Georgia SEC opener recap: no defense = no offense

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The Georgia Bulldogs (7-1, 0-1) dropped their SEC opener for the 4th time in as many years as the Dawgs fell 83-73 to Mississippi State in a game in which UGA never led. This game marked the first loss for Tom Crean’s team of the season, and while it’s not time to hit the alarm bells just yet, it certainly should give Georgia fans some pause for concern.

UGA’s defense never seemed fully-engaged against the Maroon Dawgs. Georgia’s strengths thus far on this side of the ball have been turning teams over and defending the perimeter well. Neither of those occurred often enough to win against Ben Howland’s team. UGA entered this contest as one of the top teams in the nation in opponent turnovers per game (19), yet Mississippi State had just 12 on Wednesday night in Athens. The Dawgs failed to disrupt the passing lanes in the half court set and that resulted in just 9 points off turnovers for Georgia (to State’s 22).

Georgia’s defensive closeouts around the arc were borderline lazy as they permitted Missy State to connect on 12 triples. I foolishly assumed that UGA might tighten up the pressure on the outside when Deivon Smith hit his team’s 6th three of the half with over 10 minutes remaining before the break, but the Dawgs gave up 6 more triples before the final horn sounded. Missy State point guard Iverson Molinar ended up playing just 26 minutes due to early foul trouble, yet he still ended up leading all scorers with 24 points on a 4 of 6 effort from beyond the arc. Molinar completely had his way with the Georgia backcourt, and I wondered if Tom Crean might give him the Andrew Garcia treatment, but that didn’t happen.

The problem with all of this inefficient defense is that it greatly impacted UGA’s offense. You might go so far as to say that Georgia’s ability to be successful on offense depends solely on if UGA can generate steals and stops; that’s what allows this team to play fast, which is definitely the style they are most comfortable playing. Last night, however, the Dawgs netted only 9 points on the break, a crippling statistic for this team.

The tempo of this contest forced Georgia to play in the half court on offense for most of the night, and that portion of UGA’s game is still a work in progress. The Dawgs settled for threes to start the game; unfortunately, they made just 1 of their first 9 attempts. Georgia ended up making 36% from the perimeter thanks to a 5 of 10 performance by P.J. Horne (21 points). The Dawgs hoisted up 25 three-point attempts on last night, which feels like an awful lot for a team that only has two outside shooters (Horne and Justin Kier).

Coming into this game, Georgia had been one of the more prolific two-point scoring teams in the country. UGA had been averaging over 47 points a night on two-pointers, while last night they mustered just 34. Sahvir Wheeler is only a sophomore and still developing, but he has to find a way to be more effective at scoring the ball in a slower paced game. Wheeler finished with just 6 points on a 2 of 10 shooting performance, and he struggled to score around the rim against the bigs of Missy State. Wheeler did dish out 8 assists, but they came at the expense of 5 turnovers. Ultimately, Sahvir has to be better at producing offense if the Dawgs hope to win more SEC games than last year’s total (5).

Dawgs preserve perfect record with monster second half

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The Georgia Bulldogs remained undefeated with a 76-58 win over Northeastern (1-4) on Tuesday night in Athens. However, the Dawgs dealt with probably the most adversity they’ve seen all season during this game’s initial 20 minutes of play.

If you were a Georgia fan, the first half was highly forgettable. Georgia had 5 turnovers before 4 minutes of game had transpired, which allowed the Huskies to jump out to a 9-3 lead by the first media timeout. Northeastern came into Stegeman committed to make this a slow-paced half court game, and for 20 minutes they were successful at doing that and frustrating the heck out of UGA’s offense.

Before the game, I shared this tidbit of information:

Unfortunately, the Dawgs were unable to showcase either of these defensive strengths prior to the break. Northeastern committed just 7 first-half turnovers, and the Huskies connected on an unbelievable 9 of 13 from beyond the arc (69%).

Sophomore point guard Tyson Walker, a Second Team preseason CAA selection, was a major thorn in Georgia’s side to start the game. Sahvir Wheeler struggled to defend Walker, particularly on ball screens. If Sahvir went under the screen, Walker made him pay from the perimeter; when Wheeler attempted to fight through, the Northeastern point guard just blew by and finished at the rim. By halftime, Walker had 14 points and 5 assists, just a bucket shy of his season average, and Northeastern held a 45-32 advantage.

Fortunately for Georgia, their coach is:

Coach Crean win’s this week’s “Halftime Adjustment Award” with his decision to switch Wheeler off Tyson Walker and let Andrew Garcia (and some Tye Fagan) defend him. Garcia’s size presented issues for Walker and essentially took him out of the Northeastern offense. Walker managed just 5 points in the second half, and all of those were basically meaningless as they came when the game was out of reach for the Huskies. I honestly believe that Garcia’s harassment of Walker frustrated the sophomore into his 4th foul with over 12 minutes remaining in the game and his team up by just 5 points. Walker got tangled up with UGA’s Justin Kier on a Northeastern possession and was whistled for a push. Let’s credit that whistle to Mr. Garcia.

