UGA shocks Auburn on The Plains

With the 91-86 win over Auburn on The Plains, the Georgia Bulldogs (11-6, 4-6) are currently in the midst of their second conference win streak of the season; the first two-game span came with the victories over Ole Miss and Kentucky. Something about Kermit Davis’s team gets this Georgia bunch yearning for more the next time they take the court.

Since the Tigers dismantled UGA 95-77 in Athens back in January, Bruce Pearl’s team had won 3 of its last 4 league games. To say that Auburn is probably feeling a little shell shocked right now would be an understatement.

Georgia was the aggressor in this one from the opening tip. Tom Crean’s team had infectiously high energy from both the players on the court as well as those on the bench. The Dawgs were quicker to loose balls and they outworked the Tigers on the glass. Defensive rebounding has been an Achilles Heel for this team in SEC play, yet this evening Georgia yielded just 7 offensive boards to Auburn (which led to 14 second chance points). UGA’s success at securing Auburn’s misses enabled the Dawgs to get out in transition, which is where this team is typically most comfortable on offense.

In league contests, Auburn’s scoring defense ranked 11th entering tonight as Pearl’s team had been giving up nearly 79 a night. Honestly, it appeared as though the Tigers weren’t expecting much of a fight from Georgia by how lackadaisical they appeared defensively. Auburn’s second level defense was nonexistent and Georgia took advantage and punished the Tigers with 52 points in the paint. This was a stark contrast from the first time these two teams met when Auburn recorded 14 blocked shots as the Tiger defenders routinely rotated to provide help defense. The Dawgs had 6 players finish the game in double-figures, with Tye Fagan and Toumani Camara leading the way with 16 and 15, respectively (Camara also had 12 boards to notch the double-double).

Georgia showed a lot of poise down the stretch of this game. With a little over 10 minutes remaining, UGA had a 69-57 lead that would eventually be whittled down to a 6-point Georgia advantage with only 6 minutes left. However, the Dawgs did exactly what they needed to do to close this one out: they valued the basketball and made free throws. In the final 10 minutes of this contest, Tom Crean’s team committed just 1 turnover, which really limited Auburn’s extra scoring opportunities. Over the final 2 minutes of the game, the Dawgs knocked down 9 of 12 from the free throw line. Teams that don’t give the ball away and make opponents pay from the stripe typically hold onto leads, just as Georgia did this evening.

The Dawgs host 1-6 Vandy on Saturday, which gives Crean’s team a legit shot at moving into the middle of the conference standings. After Saturday, 4 of Georgia’s final 6 SEC games will come against teams that are currently ranked. If UGA is going to have a shot at surpassing last season’s win total of 5, this weekend’s game is a must-win.

Hey SEC: maybe UGA and Ole Miss should play once a week?

Two-thirds of Georgia’s (10-6, 3-6) conference wins this season have come against Ole Miss, which is why I want the SEC to rearrange the remainder of each team’s schedule and let these two face off once a week until early March. For UGA, this would present a realistic opportunity to rack up more SEC wins than last year (5), and for Kermit Davis and the Rebels, it would be a chance to improve against a team that they haven’t quite figured out yet.

I realize I’m speaking in fantasy, but this matchup is just so perfect for this year’s edition of Georgia basketball. From a physical standpoint, Ole Miss’s bigs couldn’t be more suitable opponents for the Dawgs as they are both 6’8″. Not 6’10” or 6’11”; Romello White and Robert Clark are both the same size as the Georgia bigs. It’s kismet.

For whatever reason, the Bulldogs are living their best lives offensively when they take on this Rebel squad. The Dawgs have shot over 55% from the floor and hit more than 50% of their three-point attempts in each contest. Those numbers are inconsistent with the 43% FG% and 32% 3PT% that UGA had been posting in SEC play. When UGA has squared off with UM this year, its offense hasn’t resembled itself in the least. Yesterday, just like two weeks ago, the Dawgs moved the ball to the open spots on the floor and finished, whether it be from beyond the arc or around the rim. All of this is even more confounding considering that the Rebels entered Saturday’s game with the second-best scoring defense (67.2 ppg) in league play.

I’m sure Tye Fagan would be on board with this idea of playing Ole Miss on a weekly basis. Fagan, who led UGA with 13 points on Saturday, has scored in double-figures just 3 times in league games this season, and two of those times came against Mississippi. The junior guard has netted a total of 32 points in those matchups with a shooting percentage just above 83%.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Dawgs held the Rebels to just 35% from the floor and and 15% from the perimeter. However, I’m not sure how much of that is a credit to Georgia or just Ole Miss’s general issues that revolve around putting the ball in the basket. Kermit Davis’s team entered this contest as the second-lowest scoring team in league play (64.8 ppg) and the worst shooting team from beyond the arc (26.8%). Ole Miss has been sort of anemic when the ball’s been in their hands this season, and yesterday was no different.

