Georgia’s defense helps extend losing streak

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The Dawgs looked like a team without a player taller 6’8″ on Wednesday night against Auburn. Tom Crean started JUCO transfer Tyron McMillan in a token effort to compensate for the height differential, though the sophomore played just 10 minutes so I’m not totally sure what the value was in that endeavor. Auburn played an uptempo brand of basketball similar to how Georgia has preferred to run this year, except Bruce Pearl’s team did it with bigger and more athletic players. The end result wasn’t pretty for UGA as they got drubbed 95-77 at home to an Auburn team that had lost its first 4 SEC games. The Dawgs now have the dubious distinction of the worst conference record at 0-4.

In a game that should have meant the world to both of these teams as it presented an opportunity to get off the snide, Georgia’s defense once again failed itself. The Dawgs entered this contest yielding the most points per night in league games (92), and yet, they somehow found a way for an opponent to push that average even higher. The Tigers shot a blistering 57% from the floor and they netted 29 fast break points. Auburn had SIX players finish the game in double-figures, which is ridiculous.

But Georgia’s interior defense proved to be the real Achilles heel as the Tigers torched the Dawgs for an astounding 58 points in the paint. This UGA team either doesn’t communicate well on that side of the ball, or there are some fundamental misconceptions regarding defensive rotations. The Georgia bigs were out of position often, and it led to a number of easy points at the rim for Bruce Pearl’s team. On occasion, the UGA bigs managed to provide some token help, but it wasn’t effective and left the Auburn bigs alone around the rim far too often. The bottom line is this team is getting blitzkrieged by opposing offenses on the regular now, and that is on Crean.

Offensively, Georgia becomes stagnant WAY too quickly. My understanding of the Crean offense is that in the half court set, players should basically be in constant motion. Tonight, that was not the case. Rather, the Dawgs seemed more content to occupy the perimeter, swing the ball around and let guys try to create off the dribble. Unfortunately, UGA doesn’t have many players with this sort of skill set. Credit the Dawgs as they kept attacking the rim; the only problem was that Auburn was consistently there to impede them, and the Tigers racked up an impressive 14 blocks on the night.

Point guard Sahvir Wheeler had a pretty good game as he finished with 19 points, 5 assists and 4 steals. The main highlight for UGA, though, had to be the addition of freshman K.D. Johnson, who netted 21 points in his debut to go along with 7 boards and 4 steals. Johnson looked engaged on both ends of the court, and one can only hope that some of his enthusiasm is infectious so that he can inspire some of his teammates to up the intensity on the defensive side of the ball. Although, Tiger freshman Sharife Cooper scored 28 points on these two UGA guards, so both of them have room to improve as well.

To be honest, I had this game penciled in as a win for Georgia at the start of SEC play. After witnessing what just happened on Wednesday night, it’s becoming more difficult to find 6 games that the Dawgs could potentially win, which is what they would need to eclipse last year’s SEC win tally of 5.

UGA defense fails to show up for Arkansas game

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The Georgia Bulldogs (7-3, 0-3) remained winless in conference play after getting drubbed 99-69 by Arkansas in Fayetteville. The sky is not falling yet for this UGA basketball program as next week should be an easier slate (Auburn, Ole Miss), but what transpired today against the Hogs should give Georgia fans some pause for concern.

There’s an old saying in sports that “defense travels”; today, Georgia proved that’s not always true as the Dawgs’ defense clearly got lost somewhere en route to Bud Walton Arena. UGA entered this contest giving up an SEC-worst 88.5 points per game, and the Dawgs should safely hold that bottom spot in the defensive scoring category after yielding 99 to the Razorbacks on Saturday.

Georgia has particularly struggled at defending the perimeter this season. In its two SEC games, UGA’s opponents have made nearly 39% of their triple attempts. This afternoon, the Dawgs were a step late on closeouts, and Arkansas made them pay by knocking down 12 of 21 (57%) from beyond the arc, which is 3 more triples than the Hogs have been averaging a game this year.

While Arkansas was led by Moses Moody’s 25 points, the Dawgs allowed a total of five Hogs to finish in double-figures (and one other to also score 20). Believe it or not, this game was relatively close at the half with Georgia trailing by just 6 before a disinterested group of UGA players came out after the break and permitted Arky to put up 56 second-half points.

Georgia’s lack of a perimeter game is still a problem. In Tom Crean’s first three years at UGA, his team’s have shot 32%, 30% and 30.9% (this year’s bunch). When a coach states at his initial press conference that his team is going to shoot the three more, one would assume that would mean that his rosters would regularly have 3 to 4 legitimate outside threats. However, that’s never been the case for Crean, and this year’s team is no different. Georgia basically has two three-point threats: Justin Kier (42%) and P.J. Horne (35%). This is not enough firepower for a team that’s shooting over 21 triples a contest.

