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Final thoughts on the 2018-2019 season as well as looking ahead

A short recap of the season

The Georgia Bulldogs (11-21, 2-16) were projected to finish 13th in the SEC prior to the start of the 2018-2019 season, and Tom Crean’s first UGA team fulfilled that prophecy as they ended up one spot above winless Vanderbilt.

Crean is going to get a pass on his initial year of running this program. For the first half of the season, he attempted to shift the tempo of this team from neutral to 4th gear almost instantaneously. That experiment did not go well, particularly in SEC play as the Bulldogs were turning the ball over at a torrid pace.

Eventually, Crean made the decision to put the fast-paced style of play on hold so that he could put this team in the best position to win based upon the players on the roster. The result: after 3 consecutive double-digit losses to Alabama, Ole Miss and Texas A&M, the Dawgs started to compete. Georgia lost a string of heartbreakers to LSU, Missy State, Ole Miss and Auburn before finally breaking through with an amazing 61-55 road upset at Florida.

The remainder of the season became rather dismal as UGA lost Rayshaun Hammonds to a foot injury, and the Dawgs dropped the last three games to Missouri (twice) and South Carolina in an unsightly fashion; Georgia shot below 40% from the floor in each of those games.

Ultimately, this team lacked the guards to be successful in conference play, which is why Crean cannot be faulted for the unsightly league record that this team produced.

Surprises from this year

Even though it was definitely expected of him, Nic Claxton’s ascension from year one to year two was certainly impressive. The sophomore led the Dawgs in minutes, points, rebounds, steals and blocks en route earning Second Team All-SEC honors in just his second season of college basketball. Last year, Claxton showcased flashes of his shot-blocking ability, which he regularly put on display this season. However, this year with Yante Maten’s departure, the sophomore took on a much larger role in the offense, especially as one of its primary ball-handlers. Claxton displayed a level of versatility this year that is atypical in a 6’11” big, and his talents have not gone unnoticed as he is showing up in the first round of NBADraft.net’s 2020 mock draft.

The most pleasant surprise of this Georgia basketball season had to be the development of junior Jordan Harris. The former 4-star recruit had failed to live up to potential in his first two years in Athens before being removed from the team by former skipper Mark Fox. Crean gave Harris a second chance, and the junior didn’t disappoint, particularly in the latter portion of the season. Harris scored in double-figures in 10 of the final 14 games for Georgia as he averaged nearly 12 ppg during that stretch, including a career-high 26-point performance in the SEC tournament loss to Missouri. Over the course of the season, Jordan morphed into this team’s best rim attacker off the dribble, and he should be a double-digit contributor in scoring for his senior season.

Players who need to improve

Prior to the start of the season, I expected both Rayshaun Hammonds and Tyree Crump to flourish under the new regime. In his freshman season, Mark Fox sort of forced Rayshaun Hammonds to play on the block with his back to the basket, and he looked visibly uncomfortable. Crump seemingly got pulled after every mistake under Fox, which made it nearly impossible for him to develop any type of offensive rhythm.

Coach Crean loosened the reins on both of these guys by playing Hammonds on the wing and letting Crump be Crump (which means shooting the ball a lot from beyond the arc). Once SEC play began, both of these players began to fade offensively. Hammonds ended up averaging just 9.7 ppg in conference games; Crump shot under 30% from the perimeter as he netted only 7.6 ppg himself. These guys should have been double-digit scorers for Crean this season, yet they couldn’t make it happen.

Looking ahead

To put it simply, Crean is recruiting at a Kirby-like level. After this weekend’s addition of 6’6″ wing Christian Brown, UGA now has 4 players coming in next year from the ESPN100 list, highlighted by McDonald’s All-American Anthony Edwards. Georgia currently has the #6 class in the nation for 2019, according to 247sports.com. The last time UGA had a Top 10 recruiting class in basketball was…

As exciting as this new crop of Dawgs will be for Crean next year, if Claxton departs early, which apparently is a possibility, it would certainly take some wind out of the 2019-2020 season’s sail. Georgia is already losing its best back-to-the-basket scorer in Derek Ogbeide, so losing Claxton would really put a damper on the Dawgs’ frontcourt. Personally, I believe he needs another year. At best, he goes in the second round, which means far less money. Also, I know that the fact that Claxton grew late in high school is a big reason why he’s such a good ball-handler, but it’s also a big reason why he often does not take the ball to the basket like a 6’11” center. Nic needs to stop attacking the rim with the ball on his shoulder like a guard, or the NBA will be a very unkind environment for him.

Should Claxton stay, Georgia could certainly be somewhere around the NCAA bubble next March.

