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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Dawgs drop Armstrong Atlantic 59-41 in exhibition

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the word exhibition as “a public show of something”.  Notice that the definition does not contain any words like “competition”, “win” or “lose”.  A college basketball exhibition game is merely an opportunity for the coaches to play their entire bench in a game-like atmosphere so that when they step on the court for real it won’t be quite as big of a shock.

That being said, I was glad to see the Dawgs win this one, and I was thankful they didn’t pull a Murray State because that would have unnerved the UGA fan base heading into Friday’s season opener against UT-Chattanooga (Murray State dropped its exhibition game in OT to NAIA opponent Freed-Hardeman).  But, I’m not going to dwell too much on statistics from this one because the competition – no offense to AAU – was not anywhere near what the Dawgs should expect to see when the Mocs roll around next week.  Plus, Georgia had ten guys play more than ten minutes apiece, with Fox running a multitude of various lineups throughout the night, which makes it difficult for players to get into any kind of rhythm.

I will say I was pleased with Georgia’s defense: UGA limited AAU to just 20% from the floor, and the Dawgs hauled in a Herculean 60 rebounds.  Considering how many different guys played on Friday, it was nice to see that the one constant was playing sound team defense.

The biggest takeaway from the entire event was just how impressive Georgia’s freshman LOOK.  There are no Tim Dixon’s or Donte Williams’s in this bunch.  Turtle Jackson, E’Torrion Wilridge, Derek Ogbeide and Mike Edwards all appear physically ready to compete with SEC calibre teams, especially the bigs.  Ogbeide had been garnishing a bit of hype prior to the season after CBS college basketball analyst Jon Rothstein tweeted out the following:

Oogbeide is a huge 6’8″ (listed at 250lbs), and he definitely looks capable of leading this team in rebounding.  Edwards, who led UGA with 11 points, is slightly leaner, but certainly not thin, and he too should be able to contribute immediately in the paint.  UGA will be just fine this year if these two frosh can combine to replace Neme’s 11 points and 5 rebounds from a year ago.

J.J. Frazier missed last night’s contest due to a possible broken nose that he incurred at practice on Friday night.  However, Turtle filled in nicely, running the offense with a confidence not usually seen in true freshman.  And, at 6’4″, he makes UGA’s backcourt look quite formidable alongside the 6’5″ Charles Mann.

Mark Fox might potentially have another NCAA Tournament team on his hands, considering how strong the Dawgs are at guard.  More importantly, though, it feels like Fox might have finally gotten things rolling.  He’s brought in a strong freshman crop following last season’s NCAA tournament appearance, and even though he loses Mann and Gaines after this year, Fox has a pair of 4-star shooting guards committed for 2016 to complement Jackson and Frazier in the backcourt.

Georgia has a difficult non-conference slate which begins next week with the Chattanooga Mocs, a team that many are picking to win the Southern Conference. A win would be a great way for UGA to set the tone early that this team has every intention of playing well into March.

Dawgs get 5th SEC road win in Oxford, enhance NCAA Tournament Resume

Marcus Thornton, who has not quite been himself offensively since returning from a concussion that saw him miss two games, appeared to be on track for another lackluster performance Wednesday night in Oxford.  The senior had just 2 points at the half as he struggled to finish around the basket against the Mississippi Rebels.

However, when his team needed him down the stretch, Thornton delivered.  With 5 minutes remaining in the game, Ole Miss had cut the UGA lead, which had been 12 points only a few minutes earlier, to 56-53 following a pair of free throws from Jarvis Summers.

Georgia desperately needed a bucket on its next possession, and thankfully Thornton managed to secure an offensive rebound and a stick-back to give his team a two-possession advantage.  Thornton finished the game with 18 points, but most impressive was the fact that he netted 12 of those points in the game’s final 5 minutes, carrying the Dawgs to an absolutely huge 76-72 SEC road victory.

Thornton also snagged a game-high 13 rebounds, giving him his 5th double-double of the season.

The Rebels’ defensive strategy in this one was to play heavy zone so as to force Georgia to beat them from the outside.  Considering that the Dawgs had been frigid from beyond the arc over the previous four games, hitting just 17 of its past 71 three-point attempts (24%), one could hardly blame Andy Kennedy for his plan of action.

Unfortunately for Ole Miss, though, UGA was locked in from the perimeter on Wednesday evening, connecting on 11 of 23 from  beyond the arc. Both Kenny Gaines and Neme Djurisic made 4 three’s apiece, rendering the Rebels’ zone ineffective.  Gaines led all scorers with 22 points, and Djurisic chipped in 17 to go along with 6 rebounds.  Gaines and Djurisic each hit a three-pointer in the second half that changed the score from a two-possession to a three-possession game, helping to keep the Rebels at bay.

Not only was Gaines on offensively, but the junior did a solid job of defending Stefan Moody, who entered last night’s contest as the leading scorer in the SEC through conference games at nearly 19 points a night.  Now, Moody did finish this game with 19 points, but 7 of them came in the game’s final minute of play with Georgia holding a commanding lead.  Before this game, Moody was near the top of the league in three-point percentage, making almost 40% of his attempts; yet, Gaines limited him to just 2 thee-pointers on 11 shots from the outside.

