futile UGA appeared when they had the ball in their hands. The Rebels entered this contest forcing opponents into 11.6 turnovers a game, yet Georgia managed to cough it up 16 times, which led to 20 Ole Miss points.
One stretch of offensive play that was particularly painful to watch occurred late in the first half and then bled into the start of the second. Jordan Harris buried a triple with 3:24 remaining till the break to bring Georgia to within five. Over 7 minutes later, he hit another three that broke an exhausting scoring drought that cut the Ole Miss lead to under double-digits. Tom Crean was brought into his position to reinvigorate the UGA offense, but this segment of game felt reminiscent of the Mark Fox days.
Of course, offense never comes easy when a team’s two leading scorers cannot find any rhythm, which was the case for Georgia on Saturday. Anthony Edwards made only 3 of 12 from the floor for a total of 13 points. All his makes were from beyond the arc, where he hit just 3 of 10 shots. For whatever reason, the UGA freshman seems resistant to utilize his powerful frame and drive the ball at the rim. Instead, he continues to try to create offense from the perimeter, which absolutely lets opposing defenses off the hook.
Rayshaun Hammonds’s 4-point performance can’t even be blamed on foul trouble this time. The junior never seemed engaged on offense as he hit only 1 of 8 from the floor. His most troubling miss came in the second half when he got the ball under the basket on an inbounds play with the much smaller Tyree guarding him. Hammonds managed to throw the ball completely over the rim on a weak take that looked like shot he would have taken as a freshman.
The defense is still a problem
I’d thought part of Georgia’s struggles on the defensive side of the ball were due to the strength of the competition that this team had taken on to start conference play. Ole Miss quickly debunked that theory.
First, a little background on the Rebels’ offensive woes prior to Saturday’s event. The Rebel Black Bears coasted into Athens with the second-worst offense in SEC games as they were scoring just a hair under 60 points a night. In addition, this Ole Miss team was hitting only 37% of its shots from the floor and just 26% of the attempts from three-point range; both of those stats were second-worst in the conference as well. There’s a reason the Rebels were winless in league play before setting foot inside Stegeman.
One thing Georgia proved yesterday is that they can make any team better on offense. Coach Davis’s team made 52% of its shots and over 55% from the perimeter to en route to 70 points.
With less than 4 minutes left in the game and Ole Miss leading 59-53, Georgia desperately needed a stop. Rebel point guard Breein Tyree, who finished with 20 points, blew by his defender around halfcourt and then coasted to the basket for an uncontested layup as the UGA defenders pondered whether that was a situation in which they should have provided some help. This play either highlighted Georgia’s inability to communicate or lack of effort, take your pick.
But maybe the most frustrating defensive lapse of the afternoon was the way in which UGA attempted to defend the 6’10” Khadim Sy. Somehow, the Ole Miss center continued finding himself being guarded on the block by one of the Georgia point guards, so the Rebels kept dumping the ball down to him in the paint, where he notched 16 points. At first, I associated these mismatches to defensive switches that led to these isolation plays. However, there were multiple possessions where Tye Fagan initially met Sy at the free throw line as he headed down low. Something was definitely amiss, yet Coach Crean never once called a timeout to rectify this situation. Even if Crean was taking a Mr. Miyagi approach and hoping that his guys could problem-solve, that wasn’t happening and they needed their coach to intervene.
Two lone bright spots
While this game definitely casts a dark shadow on the remaining prospects of Georgia’s season, Jordan Harris and Sahvir Wheeler’s performances on offense were admirable. These two Dawgs provided a much-needed offensive spark in a game in which this team’s two leading scorers took the afternoon off.
Senior Jordan Harris came off the bench to net 15 points to go along with 8 boards, 3 steals and 2 blocks, all in just 19 minutes of play. Harris is easily UGA’s best defender, and at 6’4″, he may be its strongest rim protector as well. At this point, Crean probably has to consider starting Harris over Donnell Gresham just for the boost in athleticism he provides on the defensive end.
Seeing Wheeler score in double-figures again was refreshing after what had been a rather rough start to conference play for the freshman. Prior to the SEC slate, Wheeler had been averaging 8.6ppg, but that number had fallen to just 4.2 ppg in league games. Conference play can definitely wreck some player’s offensive numbers, so hopefully yesterday’s game gives Wheeler some added confidence moving forward because UGA needs him to be a threat on that side of the ball.
At 1-5 Missouri on Tuesday
Current postseason projection:
NIT First Four Out