Dawgs earn a moral victory in 83-79 loss to LSU

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I realize that teams and their fan bases take little pride in moral victories in the long run. However, for THIS Georgia Bulldog (10-15, 1-11) team in THIS season, the Dawgs and their supporters should take some solace from last night’s effort against the #19 LSU Tigers.

UGA went toe-to-toe with an LSU team that had just knocked off #5 Kentucky at Rupp earlier in the week. With 29 seconds remaining in this contest, Georgia had an opportunity to tie the game. Instead, Nic Claxton elected to drive it at the rim, and his shot sailed over the basket, but the point is that the Dawgs were still in it with less than a minute remaining against a squad that is now tied with Tennessee for 1st place in the conference.

Tom Crean’s team’s most glaring weaknesses this year have been turnovers and inconsistent defense, yet on Saturday both of those shortcomings were relatively unnoticeable. The Dawgs committed only 11 turnovers, and even though those led to 17 Tiger points, for a Georgia team that’s been giving it away 15 times a night in conference play, this felt like a “win”.

Sure, LSU put up 83 points in its win over UGA, but guess what? They’ve been doing that to just about everybody. The Tigers are netting over 85 points a game in league play, so if you’re a “glass is half full” kind of person you could see this as a minor victory for the Georgia defense as the Dawgs held the Tigers under their SEC average in points.

LSU coach Will Wade seemingly has a never-ending supply of 6’10”-ish bigs he can run into the game, which is probably why his team leads the SEC in offensive boards per contest at over 14 a clip. The Tigers’ big men attacked the glass ferociously Saturday night, and it yielded 19 second-chance points for LSU, but Georgia had 18 points of that variety themselves.

This Tiger roster is far more talented than the current one that Tom Crean is working with. LSU has three guards in Tremont Waters, Skylar Mars and Ja’Vonte Smart that can all instantly create offense off the dribble; UGA doesn’t have anyone this year who can do that (aside from Jordan Harris, at times). Crean mixed in some 2-3 zone with his base man defense in an effort to slow down Waters, but the SEC’s best point guard got his 20 points. Smart, who is an absolute luxury for Wade to bring off the bench, torched the Dawgs for 19 points as he attacked the rim relentlessly. Luckily for Georgia, Mars, who nets over 13 ppg, was limited to just 6 on Saturday.

Despite the disparity in talent level between these two teams, Georgia hung with this Tiger team for nearly 40 minutes. UGA shot over 47% from the floor and had four players finish in double-figures in a game that featured 7 lead changes.

The Dawgs didn’t look like a team that was in the midst of a 9-game conference losing streak on Saturday. They didn’t back down in a game against a ranked opponent, when that certainly was an option. In the end, UGA came up 4 points short to the Tigers, but Georgia basketball fans have to take some satisfaction in the effort this Bulldog team showed in what has otherwise been a forgettable season.

Jordan Harris’s improvement

Harris’s 12 points on Saturday marked the 6th time in the last 7 games that the junior has finished in double-figures in the scoring department. Harris is also hauling in over 6 rebounds a contest during that same stretch. Jordan, who has to be the best athlete on the team, has emerged as a player that can create offense off the dribble from outside the paint, something this team was sorely lacking in the previous two-thirds of the season. If he continues to finish out this season strong, Harris has a realistic opportunity to be a regular double-digit contributor on next season’s team.

Rayshaun Hammonds foul tracker

With his 4 personal fouls on Saturday against LSU, Hammonds has now officially tied last season’s total of 81 PFs. The Dawgs have at least 7 games remaining (including the SEC tournament), so Hammonds has an extremely legitimate shot at committing over 100 PFs on the season, considering that he is averaging 3.7 a night in SEC play. The sophomore’s inability to stay on the court is perplexing because 1) he’s not an overly physical player and 2) he MUST realize his importance to this team. Hammonds netted 13 points against the Tigers yesterday, but he only logged 25 minutes of game time.

Box Score:

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Poor defense and a weird last possession result in another UGA loss

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For the final 4 minutes of this game, Georgia (10-11, 1-7) played solid base defense against the South Carolina Gamecocks. USC’s last 5 possessions before UGA was forced to foul looked like this: turnover, three-pointer, turnover, turnover and missed shot. That’s some impressive defense at crunch time, and for that the Dawgs deserve a lot of credit. Had Georgia secured the missed jumper by Hassani Gravett with less than a minute left and the Gamecocks leading 83-80, UGA would have had chance to tie the game. The Georgia defense put this team in a position to win at the end of this contest.