The win over Ole Miss puts UGA in a tie with LSU for 5th place in the conference with both teams sitting at 9-6, though the Tigers hold the tie-breaker over the Dawgs (since UGA let an 8-point lead escape in overtime in Baton Rouge).  For Georgia to finish in the top four of the SEC standings and earn a bye all the way to Friday of the conference tournament, a multitude of things have to go UGA’s way.  Unless Texas A&M just collapses and loses home games to both Auburn and Alabama, it seems unlikely that Georgia will be able to get past them in the standings.  Ole Miss and LSU play each other this weekend in Louisiana, and the winner of that contest will have the inside track on one of the top spots.

If Georgia could win out, meaning victories over Missouri, Kentucky (grabbing my collar as I type) and Auburn, the Dawgs probably would find themselves playing on Friday in the conference tournament.

Right now, though, the Dawgs need to only focus on Missouri – a team that is dead-last in the SEC with a 2-13 record – so that they avoid any more home letdowns (see recent games against Auburn and South Carolina).

Big weekend ahead for the basketball Dawgs

With an RPI of 24, Georgia has positioned itself well for an NCAA Tournament birth…for now (Lunardi had UGA as a 10-seed in this week’s Bracketology).  The Dawgs still have 13 SEC games remaining on their schedule, and if they don’t handle their business down the road (finish above .500) they could find themselves on the outside of the bubble.  In the Maroon Dawgs, UGA will be taking on a team that has not had the most spectacular start to the 2014-2015 season.  Missy State is 9-9 overall and just 2-3 in conference games; yet, a win over Georgia tomorrow and the other Bulldogs are dead-even with the red Dawgs in league play.

In fact, the SEC will feature a number of games tomorrow in which the winners/losers – if all the chips fell a certain way – could leave the league with an eight-way tie at 3-3.  Coach Mark Fox’s team has an opportunity to put some separation between themselves and some of the other competition in the conference, meaning a win is critical.

Another reason that Georgia cannot afford a slip-up in Starkville on Saturday is related to that whole RPI-thingy.  See, the Maroon Dawgs have an RPI of 177, which means that should they pull the upset they would go down as UGA’s worst loss on the season.  Minnesota (RPI 99) and Georgia Tech (72) are now both ugly blemishes on Georgia’s tournament resume – these two teams are a combined 1-12 in conference play, and neither squad needs a pair of shades because the future does not look too bright.  Tech still hasn’t played UVA, Duke or Carolina, and Minnesota has to play Iowa, Indiana and Wisconsin (twice).

I realize that everyone reading this blog knows that a big reason the Dawgs fell to GT was that Kenny Gaines, who was coming back from a bout with mononucleosis, played just 18 rusty minutes.  But, the NCAA Tournament Committee will more than likely not know about that little tidbit since they do not have time to comb through the personnel histories of all the teams that they are considering.

Finally, as a UGA basketball fan, I understand just how precious it is when Georgia reaches the Big Dance because it happens oh so rarely.  However, at the risk of becoming a bit spoiled, I’d like to go on record saying that should UGA be privileged enough to be selected this year, I truly hope the Dawgs can avoid seeds 7-10.   The 7,8,9 and 10 seeds, which are typically given to teams from large conferences, are kind of a let down.  Yes, fans are excited that their team is going to the tournament, but a win only means that their squad has to go on to most likely play a 1- or 2-seed.

Georgia wins exhibition game against Georgia Southwestern 65-61

Georgia played an exhibition game at exhibition quality on Thursday night as they snuck by the Hurricanes of Georgia Southwestern, a powerhouse hailing from the mighty ranks of the NCAA’s Division II.

I realize that UGA was without Kenny Gaines, the team’s second-leading scorer from a year ago.  And I realize that Coach Fox intended to play a lot of guys and try some different lineups, which he did.  It was a glorified scrimmage; I get it.

However, Georgia looked awfully competitive with the Hurricanes tonight, especially when they headed to the locker rooms at the break trailing GSW by a score of 26-23.

For nearly 30 minutes Georgia looked out of sorts and stagnant on offense, misusing screens and struggling to feed the ball inside effectively.  UGA shot under 35% from the floor in the first half, and they connected on just 2 of their 15 three-point attempts in this game. Finally – about midway through the second half, J.J. Frazier, who ended up with 9 points, was able to start penetrating the stout Hurricane defense, getting to the line and creating some offense.

Georgia ended up extending its lead into double-digits with several minutes remaining in the game, only to let GSW close the gap to four, giving UGA the 65-61 win.  To be fair, the Dawgs had the bench cleared during this entire stretch.

While it was encouraging to see Kenny Gaines on the bench in street clothes – I guess he is not bedridden – it was quite clear that his absence will be difficult to replace if he cannot go next Friday night in Atlanta against Georgia Tech.  Juwan Parker finished with 10 points on the night, but he shot the ball horribly from the outside, missing badly on all of his three-point attempts.

