Sloppy UGA loses 74-69 to TAMU

Mark Fox’s final four SEC seasons as Georgia’s head coach looked like this: 11-7 (NCAA tournament), 10-8, 9-9 and 7-11. There’s this notion circling around social media that Tom Crean is in the midst of some sort of rebuild. How is UGA considered a rebuilding project when the last coach won 7 league games? South Carolina finished 7-11 in conference two years ago and then bounced back to go 11-7 the following season. Any team that was only 2 games under .500 the previous season in a league like the SEC is not in “rebuilding mode”.

Georgia’s remaining schedule is Auburn, @ Vandy, @ South Carolina, Arkansas, Florida and @ LSU. This team is dangerously close to repeating another 2-win effort in SEC play. The only game on that slate that I can see as a possible W for Tom Crean’s team is the game in Nashville, but historically, UGA teams haven’t fared well on the raised court, and I see no reason as to why this year’s squad would be any different.

Here are some thoughts on another frustrating loss in which the Dawgs committed 21 turnovers that led to 26 Aggie points (insert face palm emoji here):

Great halftime adjustments by Buzz Williams

And I’m not just referring to his decision to ditch the three-piece suit for a looser long-sleeve t-shirt. Though, considering how much Williams was perspiring during the game’s first 20 minutes, that wasn’t a bad move, hygienically speaking.

Coach Buzz obviously reminded his team at the break that they haven’t been that successful this season from beyond the arc, a message that Crean can’t seem to communicate to his Georgia team that connected on just 9 of 29 from the perimeter today in College Station. The Aggies entered this contest with the lowest three-point shooting (26%) in SEC games, yet they took 16 of them in the first half, of which they made only 5. Despite having a distinct size advantage inside, TAMU was outscored 16-8 in the paint at the intermission. However, in the final 20 minutes, Williams’s team notched 24 points in the paint and attempted just 7 more triples.

Kudos to the coach for convincing his team to play within itself and to its strengths. TAMU’s 74 points was 14 more than the 60 they were averaging in SEC games coming into this one (also worst in the conference).

UGA showed some mental fortitude in the second half

The Aggies blew the doors off the Dawgs out of halftime, and following an 11-2 run that was capped off with an alley oop dunk by Wendell Mitchell, the game was tied at 40 apiece. Georgia didn’t wilt, though, and after triples from both Sahvir Wheeler and Tye Fagan, the Dawgs found themselves on top 48-42 with a little over 11 minutes left.

Several minutes later, TAMU would lock the game up at 48-48 following a bucket from Josh Neebo. Once again, UGA remained poised as Fagan hit another three and Rayshaun Hammonds scored an important basket inside to give his team a 55-50 advantage with under 8 minutes remaining.

The Aggies would eventually tie the game again on another score from Neebo that made it 59-59 with 4:32 left. This time Georgia couldn’t hold on, and TAMU eventually took the lead and would keep it.

UGA desperately needed someone to step up and settle things down during this critical stretch of game, but alas, this team doesn’t have that guy. Anthony Edwards, who finished with only 6 points, attempted just 1 shot from the floor after the break. The freshman played only 2 of the final 10 minutes of this one as he seemed disengaged both on offense and from his team.

Hammonds played big versus Neebo

The lone bright spot for this Georgia team today had to be junior Rayshaun Hammonds, who had the pleasure of defending senior manchild Josh Neebo. Hammonds outscored (15-12) and outrebounded (7-4) the larger Neebo, and Rayshaun is now tied for 6th in rebounds per game in league play (7.2). Considering that the Hammonds, the lone big on an undersized UGA team, is asked to defend the opposition’s largest player every single game, it’s admirable that he continues to fight so hard on the glass inside.

Box score:

Next up:

Auburn in Athens on Wednesday

Postseason projection:

No

It’s official: Frank Martin owns UGA

Frank Martin has built a program at South Carolina that regularly features teams that emulate the toughness of their hard-nosed coach. This year’s brand of Gamecocks is no different. From the opening tip, it was painfully obvious just how much more physically imposing this USC squad is compared to the Tom Crean’s Dawgs (12-11, 2-9).

