Georgia will be traveling to Columbia without Marcus Thornton

When Marcus Thornton hit the deck Tuesday night late in the second half following a flagrant foul by a Vanderbilt player, he courageously bounced back up, collected himself and buried both free throws.

Apparently, though, Thornton wasn’t doing as well physically as he appeared.

This afternoon Georgia Coach Mark Fox announced that Thornton was being treated for a concussion from his spill in the Vandy game and that he would not play this Saturday against South Carolina.  Fox also gave no indication as to whether Thornton would be available on Tuesday night in Lexington against the #1 Kentucky Wildcats, only saying that the senior would be going through the normal concussion protocols.

Losing Thornton is a crushing blow for this UGA team that is currently riding a five-game conference win streak.  Even though South Carolina has lost four in a row and they are just 1-6 in SEC play, the Gamecocks did knock off #9 Iowa State, Clemson and Oklahoma State earlier in the season.  Georgia should no doubt have its hands full on Saturday as they try to steal a road victory without the services of its leading scorer and rebounder.

South Carolina’s RPI: 111.

Georgia beats Vandy for 5th straight SEC win

The Georgia Bulldogs looked to be in total control over the Vanderbilt Commodores, leading 55-41 with 7:41 remaining after a pair of free throws from Nemanja Djurisic. But, four minutes later, Vandy found itself within 4 points with 2:31 left following two free throws from Wade Baldwin.

Fortunately for Coach Mark Fox, his team was poised from the line on Tuesday, knocking down 9 of its final 10 shots from the stripe to help seal the 70-62 home win, Georgia’s fifth in a row.

The Dawgs’ shooting in this game was sublime – UGA hit 23 of 25 from the line and 9 of 17 from beyond the arc.

Yet, even though Georgia shot the ball well against the ‘Dores, it was UGA’s sloppiness and defense that enabled Vandy to hang around in this one. The Dawgs committed 16 turnovers to Vandy’s 7, with Charles Mann leading the way with a team-high of 5 turnovers.

Defensively, especially in the first half, Georgia looked slow closing out, making things too easy for Vandy on offense. The Commodores made 8 of 22 from beyond the arc, and that percentage could have been even better if they hadn’t take a slew of desperation three-pointers in the game’s final minute.

Georgia won the rebounding battle 37-27, but its defensive rebounding – which has become a staple of this team – was not strong on Tuesday as they yielded 14 offensive boards to the ‘Dores.

The Dawgs had four players finish in double-digits: Neme (15), Marcus Thornton (14), Kenny Gaines (13) and J.J. Frazier (12).

Winning five consecutive games in conference is no small feat, but Georgia did not appear very crisp in securing this victory. This win puts UGA in a three-way tie for third in the conference with an SEC record of 5-2. Georgia travels to Columbia to take on the Gamecocks on Saturday.

A trip to Lexington next Tuesday to take on #1 Kentucky is certainly looming over the Dawgs’ minds at this point. However, hopefully South Carolina has UGA’s full attention so that Georgia doesn’t suffer a setback over the weekend.

Georgia makes it two in a row, downing Colorado at home

Georgia’s first out of conference win against a quality team was bittersweet.

The Dawgs knocked off the visiting Colorado Buffaloes 64-57 this afternoon, but UGA lost star guard Kenny Gaines to an apparent shoulder sprain – his return timetable is unknown at this point.

The Buffs, who were picked by CBS to finish 2nd in the Pac-12 in the preseason, looked as if they were still stuck on Mountain Time in this one.  The Dawgs held Colorado to under 37% from the floor, and they limited the Buffs to just 11% from beyond the arc.  The noon tipoff clearly did not serve to enhance Colorado’s shooting.

Georgia established control of this game during the final 4 minutes of the first half, when the Dawgs reeled off 12 straight points to break a 22-22 tie, taking a 34-22 advantage into the break.  Georgia got back-to-back three-pointers from Neme Djurisic and J.J. Frazier to close out the half.

The Buffs would start the second half with a 3-minute scoring drought, meaning that Colorado went for more than 7 minutes without a point.  Asia Booker, who led all scorers with 20 points, broke the spell with a lay-up that cut the Dawgs’ lead to 38-24 with 17:02 remaining.

Minutes later, UGA would lose Gaines to injury, leaving Coach Fox without one of his top scorers.