The only reason this game was close at the half (37-34, UGA) and throughout was because the Dawgs couldn’t protect the glass. The Rebels hauled down an astounding 23 offensive boards that led to 17 second chance points, which compensated some for their poor offensive execution. Georgia is now yielding nearly 16 offensive rebounds a night to the opposition, which is why they have the worst defensive rebounding percentage in the league at under 58%.

In theory, the defense should have an advantage in securing missed shots since they have more players closer to the basket; UGA, though, is trending on the wrong side of that theory and misses have become almost a 50/50 ball for either team. Following yesterday’s win, Georgia is now 342nd in the nation in opponent effective possession ratio (OEPR) over its past three games. OEPR is a measure of how many scoring chances a team let’s its opponents get out of their possessions; turnovers are good and offensive rebounds are bad. Let’s just say, when team’s have gone up against the Dawgs as of late, they’ve gotten plenty of scoring chances.

But I’m starting to digress from my original point. Sure, UGA had its share of hiccups yesterday defensively, largely due to the Dawgs’ inability to board; but the point is against Ole Miss those things don’t matter quite as much. Georgia still won by 10 points and they now own the tie-breaker over the Rebels for sole rights to 11th place in the conference standings. Imagine where UGA would end up if these two squads saw each other again next Saturday? And again the next. And the next…

South Carolina continues its dominance over Georgia

The Georgia Bulldogs (9-6, 2-6) beat Kentucky a week ago, which ended a 14-game losing streak to the Wildcats. Many thought (myself included) that such a win could help ignite this team and that they might use that victory as a stepping stone to build upon. Unfortunately, the Dawgs have gone only backwards since P.J. Horne’s buzzer beater. After losing to Florida over the weekend, Georgia traveled to Columbia and got drubbed 83-59 in what was easily this team’s worst performance in SEC play.

The fact that Georgia yielded 23 offensive rebounds that led to 23 second-chance points for South Carolina is disappointing for Tom Crean’s team, but it should hardly be surprising. Georgia entered this contest with the worst defensive rebounding percentage (62) in SEC play. The Dawgs have been allowing opponents to snag nearly 14 offensive boards a night in league games. These are the consequences when you have a roster with no players taller than 6’8″. UGA regularly plays three-guards on the court together with some combination of Sahvir Wheeler, Justin Kier, Tye Fagan and K.D. Johnson; the Dawgs are a small team that plays small. Georgia is built to give up points in the paint, and South Carolina obliged as they put up 44 of them.

What was more shocking to me was how stymied UGA looked against SC’s zone defense that Frank Martin allegedly installed just three days ago. Despite what was on display in Columbia on Wednesday evening, Georgia had been pretty solid on the offensive end in conference play. Prior to this debacle, UGA was 6th in scoring (76.6), 2nd in field goal percentage (45.7) and 4th in 3PT% (35) in SEC games. However, the triples were not falling for Tom Crean’s team against the Cocks, but that didn’t stop them from taking them; Georgia shot an astounding 4 of 26 from beyond the arc. P.J. Horne missed all 7 of his triple attempts, and he’s now a cool 0 for 13 over his past two games. Someone might need to think about changing his green light to yellow, at least for a game.

Schematically, UGA took a fairly mundane approach to attacking the Gamecock zone. For more times than I can remember, Georgia ran one or two bigs up high to screen for the point guard, and that was about the extent of the action on offense. Tom Crean’s offense against the zone has traditionally had guys filling those soft spots along the baseline so that when penetration occurs Georgia has players ready to receive the ball near the rim. Tonight, that kind of movement just wasn’t happening. Instead, the Dawgs shot just 32% from the floor and turned the ball over 20 times en route to their lowest offensive output in a league game this year.

One final thought: South Carolina has established complete dominance over Georgia’s basketball team. The Cocks have now won 9 straight over the Dawgs, and barring some unexpected miracle in Athens later in the season, Georgia is in jeopardy of being swept by Frank Martin’s team for the 5th consecutive year. How did things get this way? Georgia has been ranked higher than South Carolina in recruiting rankings the past 3 seasons, yet SC’s roster appears so much more talented. Be honest: who on UGA would start for the 2-3 Gamecocks? I mean, their leading scorer, Keyshawn Bryant (19 points against Georgia) doesn’t even start!?!?

