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:

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.

Bulldogs earn first SEC win of the season with home blowout of Vanderbilt

Vanderbilt coach Bryce Drew switched his team into a zone defense for the first time all game less than 5 minutes into the second half with the Commodores (9-5) trailing Georgia (9-5) 45-39. Inexplicably, Drew kept his team in this look for nearly the rest of the way, and Bulldog coach Tom Crean could not have been happier. After shooting just 2 of 12 from the perimeter in the game’s first 20 minutes, the Dawgs knocked down 7 of 14 three-point attempts in the second half and cruised to an 82-63 victory.

To be clear: this was just a one-point game at halftime, in Georgia’s favor. Typically, when a team begins to heat up from the outside, as UGA did on Wednesday, the opposing squad switches back into a man look. I’m not sure why Bryce Drew didn’t follow suit.

A huge contributor to UGA’s dominant second-half performance was sophomore Rayshaun Hammonds, who scored all 19 of his team-high points after the break. Rayshaun Hammonds started slow again after getting blanked against Tennessee in the SEC opener. The sophomore missed all four of his first-half field goal attempts as he looked out of sorts offensively to begin this one. Hammonds woke up quickly out of the intermission, however, as he scored 7 points before even 4 minutes had elapsed.

Teshaun Hightower provided a surprisingly productive 21 minutes for coach Crean, particularly in the first half. Hightower asserted himself more on offense as he made repeated concerted efforts to drive the ball at the rim, which resulted in 8 first half points to go along with 4 boards; the sophomore would finish with 11 points in the game. Of all the Georgia guards, Hightower is definitely the strongest candidate to take on the role of a legitimate point guard that can put some pressure on opposing defenses.

Defensively, the Dawgs did a great job of shutting down Vandy’s star point guard Saben Lee in the game’s second half. Lee gave Georgia fits prior to the break as he scored 10 points, with many of them coming near or at the rim. The UGA guards did a much better job of staying in front of him after the break, and they managed to limit Lee to just 2 second-half points.

Georgia definitely started this contest playing faster than it did last weekend in Knoxville against the Vols. The quicker pace created a helter skelter tempo early in the game that resulted in some sloppiness from both teams – Vandy had 7 turnovers in the first half to Georgia’s 8 giveaways; the Dores converted the UGA turnovers into 14 points prior to the intermission. The Dawgs quickly saw a 14-6 advantage turn into a 19-14 Vandy lead with a little over 11 minutes left in the half; Georgia had 4 turnovers during this stretch. Credit Tom Crean for settling his team down in the second half, where UGA committed just 4 more turnovers the rest of the way.

Georgia showed a lot of resilience in it win over Vandy on Wednesday night, especially considering the thrashing that the Dawgs received last weekend against Tennessee. Getting the conference win was absolutely crucial tonight as the Dawgs have a much taller task on Saturday when they travel to the Plains to take on the #11 Auburn Tigers.

Box Score:

What is Georgia’s ceiling?

The Georgia Bulldogs will be navigating the waters of college basketball this season without Yante Maten, the team’s leading scorer from a year ago and an All-SEC regular.  UGA was picked to finish 13th in the Southeastern Conference by the media, and that’s totally fair.  Georgia struggled to put the ball in the basket last season as they averaged just 68 points a night, which was 301st in the nation in that category.  This team has to figure out how to score without the services of one of the program’s all-time best players in Maten.

Enter Tom Crean.  Georgia’s new skipper was brought in to breathe some life into a basketball program that had become rather mundane when it possessed the ball. No one will ever really know what Mark Fox’s goals were offensively except Fox and his players, but to the outside observer it appeared that Fox had an incredibly regimented set that didn’t allow for a lot of variation or creativity.

Under Crean, I expect to see Georgia push the ball in transition quite a bit more. When Crean was at Indiana, his teams ran a lot of extended, high-pressure defense that forced opposing teams into turnovers and rushed shots. These miscues allowed the Hoosiers to push the ball up the court relentlessly.   For the first three years of Crean’s tenure at Indiana, the Hoosiers were in rebuilding mode. However, once they started reaching the NCAA tournament on a regular basis, starting in 2011, Crean’s teams finished in the top twenty nationally in scoring 4 of the next 5 seasons.  Once the guy had his players and systems in place, his team had little trouble putting the ball in the basket.

Let’s get back to the Dawgs, though.  Georgia doesn’t return a single player that averaged in double-digits in scoring last year.  To think that Crean is going to just swoop in and turn this bunch into an 80+ppg juggernaut instantaneously would be asinine.  The Dawgs’ top returning scorers are William Jackson, Derek Ogbeide, Rayshaun Hammonds and Tyree Crump.  If Georgia is going to finish higher than the second-to-last spot that the media pegged them at it’s going to depend on the growth of both Hammonds and Crump under Crean.  Both of these guys were 4-star recruits coming out of high school, yet neither of them has lived up to their respective billings since arriving in Athens. To be fair to these players though, they weren’t given much freedom to be creative with the ball under Fox, so it will be interesting to see if they make the jump that Georgia so desperately needs them to this year under Crean.

