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.

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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.

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.