Yaten Maten recorded a double-double in his first appearance inside Stegeman, scoring 10 points to go along with 12 boards and 4 assists.  He definitely has a nice build and he looks like he could develop into a nice player for Coach Fox, but the key word here is “develop”.  Most of Maten’s points tonight were of the second-chance variety, which will be much more difficult to come by when he starts taking on opponents that are his size or bigger.

Not to beat a horse to death, but this game provided a small example of just how much Georgia could miss Brandon Morris this year, especially his length and ability to drive the ball to the basket off the dribble.  Cameron Forte had a couple of nice takes tonight in the second half, but he doesn’t quite have that same explosiveness that Morris had when he got into the lane.

Whatever medication the UGA staff is administering to Kenny Gaines needs to be doubled ASAP.  Georgia has to have him in the lineup when they start the season because without him they don’t have a lot of viable scoring options.

An early look at UGA’s 2013-2014 basketball season

With the start to the 2013-2014 season less than three weeks away, Georgia Bulldog basketball fans are beginning to assess the possibilities and expectations for this year’s team.  This Dawg team is comprised of a slew of sophomores and juniors (nine in all) – most of whom saw significant playing time last year – and one lone senior in Donte Williams.  By today’s college basketball standards, Coach Fox has something of a “veteran” squad on his hands.

The outlooks provided by various media sources have been mixed for UGA: CBS’s Matt Norlander and Doug Gottlieb predict 7th and 8th place conference finishes for the Bulldogs, respectively.  However, the more common estimation of how Georgia will fare in the SEC typically has the Dawgs ending up somewhere between 11th to 13th (thankfully Auburn seems to be a pretty consensus last-place pick).

Nationally, Georgia did secure one vote to be ranked in the first USA Today poll of the season, but as the AJC reported that vote came from none other than Coach Mark Fox, leaving us to wonder if his decision might have been at all biased.

Since the departure of Trey Thompkins and Jeremy Price several years ago, UGA has severely lacked any sort of an inside presence.  Heading into this season with the same cast of bigs as last year – Neme Djurisic, Donte Williams, Tim Dixon, John Cannon and Marcus Thornton – it is hard to imagine that much will change in the Dawgs’ ability (or inability, rather) to get consistent post scoring.

One factor that could certainly make points hard to come by in the paint is that UGA does not have any serious shooting threats, so teams may opt to sag off shooters and load down on the blocks.  Remember, this Georgia team struggled mightily on offense last season, finishing 307th in the nation in scoring and 287th in field goal percentage.  In addition, Coach Fox’s team will be looking to improve on these abysmal offensive numbers without the help of last year’s SEC Player of the Year – Kentavious Caldwell-Pope – who is now a member of the NBA’s Detroit Pistons.

While Georgia fans should be excited about sophomore guards Charles Mann and Kenny Gaines – both of whom showed a lot of promise during their freshman campaigns – neither of these guys exactly lit up the nets last season, where the two converted less than 40% of their field goal attempts.  

The Bulldogs will be relying more on Mann’s ability to get to the rim and draw fouls than his outside shot.  However, Fox needs Gaines to be a consistent shooter in the two-guard position, and hopefully for Georgia’s sake Kenny is up for the challenge.

Both of these players benefited from having a superstar on the court with them last year in Pope – someone who drew a lot of attention from opposing defenses.  This season Mann and Gaines may find it more difficult to score the basketball without the aide of KCP, yet Fox still needs them to step up and shoulder significant chunks of the scoring load.

In the words of Athlon Sports writer David Fox: “This could be a key year for Mark Fox.

Interpret however you like.

Dawgs will be tested away from home next season

In a few months, Georgia will begin to explore life in the world of college basketball without the services of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who was recently selected 8th overall by the Detroit Pistons in this year’s NBA draft. Losing the SEC’s Player of the Year would be a detrimental blow to any team in the league’s roster; however, Coach Mark Fox’s Bulldogs will have to adapt and find additional scoring while navigating through a 2013-2014 schedule that contains a number of difficult games that will be played outside of Athens.

Just before Thanksgiving, the Dawgs will take part in the 2013 Charleston Classic, where they start off with an opening round game against the Davidson Wilcats – a team that reached the second round of last season’s NCAA tournament. Depending on the outcome of that game, UGA will play either Clemson or Temple – schools that both boast a strong basketball pedigree.

Some time in December (the exact date has yet to be determined), Georgia will venture to Boulder, CO to play another team that reached the second round of last year’s Big Dance – the Colorado Buffaloes. The Buffs return all five starters from last year’s team, earning them a preseason #11 ranking by Sports Illustrated.

In conference play, UGA will face Florida, Tennessee and Kentucky just once each, respectively. Unfortunately for Coach Fox, all three of those contests will be played on the opposing team’s court.

At this point, it’s hard to predict how this upcoming Georgia basketball team will perform without KCP on the court. More than likely, Fox will rely heavily on sophomores Charles Mann, Kenny Gaines and Brandon Morris to supplement the scoring load that Pope shouldered last season.

One thing is for sure though, this bunch will be tested regularly on the road.