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Georgia faceplants in Starkville against Mississippi State

When a team’s Achilles Heel is scoring, that team cannot afford to dig themselves into too deep of a hole. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what Georgia did on Saturday night in its 72-57 loss in Starkville against Mississippi State.

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The Dawgs played arguably their worst half of basketball of the season tonight in the first half against the other Bulldogs.  Georgia turned the ball over 9 times before the break, and UGA failed to secure a single offensive rebound (Georgia got out-rebounded 37-20 in the game).  The Dawgs seemed disinterested in playing defense for the first 20 minutes of play, and that trend continued into the second half as well.  The Missy State guards faced little resistance on the dribble drive and the Georgia bigs offered zero help on the inside when penetration reached the paint.  UGA’s offense isn’t built to overcome large deficits, which was why Mark Fox’s team appeared doomed as they headed to the locker room trailing the Maroon Dawgs 37-21.

Here’s the box score:

UGA missy

missy state uga

As already mentioned, Georgia’s defense was abysmal.  Even though the Maroon Dogs entered tonight’s game with the 9th best offense in SEC Play (69 ppg), UGA felt that it didn’t have the personnel to line up and play man defense.  Rather, Georgia sat in a soft zone that Lamar Peters carved up to the tune of 20 points.  If a Missy State guard got past a member of the UGA backcourt (something that occurred regularly this evening), the Georgia bigs failed to play anything that resembled help defense.  The Maroon Dogs scored on numerous backdoor cuts and alley-oops because Mark Fox’s team didn’t communicate in its zone.  Missy State, who was shooting just 43% from the floor in conference play, knocked down over 50% of its field goal attempts against Georgia on Saturday.

After scoring 72 points earlier this week against the Gators in Athens, the UGA offense got back to its stagnant ways against the other Bulldogs in Starkville. Yante Maten, who ended up with 13 points on a frustrating 5 for 12 performance from the floor, faced double-teams for much of the night.  Although, even when Maten had one-on-one opportunities against State’s Abdul Ado, he struggled to convert against the athletic shot blocker. In short, Maten had a tough night.  Georgia’s not going to be successful on offense in games in which Maten struggles.

There weren’t many positive takeaways offensively from this game considering the Dawgs put up just 57 points. However, one of the lone bright spots had to be the play of Pape Diatta, who scored 12 points on a perfect night from the floor in which all his shots came from beyond the arc.  Diatta injured his ankle in the preseason, and he’s played sparingly this year so far.  I’m not sure if his resurgence in minutes was related more to his health or the fact that Jordan Harris was suspended from the team indefinitely for undisclosed reasons.  Diatta was brought to Georgia to make triples, and since that is something that this team rarely does I’d say he earned a few more minutes of playing time moving forward based upon his performance this evening.

Question that I must have answered: How does Mark Fox choose his starting five and playing rotations?

Tyree Crump earned just his second start of his career against Missy State, and the sophomore scored 13 points on a 4 of 9 shooting effort.  Crump now joins E’Torrion Wildridge and Teshaun Hightower in an illustrious group of Georgia players that have now started in games this season as well as spent entire games on the bench.  Remember Hightower?  He started a couple of games in a row earlier on in league play, yet now he barely takes his warm up off. Crump has either not left the bench or played just a minute or two in multiple games this season.  How do these disparities in playing time exist?  How can a player go from zero to minimal playing time, to starting, to back to no playing time again?  I almost wonder if Georgia’s 5th starter is chosen by a Rock Paper Scissors tournament each week, and the loser is relegated to the pine for the night. If I were an AJC reporter, I’d be throwing these types of questions at Mark Fox every. Single. Week.

Looking ahead

Georgia has 5 Top 50 RPI wins, which is solid. But Georgia also has a record of 13-9 overall, and they are now just 4-6 in SEC play.  If the Dawgs don’t get above .500 in the conference, they’ll be playing for an NIT bid at best.  Georgia heads to Nashville on Wednesday to take on Vanderbilt in a building where Mark Fox coached teams are just 1-5 against the Dores.

After Vandy, the remainder of UGA’s schedule is just brutal to say the least:

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Rationalizing UGA’s 3 SEC losses and comparing freshman Rayshaun Hammonds to past and present UGA bigs

Reconciling UGA’s 3 conference losses by looking at the strength of the SEC

The SEC is without a doubt a much better conference today than it was five years ago.  The league currently has 10 teams in the RPI Top 50, according to NCAA.com.  The conference had 12 recruits from the 2017 class land on the ESPN100 – no other league had more.  The SEC’s level of play has reached new heights for the conference, and ESPN analysts are projecting that as many as 8 teams could make this year’s NCAA Tournament.  In short, it’s not an easy place to play night in, night out.

