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Talking Georgia basketball while watching the NCAA Tournament

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Four straight days last week – Thursday to Sunday – my eyes were glued to the television, specifically the following channels: CBS, TBS, TNT and TruTV.  I completely devoured the second and third rounds of the NCAA tournament as I spent what seemed like a solid 72 hours on my couch.  As I watched game after game, I constantly found myself wondering how this year’s UGA team would fare against either of the schools playing.  Was this season truly a failure for Coach Mark Fox’s team, or were they never really talented enough to begin with to even be considered for one of the 36 at-large bids?

One answer is that Georgia basketball came up short this year.  With two First Team All-SEC players on the roster in J.J. Frazier and Yante Maten, one would think that this team would have been announced on the NCAA’s selection show rather than the NIT’s.  Throw in the fact that Frazier and Maten were both upperclassmen and it stings a little bit more.  Frazier finished his career in 7th place on Georgia’s all-time scoring list, and if Maten scores over 500 points next season – which he’s done the past two years – he will crack the top 10 of the same list as well.  That’s a lot of talent to waste on a quick exit from the NIT.  And before anyone shouts out, “Wait! Maten got hurt”, consider that Georgia was 6-7 in the SEC before he went down.

Another reason, which is maybe even harder for Fox and die hard fans to swallow, is that the Dawgs never really had a chance to dance this season.  The Belmont game exposed a talent deficit on the Georgia roster that reared its head quite a few times this year.  The Dawgs got to spend several weeks this summer in Spain playing exhibition games, which means that the team got to hold practices in the off-season, a luxury that most coaches are not afforded.  This veteran-led squad should have been rearing and ready to go at the start of the season, and yet they weren’t.  Georgia laid a dud in the season opener at Clemson.  They also lost to Kansas, Marquette and Oakland.  Other than a road win at Georgia Tech, UGA really didn’t have much to speak of regarding non-conference wins as they headed into the SEC slate.  Once again, Mark Fox’s team failed to capitalize on early season opportunities to notch quality wins.  Hopefully the Dawgs learned that just being on the court with tough competition is not enough; they do, in fact, have to win a few of those games, too.

One area of the court where Georgia really struggled throughout the season was from beyond the arc.  The Dawgs made just 175 three-pointers to their competition’s 246.  UGA’s opponents got an extra 6 points a game from the perimeter, which is significant for a team that averaged less than 72 points a game.  The game of basketball has changed significantly over the past decade, and the three-pointer is an integral part of any good offense.  Yet, Georgia continues to be content with having only a few three-point threats on the roster at any given time.  Unfortunately, the Dawgs lose one of their more effective outside shooters in Frazier, meaning the team will get three’s next season from Tyree Crump, Maten from the top of the key, and where else?  Fox has yet to win an NCAA tournament game at Georgia, and unless he’s going to turn the Dawgs into an athletically supreme powerhouse like UCLA, Louisville or Kentucky, it would behoove him to add more outside shooters like nearly every team playing in the big dance.

Whether we compare the Dawgs roster this year to an NCAA tournament team or Belmont, it’s clear that they just don’t have enough players to be an upper echelon program.  Other than Maten and Frazier, who on Georgia would start for one of these tourney teams?  Maybe Derek Ogbeide?  Mark Fox likes to play 10 to 11 guys a game, and sadly, his 4 through 11 players would struggle to take minutes away from any of the Belmont players I saw in that NIT game.

Ultimately, this season has to be viewed as a disappointment for UGA basketball no matter how it is spun.  Another trip to the NIT felt like a step backwards.  Looking ahead to next season, there is a lot that Georgia fans have to be concerned about.  If it felt like Georgia was missing something on offense this year without Kenny Gaines and Charles Mann, imagine what it’s going to look like next year without Frazier.  Second, Yante Maten is not a lock to return to Athens.  He is currently projected as the 48th pick in the 2018 Mock Draft on NBADraft.net, but that site’s owner said that should Maten leave early he would be a projected second-rounder this year as well:

After averaging nearly 20 points and 10 boards a game this season, what motivation does Yante have to come back?  Statistically, the best he can do is match what he did this year, and that could be difficult with a less experienced backcourt.  Should Maten bolt for the NBA, what does next season look like for this program?