The problem, however, was that the Dawgs looked perplexed defensively for the previous 36 minutes. Defensive rotations were too slow and sometimes nonexistent. How else do you explain allowing the SEC’s 11th best three-point shooting team (32%) to go 11 for 16 from the perimeter? Carolina buried nearly double the number of triples they had been averaging a night in league play, and on the road no less. In the first half, USC’s guards hit 3 three-pointers from the corner baseline spot that were painfully uncontested.

In his post game, Tom Crean had the following to say regarding the perimeter defense:

“We are improving. But we have got to stop hurting ourselves with not getting our hands up, with not communicating the switch.”

I wholeheartedly agree. However, Crean might want to be a little more liberal with his timeouts in the future because he could use them to remind his players of all of these things he discussed in his press conference. South Carolina is a terrible three-point shooting team, but even average shooters can be made to appear better than they are when their looks to the basket are basically unimpeded. The Dawgs may be handicapped offensively due to a dearth of talent in the ball handling department, but all of these players should be capable of playing sound defense for 40 minutes.

To be fair, there wasn’t much defense being played by either team on Saturday, which should have been expected since the Gamecocks entered this contest with the worst team scoring defense (79.3) in SEC play and Georgia the second-worst (77.9).

That last possession by Georgia was a real head-scratcher. Considering that Crean removed his team’s best perimeter shooter, Tyree Crump, in favor of Derek Ogbeide, I assumed that the Dawgs were going to attack the basket as they trailed 85-80 with just 33 ticks remaining. Instead, both Turtle Jackson and Nicolas Claxton tossed up clunkers from the beyond the arc, and the Gamecocks corralled the 4th miss to earn another trip to the free throw line. Game over. Carolina wins 86-80.

A special shout out goes to the Georgia bench for performing admirably this afternoon. The Dawgs reserves outscored the Carolina bench 36-22, and they played a key role in helping UGA close an early double-digit deficit. Derek Ogbeide led all Georgia scorers with 16 points to go along with 7 rebounds, and today’s game marked his third straight SEC contest in which he has finished in double-figures in scoring.

Jordan Harris, who missed the last two games with concussion symptoms, gave Crean his best minutes of the season as he notched 11 points off the bench. Harris played with a lot of intensity, and his athleticism is hard to miss – he’s always around the ball as he secured 6 boards and forced 4 steals.

Looking ahead, it’s hard not to speculate on just how many conference games this team can win. The Dawgs have multiple ranked opponents still scheduled to travel to Athens, and all of those contests will be challenging for this team. At this point, it’s hard to envision this bunch winning an SEC road game (although I would LOVE to be proven wrong).

Georgia’s worst conference performances in the past 20 years were Dennis Felton’s final season, in which that team won 3 SEC games, and his second year in Athens when the Dawgs managed just 2 league victories during the regular season. My best estimation, and again, I pray that I am incorrect, is that this team will not eclipse 3 conference wins this year.

Box score:

Analyzing those 26 turnovers and a few other tidbits from UGA’s 98-88 win over Texas

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Let’s talk about those 26 turnovers…

Not many teams can turn the ball over 26 times and win by double-digits while almost eclipsing the century mark in points. Seriously, what UGA did today offensively was quite remarkable considering Texas entered this contest with the 36th best scoring defense in the country, at just over 65 points a game.

Obviously, the Dawgs were too careless with the basketball this afternoon, and it did hurt them as the Longhorns scored 26 points off turnovers. But, UGA fans must understand that Tom Crean wants this team to play up tempo every possession, and that doesn’t just mean that Georgia is moving the ball up and down the court at a fast pace (which it most certainly is). Crean wants the ball going in and out of players’ hands; he doesn’t want guys to hold the ball for too long because that gives the defense a chance to react. Furthermore, Crean also has his guys constantly cutting without the ball. All this motion, both with and without the ball, is going to result in additional turnovers, as it did today, and the giveaways will most likely continue as long as Georgia plays without a true point guard.