All of Georgia’s losses this year – Kentucky, Missouri, South Carolina – have been hard for fans to reconcile.  At Kentucky, UGA once again held a lead late into the game (up 53-49 with 5:19 remaining) only to see the Cats surge ahead and eke out the victory.  In Columbia, the Dawgs flopped and flailed on offense, and they didn’t play a whole of defense in the second half either in their loss to Missouri.  Last Saturday, Georgia’s offense was inept, and the Dawgs yielded 18 offensive boards to the Gamecocks, who rolled out of Athens with the win.

In those aforementioned games, Georgia certainly did not play anything close to its best basketball, especially on the offensive side of the court.  However, I could rationalize each of those losses as such:

Kentucky: since John Calipari took the reigns of the Wildcats, only 5 teams have won inside of Rupp Arena.  His teams have played well over 100-something games in Lexington under Coach Cal, and they’ve only lost 5 of them.

Missouri: the Tigers just knocked off #21 Tennessee at home last night.  They’ve beaten Florida at home this season, too.

South Carolina: Frank Martin’s team could be hitting its stride as they followed up their road win in Athens with a stunning upset victory at home over #18 Kentucky on Tuesday.

To be clear, I’m not making excuses for how the Dawgs played in any of these games.  For sure, Georgia needs to clean things up on offense (and possibly push the tempo), and whether they have the guards on the roster to make that happen remains to be seen.  But fans should acknowledge that these are good teams that beat Georgia, and these losses may not be as devastating in the long run as they might have felt when they occurred.

Comparing Rayshaun Hammonds to former UGA 4-star forwards and others

Rayshaun Hammonds, who started the first 16 games of the season for Georgia, was not a starter on Tuesday night in Baton Rouge.  Against the Tigers, the freshman only logged 14 minutes; he’d been averaging over 26 minutes a game prior to this one.  Logic says that Coach Fox was punishing Hammonds for his lack of effort and aggressiveness against South Carolina, a team that blanked him (though he did haul in 7 boards).

Here’s a look at Hammonds stats so far this year:

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Here are the freshman year numbers for some of Georgia’s most recent 4-star bigs (and one 3-star who is still playing for the Dawgs):

Marcus Thornton (4-star)

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Trey Thompkins (4-star)

Thompkins

Jeremy Price (4-star)

Price

Yante Maten (3-star)

 

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At this point, Hammonds’s stats are sitting somewhere between Maten’s and Price’s.  Maten’s jump in scoring from freshman year to sophomore year was incredible as he averaged over 16 ppg in his second year in Athens.  Price, however, never averaged in double-digits during his UGA career, but that was because Thompkins and Travis Leslie (and later Gerald Robinson, Jr.) were doing the majority of the scoring.  Next year will be a big one for both Hammonds and UGA as he will be called upon to shore up a bulk of the points that will be abandoned by Yante’s departure.

Other SEC 4-star bigs from the 2017 class

Dan Gafford (Ark): 12.1 ppg, 6.3 rpg

Jeremiah Tillman (Mizz): 8.7 ppg, 4.3 rpg

Chuma Okeke (AU): 7.8 ppg, 5.8 rpg

Rayshaun Hammonds (UGA): 6.9 ppg, 5.2 rpg

Darious Hall (Ark): 4.8 ppg, 2.9 rpg

Chase Johnson (UF): 4.3 ppg, 2 rpg

Alex Reese (Bama): 3.7 ppg, 3.1 rpg

Ejike Obinna (Vandy): 3.7 ppg, 3.1 rpg

Galen Alexander (LSU): 2.1 ppg, 2.4 rpg

Mayan Kiir (LSU): 2.1 ppg, 2.1 rpg

Derrick Walker (UT): 1.3 ppg, 1.8 rpg

Ibrahim Doumbia (SC) 0.5 ppg, 0.9 rpg

Isiah Jasey (A&M): 0.3 ppg, 0.4 rpg

Isaiah Stokes (UF): DNP

While other factors are certainly at play here (playing time, scheme, roster talent, etc.), statistically speaking, Hammonds is outperforming the majority of his 4-star forward peers.