Defensively, the Dawgs could be better this year as Jordan Harris (also a former 4-star recruit) returns to the team along with sophomore Nicolas Claxton, who I expect to be quite the shot-alterer this season.  While I’m hoping that Crump is a starter since I feel that he’s this team’s most legitimate backcourt scorer, the Dawgs could boast the most left-handed heavy lineup in the country should Crean decide to start Harris, Hammonds, Ogbeide and Claxton alongside Turtle.

Georgia brings in five new freshmen, with the 6’9″ 4-star forward Amanze Ngumezi and the 6’6″ 3-star wing JoJo Toppin being the most intriguing.  Ngumezi is a large-framed kid who was brought in to fill the void that Maten’s departure created. Obviously that’s not going to happen over night, but he’s going to be relied on to contribute off the bench right away.  Toppin is a high-flyer who should help Georgia with his slashing ability, which is something UGA hasn’t gotten from the wing position since Brandon Morris played.

Ultimately, this team is riddled with a lot of unknowns: new coach, new system, new players.  Let’s be clear – this is definitely a rebuilding year.  Georgia was 7-11 in the SEC a season ago and 18-15 overall; the Dawgs are going to have to fight to finish around .500 this year.  But that’s ok because I’m POSITIVE that this team will be more fun to watch.  Georgia fans need to think long-term in regards to Crean. I’m not talking Mark Fox “10-year plan” long-term; I’m thinking more like three.

Georgia won’t finish 13th in the league either.  The Dawgs will definitely prove the doubters wrong and end up 11th or 12th in the SEC, mark my words.

 

 

Kentucky whips Georgia in Lexington

Here are some of my thoughts from that 82-48 shellacking:

Epic scoring drought

Georgia, a team that has had its offensive issues as of late, took it to a whole new level in Lexington on Tuesday night.  To be specific, Kenny Gaines hit a three-pointer to cut the Kentucky lead to 19-13 with 13:36 left in the half, and then UGA didn’t score a field goal for the next 18 minutes.  Let that sink in for a second.

By the time Charles Mann finally broke the dry spell on a lay up in the second half, Kentucky’s lead had grown to 52-26 with a little over 15 minutes remaining in the game.  Not making any field goals for nearly half the game is a recipe for disaster against just about any college basketball team, but it’s especially detrimental when it happens at Rupp against the #22 Wildcats.  Georgia’s 11 field goals tonight set a season low for Power 5 conference teams (UGA hit just 22% of its attempts from the floor).

Kentucky experienced an offensive rut of its own in the first half, going almost 7 minutes without a field goal, which allowed the Dawgs to get to within 6 points. Coach Calipari’s team snapped out of its funk, though, while Georgia didn’t, ending any hopes that Coach Fox’s team might have had of keeping the game close heading into the intermission; Kentucky led 42-24 at the break.

Kentucky’s backcourt dominance

UGA came into Rupp hoping that its backcourt would carry them on the road.  Unfortunately, the Dawgs trio of J.J. Frazier, Charles Mann and Kenny Gaines were simply outplayed by the Wildcat guards.  Jamal Murray and Tyler Ulis scored 24 and 14, respectively, with Murray knocking down 6 of his 10 three-point attempts.  In addition to his 14 points, Ulis had 8 assists and 3 steals, and he had J.J. Frazier’s number from the opening tip.

Frazier, Gaines and Mann combined for just 21 points, hitting 5 of their collective 24 attempts from the field. Frazier, who had only 4 of those points, failed to connect from the floor, missing all 8 of his attempts.

Turnover differential

The Dawgs do not have the firepower on their roster to go into Lexington and play sloppy, and yet, that’s exactly what happened on Tuesday night for Coach Fox’s team.  Credit the Wildcats – they have great athletes and Calipari does get them to play hard man defense. But Georgia was extremely careless with the ball on Tuesday, turning it over 15 times. Unfortunately, Kentucky committed just 7 turnovers, so Georgia gifted the Wildcats, who made over 52% from the floor, an extra 8 possessions.  The culprit for 6 of UGA’s turnovers was none other than senior Charles Mann.

Georgia is now 13-9 overall and 6-5 in the SEC. Sadly, UGA just made its second consecutive appearance on ESPN’s “Bubble Watch” prior to tonight’s game. But after suffering their second beatdown to a ranked team on national television, the Dawgs are more than likely off that bubble now.

UGA has a couple of days off before hitting the road again to take on Missy State in Starkville this Saturday night.

 

 

J.J. Frazier’s stellar season

Back in November of last year, both Kenny Gaines and Charles Mann were selected to the Preseason All-SEC team.  In fact, they were both First Team selections.

Odds are that neither of them will be on the First Team when the teams are chosen at the conclusion of the year.  Gaines, who is averaging 13.5 points per SEC game, may wind up on the Second Team.

Barring an epic meltdown, Georgia should have a representative from its backcourt on that First Team, though; and that person is J.J. Frazier.

Frazier is having a fantastic SEC season, and he is on the leaderboard in 7 out of the 13 categories that the conference tracks. Four of those statistical areas pertain to rebounding and blocked shots, which J.J. can hardly be faulted for since he is typically the smallest player on the court (yet he is second on the UGA team in rebounding, grabbing 4.9 a game on the year).