However, the Dawgs also dished out 25 team assists, shot nearly 71% from beyond the arc and hit 67% from the floor. So while the game felt sloppy at times, a lot of positives occured as well due to Crean’s style of play, and it’s clear he’s willing to live this way.

Playing fast is a good look for this Georgia team because it takes the pressure off the guards from having to facilitate offense in the halfcourt, which is much more difficult when a team’s major weakness, like UGA’s, is its backcourt. Tennessee, Kentucky, Florida and, to some extent, Auburn were all able to dictate Georgia’s pace by being the aggressors and applying pressure the length of the court. The Dawgs shot under 40% in all of those games except for the one on The Plains. Crean’s team will still be leading the SEC in turnovers per game after today, but I truly believe he has them in an offensive system that gives them the best chance to be successful this season.

The first half was fun, but…

I actually found the second half even more satisfying. UGA hit 8 of 12 three-pointers prior to the break, yet they still went into the locker room tied with Texas at 46 apiece. Georgia had only scored 12 points in the paint to Texas’s 20 prior to the intermission, and I definitely felt unsure as to where the Dawgs’ scoring would come from once the shots stopped falling from beyond the arc.

Oddly, UGA only shot 5 more three-pointers in the game’s final 20 minutes (of which they made 4). Instead, Georgia started to attack the rim, and they scored 22 points in the paint and connected on 16 of 18 free throws. The Dawgs shot a blistering 76% from the floor in the second half, another reason why they were able to win this game despite the turnovers.

The one stretch of game where Georgia was certainly on the verge of crumbling occurred around the midway point of the second half. With 12:28 remaining, UGA took a 68-60 lead on a jumper by Rayshaun Hammonds. It felt like Georgia was stuck on 68 for an eternity, and when Dylan Osetkowski put back one of his teammates’ misses, his Texas team had cut the UGA advantage to 70-66 with 8:27 left. During this agonizing 4 minutes of game, the Dawgs went 1 for 3 from the floor and gave the ball away 4 times. This seemed like it would be the moment when Texas would ride its momentum and seize the lead.

Instead, Tom Crean’s team connected on 5 straight field goals, including triples by Tyree Crump and Nic Claxton, and hit 4 of 5 from the line to build its lead to 87-75, which proved to be insurmountable for Shaka Smart’s team.

Foul trouble again for Rayshaun Hammonds

Hammonds had a productive afternoon as he scored 14 points and grabbed 9 boards in 29 minutes of play. However, the sophomore fouled out of today’s game, and he continues to trend upwards in the number personal fouls he accrues per contest. Hammonds, who averaged 24 minutes per game last year as well, committed 81 personal fouls all last season; he already has 62 this year, and the reason for the uptick in fouls is inexplicable considering that Hammonds must be aware of how little depth Georgia has behind him.

Welcome back Tyree

Tyree Crump’s 6 three-pointers were a career best for him in a game as a Georgia Bulldog. The junior now has 35 triples on the season, and he needs just 10 more to surpass last season’s total.

Today’s outburst will hopefully be the catalyst to get Crump out of a recent slump that saw him score 14 points over his last 3 games, all of them losses for the Dawgs.

Box score

How Georgia’s offense and defense contributed to its 92-82 loss at LSU

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First, the defense

Tom Crean and his staff decided to mix things up a bit on the defensive end against LSU on Wednesday night in Baton Rouge, starting after the first make of the game when the Bulldogs (9-9, 1-5) jumped into a little token full court pressure. Even though Georgia only showed this look several times, it was refreshing seeing the Dawgs as the aggressors, especially considering how much press Crean’s team has seen this season. The intent was to slow down this LSU offense by shortening the Tigers possessions in the halfcourt, and it was effective through the first 5 minutes as UGA managed to build up a 13-8 lead.

UGA also showed a new matchup zone that incorporated some quick traps on the wings and in the corners, and this helped to stabilize things after a 14-0 Tiger run that ran the LSU advantage up to 22-13 at the 13-minute mark in the first half.