Luckily, sophomore J.J. Frazier was up to the task, scoring 12 of his 15 points after the intermission on a perfect shooting performance – 3 for 3 from three and 6 for 6 from the line.  Georgia had another nice game from beyond the arc as a team, canning nearly 44% of its attempts.

Marcus Thornton, coming off of a 24-point game in Chattanooga earlier this week, had the pleasure of matching up with Colorado’s All-Pac 12 First Team big man Josh Scott.  At 6’10”, Scott posed quite a problem for the Dawgs inside, netting 18 points to go along with 11 rebounds.  But Thornton again played admirably, scoring 16 points and grabbing 5 boards himself.

With 8:12 left in the game, Colorado shaved the Georgia lead to 47-39 following a lay-up by Scott.  But Thornton reliably responded with a three-pointer and then a layup on UGA’s ensuing possession, stretching the Georgia advantage back out to 11 points.

The Dawgs’ free throw shooting down the stretch was critical in this victory.  The Buffs Xavier Johnson hit a three to make it a 57-51 game with just 1:07 remaining, but UGA knocked down 7 of 8 free throws in the game’s final minute, making it impossible for CU to complete the comeback.

This win was very important for Georgia’s resume as Colorado should be a team that finishes with an RPI in the Top 50.  In addition, Tad Boyle’s squad is expected to make a return trip to this year’s NCAA Tournament.

The Dawgs will get a brief respite to take final exams before returning to Stegeman on December 21st to play host to undefeated Seton Hall – a team that currently boasts an RPI of 30.

Georgia’s loss to Georgia Tech may have just earned the title of “bad loss” following the Jackets loss to South Carolina-Upstate yesterday.

At 5-3, UGA needs another quality win if they hope to entertain any ideas of postseason basketball.

Why Georgia has to beat Gonzaga on Wednesday

On Wednesday night in New York, the Georgia Bulldogs will play the Gonzaga Bulldogs inside Madison Square Garden as part of the preseason NIT.  This game represents an opportunity for both teams to secure an out of conference win against a worthy opponent.  For Georgia though, this contest is a chance for Coach Mark Fox’s team to prove its relevance in the college basketball world in prime time on a national stage.

Here are a few reasons as to why I believe that Georgia must win this game:

1. UGA has to prove being a good SEC team means something

Last season Georgia went 12-6 in the Southeastern Conference, and they were barely in the NCAA Bubble discussion.  Most pundits felt that the Dawgs had to win the SEC tournament to get in, giving them the same scenario that they basically face towards the end of every season.  For several years now, the SEC has been routinely sending just 3 or 4 teams to the Big Dance, making it pretty clear what the NCAA selection committee thinks about the quality of basketball played in this league.  Having another successful conference season just isn’t going to do it for Coach Fox this year (and I do think they will be a top 5 SEC team).  Fox scheduled games against Gonzaga, Colorado and Kansas State to bolster the RPI, which was an achilles heel for this team a year ago.  Playing in these games is not enough, though; UGA must show that they can beat high caliber teams outside of their own conference, and they’ve already blown one opportunity against their in-state rivals (whether Tech is high caliber or not remains to be seen).  Only winning the games against the Troy’s and Florida Atlantic’s of the world will earn Georgia another trip back to the postseason NIT, at best.

2. Mark Fox is due

The Georgia Bulldogs haven’t beaten a ranked opponent outside of the SEC since Fox’s initial team took down the then-ranked #20 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets 73-66 in Athens.  Matter of fact, CMF’s teams have only won two games against ranked opponents since the departures of Trey Thompkins and Travis Leslie.  In that same span of games, UGA has yet to beat a team ranked lower than 20th.  In Gonzaga, Georgia will be competing with a team that recently landed inside of the top 10 in both the AP and USA Polls.  The Zags, who are 4-0, have already beaten #22 SMU by more than 10 points. They have destroyed their other three opponents, winning all of the games by 40+ points.  Gonzaga is off to a great start this year, and more than likely they will go on to have a strong season.  When March rolls around, a win against the Zags could really serve to enhance an NCAA tournament resume, considering Gonzaga themselves will surely be dancing.

