Georgia uses late run to snatch SEC opener away from Auburn

12336179SEC openers have not been Mark Fox’s specialty during his tenure in Athens as his teams have gone a combined 2-5.  Georgia (9-4) looked overwhelmed at the start of this game, and following a tip-in by Austin Wiley the Auburn Tigers (10-3) held a commanding 33-20 lead over the Dawgs just a little over halfway through the opening twenty minutes.  The sold out Auburn Arena was rocking as this hot Tiger team, coming off a huge road win at Connecticut, seemed poised to deliver a knockout punch to a shell-shocked group of Dawgs.

But UGA hung around.  J.J. Frazier got handsy, ratcheting up a game-high 5 steals.  Jordan Harris looked like a 4-star recruit, scoring 12 points on a combination of three-pointers and drives.  Yante Maten got hit with 2 quick fouls, but managed to only accumulate 1 more over the final 30-something minutes.  Even Juwan Parker, who’s jumper has been anything but consistent this season, buried a key shot from the corner that put the Dawgs up 90-80 with only 2:31 left.

Below are two major reasons why Georgia managed to pull off this 96-84 victory on The Plains:

Switch to zone 

The Dawgs tried to play Auburn in a man defense to begin the game and that strategy was rendered ineffective pretty quickly.  The Tigers pushed the tempo early, and UGA failed to close out well on the perimeter, which led to a barrage of Auburn three-pointers.  The Tigers hit 7 of their first 11 shots from beyond the arc and held a 36-26 advantage with a little over 8 minutes left in the first half after a triple from junior T.J. Lang.

Credit Mark Fox, however, for recognizing and reacting to Auburn’s pace by putting his team into a combination of matchup, 2-3 and 3-2 zones.  The Tigers missed their final 3 shots from the perimeter heading into the intermission, and they made just 2 of 12 from beyond the arc in the second half.  After hitting over 56% from the floor in the first twenty minutes of play, Auburn made only 37% of its field goal attempts following the break. UGA’s zone looks reduced the number of open shots from the outside for Bruce Pearl’s team, and it helped Georgia slow down the tempo of the game, which turned out to work very much in Dawgs’ favor.

Two-man game

In the latter quarter of this game, Georgia abandoned its typical half court offensive sets, which can become slightly rigid at times, and instead put the ball in the hands of its two playmakers. On nearly every possession, the Dawgs offense consisted of a high screen by Yante Maten for J.J. Frazier, and then those two would take it from there.  Maten, who led all scorers with 31 points, netted 10 of those in the game’s final 8 minutes.  Frazier, who poured in 27 points as well, scored 8 during the same stretch and dished out 2 of his 5 assists.  The UGA offense looked much more NBA-like than collegiate in the game’s final minutes, and Georgia closed out this contest with a  22-10 run after trailing Auburn 76-74 with 7:27 remaining.  After connecting on just 42% of its field goal attempts in the first half, Georgia almost knocked down 60% of its shots from the floor following the intermission en route to a season-high output of 96 points.

Georgia Visits Knoxville

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Will the Vols fans get to see any of Travis Leslie's high-flying dunks on Wednesday?

The Georgia Bulldogs basketball team heads to Knoxville, TN on Wednesday to take on Bruce Pearl’s #20 Tennessee Volunteers (18-6 overall; 6-4 SEC).

Georgia snapped a 10-game losing streak with their thrilling 78-63 blow-out win over the Vols in Athens back in January.

The game on Wednesday will be played at the Thompson-Boling Arena, a place where the Dawgs haven’t won since February 21, 2001.

The road as been anything but kind to Georgia this year, as they are now 0-8 overall and 0-5 in the SEC in true away games.  An outside observer would certainly not give the Dawgs much of a chance in this one.

Georgia, however, is coming off a 66-61 comeback victory over the South Carolina Gamecocks, and looking to build a little momentum.

Tennessee has lost two straight road games at Vanderbilt and Kentucky, and surely this team will be excited about getting home in front of their own fans.

With the dismissal of All-SEC forward Tyler Smith back in early January, senior center Wayne Chism has done a marvelous job of leading this team.  In SEC play this season, Chism is averaging 15.7 points, 8.7 rebounds and 2.2 blocks a game.  He is the team’s best inside scorer and certainly the Vols’ “go to” guy in the clutch.

Senior wingman J.P. Prince has been a “do everything” sort of player for Tennessee.  In SEC games, he is averaging 10.6 points, 5.5 rebounds and 3.6 assists.  Prince is also an excellent defender, who can make it very difficult on the opposing team’s perimeter players with his long body and athleticism.

On the perimeter, the Vols are led by sophomore Scotty Hopson and senior point guard Bobby Maze.  Hopson is averaging 11.8 points in conference games, and he has hit 39.2% of his three-point field goals on the season.  Maze is scoring 9.8 points a game in SEC play.

