Gators Come to Athens

The Florida Gators (9-4 SEC; 20-8 overall) roll into Athens this Saturday to take on the Georgia Bulldogs (4-9 SEC; 12-14 overall).

The Gators have won three games in a row, including a 75-62 win over the Tennessee Volunteers last Tuesday.

Barring a total meltdown, it appears that Billy Donovan’s team has just about played itself into this year’s NCAA Tournament.  However, after Saturday’s game with Georgia they have Vanderbilt at home and then they conclude the regular season at Kentucky.  Needless to say, the Gators definitely want/need to get another SEC win, and their best chance is probably against the Dawgs.

Back in January, Florida pounded the Dawgs 87-71 in Gainesville.  The Gators forced Georgia into 19 turnovers, and scored 50 points off Bulldog turnovers and second chance shots…it was not a fun game to watch if you were Dawgs fan.

However, last year the Gators handled the Dawgs 83-57 in Gainesville, only to be beaten in Athens 88-86.

This Florida team is better than last year’s squad, though.

The Gators might have the best backcourt in the SEC, and certainly one of the best in the country.

Sophomore point guard Erving Walker is averaging 16.1 points and 5 assists per game in SEC play, while hitting nearly 37% of his three-point attempts on the season.  In the first meeting between these two teams, Walker torched the Bulldogs for 21 points and dished-out 10 assists.

Freshman guard Kenny Boynton is scoring 13.4 points in conference games, and he too dropped 21 points on Georgia back in January.

On the inside, the Gators frontcourt features juniors Chandler Parsons (6’9″), Alex Tyus (6’8″) and Vernon Macklin (6’11”, 240 lbs).   Parsons is having a big junior season, averaging 11.8 points and 7.7 rebounds per SEC contest.  He also has a nice touch from the outside, burying 36.1% of his three-point tries on the year.

In conference play, Tyus is scoring 13.2 points and nabbing 7.5 rebounds per game.  In the first game against the Dawgs, Tyus led the Gators with 23 points.

Rounding out the Florida frontcourt is center Vernon Macklin, who is contributing 11 points and 4.8 boards a night in SEC games.

The Gators are very balanced on offense, and they can hurt teams from both inside and out.  Other than Kentucky, Florida is probably the second most talented team in the league.

It will be very interesting to see how Georgia comes out on Saturday following another back-breaking road loss.

Keys to the Game

Breaking the Press

I know that this is a pretty simple “key”, but the Dawgs’ 19 turnovers coupled with their inability to handle Florida’s full-court pressure were two big reasons that they were blown out in January.  There were too many times when the ball was thrown errantly down the middle of the court, resulting in a turnover.

Florida is going to show Georgia a full-court trap press on Saturday until the Dawgs show that they can handle it.  McPhee and Ware have got to be conscious of where they are on the court when they break to the ball.  There have been too many instances this season when a Georgia guard has received the in-bounds pass near the corner of the court, right on the baseline.  This is just asking to get trapped!  The Dawgs have got to find ways (set some picks maybe?) to get the ball in the guards hands closer to the middle of the court so that they have room to operate (and are less likely to get trapped).

Georgia needs to break the Gator press, and then work to get this game moving at a snail’s pace.

Get Inside

In Thursday night’s loss at Vanderbilt, Travis Leslie and Ricky McPhee each played 41 minutes.  Dustin Ware played 40 and Thompkins a mere 34.  I realize that these are young men in probably the best shape of their lives, but one day off is one day off no matter how you look at it.  Tired legs can make even the best shooters’ jump shots come up just a bit short.  The Dawgs would be well served by getting the ball inside and pounding the glass.

Saturday Magic

Mark Fox’s Bulldogs are undefeated (4-0) this season in Saturday afternoon SEC home games.  Two of those wins were over Tennessee and Vanderbilt – both were and are still ranked.

Florida Coach Billy Donovan has taken note as well, saying earlier this week, “For me, personally, it’s more about moving into third place in the SEC East. We’re all jockeying for position right now and maybe we can catch Vandy for second, but we’re going up against a Georgia team that I think everyone in our league will attest plays very well at home.”

Side Note…Say What?

The Atlanta Journal Constitution (AJC) has stated that the Georgia’s basketball team’s only tangible goal left this season (barring a miraculous SEC tournament championship) is to play the role of spoiler…starting with the Gators.

I respectfully disagree.

A win over Florida would give Georgia 5 SEC wins, and a legitimate shot at getting their 6th of the year in the season finale at LSU (I am not going to be so bold as to predict a win over Kentucky).  This would DOUBLE the number of SEC wins for this team from last year’s sum of three.  That would be a pretty good accomplishment.

Not to mention that should Georgia win on Saturday, they will put themselves in a position to reach .500 on the season, and possibly earn an NIT berth (this is again assuming a win at LSU, and then two wins in the SEC Tournament).

Making the NIT is another tangible goal for this young team.

The game tips off at 4:00PM EST on Saturday.  I have to be in Charlotte for work, so I’ll be watching it on the SEC Networks (aka Peachtree TV).  The game is sold out, so it should be an awesome atmosphere!

Dawgs Head to Florida

jarvis hayes
On January 19, 2002, Jarvis Hayes scored 23 points and the Dawgs won at Florida 84-79...this was the last time Georgia won at the O'Connell Center

The Georgia Bulldogs basketball team (9-8) rolls into Gainesville on Wednesday night to take on a hot Florida Gators team that is coming off a thrilling buzzer-beater win over South Carolina last Saturday.