In conference games, Frazier is netting nearly 17 points a night, and he is making almost 45% of his three-point attempts. J.J. has a stellar assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.7.  Oh yeah, and he’s leading everyone with 2.5 steals a contest in league games.

While Frazier’s perimeter shooting has been remarkable thus far, it’s certainly not his only weapon.  Everyone remembers Frazier’s 37-point effort against Missy State last year, a game in which J.J. nailed all 7 of his three-point shots. The problem with that game, though, was that it let the cat out of the bag on Frazier, warning the rest of the league that he needed to be guarded closely beyond the arc.  For the most part, teams obliged, keeping a defender close to J.J. at all times, which severely limited his open outside looks. The result: Frazier only scored in double-figures 5 times in the remaining 14 games.

The issue was that last season J.J.’s offense centered around three-pointers.

This year, however, that is not the case.  Frazier has shown his ability to take the ball to the rim this season, and if defenders play him too tight on the perimeter, he just goes by them. Last year, only 39% of J.J.’s field goals were two-pointers. This season, that number has risen to 50%, and the year isn’t over yet.  Offensively, Frazier is much more dynamic this season compared to last.

Simply put, Frazier is integral to UGA’s success.  He and Yante Maten are the two guys that Coach Fox must have on the court and out of foul trouble if this team is going to make a late-season push for the NCAA tournament.

Georgia is just 3-5 this year in games in which Frazier scores 12 points or less, and they are 10-3 on the season when he goes over that number.

Mocs spoil UGA comeback, win 92-90 in overtime

For the second straight year, Coach Mark Fox and his team will begin the season with a losing record.

After digging themselves into an 84-77 hole with 1:57 left in overtime, Georgia, despite some acrobatic three-pointers from Turtle Jackson and J.J. Frazier, was unable to close the gap before the final moments expired, and the Chattanooga Mocs escaped Athens with a 92-90 victory.

Although, the Dawgs spent a greater part of the evening trying to claw their way back into this game.  Georgia trailed the Mocs for the first 30 minutes of this contest before a Frazier layup put the Dawgs up 53-52 with over a little over 10 minutes remaining in regulation. UGA briefly appeared as though they might have finally taken over this one after a tip-in by E’Torrian Wilridge sent them up 64-59 with just 6:39 left.

But the Mocs wouldn’t go away, and a few minutes later the game was locked up at 66 apiece following a jumper by Casey Jones.  On the next possession, Jones buried a three-pointer that gave his team a 69-66 advantage.

The Dawgs failed to contain Jones, who along with teammate Jonathan Cook, scored 23 points to lead the Mocs.

Coach Mark Fox’s team has to be somewhat embarrassed that they allowed two Chattanooga players to finish with 20-plus points on Friday.  Although, UGA didn’t seem too particularly interested in playing much defense last night anyhow, especially on the perimeter where the Mocs connected on 40% of their three-point attempts (12 in all).  Despite Chattanooga’s effectiveness from the outside, Coach Fox kept his team locked in a zone defense, permitting a plethora of open looks from beyond the arc for the visitors.  For whatever reason, CMF didn’t feel comfortable enough with this group to allow them to play man defense on Chattanooga.

The Dawgs also yielded 15 offensive rebounds to the Mocs, which led to 14 second chance points.  Last year, UGA finished 2nd in the SEC in defensive rebound percentage at 71%; however, last night they grabbed just 57% of the potential defensive rebounds.  The difference? No Marcus Thornton.

Not to harp too much on one performance, but Georgia has another glaring problem: Nemanja Djurisic’s graduation has left them with just two shooters – Kenny Gaines and Frazier – and when one of them fouls out (Gaines), Georgia’s offense becomes a lot easier to defend. Frazier hit 4 of his 8 three-point attempts and ended up being UGA’s leading scorer with 22 points to go along with his 8 assists.  Gaines knocked down 3 three’s himself, but he dealt with foul trouble all night, tallying 12 points before fouling out with with 5 minutes remaining.

Gaines and Frazier combined to shoot 78% from the foul line, while the rest of the Dawgs managed just 58% from the stripe.  If one were to peruse the annals of college basketball, I cannot imagine that many teams have taken 45 free throws in a game and managed to lose.  But, UGA missed on 17 of those attempts, which ultimately led to their demise on Friday.

Senior Charles Mann, a preseason All-SEC selection, finished the night with 17 points, but he committed a team-high 7 turnovers, a problem that has plagued him for much of his UGA career.  Mann also missed 6 of his 16 free throw attempts, leaving precious points on the table. Out of his 8 trips to the stripe, Mann connected on both free throws just twice, and at some point, those one-point efforts to the foul line start to feel like mini-turnovers.

If there is any silver lining to be taken from this disappointing loss it is that Chattanooga is a sound basketball team, and they were selected by numerous media outlets as a potential contender to win the SoCon this season.

Georgia has to regroup and prepare for another home game next Friday against Murray State, and from the looks of the giant plastic brace attached to the sling around Derek Ogbeide’s shoulder, I would say that Georgia should be ready to play once again without its starting center.