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.

 

 

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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.

Georgia’s aggressive non-conference schedule

The Dawgs ended last season with an RPI of 37, which was certainly bolstered by playing the 33rd most difficult schedule in the country, according to ESPN. Coach Mark Fox made it a point to shore up the out of conference games leading up to SEC play, and his strategy paid off as Georgia maintained a solid RPI throughout the season, enabling them to earn an at-large birth into the NCAA tournament (of course, playing Kentucky twice in a year helped as well).

This season, UGA’s conference schedule should be slightly better considering the Dawgs only have to play Coach Cal’s team once. However, Georgia’s pre-SEC schedule looks rather daunting. Coach Fox’s team will play five teams from Power 5 conferences – Seton Hall, Kansas State, Georgia Tech, Clemson and Baylor – before embarking upon league play.

Additionally, the Dawgs will take on some of the best teams that the Mid-Major ranks have to offer in Murray State, Winthrop and Robert Morris. Since 2010, Murray State has won the Ohio Valley Conference twice, and they’ve played for the championship the last three years.

Winthrop has been a powerhouse within the Big South for over a decade, appearing in 7 of the last 11 championship games, and winning 5 of those contests.

Only once in the past 7 seasons has the Northeast Conference championship game not included Robert Morris (2013) – the Colonials have won three league crowns during that same time frame.

Playing these types of games against smaller schools is always tricky for a team from a power conference because winning is expected and rarely doted upon, while losing can prove to be disastrous when the NCAA Tournament committee is looking at a body of work on Selection Sunday. Murray State, Winthrop and Robert Morris will all be fully-capable of winning in Athens and derailing UGA’s season if the Dawgs do not give them the respect that they undoubtedly deserve.

Georgia drops one at home to Auburn

After Auburn graciously tossed the ball the length of the court and out of bounds with 1.8 seconds left, Georgia had one last look at the rim, trailing the Tigers 69-68.  Unfortunately, the Dawgs couldn’t get the ball in to anyone close to the basket, which ultimately led to Neme Djurisic shooting an off-balanced airball from the corner of the court.

Auburn won the game and erased any good mojo that UGA might have been feeling after their win in College Station earlier this week.

Actually, this loss is going to sting the Dawgs down the road, considering Auburn entered Stegemen with just 3 SEC wins before 2:00PM.  Georgia has now dropped games to Georgia Tech, Minnesota, South Carolina and Auburn, all of which are considered “bad losses” as far as the NCAA selection committee is concerned.

After sleepwalking on offense for the first 30 minutes of this game, UGA managed to build a 9-point lead with just 5:08 remaining.  But the Dawgs defense was unable to stop the Tigers, allowing Auburn to connect on its final 5 field goals.  The Tigers scored 21 points in the last five minutes, almost as many as they scored in the entire first half (29).  Georgia’s offense failed them for the first three-quarters of this contest, but it was its defense that let them down in the end.

The Dawgs were led by Kenny Gaines and Charles Mann, who scored 18 and 14 points, respectively.

Bruce Pearl’s backcourt carried his team this afternoon, with K.T. Harrell and K.C. Ross-Miller combining for 38 of their team’s 69 points.

Georgia had one of its best performances of the season from the free throw line, hitting nearly 86% of its attempts.  However, the good shooting from the stripe did not translate over to the field, where the Dawgs made only 37% from the floor and just 21% from beyond the arc.

This loss puts UGA’s SEC record at 7-5, which sits them at 4th in the conference – for now.

Georgia has South Carolina coming into Athens on Tuesday, and they simply cannot afford another letdown.

Dawgs pick up a 62-53 road win in College Station

In last Saturday’s win at home against Tennessee, Kenny Gaines and Charles Mann combined for 11 turnovers.

Tonight in College Station it was pretty clear that UGA’s veteran duo was looking to make amends.  In a critical possession late in the game with Georgia leading by 4, Mann made a heady fake that drew Gaines’s defender towards the top of the key, leaving Kenny wide open in the corner.  Mann found Gaines, who promptly buried the three-pointer, sealing the UGA victory.

Gaines, who hadn’t finished in double-figures in three games, led all Georgia scorers with 15 points.  Mann chipped in 14 points to go along with 6 rebounds and 4 assists, and maybe most importantly – zero turnovers.  Charles Mann has not lived up to preseason expectations so far this year, but his play tonight helped to carry his team to a win.

After coughing the ball up 20 times to the Vols in Athens, Georgia committed just 7 turnovers against the Aggies, who gave it away 13 times themselves.

The Dawgs began the game shooting it well from beyond the arc, hitting 4 of their first 9 three-pointers.  However, over the next 30 minutes UGA would hit only 2 of 15 from the perimeter, and were it not for the improved ball security and a 75% mark from the line, the outcome of this contest may have been different.

The Aggies were led offensively by Alex Caruso and Daniel House, who scored 20 and 14, respectively.

Georgia showed an incredible amount of poise down the stretch in this game.  Things were looking bleak for the Dawgs when A&M tied the game at 43-apiece on a bucket by Caruso with 10:13 left – Kenny Gaines was on the bench with 4 fouls and the Aggies were already in the bonus.  But Georgia showed a lot of composure, going on an 8-0 run that found them with a 51-43 lead following a layup by Cam Forte with 6:46 left.

Tonight’s win was huge for Georgia, lifting their SEC record to 7-4 and 16-7 overall.  The Dawgs are fourth in the league standings (for now), and they will take on Auburn this Saturday inside Stegeman Coliseum.

Speaking to a courtside reporter after the final horn, an utterly hoarse Mark Fox, who spent nearly the entire second half hollering at the officials, could barely muster, “We just defended.  We defended and made our free throws.”

CMF deserves a tall glass of water after this one.