Yante Maten returns for senior season and in the process saves Mark Fox’s job

If Yante Maten had decided to forgo his senior year of basketball at the University of Georgia, the Dawgs would be heading into next season looking to replace 39 points per game, or over 54% of its offense.  Without Yante manning the paint, the over/under on conference wins for UGA would probably be somewhere in the neighborhood of 6.

Even with Maten in the lineup, this year’s team was 6-7 in SEC games prior to his knee injury at the start of the Kentucky contest in Athens; the Dawgs finished 9-9 overall in league games.

At this point, Mark Fox would have a tough time surviving a losing season in the SEC.  While I wasn’t privy to the conversation between Fox and AD Greg McGarrity when they discussed the coach’s 10-year plan for the UGA basketball program, I cannot imagine that “losing more SEC games than you win” in year 9 was on the original agenda.  Maten’s decision to come back to Athens for one last go around should be enough of a boost to keep the Dawgs in the middle the pack in the conference, which is probably good enough to keep Fox’s position safe.

While UGA fans should breath a sense of relief over Maten’s commitment to the G, Georgia is going to have to make up for the 18+ points that J.J. Frazier scored per game.  Frazier and Maten were both named First Team All-SEC players at the end of this season, and the team failed to reach the NCAA tournament due to a lack of quality wins.  Both of these players have been working out for several NBA teams over the past two weeks, yet the Dawgs were ousted from the first round of the postseason NIT by the Belmont Bruins.  Georgia couldn’t earn an NCAA berth with Frazier.  How will they get into the tournament without him?

Before you tell me that Juwan Parker, Derek Ogbeide, Turtle Jackson, Tyree Crump, Jordan Harris and E’Torrian Wilridge are all returning and that 4-star recruit Rayshaun Hammonds will soon be on campus, I want to remind everyone about the team from two years ago that also did not make the NCAA Tournament:  J.J. Frazier (Jr.), Kenny Gaines (Sr.), Charles Mann (Sr.), Yante Maten (Soph) and Derek Ogbeide (Fr).  The 2015-2016 team was even more talented than last year’s squad, and yet they too failed to make the NCAA’s.  The 2017-2018 Dawgs will feature the same frontcourt as the team from two years ago, but how will this season’s backcourt compare to Frazier, Gaines and Mann?

Maten’s return to the team certainly makes the Dawgs a far more competitive SEC team than they were a week ago.  But does Georgia have enough firepower in its arsenal to improve upon last year’s 9-9 showing?  Personally, I don’t think that they do.  However, given Mark Fox’s track record of playing upperclassmen early and often, fans may not get the chance to find out what the young guys can actually do.

 

 

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Kentucky ends Georgia’s SEC tournament run

First off, a huge thank you to my friend Decatur Dawg for keeping the updates going over the past week as I completed a 108-mile section of the Continental Divide Trail in southern New Mexico.  I managed to catch the first two games via WatchESPN on my phone, and I even got to see today’s game in a sports bar in Silver City, NM, but without access to a computer I could have not written a single word about what transpired in Nashville, so I most certainly appreciate all his efforts.

This afternoon, the Dawgs put together their best half of the season en route to a 49-44 halftime lead.  Everything that could have possibly been clicking for Georgia was clicking: Kenny Gaines had 14 points on 5 of 9 shooting, Yante Maten was making every hook shot he could get up, and even seldomly used Turtle Jackson chipped in a pair of three’s.

But alas, UGA couldn’t sustain its 61% field goal shooting for ever.  The Dawgs cooled off after the the intermission, connecting on just 34% of their shots from the floor, while Kentucky warmed up, making over 55% of their tries from the field.

Oh yea, and Georgia’s star player, J.J. Frazier, went down a little over 4 minutes into the second half with a painful-looking ankle injury that resulted from him landing ackwardly on the foot of a Kentucky big on a drive to the basket.  Frazier headed to the lockerroom for treatment, and he did gut it out and return, but J.J. was not the same, moving gingerly around the court as he tried his best to play through the injury.

Kentucky capitalized while Frazier was sidelined, erasing a 62-54 UGA lead over the next five minutes.  Isaiah Briscoe, who finished with 12 points, made a layup with 8:16 remaining to give his Wildcats a 68-67 advantage. Briscoe hit a jumper with 6 minutes left to send the Wildcat lead to 74-69, capping off a 20-7 Kentucky run.  At this point, Big Blue Nation was on its feet and as loud as ever as their beloved Cats ran away with the game down the stretch on its way to 93-80 semifinal victory.

Kentucky’s Jamal Murray and Tyler Ulises lived up to their All-SEC billings, scoring 26 and 25 points, respectively.  Coach Calipari’s team was extremely protective of the ball, turning it over just 5 times on Saturday; UGA had only 12 turnovers themselves, but the Cats were opportunistic and converted them into 20 points.