Sorry for the long post, but sports wise, this is my favorite time of year, and the contrast between the teams I am watching now compared to the one I watched inside Stegeman this season could not be more stark.

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Written by hoopdawg

March 23, 2017 at 8:10 pm

UGA’s defense hurting without Yante Maten

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Since Yante Maten went down several minutes into the Kentucky game last month, Georgia’s J.J. Frazier has amped up his offensive output to the tune of nearly 30 points per game.  With Maten averaging almost 18 a night in SEC play, the Dawgs needed more points from somewhere, and a lot of that somewhere was Frazier.  UGA went 3-2 over this stretch of games without their best interior player, which is certainly a testament to the will of this team, and they actually averaged slightly more points (73) in league games than before he got hurt (72.4).  They head into the SEC tournament next week with the uncertainty of whether they will have Maten or not when they take on Tennessee on Thursday.  It seems most likely that Yante will not play, and Georgia will once again need to find a way to make up his missing points.  However, UGA’s defense has also been suffering without Maten, and the Dawgs must become stronger on that side of the court if they hope to make any noise in Nashville.

In the 13 conference games prior to Maten’s injury, the Dawgs were holding opponents to a little over 72 points a contest.  Over the past 5 games though, that number has ballooned to 76.

UGA’s ability to secure the defensive glass has also taken a big hit recently.  Defensive rebounding percentage, when compared total rebounds, is a far more telling statistic of a team’s rebounding prowess as it takes into account the opponent’s offensive rebounds as well.  It is essentially the percentage of the missed shots in a game that a team rebounds (Def Rbd / Def Rbd + Opp Off Rbd).  Before Yante went down, Georgia’s defensive rebounding percentage was 71%; since, it’s dropped to 64%.  That is significant because it means that opponents are getting more second chance opportunities on offense, which most likely has led to the increase in points allowed by the Dawgs.

One final area where Georgia has regressed over the past 5 games has been in team blocks, which has fallen from 3.8 a game to just 2.6.

Yesterday’s defensive collapse in Arkansas, in which UGA let the Hogs scored 48 of their 85 points in the paint, was a consequence of weak interior defense.  The Dawgs play a Tennessee team with a big frontcourt that averaged almost 12 offensive boards a night in SEC games.  Georgia edged the Vols by a point in Knoxville earlier this season, but getting a similar result on Thursday could prove challenging without Maten anchoring down the defense.

Written by hoopdawg

March 5, 2017 at 10:31 am

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Arkansas overpowers Georgia 85-67

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Georgia’s string of miraculous finishes orchestrated by J.J. Frazier came to a screeching halt today in Hogville as Arkansas punished the Dawgs 85-67 in Fayetteville this afternoon.  A game that was close for the first twenty minutes quickly spiraled out of control for UGA as Arkansas began to assert its will both offensively and defensively.  Georgia followed up a 38% first half effort from the floor by shooting just 25% after the break, while Arky made over 60% of its shots in the game’s final twenty minutes.

The Razorbacks started the second half with a 10-2 run that saw their 38-37 halftime lead blossom to 48-39 with 17:30 left.  With a little over 15 minutes remaining, J.J. picked up his 4th foul and had to sit with his team trailing 53-44.  Arkansas brutalized the Dawgs in Frazier’s absence, going on a 9-2 run that put them up 62-46 with 11:46 remaining.  Frazier would return, but it would not matter.  The Hogs continued to score without much resistance and coasted to a relatively easy home win.

UGA’s defense failed big time on Saturday.  The Dawgs’ zone looked out of sorts all afternoon, especially on defending cutters inside the lane.  Georgia’s rotations by its help defenders were basically nonexistent, and Arkansas took advantage by racking up a whopping 48 points in the paint.  The Razorbacks had 4 players finish in double-figures, and they shot over 55% from the field as a team.  Maybe the Dawgs came into this game focused on locking down the perimeter, since Arkansas is the best three-point shooting team in SEC play.  UGA managed to hold the Hogs to just 21% from beyond the arc, but it didn’t matter as Arky had a field day accumulating a plethora of easy baskets in the lane.