Make no doubt about, the Zags are incredibly talented. Through 4 games, they are averaging almost 95 points a night (7th in the country), with nearly 7 players scoring in double-figures. UGA needs its best game of the year out of junior Charles Mann, who could significantly impact this game should he manage to get some of the Zags’ starters in foul trouble. Georgia cannot go toe-to-toe with Gonzaga’s firepower for 40 minutes; but, if they could manage to get to the free throw line and slow the game down, the Dawgs could have a chance.

Here is Seth Greenberg’s take:

http://espn.go.com/video/clip?id=espn:11930403

Dawgs win third straight game, silence Owls

Seniors Marcus Thornton and Nemanja Djurisic continued their strong play from Friday night’s contest – a game in which they each of scored 17 points – against the Owls of Florida Atlantic on Sunday.  In this evening’s game, Thornton put the Dawgs on his broad shoulders and carried them to a 74-61 victory, scoring 17 again to go along with 12 rebounds and 5 blocks.

Neme, who seemed to the be the catalyst for a majority of Georgia’s scoring plays, nearly messed around and got a triple-double, scoring 8 points, grabbing 10 boards and dishing out 8 assists.  The senior appears to be as comfortable as ever putting the ball on the floor this season, and for now, it is working for Coach Fox’s team.

UGA’s offense ran as smoothly as it has all year, with the Dawgs hitting cutters down the lane off of screens – the performance was vintage Fox, circa the days of Thompkins, Leslie and GR22.  Georgia had 15 team assists, and they shot a robust 46% from the floor.

The only other UGA player to score in double digits was Kenny Gaines, who chipped in 15 for the game.  Gaines definitely looks a lot closer to 100% than he did a little over a week ago, knocking down a three and throwing down a couple of thunderous dunks.

Charles Mann, who’s been hot and cold so far this season, struggled against the Owls, netting just 8 points, going 2 for 8 from the field.  He had trouble finishing on his drives tonight, and he seemed like he was forcing it at times.

Once Georgia took command of this game – carrying an 8 point lead into the break – they never really felt threatened by the Owls.  The Dawgs kept their advantage above 10 points for nearly the entire second half, coasting to their third straight win since losing to Georgia Tech in the season opener.

Coach Fox’s team turned in another solid defensive effort, limiting FAU to just 41% shooting from the floor.  The Dawgs dominated the rebounding battle, snagging 45 boards to the Owls’ 32.

Marquan Botley led all scorers with 20 points.

The Owls, who are now 1-3 on the year, were projected to finish in the lower echelon of the Conference USA.  While Georgia’s recent win streak has come at the expense of some pretty soft competition, the Dawgs have looked good winning.

Next week’s matchup with #13 Gonzaga will really give fans a chance to measure just exactly what kind of team Coach Fox has this year.

Dawgs win second game in a row, improving to 2-1

On Friday night, the Georgia Bulldogs made the Troy Trojans look every bit the part of a team that was projected to finish near the bottom of the Sun Belt Conference this season.  The Dawgs got the ball to the rim just about any time they wanted, whether in the half court set or on the run, helping them cruise to an 82-60 home win.

The game was really only close for about the first seven minutes, which was due mainly to the fact that it began tied at zero.  Neme Djurisic, who finished with 17 points, put UGA up 22-11 on a three-pointer with 13:47 remaining in the first half. Several plays later, Marcus Thornton, who also netted 17, threw down a dunk that gave the Dawgs a 27-16 advantage; Georgia’s lead stayed above double-digits for the remainder of the game.

From the opening tip, Troy looked completely outmatched in this one.  The Trojans defense was just plain pitiful, allowing Georgia players to routinely coast towards the basket virtually uncontested.  Mark Fox’s team scored an unprecedented 56 points in the paint, nearly 70% of the team’s offense on the night.

The Bulldogs enjoyed their second consecutive game with balanced scoring as Charles Mann and Kenny Gaines added 14 and 12, respectively, to compliment Thornton and Djurisic’s offensive production.

The lone bright spot for Troy was Wesley Person, whose NBA lineage includes his father Wesley Person, Sr., and his uncle Chuck Person, also known as “The Rifleman”.  Against the Dawgs, Junior led his team with 20 points in the losing effort.