Martin’s team didn’t play any matchup zone last night in Athens. Rather, his bunch strapped it up and played an imposing version of man defense that UGA hasn’t seen yet this year. The Dawgs couldn’t get into any sort of offensive rhythm as they turned the ball over 19 times. All that motion and movement that Tom Crean’s offense is built on was nowhere to be found; South Carolina didn’t allow it. Other than Anthony Edwards, UGA didn’t have anyone that threatened this Gamecock team.

Carolina held the Dawgs to under 35% from the floor and they frustrated Georgia into an abysmal 3 for 24 effort from beyond the arc. Remember when Crean said that UGA was going to shoot the three more in his opening presser? It would be cool if they could start making a few more of them. Georgia is now connecting on just 28% of its attempts from beyond the arc, which puts them at 12th in the league in that category.

Edwards finished with 16 points on a forgettable 4 for 13 shooting night, but to be fair to the Ant Man, he was the only Georgia player that seemed capable of facilitating any sort of offense against Carolina. Rayshaun Hammonds and Sahvir Wheeler combined for 9 points on a 3 for 12 effort from the floor.

To put it bluntly, this game was never fun to watch. Georgia started 1 for 17 from the floor and turned the ball over 9 times in the first 13 minutes. With a little under 7 minutes remaining before the break, the Dawgs trailed 25-5. USC took the air out of Stegeman early, and they never let it back in. UGA finished the first half shooting just 24% from the floor, and they went into the intermission trailing 38-20.

Frank Martin’s South Carolina teams have now won 7 straight games against the Dawgs. Let that sink in. Those types of losing streaks are forgivable against a blueblood like Kentucky. Against South Carolina, though, not so much. Martin’s last two recruiting classes have been ranked 55th and 45th in the nation, yet his team has a NET ranking of 65 and is trending towards an at-large berth to this year’s NCAA tournament. The Gamecocks actually BEAT Kentucky earlier this year.

Based upon what’s transpired thus far, it’s hard to remain hopeful for much that is left on this Georgia team’s slate. I wonder what Edwards’s mindset will be for the final third of the season? He’s in a similar position as Nic Claxton was last year: stuck on a team with 2 conference wins and an NBA Draft just a few months away.

Stats from the South Carolina that jump off the sheet:

  • Points off turnovers: USC 25, UGA 4
  • Points in the paint: USC 40, UGA 22

Up next:

At Texas A&M on Saturday (Yay! One of UGA’s 2 SEC wins)

Postseason projection:

Nada

Alabama edges out Georgia in shootout

Double-digit leads are by no means safe around this Georgia Bulldogs team (12-11, 2-8). With a little under 15 minutes remaining, Toumani Camara finished at the rim to make it 65-53, UGA. The Dawgs had taken control of the game to start the second half as they played fast and aggressive. However, much like the games against Missouri and Florida, all of that evaporated as Alabama (13-10, 5-5) proceeded to go on a 15-2 run that saw the Tide wrest back the lead to make it 68-67 in their favor.

How does this keep happening?

Here are a couple thoughts on a game that was entertaining to watch, yet ultimately difficult to digest:

Defense? Defense?

Statistically speaking, Alabama and Georgia have been two of the worst scoring defenses in SEC play. The Crimson Tide entered this game yielding over 77 a night (14th) and the Dawgs have been giving up over 73 per contest (12th) in conference games. But these two teams took their collective inabilities to stay in front of anyone to new heights on Saturday evening. The concept of help defense has clearly not been mastered by UGA or Bama as just about anyone who got past his defender on the perimeter had a clear and uncontested path to the bucket; it reminded me of the NBA All-Star game. Georgia outscored the Tide 58 to 56 in points in the paint; that’s right, an astounding 104 total points were made in the lane tonight.

I truly cannot remember watching a game with less guarding. Crimson Tide guard Kira Lewis put up a career high 37 points against the Dawgs. That should wound the pride of just about any defense.