On Saturday, the Dawgs made just 5 of 19 (26%) on three-pointers. However, even if Georgia hits 3 more from beyond the arc, they still lose by 21, so it’s probably a non-factor in a game in which UGA played zero defense.

Toumani Camara and Sahvir Wheeler cannot miss significant chunks of time in games due to foul trouble. Today, Camara was the culprit, and his absence from the lineup definitely hurt the Dawgs on both ends of the court. The sophomore picked up his second foul of the game with over 15 minutes left in the first half, which caused him to have to spend nearly 10 minutes on the bench. He would eventually foul out of the game with 10 minutes remaining. Camara scored 15 points in 16 minutes, which is highly effective, but his inability to stay on the court served to keep him in check.

Wheeler didn’t have any foul issues, but he failed to show up in the second half. Prior to the break, the sophomore looked phenomenal as he scored 10 points on an array of dribble-drives from the perimeter. For 20 minutes, Wheeler looked the part of a premier SEC point guard; he’s got to find a way to put together two halves like that, especially when his team’s leading scorer is not participating.

A few observations from Georgia’s close loss at LSU

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The Georgia Bulldogs (7-2, 0-2) are no strangers to moral victories, which is essentially what the Dawgs got in Baton Rouge on Wednesday night in their 94-92 overtime loss to the LSU Tigers. UGA dropped its first SEC road game of the season in dramatic fashion in a game that Georgia led 80-74 with less than two minutes to go in regulation.

Typically when teams are leading down stretch of games they tend to try to run clock and reduce the number of possessions. This strategy may have backfired on Georgia, however, as playing half court basketball is just not a strength for this team. The Dawgs last two possessions of regulation resulted in a turnover and a miss on a rushed shot from P.J. Horne with the shot clock expiring. I almost wonder if this UGA team should buck the tradition of milking clock and just play fast the whole game, regardless of the situation.

Here are a few other observations:

The Tigers played defense when they needed to down the stretch of this contest

LSU, who entered this game as the 9th best defense in the SEC at 68 points a night, appeared disinterested in playing defense for much of this contest. The Tigers have the best three-point defense in the SEC (27%), yet they allowed the Dawgs, who have been connecting on just 30% from beyond the arc this season, to knock down 12 triples (9 of which came from Justin Kier and Horne).

Will Wade’s team ratcheted up the defense when it needed to, though. Georgia had all the momentum with 9:07 left after Justin Kier finished at the rim to give his team a 68-58 advantage. Unfortunately, the bigger, more athletic Tigers eventually decided to tighten things up, and that enabled them to go on a 13-2 run that saw LSU take a 71-70 lead two minutes later after a pair of free throws from Cameron Thomas. It was pretty obvious that this talented Tiger team can put the clamps down pretty quickly when they feel pressed.

Georgia’s offense found itself again

The Dawgs were held to 73 points and kept in relative check last week against Missy State, however, this was not the case in Baton Rouge. Georgia had great energy from the start and looked fast and crisp with the ball. By halftime, Georgia had connected on 50% from the floor and 47% from beyond the arc. UGA had 11 turnovers, but they also had 11 assists.

Sahvir Wheeler, who had been in a bit of a mini-slump, was far more effective on Wednesday. Wheeler scored 21 points to go along with 9 assists. He kept pushing the ball into the teeth of the Tiger defense and finding open teammates on kickouts. The sophomore looked the part of a point guard facilitating offense and getting his teammates involved.

Graduate transfers Kier and Horne were the prime benefactors of Wheeler’s creativity as they finished with 25 and 11, respectively. These two seniors have developed into legitimate threats from the perimeter, which definitely opens things up a bit for the Dawgs in the half court set.

UGA’s help defense must improve

LSU had numerous drives to the basket that were essentially uncontested. Too many times an LSU guard got past the UGA backcourt defender only to find no one from Georgia’s frontcourt their to meet them. Considering that the Dawgs will be undersized in nearly every conference game, it seems as if swarming to the basketball and providing weak side help would have to be tenets for this bunch on defense.

A couple of stats that jumped out at me:

  • Cameron Thomas, who Georgia limited to 5 of 17 from the floor, still ended up with 26 points thanks to a 15 of 16 effort from the FT line
  • LSU had 19 steals
  • Georgia had 28 fast break points to LSU’s 3
  • UGA won the battle of the boards 43-40
  • Justin Kier was definitely not out of bounds near the end of OT, and UGA should have been given the ball with a chance to tie