Credit Coach Mark Fox and his staff for putting up such a valiant effort, especially considering his team was coming off back-to-back late night tips. Fox employed a wholesale substitution strategy throughout the first half in an effort to keep his guys fresh, and while it seemed unorthodox, for the most part it worked.  Yante Maten and J.J. Frazier led the Dawgs with 20 and 19 points, respectively.  Gaines chipped in 16 points, though he failed to convert a field goal following the halftime break.

Moving forward, it seems most likely that Georgia will be hosting an NIT game next week.  The Dawgs’ RPI should hover around 60 even with today’s loss, and they could possibly receive a small boost from Seton Hall’s Big East conference championship.  By no means is Georgia completely out of the picture regarding the Big Dance: the committee has selected teams with RPI’s in the 60s before, Georgia has a highly-respected non-conference schedule and I’m just certain that the SEC will get at least 3 teams (2 would be a complete slap to the league’s face as a Power 5 conference).

For now, UGA fans should be proud of their team and hopeful that the selection committee liked what they saw in Nashville this week.

Georgia beats South Carolina again to improve to 9-8 in SEC

With the Dawgs clinging to a 66-63 lead and under 90 seconds remaining, Georgia’s J.J. Frazier crossed half court and sunk a three-pointer from well outside the arc, sending Georgia up 69-63 with 1:14 left.  This shot took the life out of Colonial Life Arena, and UGA went on to win 74-72 on South Carolina’s court.

Georgia was fortunate to even be in a position to win this game down the stretch considering that Coach Fox’s team turned the ball over 19 times tonight.  The Dawgs’ passing was atrocious, particularly their entry looks.  Yet even when the Gamecocks reclaimed the lead down the stretch, and then bolstered it to 61-57 with a little over 4 minutes remaining following a jumper by Sindarious Thornwell, UGA stood its ground.

Coach Mark Fox and his staff deserve a lot of credit for how they game planned to defend the Cocks in this one.  For much of the night, UGA sat in a zone, daring the Carolina, who entered the game as 3rd worst in the SEC in three-point shooting in conference games, to beat them from the outside.  South Carolina, for its part, obliged, making only 9 of its 26 three-point attempts.  Carolina’s leading scorer, Michael Carrera, struggled mightily, mustering 13 points on a 5 for 21 shooting performance (which included him going just 1 of 10 from beyond the arc).

Georgia was led offensively by Kenny Gaines and J.J. Frazier, who scored 20 and 19, respectively.  Gaines netted 14 of his 20 in the first half, while J.J. got 12 of his 19 after the intermission.  Neither of them shot the ball particularly well in Columbia as they combined to make only 11 of 34 attempts.  Frazier, though, found other ways to contribute, securing 9 rebounds and dishing out 7 assists as he nearly messed around and got a triple-double.

Georgia’s only other player to finish in double-digits was Yante Maten, who chipped in 13 points and 7 rebounds.

This victory marks just the third time this season that UGA has won on the road, and it completes the series sweep of Frank Martin’s USC team.

The Dawgs are now 16-12 overall and 9-8 in the SEC, and Georgia is 4-11 against the RPI Top 100 on the year.  UGA is currently in 7th place in the league, but if Georgia can hold serve at home on Saturday against Alabama, the Dawgs could finish as high as 5th in the conference should South Carolina and Ole Miss stumble in their respective road games this weekend.

 

Georgia offense wakes up at home against Ole Miss

The Georgia offense, which had been relatively dormant over the past few weeks, finally came to life on Saturday inside Stegeman Coliseum; and by UGA offense, I’m referring to J.J. Frazier, Kenny Gaines and Yante Maten, who combined to scored 68 of the team’s 80 points today in Athens.

Frazier, who led all scorers with 26 points, carried the Dawgs down the stretch, netting 14 points in the game’s final 10 minutes.  Georgia was clinging to a 54-53 lead with 10:40 left when J.J. buried a three to send the Dawgs up by four. He would hit two more three-pointers during this same stretch, the second one putting UGA up 70-59 with a little over 5 minutes remaining.  That second three sealed the game for Coach Mark Fox’s team, and Georgia came away with the 80-66 home victory, snapping a three-game losing streak.

Gaines and Frazier each hit 5 three’s on the afternoon, torching the Rebels from the outside.  Kenny Gaines also did a phenomenal job defending Ole Miss guard Stefan Moody, who entered today’s contest leading the conference in scoring at over 23 points per SEC game.  On Saturday, though, Moody couldn’t find any room to work due to Gaines’s stingy defense, and he finished with just 15 points on a sub par 5 for 13 shooting performance.  Gaines looked every bit the part of an All-SEC guard in this contest.

At times this season Mark Fox’s substitution patterns have been confusing, moving guys in and out of games at a torrent pace.  However, today Fox had it right as he played Gaines and Frazier 38 and 37 minutes, respectively, which was certainly the right call considering that both guys were on fire.

Georgia just appeared more hungry in this one than the Rebels.  The Dawgs got 19 second chance points to Mississippi’s 7, with a large chunk of those coming from Yante Maten, who nabbed another double-double, scoring 19 points to go along with 10 boards.  UGA forced Ole Miss into 14 turnovers, and they opportunistically converted those mishaps into 22 points.

The Dawgs looked like they were on pace to cruise early on in this game, opening up a 27-16 first half lead after a tip-in by freshman Michael Edwards.  But then the Georgia offense stalled, and Ole Miss closed out the final 7 minutes of the half with a 16-6 run, cutting the UGA advantage to 33-32 at the break.

The Rebels continued to roll out of the intermission, hitting 5 shots from beyond the arc in the first five minutes of the second half, which gave Andy Kennedy’s team a 49-41 lead 14:56 left in the game.  Credit Coach Fox’s team for digging in and getting themselves in a position to win the game after enduring this barrage from the perimeter.

This win puts Georgia at 15-12 overall and 8-8 in the SEC.

Georgia can’t overcome slow start on The Plains

The fact that Georgia was even in a position to possibly tie the game in the waning seconds is a testament to J.J. Frazier’s heart.  Frazier, who score 24 of his game-high 29 points in the second half (he netted 11 points in final four and half minutes), went to the line with the Bulldogs trailing Auburn 84-81 and only 1.6 seconds left.  J.J. missed the first shot unintentionally, which forced him to have to miss the second intentionally with the hopes that the ball might kick out for a long rebound and a potential last second three-point attempt. None of that happened, though. Instead, Auburn’s Cinmeon Bowers corralled the miss and the Tigers secured the home victory.

Kenny Gaines deserves a lot of credit for the late surge as well, hitting 3 three-pointers in the game’s final minute, giving him 23 points on the night.

Ultimately, though, the Dawgs could not overcome another sluggish first half.

In the game’s first twenty minutes, UGA made just 26% of its shots.  Auburn wasn’t much better at 38% from the floor, yet the Tigers held a 39-23 advantage at the break.  This lead was somewhat surprising considering that Cinmeon Bowers, who averages a double-double for Auburn, spent the majority of the first half on the bench with two fouls.

Despite Bowers’s absence, Maten could not take advantage, putting up a goose egg in the scoring department prior to the intermission, continuing his recent offensive woes.  Entering tonight’s contest on The Plains, Maten had connected on just 11 of his last 38 shot attempts.  Yanted ended up with 10 points and 8 boards, but this contest marked the 3rd straight game where Maten has had trouble offensively.

While Auburn leads the conference with nearly 9 three’s per game in SEC contests, the Tigers have only been making 33% of their attempts from beyond the arc. Tonight, however, Auburn torched Georgia from the perimeter, knocking down 11 three-pointers en route to a 46% shooting performance from the outside.

The Tigers were led by T.J. Lang and Jordon Granger, who scored 21 and 18 points, respectively.  These two also combined for 7 of Auburn’s 11 three’s.

Winning on the road in college basketball is not easy, and Georgia has the 2-8 road record to prove it.  But this was not a very good Auburn basketball team.  Actually, it’s a pretty bad Auburn basketball team.

The Tigers entered tonight’s contest at 4-10 in the SEC, second to last in the league.  Prior to this evening, Auburn had dropped 8 of its last 9 games. Not to mention that they have been playing without the services of Kareem Canty, who was removed from the team last month due to disciplinary reasons – at the time, Canty was the Tigers’s leading scorer.

Good teams don’t lose games like this one, even away from home.  But at 14-12 overall and 7-8 in the SEC, it’s starting to look like UGA is not that good of a team.

The NIT, which is Georgia’s only hope for a postseason experience at this point, is starting to look out of reach for Coach Mark Fox’s bunch.

Vanderbilt shuts Georgia down in Nashville

The loss to Florida was bad, but if they could just win the next five games they’d still have a chance to make a push for the NCAA tournament.

This is what I told myself as I made the five and a half hour drive from Athens to Nashville on Friday night.

That wishful thinking was crushed early in Memorial Gym on Saturday, as Georgia fell behind quickly and stayed behind, losing 80-67 to the Vanderbilt Commodores.

Georgia put up another offensive dud today, shooting only 38% from the floor en route to a 67-point performance.  J.J. Frazier (21) and Yante Maten (19) combined for nearly 60% of their team’s output, while the rest of the supporting cast was nowhere to be found.  Kenny Gaines managed only 5 points on a 2 for 10 shooting effort, making it the 4th time in the last 5 games that he has failed to finish in double-figures.

The Dawgs’ offense is becoming increasingly stagnant as the season progresses.  In the early Mark Fox UGA years, Georgia scored regularly on both cuts down the lane and backdoor cuts set up by off-ball screens.  Today, Fox’s team looked completely one-dimensional, relying heavily on pick and rolls, which Vanderbilt eventually got very comfortable defending. The result: UGA scored one point more than its SEC game average of 66 points.

Get this: in conference games, the Dawgs are now averaging the least amount of points per contest in the league.  Team assists, which were once a staple of Mark Fox’s teams, are now hard to come by as UGA is dishing out only 11 per game, ranking them 11th in league in the category in SEC play.  The numbers don’t lie, and at this point, I think it’s safe to say that Fox does not have the talent that he had when he first came on board in Athens.

Georgia has dropped 3 of its last 4 games, and not surprisingly, it has shot under 40% in all three losses.  The Dawgs have become incredibly easy to guard, especially when Yante Maten is not on the floor. Even when Yante is in the game, UGA at most has 3 viable scoring threats, assuming J.J. and Gaines are playing, and that’s just not going to cut it against decent teams.

Georgia’s defense wasn’t much better, though, as they allowed all five Vanderbilt starters to finish in double-figures.  The Dores were led by Wade Baldwin IV’s 17 points as well as Damian Jones, who netted a double-double, scoring 15 to go along with his game -high 16 boards (I should mention that Maten too had a double-double).  On numerous occasions the Vandy guards made passes to wide open bigs, resulting in a string of uncontested dunks.  The Dores shot nearly 46% from the floor, which is a point higher than their SEC game average.

The Dawgs are now 11-0 against teams ranked outside of the RPI Top 100, and 3-11 when playing teams inside it.  Georgia is 2-7 on the road this year, which is bad news considering that they travel to The Plains on Wednesday for a rematch with Auburn.  Today’s loss put UGA one step closer to playing on Thursday of this year’s SEC tournament; losing to the Tigers next week would almost assure it.

 

Florida wins in Athens, sweeping Georgia on the year

Kenny Gaines, who had knocked down three-pointers on consecutive possessions, couldn’t make it three in a row for the Dawgs, which would have tied the game at 56 apiece with less than 10 seconds remaining. Instead, Gaines’s attempt fell short, and so did Georgia’s comeback, giving Florida the 58-54 road win in Athens, along with a season sweep of Coach Mark Fox’s team.

At this point, any discussions of UGA (14-10) earning an at-large bid to this year’s NCAA Tournament are pure fantasy as Georgia is now a dismal 3-10 against the RPI Top 100.

Neither team shot the ball well tonight, but the difference was that Florida made a much higher percentage of its attempts in the second half.  Even though the Dawgs took a 25-19 advantage into the intermission, I couldn’t help but feel uneasy as Florida was just 1 of 17 from beyond the arc in the game’s first twenty minutes; surely, at some point, the Gators would find their range, which they did following the break, knocking down 50% of their shots from both the field and three-point land.

UGA, however, hit just 32% from the floor on the night, making exactly 10 of 31 attempts in each half.  The Dawgs’ offense hit a wall during the game’s final 7 minutes, just after UGA had taken a 44-41 lead following a nice finish by Yante Maten on the break.  Georgia would score only one field goal over the next 6 minutes, which is why Coach Fox’s team found themselves in the predicament that they were in, trailing Florida 52-47 with less than a minute left.

The Gators, who pressured UGA relentlessly when the two teams met in Gainesville earlier this year, seemed content to play a half court game, which obviously worked in Georgia’s favor.  Without having to face the ragged Gator press, the Dawgs managed to turn the ball over just 10 times on the night.

Florida was led offensively by KeVaughn Allen, who scored a game-high 19 points, including 4 three-pointers – 3 of which came in the second half.

Kenny Gaines, Yante Maten and J.J. Frazier scored 12, 11 and 10 points for UGA, respectively; though, none of them had much success in the shooting department.  Gaines was 4 for 11, Frazier 4 for 10, and Maten hit only 4 of his 17 attempts.

The Dawgs are 1-7 this season against the RPI Top 50 for a reason: they don’t have enough players to to compete with high-level teams for 40 minutes.  Georgia has two outside shooting threats and one legitimate post player, which is just not enough to be successful against strong competition.  If one of those guys gets in foul trouble or is having an off night, UGA is essentially playing 4 on 5 when it has the ball.

Anyone know what the NIT bubble is looking like these days?