And this was on the heels of a second half against the Florida Gators earlier this week in which the Dawgs permitted 55 points. Georgia has now given up 160 points in the last 60 minutes of game play. Incredible.

I get that this team is young and everybody is new and they’re still learning Crean’s offensive system and how to play together. However, there’s no excuse as to why these guys can’t play better defense. Defense is about effort, and right now, Crean is not getting much of it out of his guys on that end of the court.

Other players stepped up to support an ailing Ant Man

Apparently, Anthony Edwards has been dealing with the flu as of yesterday, and he wasn’t exactly feeling his best around tip off of this one. The freshman logged another double-double with 14 points and 12 boards, but he didn’t look like himself on offense as he connected on just 5 of 17 from the floor; he also missed all 6 of his three-point attempts, including the last-second one that could have tied the game.

Sahvir Wheeler and Rayshaun Hammonds did an admirable job of filling up the stat sheet, though. Bama didn’t have anyone who could stay in front of Wheeler as he scored a career high 24 points to go along with 8 assists. He did turn the ball over 6 times as he continues to make risky passes, but he also dished out some absolute dimes, so some of those turnovers are forgivable. Wheeler scored 40 points this week as he continues to expand his role in this Georgia offense. The Dawgs are most likely going to lose Edwards to the NBA next season, but the return of Wheeler could set this team up to be even better on offense next year.

Rayshaun Hammonds, who dealt with foul trouble for much of the game, scored 20 points in just 26 minutes of efficient play. The junior netted 5 of his total with less than 2 minutes remaining in regulation, including the bucket that tied the game at 92 with 21 seconds left. Hammonds had not finished in double-figures in the past 4 games, so it was refreshing to see him active and engaged on offense again.

Up next:

South Carolina comes to Athens on Wednesday

Postseason projection:

NIT (outermost fringe of the bubble)

UGA defense suffocates Aggies

The Georgia Bulldogs (12-9, 2-6) ended a depressing 4-game losing streak with a runaway win against Texas A&M in Athens on Saturday. If you are a fan of soundly-played offense, this wasn’t the game for you. Only one of the teams shot over 40% from the floor (Georgia), and these two squads combined for 37 turnovers, nearly averaging one per minute of play.

However, the Dawgs desperately needed a victory, and when a team has its back against the wall, style points go out the window.

Here’s how Tom Crean’s team ended up on the right side of the scoreboard today:

Fabulous defensive effort

Georgia’s backside help on the block was tremendous this afternoon. So much so, actually, that TAMU basically abandoned trying to dump the ball into the paint to its leading scorer, Josh Neebo, and instead opted to launched three-pointers, which has not been this team’s forte. Neebo, who had been netting 12 a night, scored just 2 against the Dawgs; Texas A&M, a team not known for its prowess from beyond the arc, made only 5 of 25 shots from that area, which absolutely played into UGA’s gameplan.

Credit Tom Crean and his players for accepting the challenge to play defense for an entire 40 minutes and executing their scheme to near perfection. The Aggies were held almost 19 points below their season average in SEC play, and to keep a team to under 50 points in a conference game is certainly impressive. After getting brutalized on the inside for much of its league games, the Dawgs held the Aggies to just 22 points in the paint in this one.

UGA’s ability to regroup at the half and come out prepared to fight harder on the defensive glass is commendable, especially considering the Aggies entered this game with the 3rd best offensive rebounding percentage in the conference. In the first half, UGA yielded 10 offensive rebounds to a TAMU team that’s been averaging 12 a contest in SEC play. Georgia, however, buckled down after the intermission and only relented 3 more offensive boards to the Aggies over the final 20 minutes.

Much of that defensive rebounding can be attributed to UGA’s star player, Anthony Edwards, who hauled in 13 defensive rebounds in the game (15 overall).

Anthony Edwards was a man amongst boys in the second half

After the break, Georgia fans were treated to the version of the Ant Man that still has scouts projecting him to be the #1 overall pick in this year’s NBA draft. Edwards was unstoppable in the second half in both taking defenders off the dribble and knocking down shots from the perimeter. The Ant Man finished this game with 29 points to go along with those 15 boards for his second double-double in as many games. Georgia should have the best player on the court in its remaining SEC games, and when Edwards plays up to his potential this team becomes dangerous to deal with from a defensive standpoint.