Another benefactor of shutting down Walker’s offensive creativity is that it completing eliminated Jahmyl Telfort from the game as well. The freshman was the benefactor of Walker’s penetration in the first half as he torched Georgia with 4 triples and 15 points prior to the intermission. Telfort, however, failed to score again when the teams returned to the court for the final 20 minutes.

Northeastern scored as many points (13) as they committed turnovers (13) in the game’s second half.

Honestly, I could wax eloquently about Andrew Garcia’s play for the entire post. In addition to his defensive effort, the senior led the Dawgs with 15 points and basically saved Georgia’s perfect record.

But I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the boost that Justin Kier gave this team last night, especially when UGA’s starting point guard had to head to the bench. In the midst of an unprecedented 21-0 run, Wheeler picked up his 4th foul with 9:31 left and had to sit with his team leading 53-50. Nearly 7 minutes later, Kier buried a triple to ice the game at 70-55 with under 3 minutes remaining. During this little stretch of game, Kier contributed 5 points, 3 steals and 2 assists, and Georgia saw no drop off in play even with its floor general not on the court. The grad transfer finished the night with 7 points, 6 assists and 5 steals, and in my opinion he looks the most likely out of all the new faces this year to continue this level of play into SEC season.

Other things that were pleasing:

  • Despite spending a majority of the first half on the bench in foul trouble, Toumani Camara still managed to score 13 points and nab 8 boards.
  • PJ Horne might have had his best game thus far as a Dawg: 11 points, 7 rebounds and 4 steals. Perhaps even more importantly was that the senior connected on a pair of triples (40%) and maybe, just maybe, could emerge as this squad’s second perimeter threat.
  • Fagan only had 8 points, but the way he got them was fantastic. Recognizing that Walker, who had 4 fouls at the time, was on him, Fagan headed to the block where he played bully-ball around the rim on the Northeastern sophomore. Whoever made that adjustment to Georgia’s offense definitely deserves a burrito from Cali N Tito’s.

The Fast and the Furious: Georgia basketball edition

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Between Sahvir Wheeler and Toumani Camara, I’m not exactly sure who is Vin Diesel and who’s Paul Walker in this analogy, but Georgia’s sophomores have teamed up with director Tom Crean to create a pretty exciting product this year. UGA’s breakneck style of play overwhelmed the Bearcats in the 83-68 blowout, and the Dawgs are sitting at 6-0 for the first time since the 1982-1983 season.

Georgia took its first real test of the season on Saturday and aced it with 20 minutes to spare. Cincy was clearly not prepared for the track meet that they stepped into as the Dawgs pushed the tempo to Mach Speed from the opening tip. Georgia scored 18 (of their 27) points off the break in the first half; the Dawgs forced the Bearcats into 13 turnovers, which UGA converted into 16 (of their 27) points. All this chaos led to a 49-26 halftime advantage for Georgia that had everyone from the chili-making region of the country scratching their heads.

Prior to the start of this game, I thought (foolishly) that 7’1″ center Chris Vogt might pose a problem for undersized Georgia. Cincinnati’s big man was named to the American Athletic Conference’s Second Team by the media. By the time 20 minutes had eclipsed in this contest, I had forgot that Vogt existed. The Cincy big ended the half (and the night) with 0 points on just 1 measly field goal attempt.

The Bulldogs are finally starting to produce the coveted deflections that Tom Crean has spoken so eloquently of these past several years. Georgia turned the Bearcats over a whopping 24 times on Saturday, and the Dawgs are now 13th in the nation in opponent turnovers (19). UGA’s ability to occupy the passing lanes is frustrating opposing offenses and resulting in a lot of extra possessions for Tom Crean’s team (UGA is 19th in the nation in possessions per game).

This UGA team is a pesky bunch that is extremely active on the defensive side of the ball. The Dawgs limited Cincy to just 17% from beyond the arc, a place that Georgia has defended well this year; UGA is holding opponents to under 23% from the perimeter on the season.

Georgia sophomore Sahvir Wheeler did not turn in his best performance of the season. Wheeler pressed too much and try to force up some shots around the rim that just shouldn’t have been taken. The Georgia point guard made only 4 of 14 from the floor and turned the ball over 6 times.