The Gators have been somewhat of an anomaly this year.  Florida has recorded wins over Michigan State, NC State and Florida State, yet they lost at home to South Alabama and Richmond.

Billy Donovan’s squad started out conference play with back-to-back losses to Vanderbilt and Kentucky, but have since won three straight games to put them at 3-2 in the SEC.

On Wednesday, Mark Fox’s Dawgs will be trying to do something that hasn’t been done since the 2001-2002 season…win in Gainesville.  Last year in the game at Florida, the Gators lit up the Bulldogs with eleven 3-pointers in an 83-57 rout (and basically put the nail in Dennis Felton’s coaching coffin).

The SEC road has not been kind to the Dawgs over the years, as they have tallied up just 4 wins in the past 3 seasons coming into the 2009-2010 campaign (they are 0-2 this year away from The Steg in SEC play).

And to top it all off, the Florida Gators have now won 35 of their last 43 SEC home games.

This Gator squad’s strength is its backcourt, which may be one of the best in the country.  Freshman Kenny Boynton and sophomore Erving Walker account for 38% of Florida’s offense, combining for 27.4 points per game.  The Gators as a team hoist up twenty 3-pointers a game, and their starting guards are a big reason for that.  These two players have taken a total of 465 field goal attempts this year, and 256 of them were from 3-point range (that’s 55%!).  Walker is the better shooter of this tandem(38.2% 3PT), and he is also very good at creating his own shot off the dribble.

The Florida frontcourt is tall (yet thin) and features juniors Alex Tyus 6’8″, Chandler Parsons 6’9″, Vernon Macklin 6’10” and senior Dan Werner at 6’8″.  Tyus can score inside with his back to the rim, yet he also has a surprisingly soft touch from 15′-18′.  He is averaging 11.9 points a game, and is the Gators leading rebounder at 7.1 per contest.

Chandler Parsons (he hit the 3pt shot that beat SC) is averaging 10.7 points/6.6 boards, and he often looks to pop out for 3’s (shooting 35%).  Reserve Dan Werner is another guy that will shoot it from beyond the arc, yet so far this season he connecting only 30.2% of the time.

You may be noticing trend in Florida’s shot selection on offense – they like to jack it up from downtown.

The Gators are second in the conference in team defense, surrendering only 62.8 points per game.  However, they are second to last in blocks per game with only 2.95 per outing.  They do a good job of guarding the perimeter, but their bigs do not give them much support on the inside (Tyus and Parsons are awfully thin and struggle against wider opponents).

Keys to the Game

Handle the Pressure – Coach Fox’s team should expect to see a lot of full-court pressure from the Gators on Wednesday.  In last Saturday’s win over Tennessee, Georgia only saw token pressure from the Vols when bringing it up the court.  I expect Billy Donovan’s team to run a more aggressive full-court trap press, trying to force Georgia into turnovers.  The Gators prefer to play up-tempo, and will want to make this game somewhat chaotic and fast-paced.  Dustin Ware, Ricky McPhee, Vincent Williams and EA (Ebuka Anyaorah) need to play strong with the ball.  Trey Thompkins, Jeremy Price and Albert Jackson must be careful with their ball-reversal passes when taking on the press (can’t have a repeat of what happened at the end of the Mississippi State game).

Get in the (1-2-2) Zone! – Against Mississippi State and Tennessee, the Dawgs played in a 1-2-2 zone defense for the majority of both games (with Travis Leslie out on top).  This defensive set limits the number of quality looks for opponents from 3-point range.  Georgia held MSU and UT to 25.8% and 18.8% from beyond the arc, respectively.  Hopefully Fox will have his team in the same defense on Wednesday, ready to challenge and contest all Gator 3-point field goal attempts.  With Georgia’s size inside I don’t see the Gators getting too many second chances.

OutFox Them – Last Saturday was a good day for both of these programs.  Georgia ended a 10-game losing streak with their upset of the #8 Vols, and Florida won their 3rd straight SEC game on a thrilling last-second shot by Chandler Parsons.  How will these teams handle their recent successes?  Luckily for Coach Donovan, his Gator team is playing at home and will have a rowdy crowd backing them up.  Mark Fox has a greater challenge ahead of him – not only does he have to get his players focused on THIS game (and put the UT game in the past), but he also has to get them ready for another SEC road trip.  Hopefully Fox can keep his guys level-headed, and ready to dictate a slower tempo in this game.

The game tips off at 7PM EST and will be televised on CSS.  On the radio, you can listen to the first half on 750AM, and the second half on 97.1FM.

Side notes:

-Pat Forde of ESPN gave Mark Fox his “Coach who earned his comp car this week” award in his this week’s “Forde Minutes”.  He also proceeded to mention what none of us Georgia fans dare say at this point for fear that it won’t come true…the Dawgs have an outside shot at finishing .500 in the SEC.

-Congratulations again to Travis Leslie for nabbing the SEC Player of the Week award.  His dunks are becoming a regular part of ESPN’s Sportscenter highlights.

-During the Kentucky-South Carolina game on Tuesday night, ESPN analyst Jimmy Dykes (who was calling the game for ESPN) mentioned that he was looking forward to the Georgia-Florida matchup on Wednesday night.  Dykes went on to proclaim the Dawgs as the best team in the country to be ranked last in a conference, citing wins over Georgia Tech, Illinois and Tennessee.

Bonus side note from Hoop Dawg:

This is my first year with this blog, and I just wanted to say that I am loving all the comments!  Keep them coming…

It’s great to know that there are so many other fans of UGA basketball out there, and I love having a place like this where we can discuss the team, coaches, players, opponents, etc.

Anybody smell a Gator upset?