Off the bench, Bruce Pearl has gotten solid play from freshman forward Kenny Hall, who is scoring 5.1 points and grabbing 5.5 rebounds in SEC play.  Junior guard Melvin Goins has scored 25 points over the last two games against Vandy and Kentucky.

Since the last meeting between these two teams, Pearl has reinstated junior center Brian Williams.  Williams has only played a total of 3 minutes in his first two games back, but the 6’10” 267lb Vol is a load inside and could see a significant increase in playing time against the Dawgs’ big frontcourt.

Here is how the Dawgs can pull off an upset in Knoxville on Wednesday: (and yes I understand Georgia hasn’t won a true road game this year)

Zone Defense

Tennessee does not shoot the ball well.  As a team, the Vols are knocking down 42.1% from the field, and only 29.7% from beyond the arc!  In the game in Athens, Fox used a packed-in 1-2-2 zone against Bruce Pearl’s Vols and it frustrated Tennessee into shooting 42.3% on field goals and 18.8% on three-pointers.  As long as the Dawgs’ defenders can contest shots by Hopson, and keep track of Chism when he slips out to the perimeter Georgia should be able to hold the Vols offense in check.

Who’s Got the Better Bench?

In the game in Athens, Georgia’s bench outscored Tennessee’s 16-13.  This was due in large part to the play from EA and Jeremy Price.  In 15 minutes of play, Anyaorah finished the game with 7 points and 4 assists.  Price gave Coach Fox 9 points and 3 rebounds in 25 minutes.  These two guys (along with Vincent Williams and Chris Barnes)  have got to be able to come into the game and contribute.

Outscoring the Vols bench this time around could be more difficult for the Dawgs.  Remember that in the last game Cameron Tatum and Melvin Goins were just being eased back into the rotation following their suspensions.  Add in the return of reserve center Brian Williams, and it is easy to see how the Vols bench could be up to the challenge on Wednesday.

Play Smart Trey

As evidenced by the Auburn game last week, Georgia becomes a much different team when Trey Thompkins is not on the court (that’s what happens when your leading scorer and rebounder and team-leader leaves the game).  I guarantee that Bruce Pearl’s staff took note of this, and I would be willingly to bet that Chism and the other Tennessee frontcourt players attack Trey in the paint on offense.  Albert Jackson and Jeremy Price need to give Thompkins help on the inside, and Trey needs to be careful not to pick up silly fouls because as he goes so go the Dawgs.

A Little Bit of Mojo

Everyone knows that Georgia is 0-8 in true road games this season, and on paper they really don’t have much of a shot to pull off the upset at Tennessee (last I checked UGA was an 11.5 point underdog in this one).  However, for some reason this team thrives against stout competition, as evidenced by the Dawgs 3-2 record against ranked opponents this year.  A lot of Georgia basketball fans thought the Dawgs had a chance of getting their first road win at South Carolina (didn’t happen), and even more thought that Georgia would certainly nab one at Auburn (didn’t come close to happening).  Maybe Wednesday night the Dawgs will steal a game that no one expects them to?  Before dismissing this possibility, please think back to this season’s SEC opener at Kentucky in which Georgia came very close to shocking the then ranked #3 Wildcats on their own court…

The game tips off at 8PM EST and will be televised on Peachtree TV – channel 7 for Comcast and 802 for Comcast HD.

Anyone else giving Georgia  a chance in this game?

Georgia Hosts Tennessee

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The "Braveheart" Special: McPhee vs McBee

This Saturday, Georgia will be playing host to Bruce Pearl’s #8 Tennessee Volunteers in Athens at 5:00PM EST.

This will mark the Dawgs fourth-ranked opponent in their last five games.

Unless you have been living under a rock for the past two months, you are probably well aware of the drug/gun scandal that several Volunteer players were involved in.

The result of that incident: senior G/F Tyler Smith was kicked off the team and reserves C Brian Williams, G Melvin Goins and Lithonia, GA native G Cameron Tatum were suspended indefinitely (Goins and Tatum were actually re-instated onto the team earlier this week).  These four players represented 40% of this team’s offensive production through the first 12 games of the season (Smith was the team’s leading scorer last year and was averaging in double-figures again this year).

Amazingly, this Tennessee team has won five games in a row with the help of only 6 scholarship players and a mix of walk-ons.  Two of those wins were against #3 Kansas and #22 Ole Miss…go figure?

This Vols squad is led in the backcourt by Scotty Hopson, Bobby Maze and J.P. Prince (6’7″ brother of NBA player Tayshaun Prince).  In his sophomore season, Hopson is leading Tennessee in scoring (13.5) and 3-point shooting (40.6%).  His wiry 6’7″ frame allows him to shoot over defenders from the outside, but Hopson is not afraid to take the ball to the rim as well (he had a couple of very impressive dunks against Alabama).