 

 

 

 

UGA bounces back with a 61-60 road win at LSU

The boxscore

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The ending

Georgia seniors Juwan Parker and Yante Maten both made incredibly important baskets for their team down the stretch of this game.  Parker, who finished with 9 points, calmly buried a three-pointer from the top of the key to put the Dawgs on top 59-58 with only 57 seconds remaining. However, LSU pushed the ball down the court and quickly found Duop Reath on the baseline, where he connected on a jumper that reclaimed the lead for the Tigers to make it 60-59 with just 41 seconds on the clock.  The ensuing possession for UGA resulted in a three-pointer from the corner by Teshaun Hightower (which we will get to later) that missed, but fortunately for Georgia, Parker was able to corral the offensive rebound and get a timeout. Coming out of the timeout, Coach Mark Fox had his team go to its bread and butter, Maten, and he delivered with a nice one-handed shot in the middle of the lane amongst multiple LSU defenders.  With Georgia up 61-60, LSU’s Tremont Waters had only a little over 5 seconds to get the ball down the court to hoist up a long three that missed the mark, and the Dawgs snuck out of Baton Rouge with a critical SEC road win.

Let’s talk a little bit more about that final 3:16

Coming out of the final media timeout, the Bulldogs led briefly – 56-55 – before Brandon Sampson hit a triple to make it 58-56 Tigers with 2:59 remaining.  For much of the second half, Georgia had made a concerted effort to get the ball inside to Maten, who delivered as he scored 17 of his game-high 21 points after the break.  Logic would lead one to think that Maten would see multiple touches over Georgia’s final series of possessions, yet that was not the case.  Over the next 6 trips down the court, the only time the ball wound up in Maten’s hands was the last UGA possession in which he made the game-winner.  As mentioned above, Parker took one as well (and connected).  The other 4 Georgia shots were attempted by none other than freshman Teshaun Hightower, who was clearly enjoying his first start of the season.  During this stretch of game, Hightower attempted 3 three-pointers, and he missed all three; though, that’s not terribly surprising considering he’s now 4 for 22 on the year from beyond the arc.  He did have a nice steal and wound up at the free throw line, but he couldn’t convert those shots either (Hightower was 1 for 6 from the charity stripe on the night and is now shooting only 40% from the line on the season).  Hightower did have several strong drives earlier in the game. He also did an excellent job of making life difficult on LSU’s leading scorer, Tremont Waters, who finished with just 6 points (0 in the second half), which is more than 10 points lower than his scoring average.  But the freshman has to realize that this team needs him to do three things: defend well, push the ball and find ways to get it inside to Maten and Derek Ogbeide.  For now, that’s about it.

Offensive adjustments

Georgia’s first half of offense looked a lot like a continuation from the South Carolina and Missouri games.  LSU pressed out of made baskets, which forced UGA into taking a lot of shots late in the possession.  In the half court, the Tigers pushed up hard on their man defense, which caused the Georgia guards to struggle to get the offensive sets started.  It’s kind of scary how easy it is to defend UGA sometimes; Georgia’s guards can really struggle to create separation and perform as catalysts for the offense when faced with just a bit of pressure.  The Dawgs shot under 41% from the floor prior to the break, and they hit only 1 of 9 from beyond the arc.  Georgia trailed 34-24 at the half; they weren’t even on pace to match their SEC average of 62 points, which is the lowest output in the league.

Georgia made 5 of its first 8 field goals of the second half during the first 15 seconds of the possession.

Coming out of halftime, however, UGA briefly reinvented itself and actually pushed the ball down the court on consecutive possessions.  Georgia made 5 of its first 8 field goals of the second half during the first 15 seconds of the possession.  The result: UGA took a 44-41 lead with 12:19 left in the game following a three-pointer by Jordan Harris.  After scoring just 24 points the entire first half, the Dawgs had already tallied 20 in less than 8 minutes.  Considering that Georgia has been the worst offense in the league through 5 SEC games, maybe it’s time for Fox to consider employing this strategy (playing more up tempo) more often?

Second chances

LSU has been the worst rebounding team in the SEC during league play so far this season.  The Tigers have a rebounding margin of -5.4, which means they are basically being out-rebounded every single night.  Last night was no different, as the Dawgs won the battle of the boards by a tally of 25-21.  While UGA only registered 4 more rebounds than the Tigers, probably the most important place where the Dawgs won the glass was on the offensive end, where Georgia pulled down 13 rebounds.  Those boards led to 17 second-chance points for Coach Mark Fox’s team; LSU had just 5.  After yielding 18 offensive rebounds to South Carolina last Saturday, it was refreshing to see UGA give an opponent a similar treatment.

Up next

Georgia heads to The Plains this Saturday night to take on #17 Auburn, a team that is currently on a 14-game win streak.  The Tigers are 4-0 in SEC play, and their RPI is sitting at 7.