I will say that while it is sometimes difficult to judge the level of play of a team when going against a lesser opponent, Georgia’s defense did look quite stifling tonight.  The Dawgs were quick to collapse on the ball when it got into the post, and they held Troy to under 37% for the game from the floor.  In addition, UGA snagged 43 boards to go along with 11 steals and 9 blocks.

The Dawgs have a game this Sunday against Florida Atlantic before they prepare for a big time showdown with the Gonzaga Bulldogs in Madison Square Arena next week.

Georgia gets first victory of the 2014-2015 season

Calling Georgia’s offense balanced on Tuesday night would be an understatement, considering that Mark Fox got double-digit scoring from five players against the Stoney Brook Seawolves in the opening game of the preseason NIT.  Charles Mann, Kenny Gaines, Yante Maten, Neme Djurisic and Marcus Thornton all eclipsed the ten-point threshold, with Mann leading the way with a team-high 15 points.  The Dawgs appeared to be in more of rhythm offensively, knocking down nearly 46% of their shots from the floor en route to an 80-70 win.

The Seawolves came out of the gates firing, though, building up a 16-8 lead in the game’s first four minutes ,with most of the damage being done by junior guard Carson Puriefoy.  During the aforementioned stretch, Puriefoy scored 9 points, and he finished the half with 21.

Despite Puriefoy’s performance, Georgia managed to carry a 48-41 advantage into the intermission.  But once Georgia was able to contain Puriefoy, the Dawgs began to open up more of a lead down the stretch.  UGA held the game’s leading scorer to zero field goals after the break, and even though Puriefoy finished with 26 points, he was pretty much shut down in the second half.

After corralling Puriefoy, UGA pushed its lead beyond 20 points a couple of times; but, some late threes from Stoney Brook in mop-up time enabled the Seawolves to trim the score to just ten.

Yante Maten, who scored 11 points, made several nice drop-step post moves on the block.

Kenny Gaines did not start in this one, but he looks as though he is starting to regain his form, contributing 13 points, which included a pair of three-pointers; he also had an explosive dunk off of a fast break, showing that his legs seem to have recovered from his recent bout with mononucleosis.

The most improved player from a year ago, though, may be sophomore J.J. Frazier, who has developed an ability to penetrate and use excellent body control to finish around the rim (or at least get fouled).  Frazier peppered the stat sheet tonight with 8 points, 4 assists and 3 rebounds, and most importantly, no turnovers.

Overall, Georgia’s play was much improved this evening against an opponent picked by most to win the American East Conference in the preseason.  Now that Georgia is off their radar, hopefully the Seawolves can string together a 20+ win season and secure the AEC title.

Not that I am insinuating that this was a resume-building win.

Dawgs to start season short-handed

After a 20-win season and a third-place finish in the SEC, the Georgia Bulldogs were supposed to be entering the 2014-2015 season with realistic NCAA tournament expectations, building off of an impressive 2013-2014 campaign.

Instead, the Dawgs could be kicking off the year down two starters from last season’s squad.  Granted, Mark Fox and his fan base have had several months to sulk about, deal with and get over the loss of Brandon Morris, the team’s third-leading scorer and arguably its best defender from a year ago.

But, today’s statement from CMF insinuating that Kenny Gaines may not be ready to suit up next Friday might be too much for the Bulldog Basketball Nation to bear.  During a press conference today, Fox told the AJC that Gaines would definitely not play in tomorrow’s exhibition, and that he was “pessimistic” about the junior’s chances of suiting up in Atlanta in the season-opener at Georgia Tech:

“Kenny has been ill,” Fox said Wednesday. “He will not play Thursday. He has not practiced. And really no timetable for a return. We know he’ll return at some point this season. He’s been very sick. He is getting better but he’ll not play tomorrow night.”

Fox’s vague description of Gaines’s condition will leave UGA fans speculating as to what the young man might be ailing from.  Regardless, the Dawgs’ backcourt will need to reshuffle and regroup quickly, and sophomores J.J. Frazier and Juwan Parker must find a way to make up for Gaines’s scoring.

Tomorrow night’s exhibition will give eager fans a small glimpse of some of what is to come from this year’s team, but for the players the game should serve as nothing more than a mild tune-up.  In eight days the Dawgs will be playing in a hostile environment against a Georgia Tech team that I believe will finish the season much better than the media expects.  CBS pegged the Jackets as the 13th best team out of the 15-team ACC, but with the addition of four transfers to go along with Marcus Georges-Hunt, I think that Tech could be a tough out.