The zone sets befuddled the Tigers momentarily, but LSU quickly learned that Georgia had no intent of fulfilling its obligations in regards to backside rotations, and Will Wade’s team started getting to the rim with ease. The Dawgs looked like a team that just learned these zones this week. I mean, the Tigers had 48 points at the half (to UGA’s 36) and shot 50% from the floor, so Georgia’s junk zone looks certainly weren’t giving them too many issues offensively. LSU had players on two different occasions drive from beyond the arc straight to the rim for a wide-open dunk without facing any resistance from a single UGA defender.

Considering the talent and athleticism disparity that favored LSU, I totally understand why Crean didn’t feel comfortable playing the Tigers man-to-man, hence the new defensive sets. The problem, though, is that it just didn’t work as LSU finished with 92 points and made 50% of its field goal attempts. The Tigers had both its starting guards score more than 20 points in Tremont Waters (26) and Skylar Mays (20).

Final indication that UGA’s defense failed it tonight: Georgia shot 54% from the floor and 47% from beyond the arc and still lost by double-digits.

And…now the offense

Georgia appeared dead to rights when they trailed the Tigers by 16 with 11:12 left in the second half. However, UGA wouldn’t quit, and a slew of buckets by Derek Ogbeide, who scored 14 off the bench, coupled with a generally lethargic effort from Will Wade’s team for nearly 8 minutes saw the Dawgs trailing 78-71 at the game’s final media timeout.

Unfortunately, LSU responded with consecutive old-fashioned three-point plays that put them up 84-73 with 2:57 remaining, effectively icing the game.

However, the reason that Georgia found itself even sniffing striking distance was because the Dawgs played some of their best offense of the season during the aforementioned 8-minute stretch. UGA scored a slew of buckets on backdoor cuts that would have made former Princeton coach Pete Carril proud. Georgia’s wings slashed to the basket when the ball moved inside the three-point line, which led to 5 team assists during this span of the contest. This little snippet of the game was probably the best UGA has looked on offense since conference play began, and a lot of that can be attributed to how well the Bulldogs were moving without the ball.

Rayshaun Hammonds, who was held in check in the first half, scored 15 of his 18 following the intermission. The sophomore asserted himself on offense as he created opportunities for others off the dribble; he also did an excellent job of staying active and making himself available around the rim when he didn’t possess the ball. Hammonds was an integral part in Georgia’s ability to keep this game within reach deep into the second half.

With the good, though, must come the bad, and once again, Georgia had issues with ball security. Credit LSU for its defensive intensity. The Tiger guards were constantly harassing the UGA ball-handlers (11 steals), and the LSU bigs excelled at protecting the glass (5 team blocks). The turnover bug bit Tom Crean’s team once again, though, to the tune of 17 giveaways, and those mishaps proved costly as they led to 17 Tiger points. Georgia entered tonight’s game last in the SEC in turnover margin at -5.2, and it’s likely the Dawgs will remain in that slot after Wednesday’s showing.

Box score:

Why Georgia lost to Florida on Saturday

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There’s a reason the Florida Gators entered Saturday’s game with the 3rd best defense in the SEC in league games, and it’s because Mike White does a great job of mixing up his defensive looks. For nearly the entire game, Florida showed the Dawgs (9-8, 1-4) a full-court zone press on any makes or turnovers that they transitioned into a little half-court trap. The Gators ran some man-to-man, and they occasionally showed some match-up zone.

All of these sets were highly-effective at keeping the Bulldogs off-balanced offensively. Other than the initial stretch of the second half, Georgia’s offensive resembled a game of “Hot Potato” for much of this one. The Dawgs committed 20 costly turnovers in this game that led to 28 Gator points.

Another tactic that Mike White used with his team in zone was that he had his guys double Nic Claxton any time he touched the ball inside. This strategy worked well for Florida and really frustrated Claxton, who had 0 points in the first half. The sophomore had as many turnovers (4) as field goal attempts by the time the teams went to the intermission. Claxton would finish with 9 points in a game in which he constantly had defenders swarming him whenever he received the ball on the block.

Has anyone else noticed that Georgia has been pressed relentlessly for the majority of SEC play? Expect this trend to continue as teams will seek to exploit UGA’s glaring weakness – its guards – until the season ends on either Wednesday or Thursday of the SEC tournament. If you watch college basketball other than Georgia games, notice how good teams do not get pressed that often because it puts too much pressure on the defense to guard in transition. For UGA, though, this is not the case.