Florida overpowers Georgia in Athens

The Florida Gators exposed Georgia’s (9-5, 2-5) lack of height on Saturday en route to a 92-84 road win. Prior to the start of the season, there was concern regarding the fact that Tom Crean’s roster didn’t contain a player taller than 6’8″, and today in Athens the Gators justified all those concerns. The Dawgs have now given up over 90 points in 4 of their 7 league games, and Georgia has allowed 83+ in all 5 SEC losses. Apparently defense still matters. Who knew?

The real death blow in this game was dealt at the start of the second half. After entering the break down 42-39, Georgia began the final 20 minutes on offense with 2 turnovers and a miss. The Gators countered with a couple buckets and a triple, and before 2 minutes had expired UGA was behind 49-40; Florida never really looked back from this point on.

Interestingly enough, Florida hasn’t been that great of a rebounding team in SEC play. The Gators entered this contest 9th in both total rebounds per game (35.6) and offensive rebounds (11.3). Florida’s frontcourt, which appeared massive next to the UGA players, shattered both of those league averages with 41 total rebounds and 16 offensive boards. Mike White’s team gave UGA the “.38 Special” treatment as the Gators had 22 second-chance points to Georgia’s 11.

Tom Crean had his team in a 2-3 zone for much of the game, which I suppose was an attempt to provide added support on the block. The problem with playing zone, however, is that it makes it much harder to defensive rebound since it’s more difficult for the defenders to make contact with the offensive players to block out. The zone certainly wasn’t helping Georgia slow down the Florida backcourt trio of Tre Mann, Noah Locke and Tyree Appleby, who combined for 54 of the Gators’ points. The Dawgs permitted Florida to hit nearly 57% from the floor, which means that with all the second-chance points, the Gators were getting points on the majority of their possessions.

Georgia’s offense was pretty efficient as well as the Dawgs connected on over 54% from the floor and 5 players finished in double figures. Andrew Garcia led all UGA scorers with 17 points, following up a 16 point effort in the win over Kentucky. Garcia is skilled at making himself available around the rim, and today he finished when he got it at a high clip (8 of 9 on FG). Justin Kier and K.D. Johnson chipped in 14 and 16, respectively, though both of them did their damage at the opposite ends of the game; Kier was most effective at the start, and K.D. finished strong and kept the Dawgs from losing by double-digits.

Sahvir Wheeler’s double-double of 10 points and 10 assists was overshadowed by another abhorrent shooting night as he went 3 of 9 from the floor. The sophomore is now hitting just 40% of his field goals in SEC play, and that’s largely due to his insistence on forcing up contested layups against much taller players. At this point, I don’t think Wheeler is going to get any taller, so he’s going to have to find a way to either pass the ball off or not leave his feet when he drives.

Three noteables from UGA’s win over Kentucky

In one night, Georgia snapped a 14-game losing streak to Kentucky while simultaneously putting together a two-game SEC win streak of their own. The Dawgs closed out the game on a 7-0 run that ended with an off-balanced layup from P.J. Horne as time was winding down.

Here are some observations from Wednesday’s win over Kentucky:

  1. Georgia’s offense and defense switched roles on Wednesday

Coming into tonight’s game against the Kentucky Wildcats, UGA’s offense was one of the more efficient ones in the conference:

Yet on Wednesday night in Athens, it was the defense that carried Georgia over the Cats. For the most part, this game was fairly offensively-challenged for both teams. The Dawgs hit less than 39% from the floor and made only 4 of 12 from beyond the arc. Georgia point guard Sahvir Wheeler finished with just 10 points on a 4 of 15 shooting effort from the field. Wheeler, who is the catalyst for this team, consistently found himself surrounded by Kentucky bigs in the paint on penetration, which led to the sophomore taking an array of out of control shots around the rim. Georgia’s other big scorer, Toumani Camara, was basically a non-factor as he netted just 6 points and attempted only 4 shots.

The UGA defense, however, was a completely different story. Playing primarily man for much of the night, Georgia occupied the passing lanes and forced Kentucky into 17 turnovers, which the Dawgs promptly turned into 25 points (nearly 40% of the Georgia offensive output). With Kentucky up 62-56 with 2:02 left in the game, UGA’s defense pitched a shutout for the remainder, and that enabled Tom Crean’s team to have the opportunity to win at the end.