Last year the Bulldogs’ NCAA hopes were plagued by early season out-of-conference losses, including one at home to Georgia Tech.  This year, Georgia was hoping to return the favor to the Jackets, but now they might have to do it without their best perimeter player.

Dawgs hoping to build on 2013-2014 season’s successes

With the start to the 2014-2015 college basketball season a little less than three weeks away, Georgia is currently being projected to finish 5th in the Southeastern Conference by most major media networks.  For a team that ended up 3rd in the SEC a year ago with a 12-6 league record, this prediction seems about right considering UGA lost a starter and major contributor in Brandon Morris this past offseason (Morris was dismissed for arrest involving marijuana possession).  Losing Morris, who was the team’s third-leading scorer at 8.6 points per game, is definitely a tough blow to Mark Fox’s roster.

However, CMF does have one of the better backcourts in the conference at his disposal in juniors Charles Mann and Kenny Gaines, who averaged 13.9 and 13.0 points a night, respectively.  Georgia will rely heavily on these two for offense this year, and second-team preseason All-SEC point guard Charles Mann should be more than ready to deliver.  Having a veteran point guard has typically been a good omen for prospective at-large NCAA tournament teams, and in Charles Mann, UGA has a player who can create his own scoring opportunities just about any time the ball is in his hands.  Last year, Mann shot 278 free throws, which placed him 10th in the nation in that category.

Once again, though, Georgia’s biggest question mark will be in the paint, where they return seniors Marcus Thornton and Nemanja Djurisic.  While both of these guys have made nice strides in their respective offensive games over the past few seasons, neither of them possesses the ability to receive the ball on the block – back to the basket – and score consistently.  The buzz from preseason practices thus far is that freshman Yante Maten, who was last year’s Gatorade Player of the Year in Michigan, might be ready to provide those aforementioned post skills.  Maten has a big frame at 6’8″ and 245 pounds, and at the SEC media days Fox suggested that the frosh would most likely be playing significant minutes this season for the Dawgs.

Ironically, the starting positions where UGA is the most skilled – guard – might also be where they have the most depth.  Sophomores J.J. Frazier and Juwan Parker should give Coach Fox quality minutes off the bench this year to spell Mann and Gaines.  Frazier, who is rumored to have grown two inches in the offseason, came on particularly strong towards the end of last year, scoring in double-figures three times in the final ten games and finishing the season making almost 33% of his three-point attempts.

A trip to the NCAA tournament seems like a must for UGA this year if the Dawgs want to consider this season a step in the right direction.  For that to happen though, Georgia needs to play as well before January as they do after it.  Even though UGA won 20 games last year and nearly ended up 2nd in the conference, they weren’t even really in the NCAA Bubble discussion in March.  Some of that could have to do with an SEC bias that exists in college basketball today, which may be based on the merits of the league’s teams, or simply the fact that people are tired of the SEC’s successes on the football field by the time basketball rolls around.  The league placed three teams in the Big Dance last year and all three reached the Sweet Sixteen; Florida and Kentucky went on to the Final Four.  However, most analysts declared the SEC “top-heavy”, reluctant to give credit to the conference’s other 11 teams.

The bottom line, though, is that the negative perceptions across the college basketball landscape regarding the quality of basketball being played in the SEC is not going to change any time soon.  For Georgia to enter into that Bubble conversation, they cannot afford bad losses like they endured last year to the likes of Georgia Tech, Davidson and Temple.  This season, UGA takes on Tech, Gonzaga, Colorado, Seton Hall and Kansas State before entering conference play.  In my opinion, the Dawgs need to win three of those games if they hope to be taken seriously in late February.

Even though Mark Fox’s squad has to play Kentucky twice this year (potentially three times if they were to meet in the conference tournament), I expect them to post another winning record in SEC play based upon the fact that they return four starters in an expanded league that no longer has UGA playing the likes of Florida, Tennessee and Kentucky twice in a season.

I have no idea what to anticipate on November 14th, though, when the Dawgs take on in-state rival Georgia Tech in Atlanta.  Will the same sluggish bunch that began the year last season come to play?  Or, will it be the tough, hard-nosed team that won 8 of their final regular season games a year ago?