There were two stretches of this game that were particularly brutal for Tom Crean’s team. The first was the beginning of the game, which Georgia started out with 4 turnovers and misses on all 6 of its field goal attempts. Florida had an 8-0 lead less than 5 minutes into this game, which they basically used as a buffer for the remainder of the half as they took a 33-23 advantage into the break.

The other portion of this contest that was particularly hard to watch occured, unfortunately, in the final quarter of the game. After a nice drive and lay-up by Jordan Harris with 9:38 remaining, the Dawgs went on a nearly six-and-a-half minute drought that included 6 turnovers; the bleeding was stopped when Nic Claxton hit a pair of free throws to make it 55-50 Florida with 3:11 remaining.

This offensive lull was such a bummer after the offensive fireworks that the Dawgs displayed coming out of the locker room. Georgia started the second half red hot and went on a 19-7 run that enabled them to take a brief lead, and it served to wake up a Stegeman crowd that hadn’t really been given much to cheer for in the game’s initial 20 minutes.

Obviously, a large part of UGA’s struggles since conference play began can be attributed to the backcourt. However, guard play is not the only issue with this Georgia team. UGA’s frontcourt has begun to look rather ordinary as the Dawgs have gotten deeper into the SEC slate, particularly Rayshaun Hammonds.

Florida coach Mike White road his star player, Kevaughn Allen, during the last five minutes of the game, and Allen answered the call as he scored 7 of his game-high 13 points. Hammonds, who is still UGA’s leading scorer at 13.7 ppg, was nowhere to be found. The sophomore put up a goose egg and committed 4 turnovers; other than a big second half against Vandy, Hammonds has basically been a no-show in SEC play, where he’s now averaging just 5.4 ppg. Rayshaun’s inability to step and be an offensive leader is putting additional, and unnecessary, pressure on the Georgia guards.

I continue to see the hashtag #TrustTheProcess in regards to the program on Twitter, and I most certainly do. I have full faith in Tom Crean as both an innovative offensive coach and an excellent recruiter who will take this program to a higher level. However, I feel that this season is more about giving Crean a break for the dearth of talent that Mark Fox left behind at the point guard position, which is making life really hard for UGA in conference play.

Box Score:

Examining Georgia & Florida by their SEC numbers

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Both Georgia (9-7, 1-3) and Florida (9-7, 1-3) will be looking to shake themselves out of a four-way tie for 9th in the conference when the teams lock up in Athens tomorrow. For UGA, the season thus far is going about as expected as the Dawgs were pegged to finish 13th in the SEC prior to the start of league play. Florida, however, has been a bit of a disappointment considering the media predicted the Gators to be the 5th best team in the conference before the season began.

The only common opponent that these two teams share currently is Tennessee, who bested Florida 78-67 in Gainesville last weekend; however, that result was a heck of a lot more competitive than the 46-point drubbing the Dawgs took at the hands of the Vols in Knoxville earlier this month.

Now that we’ve transitioned to conference play, statistics in SEC games become far more insightful than cumulative season stats. At this point, I’m not interested in how Rayshaun Hammonds performs against a Savannah State, Sam Houston State, Illinois State or Texas Southern; his play against conference competition, which hasn’t been stellar thus far (6.7 ppg), is a much stronger measuring stick.

Without further adieu, here is how the Dawgs and Gators stack up numbers-wise through four SEC games:

Offense

  • Scoring offense: Florida 12th (65.2), Georgia 13th (64.8)
  • FG%: Georgia 12th (38.8%), Florida 14th (36.6%)
  • 3-Point%: Florida 9th (30.8%), Georgia 14th (24.5%)
  • 3-Point FG per game: Florida 3rd (9.3), Georgia 12th (6.3)
  • Turnover margin: Florida 1st (+4), Georgia 13th (-3.8)

Defense

  • Scoring defense: Florida 3rd (67.8), Georgia 11th (80.2)
  • FG% defense: Georgia 11th (44.7%), Florida 12th (45.4%)
  • 3-Point FG% defense: Georgia 12th (35.4%), Florida 14th (38.1%)
  • Rebounding margin: Florida 10th (-3.8), Georgia 13th (-6.8)
  • Blocked shots: Georgia 1st (6.5), Florida 12th (2.8)
  • Steals: Florida 7th (6.5), Georgia 10th (5.8)
  • Defensive Reb.%: Florida 7th (67.5%), Georgia 14th (61.5%)

Other than a few outliers, both of these teams are near the bottom of the SEC in more than a few important categories. Neither squad has been impressive offensively, though Florida’s team defense hasn’t been too shabby. Statistically, I’d say the Gators have a slight edge, but the fact that the game is in Athens should tip the scales in UGA’s favor a bit. In other words, I expect a competitive game tomorrow.