Some stats that just don’t make sense

  1. In a game in which UGA had 20 turnovers, the Dawgs still managed to outscore the Aggies in points off turnovers by a decisive 22-11 count.
  2. Georgia had 15 offensive boards and TAMU had 13, yet the teams tied with just 7 second chance points apiece.

Up next

At Florida on Wednesday night.

Postseason projection

NIT (firmly on the bubble)

Is this rock bottom?

That’s the question that many Georgia fans are either pondering or have answered after seeing the Dawgs blow a 20-point second half lead last night at Missouri. Like many of you, I assumed UGA was in a good spot after Anthony Edwards hit a triple to make it 59-39 with 13:33 left in the game.

When Mizzou cut the lead to 14 with 11:21 remaining, I still felt ok. Georgia will score; all they have to do is trade buckets with the Tigers the rest of the way.

Dru Smith cutting the UGA advantage to 8 points with 7:04 left started to make me nervous. By the time Mizzou trailed 65-62 with 3:31 remaining, I was confounded. Why hadn’t Tom Crean called a timeout? His team hadn’t converted a field goal in nearly 9 minutes.

After Mizzou reclaimed the lead 66-65 with 2:20 left, I did not think Georgia had the mental fortitude to close out the game, and the Dawgs proved me right.

This loss was deflating, and it moves Georgia into 13th place in the 14-team SEC. Everyone involved with the program on some level is frustrated.

Look at UGA’s remaining schedule. How many potential wins remain for this Georgia team?

Maybe Texas A&M at home? Or possibly Alabama? At Vanderbilt? The Aggies are 4-3 in conference play, Bama beat Auburn and historically, UGA struggles on that wonky court in Nashville. Last year, Tom Crean’s initial season produced 2 SEC wins. I never considered that they’d muster up a similarly low tally again this year, especially with the talent influx that this roster enjoyed due to one of the better Georgia recruiting classes ever.

Prior to the season, both ESPN and Sports Illustrated projected the Dawgs to finish 9th in the league; CBS was more optimistic as the network pitted the Dawgs at 7th, and in its description of this year’s team:

“Dawgs should be on any list of the top 10 most interesting/curious teams of 2019-20.”

The real curiosity at this point has to be centered around this team’s inability to get better as the season progresses, which I wrongly assumed they would earlier in the year.

Not having Sahvir Wheeler last night hurt. He’s this team’s best distributor and facilitator. But, the Dawgs did look really sound on offense for the first three-quarters of the game last night. Tom Crean’s guys were MOVING without the ball; Tyree Crump and Anthony Edwards were knocking down three-pointers off of passes rather than trying to do their best Steph Curry impersonations by shooting off-balanced and off the dribble. In the first half, UGA shot over 50% from both the field and beyond the arc en route to 42 points.

Nearly halfway through the second half, though, all that movement stopped. Guys started standing around and watching each other try to make plays off the dribble. The Dawgs hit only 36% from the floor in the final 20 minutes and made only 1 of 11 three-point attempts. All this futility led to a dismal 27-point second half effort against the 9th-best scoring defense in the SEC.

Junior Rayshaun Hammonds shot (and missed) his only field goal of the game during that meltdown of a second half. He failed to enter the scoring column even though he logged 33 minutes of play. How does that happen? Hammonds is the team’s second leading scorer and it should be impossible for him to become such an afterthought on offense in a game.

But Hammonds wasn’t the only one that disappeared. Anthony Edwards, who finished with 23 points at the expense of a 9 for 24 shooting effort, logged 2 points in the game’s final 13 minutes. He had opportunities to put the Dawgs on his shoulders and get them off the snide, but he couldn’t convert.

At some point this season, Tom Crean might be able to convince this team to play hard and smart for a full 40 minutes, and it’s going to be, in the words of Mugatu from Zoolander, “Glorious!!!”