Dawgs still searching for right mix on offense

Coach Fox has been notorious during his tenure at UGA for playing a lot of guys.  At times, the scorer’s table can resemble a busy street in New York City with the amount of foot traffic that Fox sends through.  Prior to this season, Fox boasted that this year’s team might be his deepest yet.  Through 9 games, he has 10 players averaging double-digit minutes (nearly 11 with Jordan Harris just missing the cut at 9.6).  In the current AP Top 25 poll, only 7 teams – Wichita State, UNC, Texas A&M, Seton Hall, Virginia, Arizona, and Texas Tech – have 10 or more players averaging more than 10 minutes a night.  Is Georgia’s depth comparable to that of Villanova, Michigan State, Duke, Kentucky or any of the other 14 ranked teams? Obviously not. The Dawgs aren’t as deep as the 7 teams listed above either.  So why does Fox continue to play so many guys?

Play time is over for Georgia.  The Dawgs have Georgia Tech at home on Tuesday and then another home game against a tough Temple squad Friday.  After that, UGA has 8 days off before the open of SEC play, which happens to be against Kentucky in Lexington on New Year’s Eve.  If Georgia thought UMASS looked explosive on offense following the Dawgs’ 11-day rest for final exams, wait till they see what the Cats have in store for them the night before 2018 starts. Fox needs to settle on an 8 or 9 man rotation so that only his best players are seeing the court.

One useful stat to think about when pondering who Georgia’s top contributors are is “Points per 40 minutes” as it gives consideration to how productive players are being with the minutes that they have been given.  I stretched out UGA’s points, rebounds and assists to 40 minutes for each player, and some of the results were surprising:

Points per 40 minutes:

Yante Maten 23.8
Tyree Crump 19.1
William Jackson II 17.0
Teshaun Hightower 13.5
Juwan Parker 13.2
Derek Ogbeide 12.6
Rayshaun Hammonds 12.3
Mike Edwards 11.5
Nicolas Claxton 10.9
Isaac Kante 9.1
Jordan Harris 7.3
Connor O’Neill 6.7
E’Torrion Wilridge 4.4
Christian Harrison 0.0
Pape Diatta 0.0

Rebounds per 40 minutes:

Nicolas Claxton 11.9
Yante Maten 11.8
Derek Ogbeide 10.9
Rayshaun Hammonds 8.1
Mike Edwards 7.7
Teshaun Hightower 6.2
Isaac Kante 5.7
Juwan Parker 5.5
Jordan Harris 5.2
E’Torrion Wilridge 4.4
William Jackson 3.1
Tyree Crump 2.7

Assists per 40 minutes:

Teshaun Hightower 5.8
William Jackson II 5.5
E’Torrion Wilridge 4.1
Tyree Crump 3.0
Pape Diatta 2.9
Rayshaun Hammonds 2.6
Yante Maten 2.3
Juwan Parker 2.3
Jordan Harris 2.2
Derek Ogbeide 1.5
Mike Edwards 1.2
Nicolas Claxton 0.3

Those numbers above make it pretty clear that both Tyree Crump and Teshaun Hightower deserve more minutes.  Fox’s resistance to play Crump is bizarre, especially considering he’s a 35% three-point shooter on a team that ranks 297th in the nation in made 3PT shots per game at just over 6 a night.  Turtle Jackson has been lights-out from the perimeter, where he has been hitting more than 44% of his attempts.  He and Crump should be on the floor more together so that Georgia can stretch opposing defenses and open things up more on the inside for Maten.

 

I have one more facet of Coach Fox’s decision-making that I want to call into question before stepping down from my soapbox, and that is his use of freshman Rayshaun Hammonds.  Yesterday, Hammonds spent the majority of his time on offense standing on the wing, where he would look to either dump the ball inside to Maten or move it back to the top of the key.  At 6’8″, Hammonds is a potential matchup nightmare for opposing defenses.  UMASS had a smaller defender on the freshman all afternoon, but not once did he head to the block to post up.  I kept waiting for Fox to make an adjustment to the offense to exploit this UMASS weakness, but it never happened.  Georgia regularly has Maten receive the ball at the free throw line – why not have Hammonds slide down to the block when this occurs?  Or keep Maten on one block, and let Hammonds occupy the other when Ogbeide or Edwards has the ball at the top of the key.  UMASS couldn’t afford to help on Hammonds in this scenario because of Maten’s presence on the opposing block.  Hammonds is projected as a first-round pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, and Fox has to find a way to get him more involved in this team’s offensive scheme because Maten cannot be the only option inside.

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.

 

 

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.