Auburn too much for Georgia in 93-78 win

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The Georgia Bulldogs (9-6, 1-2) are going to continue to find the sledding fairly tough when they take on competition of the calibre of the #11 Auburn Tigers (12-3, 1-1), especially considering that Bruce Pearl has one of the best backcourts in the nation in Jared Harper and Bryce Brown. It’s no secret: guard play is the glaring weakness of this UGA team. Harper and Brown had no trouble exploiting the Dawgs’ Achilles Heel as they combined for 37 points on a 7 for 13 shooting performance from the three-point line in the Tigers’ 93-78 win over Georgia.

Believe it or not, this game was actually close for several stretches. Georgia came out of the half and cut a 10-point Tiger lead to just a 54-48 advantage following a triple by Teshaun Hightower with 17:05 remaining. It didn’t take long for Auburn to stretch the lead back into double-digits, though, as Harper connected on one of his 4 three’s to send the Tigers up 61-48 with 15:27 remaining.

Georgia sort of hung around for the remainder of the game, and by that I mean they stayed within 10 points at times; but the Dawgs couldn’t trim the Tiger advantage to single digits the rest of the way, and Auburn continued to push the pace.

After trailing 13-4 early on in this one, Georgia went on an 8-0 run and actually took a brief 22-20 lead on a Jordan Harris three-pointer with 11:20 left in the first half. The referees called the game pretty tight from the opening tip, and that kept Bruce Pearl’s team from ramping up the game’s tempo, which definitely benefited Georgia.

The Dawgs were in the bonus for over 10 minutes in the first half of play. Georgia took advantage and made 8 of 9 free throws. However, UGA stopped attacking as much and started to settle for too many threes, which is not a good look for this Georgia team as they went 4 of 12 from beyond the arc before the break; the Dawgs hit just 3 of their last 14 field goal attempts heading into the intermission, and Auburn took a commanding 48-38 lead into the half.

Nic Claxton had consecutive possessions in the opening 20 minutes where he took Austin Wiley off the dribble and pulled up to knock down jumpers just inside the three-point line. Again, that’s a 6’11” center doing something that’s meant for a point guard. Insane.

Claxton finished with 15 points and tied his career-high 6 blocks. Auburn applied full-court pressure for most of the game, and Claxton routinely brought the ball up the court. While it is absolutely wonderful to have a center who can do this, I’m not certain it didn’t begin to wear the sophomore down as the game went on. In an ideal world, Georgia would have a guard or two that could handle this responsibility so that Claxton could spend more time in proximity to the rim.

The Tigers had 5 players end up in double-figures, but probably the biggest offensive spark came from reserve Anthony Mclemore, who scored 11 of his 15 points prior to the break. He was active on the glass and without the ball, and he really ignited an Auburn offense that started the game rather stagnant. When Mclemore entered the game, his team trailed 26-22 with a little over 10 minutes remaining; he was a major reason why Bruce Pearl’s team was able to take control of this game heading into the half.

Three tough stats that didn’t go Georgia’s way:

  1. Auburn outscored UGA 40-24 in the paint.
  2. Auburn notched 20 second-chance points to UGA’s 13.
  3. Auburn scored 21 points off of 16 UGA turnovers; the Dawgs had 15 POT themselves.

I hate to be a moral victory type of fan, but I found myself surprised that Georgia competed as much as they did in this one, especially considering what happened last Saturday in Knoxville. I certainly didn’t expect the Dawgs to have much of a lead, let alone for 5.5% of the game.

That being said, the struggle will continue to be real for Georgia whenever they face teams with above average backcourts. Unfortunately, I just described both of UGA’s opponents for next week: #18 Kentucky and Florida. Whoever designed this SEC slate for Tom Crean’s first jaunt through the league has a cruel sense of humor.