While Wheeler struggled, his teammates Toumani Camara, Justin Kier and Tye Fagan flourished. Camara logged another double-double with 19 points and 10 rebounds, and his ability to get up and down the court and score points in the transition makes this UGA team so dynamic. Camara’s jump from year one to year two is so similar to Travis Leslie it’s downright eerie. Leslie averaged 6 ppg and 4 rpg his freshman year and nearly 15ppg and 7rpg his sophomore campaign; Camara averaged 6.6 ppg and 4 rpg last year, and he’s currently netting over 15 ppg and snagging over 8 rpg. Both players seemingly needed a season to hone in their freakish athleticism; the only difference is that Toumani is 6’8″, a nice little bonus for Coach Crean.

Kier and Fagan finished the game with 18 and 17 points, respectively. Each player scored numerous buckets at the rim, and Kier flashed the ability to create offense off the dribble, which is something we haven’t seen too much of from him up to this point.

ESPN announcer Jimmy Dykes praised Georgia’s brand of basketball, but the announcer insinuated that UGA would have to prove itself in the SEC when teams like Tennessee lock them up defensively and force them into a half court game. In the words of Samuel Jackson’s character from “Pulp Fiction”, please allow me to retort. The #12 Vols trailed this Bearcat team 53-51 with 6:14 left in the game before Tennessee was finally able to pull away for the 65-56 home win. If Georgia can continue to disrupt opposing offenses with deflections and limit three-point opportunities, the Dawgs will be able to play at any pace they want.

Don’t believe me? Ask this Jon Rothstein.

Georgia comes from behind against Samford

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Sometimes the sports’ gods come together and align for the good of UGA fans, and yesterday was one of those days. The football team steamrolled Mizzou, LSU dashed the Gators’ playoff hopes and the basketball team came from behind against the fighting Samford and Sons to preserve Georgia’s undefeated record.

However, UGA’s 5-0 record has come against the 292nd ranked schedule in college basketball, according to ESPN, so it feels like we should take it with a little grain of salt.

We learned two things from Saturday’s 79-75 win: 1) Georgia needs Toumani Camara to play in every single game, and 2) the Dawgs are not built to play in the half court, which is something SEC teams will probably force them to do every night.

Samford kept this game at a turtle’s pace by playing primarily zone from the opening tip. The Dawgs played right into the other Bulldogs’ hands as they settled for outside shots, where UGA connected on just 3 of 12 from beyond the arc in the first half. Georgia converted just two field goals through the first 11 minutes, and after a triple from Triston Chambers, Samford held its largest lead of the day (24-11) with 8:45 left in the first half.

Offensively, this game looked nothing like the previous four. The Dawgs were held to just 9 fast break points, and they were outscored in the paint (36-28) for the first time this season. Sahvir Wheeler, who ended up with 15 points, shot a dismal 5 of 15 from the floor. When he tried to force the ball inside against the Samford zone, defenders collapsed on him and forced him into either difficult shots or turnovers, of which he had 5.

UGA looked visibly uncomfortable trying to facilitate offense in the half court, which is understandable considering this team’s lack of outside shooters. Georgia continued to struggle to make three-pointers as they hit just 26% of their attempts on Saturday, one percentage point below their season average. However, we did gain a few insights into this facet of UGA’s game: Justin Kier needs to shoot more, and P.J. Horne should probably shoot less. Kier scored 18 points and buried 4 of 9 from beyond the arc, including a pair of triples late in the second half that brought the Dawgs to within a point with less than 8 minutes remaining. The senior has established himself as Georgia’s premier outside threat as he’s hitting over 43% from the perimeter, and he should have the greenest of green lights from that spot on the court.

Horne, on the other hand, made only 1 of 7 outside shots, and many of them were taken in rushed fashion with his feet not set. He hit over 34% from three-point range last year at Virginia Tech, so he obviously has this shot in his arsenal, but I just don’t think he needs to fire off quite as many. Horne is currently leading the Bulldogs in three-point attempts on the season.

The absence of Camara and its impact on this game must be noted again as he’s tied with Wheeler in importance to this team. However, the fact that Georgia needed the entire 40 minutes to put away Samford, a team that was projected to finish 8th in the 10-team Southern Conference, should provide UGA fans with some pause for concern. This game was essentially a preview of what SEC play will look like, except the players defending Georgia in the various zone looks will be bigger and more athletic.

Next Saturday the Dawgs get their first real test of the young season when they host the Cincinnati Bearcats, who just took the #12 Tennessee Vols to the wire in Knoxville.

Instant analysis: UGA defense too much for Montana

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The Georgia Bulldogs picked up their 4th win of the season as they remained undefeated with a 63-50 home win over the winless Montana Grizzlies. While the Grizz have yet to check the box in the old win column, Montana was projected by the media to finish 2nd in the Big Sky prior to the start of the year, so it’s possible they could be better than they have shown thus far.