For Georgia, the sledding wasn’t nearly as simple on offense.  The Razorback defense consistently pushed the UGA guards out well beyond the three-point arc, which forced the Dawgs into a number of off-balanced shots.  Frazier led all scorers with 24 points, but he had to work hard for them as he routinely was the target of traps whenever he came off ball screens on the perimeter.  Arkansas is much more talented than Alabama, LSU and Auburn.  J.J. needed help on the outside, but he didn’t get it.  Tyree Crump and Juwan Parker each shot 2 for 10 from the floor, and Turtle Jackson connected on just 2 of his 7 attempts.  As amazing as Frazier has been in the past three wins, he wasn’t able to do it alone against a more talented Razorback defense.

The only other Bulldog to score in double-digits was Derek Ogbeide, who finished with 12 points to go along with 7 rebounds.  He scored 10 of those points before the break, and then Ogbeide sort of disappeared in the second half as the Razorbacks ratcheted up the pace of this game.

Andy Katz labeled this one as a must win for Georgia if they hoped to earn an at-large berth to the NCAA tournament.  With the loss, it would seem that UGA would need to reach the finals of the SEC Tournament to receive serious consideration for the Big Dance.  The fact of the matter is that Georgia really doesn’t have many significant wins on its resume.  Vanderbilt is the only RPI Top 50 team that the Dawgs have beaten this year.  To play on into March in the only tournament that matters, Georgia probably needs to notch a couple of RPI Top 50 wins next week.

Written by hoopdawg

March 4, 2017 at 6:07 pm

Georgia completes sweep of Auburn

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12486347Just when it seemed like J.J. Frazier could officially do no wrong, he did.  With 12 seconds left and Georgia leading 79-78, Frazier tried to force a pass through the teeth of the Auburn defense and it was stolen.  All of a sudden, Frazier’s Senior Night fairy tale ending seemed in jeopardy.  The Tigers inbounded the ball to Jared Harper with only 7 seconds left, and he promptly tossed up a three-pointer which missed and allowed UGA to hold on for its third straight win.

Other than Frazier’s mental lapse in the final moments of this contest, the Dawgs did an excellent job of taking control of this game when it counted down the stretch.  The two teams went into the final media timeout knotted up at 73-apiece.  UGA tightened up its defense when it counted, though, and they held Auburn to just 1 of its final 6 field goal attempts.

Even though J.J.’s turnover could have been incredibly costly, the Dawgs would have never even been in a position to win without him.  Frazier, who came into this game averaging 31 a night over the past three contests, fittingly scored 31 tonight against Bruce Pearl’s team. He knocked down 5 of his 9 shots from beyond the arc, and J.J. also scored on an array of tricky drives that I will sorely miss seeing inside Stegeman next season.  South Carolina’s Sindarious Thornwell may have been the leading SEC Player of the Year candidate a week ago, but I have to imagine that Frazier is giving him a serious run for his money at this point because what J.J. has done without the help of Yante Maten has been nothing short of miraculous.

The Dawgs started out super slow in this one as they allowed the Tigers to hit 4 three-pointers en route to a 20-9 lead a little over 10 minutes into the game.  UGA also struggled to contain Auburn on the offensive glass as they let the Tigers haul in 7 of their own misses.  In addition, Georgia turned the ball over 9 times before the break, so all things considered, the Dawgs should have felt fortunate to go into the intermission trailing 37-30.

UGA had trouble defending the perimeter for most of the night as Auburn knocked down 12 of its 27 three-point attempts.  But this is a Tiger team that can get hot from beyond the arc, where Auburn is making 9 three’s a game in SEC play.  Mark Fox mixed up zones and man in an attempt to close out on the Auburn shooters, but the Tigers were still successful from the outside.  Tonight’s game marks the 6th SEC contest in which they have made 10 three-pointers or more, and the 10th time overall this season.

While Auburn got after the glass early, Georgia won the overall rebounding effort by a count of 39-36, and much of that credit goes to big man Derek Ogbeide.  Ogbeide, who does the dirty work for this team night in and night out, entered this contest 3rd in SEC games in rebounding with 8 boards a night.  This evening, Ogbeide finished with a double-double, snagging 15 rebounds to go along with 10 points as he controlled the paint for the Dawgs.

The only other UGA player to score in double-digits was Tyree Crump, who poured in 10 points in 11 minutes off the bench.  Crump knocked down 2 of his 3 shots from beyond the arc, and he’s now scored 22 points over his last 28 minutes in the past 3 games.