Maze and Prince are chipping in 8.8  and 7.0 points/game, respectively, though neither of them is much of a shooting threat.  Both of these guys play great defense, and rarely turn the ball over.

In the frontcourt, the headline name for UT is senior C Wayne Chism.  If you have never seen Mr. Chism play, he’s easy to spot with his white headband that he sports about 3″ too high on his forehead.

Chism is the Vols leading rebounder at 6.5 per game to go along with 12.1 points.  He is also actually a pretty good outside shooter, knocking down 39% of this 3-point attempts.

In the last five games, these four leaders have stepped up their efforts to compensate for the loss of their four suspended teammates.  All of them are averaging more points per game than their season averages – Chism 15, Hopson 14, Maze 12, Prince 9.4.

Off the bench, Tennessee has gotten great play from sophomore F Renaldo Woolridge (6’8″, 208lbs) and freshman F Kenny Hall (6’8″, 220lbs).  Over the past five games, Woolridge is averaging 7.4 points/5.4 rebounds and Hall is giving the Vols 8.4 points/6.0 rebounds (both guys only average 4.8 points/game on the season).  Kenny Hall (from Stone Mountain, GA) is very active on the offensive glass, so the Dawgs better be aware of where he is on the court when shots go up and get a body on him.

I watched this team win at Alabama on Tuesday night, and it was interesting to see how their style of play has been affected by the loss of the suspended players.  Bruce Pearl’s past teams at Tennessee have thrived off running a full-court press for a majority of the game, dictating a fast tempo and forcing opponents into turnovers.  However, with less personnel at his disposal, Pearl’s team has been forced into playing a half-court game.

Bruce Pearl has never lost to the Dawgs since his arrival at Tennessee in 2005.  His Vols have won 10-straight against Georgia, and will be looking to make it 11 on Saturday.

Georgia’s Keys

Men vs Boys – Wayne Chism is the only UT player that weighs 240lbs or more (he’s listed at 246).  The Dawgs have 4 guys that tip the scales over that 240lb plateau – Chris Barnes – 240, Trey Thompkins – 247, Jeremy Price – 264 and Albert Jackson – 265.  Georgia needs to make the most of this size advantage and bang down low on the thinner Vols.  Dustin Ware and Ricky McPhee should be looking to dump the ball down to the Georgia bigs early and often.  The Dawgs are third in the SEC in rebounding margin (+4.1), and in Saturday’s game UGA needs to continue its domination on the glass.

Kiddy Pool Depth – This “key”  is somewhat tied into the first one in that it is focused on Georgia getting the ball inside early.  Tennessee’s depth chart got axed by 33% after the scandal, which means that when a starter goes off a walk-on player enters.  The Dawgs need to look to draw fouls on offense so that they can get into the Vols’ bench.  This would give Georgia a rare talent-advantage over an opponent (usually its the Dawgs that are doing more with less).

From Downtown!!! – Guess where Georgia ranks in the SEC at 3-point field goals made per game?  If you guessed last, then “Yes! You are correct, Sir!”.  The Dawgs are shooting only 33.2% from behind the arc, and making merely four 3’s a game (and McPhee is making 2 of them per contest).  I’m not saying that I think that UGA should start chunking up 24 3-pointers a game like Mississippi State (Dawgs shoot 12/game), but it would be nice if they could take & make just a couple more.  Thompkins is second on the team in 3pt% at a solid 39.1%, yet he has only taken 23 shots from there on the year.  I wouldn’t mind if Trey started looking for a few more (like one or two) three-point shots a game…a couple more 3’s would remove some pressure on offense, and help open things up more in the paint.

Bonus Note:

Saturday’s game will give fans a rare chance to see a match-up between two walk-ons, both presumably of Scottish decent.  If you haven’t guessed, I am referring to the Dawgs senior guard Ricky McPhee and Tennessee’s freshman guard Skylar McBee.

McBee made headlines when he hit a 3-point field goal with time winding down on the shot clock to all but seal the Vols upset victory over the then #1 Kansas Jayhawks.  He received offers to play at East Carolina, Marshall, Santa Clara and Winthrop, but elected to stay close to home and walk-on at UT.  This was probably a wise decision since he has been playing 15.5 minutes per game, contributing 4.8 points.

The elder McPhee (also known as the Pride of Lawrenceville) transferred to Georgia after two seasons at Gardner Webb University.  This season, McPhee has started every game for the Dawgs and is averaging 9.8 points in 30.4 minutes.  He has also established himself as Coach Fox’s best perimeter defender (and is certainly a crowd/blog favorite).

It will be interesting to see if these two players defend each other at all on Saturday.  Both of them continue to serve as inspirations to future walk-ons and Scotts everywhere.

– I will be heading up to Athens with a few buddies for this one…  If you can’t make the trip, the game will be televised on the Fox Sports Network and 750AM radio.

Any other thoughts on what Dawgs need to do to win this one?