UGA’s length and athleticism defensively proved to be too much for the Grizz on Tuesday night in Stegeman. Georgia forced Montana into 20 turnovers, which the Dawgs converted into 16 points. Tom Crean’s team held the Grizz under 36% from the floor, and they limited Montana to only 3 offensive rebounds and 5 second chance points. The question, though, is can Georgia’s defense remain stout in the face of stiffer competition? The Dawgs get Cincinnati in Athens on December 19th, and this game will give us a much deeper glimpse into what this team is really about.

Georgia created 10 steals in this game, but unfortunately the Dawgs gave the ball away 18 times. Turnovers continue to be an issue for this squad as UGA entered the game coughing the ball up nearly 19 times a contest. Tom Crean wants this team to play fast, and that is going to result in some turnovers, but Georgia has to iron out this sloppiness before conference play because those mistakes will prove to be much more costly against bigger and more talented teams.

While Georgia’s three-point shooting continues to be problematic (22%), this team sure did capitalize in the transition, where the Dawgs scored 24 points. Georgia ended up with 40 points in the paint, and I’d venture to say that nearly three-quarters of those came on the break in the open court. Toumani Camara, who logged a double-double with 15 points and 17 boards, once again benefitted from the up and down tempo of this game; Camara ran the court well and was rewarded with a lot of easy baskets both off the pass and offensive rebounds. The sophomore had one trip down on a break where he crossed up a Grizz defender and finished at the rim, and it was a thing of beauty. If Camara can create like that off the dribble, then I think I speak for everyone when I say that we’d like to see A LOT more of it.

The last thing I will touch on is the fact that Montana outscored the Dawgs 13-10 in the minutes that Sahvir Wheeler wasn’t on the court. Even though Wheeler didn’t have his best game of the year (9 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists), he’s just so much for a defense to deal with when he’s in the game. Whether it’s a make or a miss, the Grizz knew that Georgia’s sophomore point guard would be attacking them full speed at the rim in a matter of seconds. When Wheeler was on the bench, it definitely gave Montana a chance to collectively breath and settle in a bit. It’s going to be critical that Wheeler remain out of foul trouble as this team progresses into league games.

Dawgs smother Dolphins

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The Georgia Bulldogs (3-0) beat the brakes off the previously undefeated Jacksonville Dolphins (3-1) in Athens on Friday night. The Dolphins, who were projected to finish 7th in the 9-team Atlantic Sun League prior to the start of the season, had gotten off to a roaring start averaging 81 ppg and netting over 46% from beyond the arc. The Dawgs defense and transition offense ultimately proved to be too overwhelming for Jax as UGA cruised to a 98-65 blowout victory.

While the Dawgs were certainly fun to watch on offense this evening, the defense felt like the story of the night. Georgia’s pressure discombobulated a Dolphin offense that had been highly efficient to begin the year. UGA limited Jax to a 4 of 23 effort from three-point range. The Dawgs created 15 steals and forced the Dolphins into 22 turnovers, which Georgia converted into 34 points. Jacksonville struggled to find clean looks from the perimeter, and UGA’s defensive harassment caused the Dolphins to take a number of difficult, contested shots.

Dontarius James, who entered this contest scoring nearly 18 a night, notched only 11 points on a frustrating 4 for 12 effort from the floor. The junior forward was clearly flustered by Toumani Camara’s constant presence.

Offensively, Georgia did tend to struggle in the half court against the Jax zone. Fortunately, the Dawgs played such great defense that they were able to facilitate much of their offense in the transition. Sophomore Sahvir Wheeler pushed the pace of this game relentlessly as he scored a game-high 21 points to go along with 10 assists for his third double-double of that nature in as many games. If Wheeler continues to be this assertive with the ball, Georgia will stay in a bunch of games because there simply cannot be that many guys in the nation that can stay in front of him.

In addition to Wheeler’s motor, UGA bigs Camara and Christian Brown ran the court well and were rewarded with a slew of dunks and easy buckets. Camara finished with 19 points as he displayed his freakish athleticism by finishing 4 highlight-reel level flushes. Brown ended up with 14 points off the bench, and he may have notched the dunk of the year thus far for this Georgia team when he went up and threw down an alley-oop from Wheeler late in the second half.

The Dawgs shot better from beyond the arc on Friday night (35%), but this team’s ability to score points seems to be much more dependent upon the tempo of the game. Expect Tom Crean’s team to try to turn games into track meets this season, which should provide fans with an entertaining product.

The only real spot of concern on an otherwise solid night for UGA was that grad transfer Andrew Garcia once again found himself in foul trouble. Garcia, who netted 22 points in the opener, played sparingly against North Georgia and once again tonight because he couldn’t stay on the floor due to fouling. He’s probably going to be counted on to be a key cog for this team in the paint, so hopefully Garcia can sort out his body control issues as the season progresses.

Next up: Montana Grizz on Tuesday night