I like Tom Crean’s offensive concepts, I just hope he can keep the players interested in executing them for the entire game. I also love the fact that he wants his teams to shoot the three ball, he just needs to bring in a few more guys that can make them.

Many UGA fans (me included) had high expectations for this year’s team with the idea that an NCAA tournament bid was not out of the question. Wins over Georgia Tech, SMU and at Memphis only served to fuel that optimism. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I hadn’t glanced at the 1st/2nd round locations for this season’s dance, just to see what would be a manageable trip, should Georgia be selected.

Conference play has stifled much of that hope by now. I’m curious to see where this team goes moving forward. Tom Crean has a heck of a tall task in front of him from here on out at keeping this young bunch motivated and interested in playing together.

Three thoughts on UGA basketball’s first “bad loss”

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.

Up next:

At 1-5 Missouri on Tuesday

Current postseason projection:

NIT First Four Out

Box Score:

Georgia defense continues to be problematic for this team

The Dawgs (11-7, 1-4) dropped their second game in a row in Tuesday’s loss to Kentucky inside Rupp Arena. The fact that UGA only lost by 10 is a bit of a silver lining for Tom Crean’s team considering that Anthony Edwards didn’t score the entire first half, and Sahvir Wheeler went the whole game without a bucket. The Dawgs got 29 points from the bench and surprising double-digit efforts from Tye Fagan (14) and Toumani Camara (10) that helped UGA piece together a 79-point performance that came via chunks of scoring from various role players.

It’s safe to say that the Dawgs DO NOT have anyone capable of defending Kentucky’s Ashton Hagans on the perimeter or Nick Richards on the block; the sophomore and junior scored 23 and 20, respectively, for Coach Calipari’s team. The UGA fan base was ecstatic when Crean signed a player of Edwards’s caliber during the offseason, and rightfully so; it’s just that Cal has like 4 to 5 of those kinds of talents on his roster, and that’s a problem for Georgia whenever they play the Cats.

Here are a few more thoughts on the game:

Too many easy baskets for Kentucky

The Georgia Bulldogs interior defense plagued them once again. Kentucky used its size advantage to notch 46 points in the paint against the Dawgs, marking the 4th time in 5 SEC games that a team has scored 44 points or more inside the free throw line. Over the past 3 games prior to this one, UGA allowed opponents to make over 65% of their two-point attempts, the majority of which were scored in the lane. Not to keep pouring it on the defense, but after tonight’s effort, Georgia is now allowing over 80 points a contest in league games, which gives Tom Crean’s team the worst scoring defense in the SEC.

Crean has continued to preach effort on the defensive end in both finishing out possessions and rebounding. Obviously, I agree that those are crucial tenets that must be satisfied if a team hopes to make life difficult for opposing offenses. However, I’m not sure if effort alone is going to be enough for this year’s team to overcome some serious deficiencies that exist in regards to the size of the frontcourt.

The best part of the game for Georgia

The highlight of the games was the 7-ish minute span in the first half in which Georgia shook off a sluggish start and came back from an early 10-2 disadvantage. In an eerie repeat to last weekend’s game in Starkville, the Dawgs found themselves down by the exact same score by the time the initial media timeout rolled around. Kentucky had 11 fastbreak points prior to the intermission, and a majority of those came during this first segment of the game.

Tom Crean moved his team into an extended 2-3 zone in an attempt to slow down the pace of the game and to get Kentucky off-balanced. The UGA zone stymied the Cats’ offense, and Georgia outscored Kentucky 18-14 for the next 7 minutes. With 5:30 remaining before the half, the Dawgs capped off a 9-0 run en route to a 29-28 lead.

The effort in the first 20 minutes of this game was solid as Georgia notched 10 offensive boards which led to 10 second chance points. Despite shooting just 34% from the floor and 20% from three-point land, UGA only trailed 41-35 at the half, a half in which leading-scorer Anthony Edwards contributed 0 points.

Up next:

Ole Miss in Athens

Current postseason projection:

NIT

Box Score: