Dawgs Fall Short in Tuscaloosa

The Alabama Crimson Tide came into Saturday’s game against the Georgia Bulldogs (20-10; 9-7) averaging an SEC-worst 5.1 three-pointers per game.  Senior Charvez Davis hit five three’s himself though, two of which came during a critical stretch that put his team up 50-40 with only 9:37 remaining.  Bama had its biggest lead of the game with its star player, JaMychal Green, on the bench with four fouls.

Georgia was unable to capitalize in Green’s absence, and the Dawgs sputtered to a 65-57 loss in Tuscaloosa.

The Tide’s SEC-leading defense lived up to its billing on Saturday, forcing Georgia into 16 turnovers and holding the Dawgs to just 41.3% from the floor.  Alabama’s full-court press kept the Bulldogs off-balance, and Georgia managed to get off just 46 field goal attempts – usually the Dawgs are hoisting up at least 60 FG shots per game.

Coach Mark Fox sounded more displeased on the post-game locker room radio show yesterday than I can remember following a loss this year.  After the Dawgs’ heart-breaking losses to both Florida and Tennessee, Fox was obviously upset, but he also seemed to feel bad for his team for having to endure those tough defeats.

After the Bama game, however, Fox sounded pissed.  He did not like the Bulldogs effort in the game yesterday, especially on the boards, where Georgia yielded 14 offensive rebounds to the Tide – the Dawgs lost the battle of the boards by a tally of 30-28.

JaMychal Green, who dealt with foul trouble for a majority of the second half, finished the game with 19 points and 9 rebounds, leading all scorers.

Georgia’s scoring came from Trey Thompkins and Travis Leslie, who ended the game with 15 points apiece.  Trey was ultra-productive on Saturday, as he also grabbed 10 rebounds in just 27 minutes of play – his fifth double-double of the season.

Gerald Robinson, Jr. struggled mightily against the Tide, finishing the game with 8 points on just 2 of 12 shooting from the floor.  Robinson dished out 4 assists, yet he matched that total with 4 turnovers.

The Bulldogs turned the ball over too many times to expect to win on the road against a team that hadn’t lost at home yet this season.  Travis Leslie was the main culprit on Saturday, leading his squad with 6 turnovers in the contest.

Jeremy Price was ineffective against Alabama, posting only 6 points and making just one field goal.  I don’t want to go on record as saying that the Dawgs go as Jeremy Price goes, but Georgia is 13-1 this season in games where Jeremy scores in double-digits.

The Dawgs wrap up their 2010-2011 SEC slate with a 9-7 record, which is a great accomplishment for this team and for Coach Mark Fox.  At the moment, Georgia is sitting at fourth place in the SEC East, with their final position in the standings dependent upon the outcome of the game today between Kentucky and Tennessee.

If Kentucky wins, Georgia stays in fourth.  If the Vols come out on top, then the Bulldogs will wind up in fifth place due to a slew of unfavorable tie-breakers.

FYI – the Bulldog Nation wants Kentucky to take care of business in Knoxville so Georgia can get the East fourth-seed in next week’s conference tournament.  If that were to happen, the Dawgs would take on Auburn in the first round and the winner would go on to play Alabama.

The East five-seed plays Arkansas in round one, with the winner facing an unfavorable second-round match-up with the Florida Gators.

Go Cats.

Dawgs At Home Against Arkansas State

Former Arkansas State player and movie star, Arthur Agee

The Georgia Bulldogs (6-2) take on the Arkansas State Red Wolves (3-6) this Saturday in Athens at 12:00PM.

Arkansas State…Arkansas State…where have I heard that name before?  Arthur Agee, one of the two stars from the 1994 documentary “Hoop Dreams“, played his final two years of college basketball for the Red Wolves.  If you have never  seen the movie, check it out – it’s a great sports flick.

Despite returning four starters from last year’s team and being predicted to finish 2nd in the Sun Belt’s West Division by Rivals.com, the Red Wolves have not gotten out to the best start.  Actually, their start to this season was terrible, losing their first five games of the season to Ole Miss, Missouri State, Belmont, Pacific and Pepperdine – not exactly Murder’s Row.

However, they have won three out of their last four games, with their lone loss coming in overtime to then-ranked #15 Memphis.  Arkansas State coach, John Brady (former coach of the LSU Tigers), credited his team’s zone defense for keeping the came close by taking Memphis out of its offensive rhythm.

Any chance that Brady may put his team in some zone sets to force Georgia to shoot it from outside?

The leaders of this Arkansas State team are 6th-year senior guard Donald “Don’t Call Me Daniel” Boone and junior power forward Martavius Adams.

Besides providing this ASU team with leadership and the wisdom that comes from being in college for six years, Boone is  also chipping in 10.2 ppg – 46.6% from the field and 34.1% from downtown – from the shooting guard position.  He’s probably their most consistent outside threat, and the Georgia guards will need to be aware of where he is at on the court.

Martavius Adams, a native of Irwinton, Georgia, was selected to the Sun Belt preseason All-League Second Team coming into the 2010-2011 season.  Adams has a Jeremy Price-like frame – 6’8″, 255lbs – and leads the Red Wolves in both scoring (12.7 ppg) and rebounding (6.8 ppg).  He originally signed and played his freshman season with the Oklahoma State Cowboys before transferring to Arkansas State (reserve forward Malcoln Kirkland also came from Oklahoma State).

When previewing his team for this season, Coach Brady had this to say about his star player, “”I thought the last 12-14 games of the year that Martavius was as good, if not the best, post player in the league.  It took him a while to get going, but the last 12 or 14 games I thought he was as good as anybody in the Sun Belt. I anticipate him picking up where he left off, and then those other guys are going to make him better because of what they bring to practice.”

As a team, Arkansas State doesn’t shoot the ball particularly well – 40.6% FG and 29.7% 3PT.  Their main strengths seem to be their team defense and rebounding, hauling down 37 boards per game.

On paper, this looks like it should be a cake-walk for Mark Fox’s Bulldogs.  However, there are several abnormal circumstances at play that could make this an interesting game:

1. This is the first game that the Dawgs have played since their December 7th win in Atlanta over in-state rival Georgia Tech.  How rusty will their legs and jump-shots be after such a long lay-off?

2. School is officially out for the holidays, meaning that the crowd on Saturday could be somewhat sparse due to a lack of students in Athens, GA.  There are still tickets available for the game for just $5 (promo code is “HOLIDAYS”), and something tells me that a lot them will remain “available”.  The Red Wolves will not be entering a very “hostile” environment.

3. The game tips-off at an unusually early time – high noon (which will feel like 11am for the ASU players).  Can Coach Fox can get his guys ready to start fast despite the lunch-time tip?

Hopefully Dustin Ware and Sherrard Brantley can be zonebusters again on Saturday and hit some shots from beyond the arc.  The two combined for 10 three-pointers against Georgia Tech, which not only bolstered Georgia‘s scoring but also opened things up on the inside for Trey Thompkins to work.

Jeremy Price, who mustered just 2 points against the Yellow Jackets, has played phenomenal at home this season, averaging 17 points in games against Mississippi Valley State, Colorado and UAB.  Look for him to get back on track against the Red Wolves after being a no-show in the game at Georgia Tech.

And finally, it’s time for junior forward Travis Leslie to snap out of his current funk.  In the Dawgs‘ wins over UAB and Georgia Tech, Leslie scored a total of 8 points on just 3 of 13 shooting in 50 minutes of play.  He has to find a way to stay involved in the offense when the game is running at a slower tempo, especially against zone defenses.

As far as Gerald Robinson, Jr. is concerned, well, you can see how he prepares for games here.

On a personal note, I am stoked to be heading up to Athens for this game.  I can’t think of a better way to spend a cold and rainy winter day than watching Georgia play some hoops.

If you can’t make the trek to Athens, the game will be televised on CSS and available online at ESPN3.

And I know it’s early, but I noticed that Georgia is currently ranked #36 in CBS Sportsline’s RPI Ranking – this has to be the Dawgs highest RPI in years.

ESPN’s Andy Katz is plugging Georgia again with his recent article discussing how “Opportunity Knocks” for Mark Fox’s Bulldogs.

Ware’s Dawgs Sink Jackets 73-72

From the twitter account of ESPN’s Andy Katz – “Georgia with late possession win over rival Georgia Tech in Atlanta. That’s the type of win road win UGA should have to be taken seriously.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

After sleepwalking through the first half of last night’s game against Georgia Tech (4-4), the Dawgs (6-2) woke up behind a barrage of Dustin Ware three-pointers to secure Georgia‘s first win at Alexander Memorial Colesium in 10 years.

Ware hit 7 of his 9 three-point attempts last night and finished with 21 points along with 6 assists, including the game-winner that put his Dawgs up 73-70 with just 18 seconds remaining.

Georgia Tech had the ball with 11 seconds left and an opportunity to tie the game, but Glen Rice, Jr. elected to take the lay-up instead, cutting the Georgia lead to 73-72 with just 6.8 seconds remaining in the game.

The Dawgs then in-bounded the ball to Gerald Robinson, Jr. – GR2 is so fast with the ball that he nearly got away from the Tech defenders and ran out the clock himself.  However, he was fouled with just 4.5 seconds remaining and managed to miss both free throws – the only silver lining here is that there were only 2.8 seconds left after the Jackets were able to run down his second miss and call timeout.

Coming out of the timeout, Brian Oliver elected to throw a hail mary pass that was intercepted by Georgia’s Travis Leslie  and the game was officially over.

The importance of Georgia‘s sharp perimeter shooting cannot be stated enough.  Sherrard Brantley had his best game to date as a Dawg, knocking down three shots from beyond the arc and finishing with 9 points.  Brantley hit back-to-back three’s during a crucial stretch in the second half, giving Georgia‘s its first lead at 48-47 with 12:10 remaining. He then answered a Brian Oliver three on the ensuing possession to put the Dawgs back on top 51-50 at the 11:36 mark.  With both Travis Leslie and GR2 dealing with foul trouble, Brantley was thrust into the difficult role of guarding Tech’s Iman Shumpert in the second half.   Brantley stepped up and did a nice job with Shumpert, limiting him to just 7 points in the second half (and maybe wearing him down – Shumpert had to sit the game’s final minutes dealing with leg cramps).

The Jackets started the game with a 2-3 zone that stymied the Dawgs on offense for a majority of the first half.  The Dawgs shot just 40% from the field and turned it over 5 times – Trey had 3 of those first-half turnovers and just 6 points.  Thompkins struggled to find offense against the Tech zone, with defenders collapsing on him every time he touched the ball.

The Dawgs had a seven-minute stretch in the first half in which they scored only one field goal, enabling the Jackets to build a 31-21 lead with just 2:17 left before the break.

Fortunately for Georgia, they played pretty tough defense which kept the game within reach – trailing 35-29 at the half.

The second half was a different story.

Ware and Brantley buried a combined six three-point shots, forcing Paul Hewitt to put his team in a man-to-man defense.  Georgia Tech’s Paul Oliver and Daniel Miller were no match for Thompkins, as Trey torched the Jackets for 15 second-half points – he finished with 21 points and 6 rebounds.

In the second half, the Dawgs shot an improved 48.4% from the field, and they made 7 of 11 from beyond the arc.

It is also worth noting that Georgia only turned the ball over TWICE in the second half, and just seven times in the game.  This shows a lot of maturity from Fox’s team, committing only seven turnovers playing on the road in a hostile environment.

And how about the resiliency of this Dawgs team?

When the Jackets went up 70-65 following a dunk by Daniel Miller with only 2:14 left in the game, it looked as if this one was slipping away.

But Gerald Robinson calmly guided his team’s offense and fed a beautiful entry pass to Trey – Thompkins finished the play plus the free throw to bring Georgia within two.  Following a nice Georgia defensive stand, GR2 took the ball to the basket and finished an amazing left-handed finger-roll, tying the game at 70 apiece.  And then (as we all are well aware) came the GR2 dish to Ware for the big three that gave Georgia the win.

So in the game’s final two minutes, Robinson led the Dawgs with 2 assists and a field goal.

Gerald Robinson finished the game with 11 points and 6 assists, and at this point, it looks like GR2 might be unguardable off the dribble.  When teams show Georgia zone in the future, I’d really like to see GR2 become a little more selfish in attacking the zone himself.  It’s obvious that he likes getting his teammates involved in the offense, but I think his penetration will force teams to play more man against Georgia.

This was a great win for Georgia for so many reasons – beating the in-state rival, beating an ACC team, winning on the road, recruiting, etc.

After going 0-11 in true road games last season, Coach Fox’s team is now 2-0 this season in games played at the opponent’s venue.

Watching the Dawgs take this game, and then getting to listen to the Tech fans grumble about Paul Hewitt all the way to the car made this event well worth the $30 I paid for the ticket.

And finally, Coach Mark Fox’s team has now won two in a row against the Jackets.

So I ask you Dawgs fans: Who runs this state?

Rivalry Week

The last time Georgia (5-2) won at Alexander Memorial Colesium was exactly 10 years ago plus one day – December 6, 2000.   You know what happened later that month?  A Florida State offensive coordinator by the name of Mark Richt was hired as the Bulldogs’ head football coach.

So it’s been a while since the Dawgs have taken one in Atlanta.

On Tuesday night, UGA will go up against a Georgia Tech Yellow Jacket (4-3) team that has gotten out to a shaky start – losing badly at both Kennesaw State and Northwestern (not exactly basketball powerhouses).

However, the Jackets are 3-0 at home – albeit those wins came against Charleston Southern, Albany and Niagara – and this is a rivalry game, so it’s safe to say that Mark Fox’s team will get Tech’s best shot.

This Georgia Tech team is smaller than some of Coach Paul Hewitt’s past teams, essentially starting four guards along with 6’11” freshman center Daniel Miller (who transferred to Georgia Tech from Georgia).  Brian Oliver is listed as a forward, but the 6’6″ sophomore plays more of a wing position and takes a majority of his shots from beyond the arc.

They are a quick team that does a good job of stepping into the passing lanes and creating turnovers.  Tech is currently leading the ACC in both steals (11 per game) and turnover margin (+5.43).  At the risk of sounding cliche, the Dawgs better be careful with the basketball or they could dig a hole for themselves early in this game.

Despite the Jackets lack of size, they do aggressively get after the offensive glass, averaging nearly 15 offensive rebounds per game – which is tied for 25th in the nation and tops in the Atlantic Coast Conference.  Georgia needs to do a much better job of defensive rebounding on Tuesday night than they did in the second half against UAB last Friday (in which the Dawgs surrendered 11 offensive rebounds to the Blazers).

On offense, Georgia Tech has been putting up a lot of outside shots – nearly 21 three-point attempts per game.  Unfortunately for Paul Hewitt, his Jackets are currently pulling anchor in the ACC in both field goal (40.2%) and three-point percentage (26.2%).  Tech hasn’t played a game in a week, so it will be interesting to see how the time off effects their strokes.

The Jackets, similarly to Georgia, have two players that can and will play the point guard position – junior Iman Shumpert and sophomore Mfon Udofia.  Shumpert is the leader of this team, and he’s a smooth ball-handler that nets 13.7 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 4.0 apg and 2.9 spg – he does it all for Coach Hewitt.  Both Shumpert and Udofia (9.1 ppg) like to attack the basket off the dribble and can get into the paint and score.

Sophomore forward Brian Oliver leads his team in scoring (14.0 ppg) and rebounding (6.4), and he’s the best outside shooter – knocking down 35.7% from beyond the arc on the season.  Fellow sophomore Glen Rice, Jr. is the other Tech starter averaging double figures at 11.1 points per game.

Tuesday night’s game will not be Gerald Robinson, Jr.’s first rodeo against the Jackets.  In 2007, GR2 paced his Tennessee State Tiger team with 24 points in a 99-85 loss to Georgia Tech, and in 2008 he led the Tigers with 16 points, 5 assists and 4 rebounds in a 63-58 loss to the Jackets.

However, this time against the Jackets GR2 will be bringing the SEC Preseason Player of the Year (Trey Thompkins) and the Elevator From Decatur (Travis Leslie) with him.

I’d like to see Robinson be a little more selfish with the ball when Shumpert is guarding him (which could be often) – GR2 has the ability to take him off the dribble and possibly force Iman into some cheap fouls.

Last week’s win over UAB was the first time this season that Jeremy Price and Trey Thompkins each scored in double figures – Price had 14 and Trey finished with 20.  The Georgia wings fed the ball inside early and often, allowing these two wide-bodies to dominate the smaller UAB bigs.  I’d like to see a similar game-plan on Tuesday night – Tech doesn’t have the size inside to match up with Georgia’s bigs and hopefully Coach Fox has his guys ready to exploit it.

Georgia’s bench played strong for Coach Fox against the Blazers, out-scoring them 13-3 with Sherrard Brantley contributing 8 points.  Fox is going to need more big minutes out of Brantley, Chris Barnes, Connor Nolte and Marcus Thornton on Tuesday – being on the road in a raucous environment means there is a possibility that some of the Georgia starters could land in foul trouble (Jeremy Price).

ESPN college basketball analyst (and quasi-Georgia basketball fan?) Andy Katz said earlier this morning that “Georgia may finally be turning the corner“.

Winning at Alexander Memorial on Tuesday would certainly reaffirm his statement.

This is a monster game for Coach Fox’s Dawgs – playing their in-state rival on the road will be a heck of a challenge.  The AJC’s Jeff Schultz says “this may be as important a game as Tech plays all season” – Hewitt’s job could be on the line.

Tickets are still available for this showdown.

The last time I was on the Georgia Tech campus was Saturday November 28, 2009 – that was a good night.

I’m hoping to see the basketball team do something they haven’t done in a decade – win at Georgia Tech.

Old Spice Classic

Hopefully GR2 brings his running shoes to the Notre Dame game

The Georgia Bulldogs are 3-0 for the first time since the 2007-2008 season, or as some people call it, “The season that ended with a tornado ripping through Atlanta, forcing the SEC Tournament into Georgia Tech’s gym and resulting in the Dawgs winning the championship and earning an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament”.

But this 3-0 start has been far more impressive because the Dawgs are doing it without the SEC Preseason Player of the Year, Trey Thompkins.

And yes, Trey is listed as “doubtful” for this Thursday’s game against Notre Dame in the first round of the Old Spice Classic in Orlando, Florida.

Yet, ESPN analyst Andy Katz (my favorite ESPN analyst of all-time) is sticking with Georgia to win this holiday tournament.  Matter of fact, so are two of Katz’s colleagues – Jay Williams and Fran Fraschilla.

It’s too bad that Georgia didn’t get that same kind of love in either of this week’s national polls – Georgia remained unranked in both the AP (receiving 28 votes) and the ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll (receiving 1 vote).  The head-scratcher here is that in last week’s polls, the Dawgs were receiving 42 votes in the AP and 4 votes in the Coaches – so they are being punished for winning without their best player?

Luckily for Georgia, the college basketball polls aren’t nearly as significant as the college football polls – but it would be nice to crack one of those Top 25’s since it hasn’t happened in nearly seven years.

The best thing that the Dawgs can do his head down to Orlando and win some ball games.

And that starts with the Notre Dame Fighting Irish (3-0).

The Irish finished 23-12 last year (their 5th straight 20-win season) with a 10-8 record in Big East play.  However, they did suffer two key losses from that roster – PF Luke Harangody, the team’s leading scorer (21.8 ppg) and rebounder (9.1 rpg) and PG Tory Jackson who led the team with 5.3 assists and also chipped in 9.6 ppg.

Heading into this season, analysts felt that Notre Dame had enough depth in the frontcourt to replace Harangody’s points and rebounds.  The big concern for the Irish was in their backcourt, where they would be breaking in a new point guard.

Through the first three games, Notre Dame freshman point guard Eric Atkins has put a lot of those concerns to rest.  Atkins, a McDonald’s All-American nominee, has played well for coach Mike Brey, averaging 10.3 ppg, dishing out 4 assists/game and shooting a blistering 62.5% from beyond the three-point line.

Joining Atkins in the backcourt is senior guard Ben Hansbrough, the younger brother of Tyler “Psycho T” Hansbrough.  Young Ben has been lighting it up from beyond the arc, hitting 15 of 25 three-point attempts (60%) and leading this team in both scoring (20.3 ppg) and assists (4.7).

The Notre Dame frontcourt is made up of three seniors and anchored by 6’8″ Tim Abromaitas, who had a “breakout season” last year, averaging 16.1 ppg and shooting 42.9% from three-point range.  Abromaitas is out to a strong start this season, scoring 14.7 ppg and grabbing 7.3 boards despite hitting only 4 of 24 from beyond the arc (let’s hope he doesn’t find his touch against Georgia).  He is a nightmare match-up for opposing bigs because he has the ability to score both inside and out – Price and Barnes are going to have their work cut out for them.

Tyrone Nash (11.3ppg / 7.0 rpg) and Carleton Scott (9.0 ppg / 8.0 rpg) round out the rest of the Irish frontcourt.

Senior wingman 6’8″ Scott Martin – a transfer from Purdue – gives Coach Brey a quality sixth man he can look to for a little bit of everything (6.5ppg, 4.0 rpg, 2.5 apg) off the bench.

Even though Notre Dame is 3-0, it’s hard to judge just how good they really are because their schedule thus far has resembled “Cupcake Row” – Georgia Southern, Liberty and Chicago State.  The Dawgs will no doubt be the first real test of the season for this Irish team.

However, Notre Dame will be the best team that Georgia has played so far as well – four seniors in the starting five, balanced scoring and rebounding and a proven coach in Mike Brey (the Irish have made it to the postseason in each of Brey’s 10 seasons).

Georgia‘s last-second win at Saint Louis was definitely a great confidence booster for a team that didn’t win a road game last season (I was at a family trip in Dahlonega, GA and unfortunately unable to listen – I did follow fervently on my phone under the dinner table and nearly kicked the person across the table from me when I refreshed the screen and saw 61-59).

But this team must clean up the turnovers (17 @ Saint Louis and 18 vs Colorado).  Gerald Robinson, Jr. (GR2) had 8 assists at Saint Louis – including the dish to Jeremy Price that led to the game-winning bucket – but he nearly matched that total with 7 turnovers.  If Georgia is going to find success down in Orlando, Coach Fox is going to need smarter play out of GR2, who has been the Dawgs’ most pleasant surprise of this young season – 16.7 ppg and a team-leading 5.7 apg.

This is a senior-laden Notre Dame team that is only turning the ball over 10 times a game, meaning that they play smart with the ball and don’t give their opponents too many extra possessions.

This game is going to present quite a rebounding challenge for the Dawgs‘ frontcourt of Price, Travis Leslie (G/F) and Chris Barnes.  The Irish are grabbing 49 boards a game to Georgia’s 34, and on top of that they have a serious size advantage inside – their roster is full of 6’8″ and 6’9″ bigs.

Barnes was productive again off the bench for Coach Fox against Saint Louis, hauling down 5 rebounds in just 14 minutes of play.  He’s averaging 7.0 rebounds in the last two games and needs to continue to attack the glass going forward with Thompkins on the sidelines.

Notre Dame will most likely be looking to slow the pace of this game down, allowing them to pound the ball inside on the Dawgs defensively.  It will be up to GR2, Travis Leslie and Dustin Ware to push the ball and try to turn this game into a bit of a track meet because the Dawgs certainly have a quickness advantage.

I think the key to this game is going to lie in the hands (or legs) of Travis Leslie.  Leslie has been sensational for Coach Fox so far this season, leading the team in points (18.0), rebounds (8.3) and minutes (32.0).

However, it’s not just his offense that the Dawgs will rely on Thursday night – they are going to need a great defensive effort from Leslie as well.  I am assuming that the 6’7″ Connor Nolte will match up with one of Notre Dame’s bigs (maybe Carleton Scott?) because they have so much height inside (6’8″, 6’8″ and 6’7″).

This will leave Leslie to guard the Irish’s leading scorer, Ben Hansbrough.  Hansbrough is an excellent shooter, and guarding excellent shooters is difficult.  Leslie will have to be aware of where “Psycho B” is on the court at all times, which will be a tiring endeavor.

The Old Spice Classic presents another great opportunity for this Georgia team to continue building its NCAA tournament resume.  Any wins that the Dawgs can secure away from The Steg will go a long way in convincing tournament committee members that they deserve a bid in March (especially if they can continue to win without Trey).

The game will be televised at 7:00PM EST on ESPN2, meaning that this game (and tournament) will give Georgia some much-needed national exposure.  Sounds like a nice thing to mention to recruiting prospects as well, doesn’t it?

Hopefully the Dawgs can make playing in a preseason tournament a regular occurrence in the future.  Winning a few games at the Old Spice Classic would certainly help.

Dawgs First Road Game

Goofiest-looking mascot?

The Saint Louis Billikens were a trendy pick this off-season to win the Atlantic 10 conference this year – they were coming off a 23-win season which included an 11-5 conference record, and the whole team was returning.

Things have gone downhill since the off-season for Saint Louis.

The team’s two leading scorers from last year – PG Kwamain Mitchell and PF Willie Reed – have been suspended from the team amid sexual assault allegations.  Mitchell and Reed averaged a combine 28.3 points per game last year, or 45% of the Billikens offense.  Needless to say, these were key losses for Saint Louis.

Expectations have lowered a bit for Saint Louis, as Coach Rick Majerus is now working with a team composed of 11 freshman and sophomores.  The good news for the remaining Billikens is that everyone is getting to play – through the first two games, Majerus has nine guys that are averaging 16.5 minutes or more.

Junior guard Kyle Cassidy is leading the Billikens in both scoring (16.5 points) and assists (3.5)

The Saint Louis frontcourt features an Australian and a New Zealander – hard to believe the two can co-exist!

Aussie native Cody Ellis, a 6’8″ sophomore, is averaging 9.5 points and 4.5 boards, and Kiwi freshman Rob Loe is netting 11.5 points and 5.5 rebounds a contest (while standing at 6’11”).

As tempting as it might be to feel confident about the Dawgs chances in this game, I feel compelled to remind everyone of the Dawgs‘ 0-11 record in true road games last season.  Things were anything but cozy for Georgia away from the Steg, and Saturday night will give the Dawgs an opportunity to get Coach Mark Fox his first road win at UGA.

And yes, they will have to win it without leading scorer and rebounder Trey Thompkins.

Through the first two games of the season, Gerald Robinson, Travis Leslie and Jeremy Price are averaging a combined 56.0 points per game – an astounding 72% of the Dawgs‘ offense (with GR2 leading the way at 20.0).  These three have really stepped up their games in Trey’s absence and picked up the slack on the offensive side of the court.

On Saturday night I am looking for more of the same from GR2 – push the ball on every possession, get into the lane and score or get to the line.  He has been putting relentless pressure on opposing teams defenses and hopefully Saturday night will be no different.

Georgia upperclassmen Jeremy Price and Chris Barnes weigh a combined 504lbs, and I want to see them use that size to assert themselves on the offensive and defensive glass against this young Saint Louis team.  As I already mentioned, Price has been great through the first two games – averaging 18.5 points.  Against Colorado, Barnes stepped up big for Coach Fox off the bench, grabbing 8 rebounds and scoring 9 points.  Georgia is going to need Barnes to be a regular contributor this season, so hopefully Tuesday night’s performance was a start.

This will be the first road game for freshman Marcus Thornton and Donte Williams, and on top of that it will be at 8PM on Saturday night in front of a likely sold-out Chaifetz Arena.  We’ll see how the frosh handle the atmosphere of their first hostile collegiate environment.

If this Georgia team wants to be taken seriously by the NCAA Selection Committee come March, then they have to win some road games – just ask ESPN’s Andy Katz.  And speaking of Andy Katz, this guy seriously loves plugging Georgia Bulldog basketball.  In his recap of the first 10 days of the season, Katz says “The world is right again. Georgia handled Colorado after nearly losing to Mississippi Valley State, and both games were without injured SEC preseason player of the year Trey Thompkins.

Even though the Billikens roster took quite a hit with the losses of Mitchell and Reed, they did lose to the Dawgs in Athens last year 64-56 and they no doubt will be looking to exact some revenge tomorrow night in the prime time slot.

One final thought – the last time that a Georgia Men’s basketball team was ranked in either the AP or USA Today Coaches Poll was March 10, 2003 (they were #21 in the AP; #22 in the Coaches).

At the moment, the Dawgs are just outside of both polls – they are receiving 42 votes for the AP and 4 for the Coaches.  If Georgia were to win at Saint Louis on Saturday night, could they possibly break into the AP Poll next Monday?

It will be very interesting to see how Coach Fox’s team responds to its first road challenge of the 2010-2011 season.

Recruiting Rankings, Trey and the SEC East

The amount of preseason hype surrounding this upcoming season for Mark Fox’s Georgia Bulldogs has been slightly unprecedented.  Georgia basketball fans are not accustomed to seeing their team mentioned in the annual Preseason Top 25 rankings, nor are they used to having TWO players on the Preseason All-SEC First Team (Thompkins & Leslie).

And the hype is not limited to 2010.

ESPN currently has the Dawgs ranked #21 in it’s Class of 2011 Team Basketball Recruiting Rankings, with Kentavious Caldwell being the highlight of the class thus far.  These are BASKETBALL recruiting rankings…and Georgia is in them!

Check out this interview I found with Foxsports.com’s John Goodman and Trey Thompkins.  During the interview,  Thompkins discusses why he came to UGA, how excited he is about playing with Gerald Robinson, dealing with the preseason hype and trying to guard Kevin Durant this past summer at the Team USA practices.

One more thing to ponder – how stacked is the SEC East?

With four teams (UF, Kentucky, Tenn & Georgia) in Andy Katz’s Preseason Top 25, and one (Vandy) listed in the “Dozen More to Watch” it seems that the SEC East may be the toughest half of any conference in the nation going into the 2010-2011 season.

Need further proof?

Doug Gottlieb listed Florida, Kentucky and Tennessee in his list of twenty teams that he sees as legitimate Final Four contenders heading into next year.

It is going to be ultra-competitive in the SEC East this year, and I think there is a very realistic chance that this half of the conference sends five teams to the NCAA Tournament.

Katz and Scheduling

Mark Fox might need to take ESPN College Basketball Analyst Andy Katz out to lunch.

Remember back in May when Katz listed Fox’s Georgia Bulldogs in his “revised Top 25 for the 2010-2011 season“?

In a more recent publication, Katz highlighted Georgia’s Trey Thompkins and Travis Leslie in a piece he did on potential 2011 NBA Draft Prospects.

This guy is big on the Dawgs!

But for Georgia to live up to Katz’s lofty “Top 25” expectations, they are going to have to work their way through another tough out-of-conference schedule.  On July 1st, Xavier coach Chris Mack tweeted “Get your plane tickets to Athens, GA for February X fans…“.  Cincinnati.com confirmed the tweet on July 2nd – Georgia will play Xavier at home in February 2011.  ESPN’s Andy Katz has Xavier listed just outside his preseason Top 25 list, but don’t be surprised to see the Musketeers nationally ranked when February rolls around.

The Dawgs also play host to UAB – a team that whipped Georgia last year in Birmingham, AL and finished the season 25-9 and just missed getting an at-large bid into the NCAA Tournament.

Saint Louis is on Georgia’s schedule again next season as well.  Last year the Billikens gave the Dawgs a game in Athens in a 64-56 loss.  The Billikens ended up 23-13 and 11-5 in the Atlantic 10 during their 2009-2010 campaign.  ESPN’s Pat Forde is high on Saint Louis next year, especially since they return every player along with colossal coach Rick Majerus.

Of course the Dawgs have their annual showdown with Georgia Tech…However, next season’s match-up is back in Atlanta where Georgia hasn’t won since the 2000-2001 season (thanks to 28 points from D.A. Layne).

Probably the most intriguing part of the Dawgs 2010-2011 schedule is the Old Spice Classic tournament, which will be held in Orlando, Florida over Thanksgiving weekend.  Georgia will join a field that includes Boston College, California, Manhattan, Notre Dame, Temple, Texas A&M and Wisconsin.  Five of the eight teams in this season’s group (Cal, ND, Temple, Texas A&M & Wisconsin) all reached the NCAA Tournament last year.  Temple and Wisconsin are already on CBS’s Top 25 for the preseason.

The Georgia Bulldogs compete in the SEC East, which has to be one of the toughest halves of any conference in the country.  The Dawgs will play national powerhouses like Kentucky, Florida and Tennessee twice.  Throw in the remaining SEC schedule along with next season’s out-of-conference warm-up and its starting to look like Mark Fox’s Dawgs are going to have their work cut out for them.

“Don’t Sleep on the Dawgs”

ESPN college basketball analyst Andy Katz listed Mark Fox‘s Georgia Bulldogs at #25 in his “revised top 25 for the 2010-2011 season“.

There is also a link on this page for the ESPNU podcast in which Katz and fellow college basketball analyst Doug Gottlieb talk more about Katz’s rankings.  If you fast forward in to about 35 minutes into the podcast, you will here both analysts praise the Dawgs – Gottlieb refers to Travis Leslie in admiration as the “Human Highlight Film” – and Katz’s goes on to project Fox’s team to make a run in next year’s NCAA Tournament!

I have never been this excited for an upcoming UGA basketball season.