2. The turnover story got reversed as well

The Dawgs entered this contest leading the SEC with over 18 turnovers a night in conference play. By halftime, UGA had just 6 giveaways, and they would finish the game with 11. Kentucky scored 11 points off turnovers, but the +6 turnover differential in Georgia’s favor might have made the difference in the outcome of this game. Justin Kier led the game with 5 steals and helped to disrupt the flow of an anemic Kentucky offense, and UGA ended up taking 10 more field goals attempts than the Cats.

3. Thank goodness for grad transfers

The obvious hero of the night was P.J. Horne, who took a low inbounds pass from Wheeler with 3.6 seconds lefts and put it off the glass and in for the UGA victory. Horne’s ability to find his way to the rim was definitely abetted by the Kentucky defender’s disinterest in going after the ball when P.J. bobbled it; however, Georgia was the more aggressive team for much of the night, so this end seemed fitting.

Andrew Garcia played probably his best conference game of the season to date. The wily veteran took advantage of the inexperienced Kentucky bigs as Garcia used his body to make himself available near the rim the entire game. Garcia led all UGA scorers with 16 points to go along with 6 boards, and he displayed some nice back-to-the-basket scoring skills on the block. The senior definitely yields height in every contest, but Garcia’s wide body help to compensate for that lack of size on Wednesday against Kentucky.

3 reasons why Georgia got its first SEC win today

The Dawgs (8-4, 1-4) got their first conference win of the season on Saturday at The Pavillion in Oxford, Mississippi, where the Bulldogs hung on for a 78-74 win. Here are the three reasons why UGA managed to pull off the road upset. Spoiler alert: it’s all about the backcourt.

  1. Sahvir Wheeler

The sophomore point guard played maybe his most complete game of the season against Ole Miss as he scored 18 points to go along with 9 assists. Wheeler played steady for pretty much the entire game, but I thought he had two particular stretches that were key for his team. The first came right out of the half when Georgia’s point guard scored a layup and dished out 2 assists which bolstered UGA’s advantage to 36-30. Wheeler was distributing the ball well and getting his teammates involved. His shining moment, however, came during the final stretch of play with his team leading by just 1 with 1:02 left after a pair of free throws from Devontae Shuler. Wheeler put the offense on his shoulders and got to the free throw line on consecutive possessions, where he knocked down 4 straight free throws and essentially helped his team close out the Rebels.

2. Tye Fagan

Georgia’s offense was kind of a mess in the first half of this contest. Ole Miss threw several different zones at the Dawgs that involved trapping outside the three-point line, and UGA looked discombobulated. Georgia shot under 41% from the floor and committed 8 turnovers in the initial 20 minutes of this game.

The second half was a completely different story, however, and Fagan was a big part of UGA’s offensive transformation. Fagan masterfully found the soft spots in the Ole Miss zone and was the benefactor of a lot of easy shots at the rim. After scoring just 2 points prior to the break, Fagan came out and netted 17 points over the final 20 minutes on a perfect 8 of 8 performance from the floor. The Dawgs shot a blistering 75% from the floor in the second half, thanks in part to Fagan’s efforts on offense.

3. K.D. Johnson

To be honest, Georgia doesn’t win this game if the NCAA hadn’t cleared Johnson to play this week. The freshman came off the bench to give his team 14 points, including a 4 of 5 shooting effort from beyond the arc. Johnson knocked down triples on consecutive possessions late in the game to put UGA up 71-59 with 4:33 remaining. K.D.’s ability to convert from the perimeter (in clutch situations, nonetheless) makes this Georgia team more dynamic on the offensive side of the ball. The freshman, paired with Wheeler and Toumani Camara, gives Tom Crean a solid foundation to start with next year.

While the sole focus of this post has been on the UGA backcourt, I’d be remiss if I didn’t touch on the Georgia defense for just a bit. Tom Crean deployed his team in a 2-3 zone for much of this contest, which was a worthy strategy considering the Rebels entered this game 13th in the SEC in scoring (65) and last in field goal percentage (38.4%). While the Dawgs probably feel decent about not allowing an opponent to score over 90 points for the 4th straight game, Georgia did permit Mississippi to exceed their SEC averages in both scoring (74) and field goal percentage (50.8%). UGA still has issues on the defensive side of the ball; Ole Miss just didn’t have the firepower to completely expose them. Kentucky comes into Athens on Wednesday, and UGA’s defense will definitely be put to the test against Calipari’s bigger athletes.

Georgia’s defense helps extend losing streak

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

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

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

Georgia SEC opener recap: no defense = no offense

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).