Georgia is now 18-12 overall and 9-8 in the conference, and they now have a legitimate opportunity to punch an at-large NCAA berth ticket this Saturday with a win at Arkansas.

 

 

Written by hoopdawg

March 1, 2017 at 9:20 pm

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UGA does enough to hang on against LSU

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12475030The narrative for Georgia’s (17-12; 8-8) basketball team has become incredibly predictable these days.  Basically, it goes something like this: with its best interior player watching from the sidelines, one undersized point guard continues to refuse to let this team lose.

Despite at one point holding a 17-point advantage in the first half, UGA found itself with the ball and trailing LSU 80-79 with only 6.9 seconds left.  The Dawgs got the ball to J.J. Frazier, who quickly split a double team before sprinting down the court and drawing a foul with less than 2 seconds left.  Frazier buried the two free throws, which gave UGA an 81-80 edge.  LSU attempted a full court pass, but it landed in Derek Ogbeide’s hands.  Ogbeide began walking with the ball as if the game were over, and fortunately for Georgia, the referees missed an obvious traveling violation and found a foul in the video replay that sent Ogbeide to the line with only 1.3 left.  Georgia would win 82-80, and more importantly, the Dawgs avoided what could have been a shameful home loss to a Tiger team that rolled into Athens with a 1-14 SEC record.

As refreshing as it was to see Frazier pull out another win for this team, the fact that Georgia relinquished its huge lead and almost lost to the worst team in the conference, even without Maten, is concerning.  After shooting 55% from the floor and building up a 44-37 halftime lead, the Dawgs began to unravel midway through the second half.  Georgia bolstered its advantage to 55-42 following an E’Torrian Wilridge three-pointer with 16:54 remaining.  But then UGA got careless with the ball, turning it over 7 times after the break.  The Dawgs also failed to defend the glass and allowed LSU to haul down 7 of its 11 offensive boards in the second half; the Tigers scored 14 second chance points to Georgia’s 6.  UGA came dangerously close to becoming the team that would snap LSU’s 14-game SEC losing streak.

Georgia escaped today, but it was so much closer than it should have been.  I fear that the offense is almost becoming too Frazier-centric down the stretch.  While obviously a team wants the ball in the hands of its best player when it counts, for the final 4 minutes of the LSU game the Dawgs merely stalled for 20 seconds before getting the ball to J.J. so that he could try to create something.  Frazier missed his final 5 field goal attempts, largely because the Tigers were dedicating nearly all their defensive resources to stopping him.  I’m not so sure this offensive strategy will work against a stronger opponent like Auburn, and I’m positive its not going to be enough against Arkansas.

But the thing is, even though Jordan Harris is also apparently injured, Mark Fox has other offensive weapons at his disposal, yet he continues to be reluctant to use them.  For the second straight game, freshman Tyree Crump came off the bench and buried a pair of three-pointers, only to spend the majority of the game on the bench.  Tonight, Crump played 8 minutes and scored 6 points and dished out 2 assists; Turtle Jackson played 32 minutes, scoring 9 points and handing out 2 turnovers.  Fox’s unwillingness to play Crump, even though he continues to provide perimeter offense, will certainly go down as one of the mysteries of this team’s season.

In addition to Frazier’s 29 points and 8 assists, both Ogbeide and Juwan Parker finished in double-digits as they scored 12 apiece.  LSU, who was led by Antonio Blakeny’s 20 points, also had 3 players end up in double-figures, with Brandon Sampson and Skylar Mays netting 15 each.

 

Written by hoopdawg

February 26, 2017 at 6:38 am

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Dawgs upset Tennessee in Knoxville

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With 47 seconds left on the clock and Georgia leading by just 2 points, J.J. Frazier hoisted the Georgia Bulldogs onto his shoulders and found a way to notch an old-fashioned three-point play to ice the game.  Frazier’s converted free throw made it 76-71 Dawgs with only 21 ticks left, and Georgia ended up sneaking out of Knoxville with a 76-75 road win.

The enormity of this victory for an ailing basketball program is almost impossible to put into words.  Let me set the scene: Georgia’s star player and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Award finalist, Yante Maten, hardly played in the second half, and he fouled out on a questionable offensive foul with over 5 minutes remaining in the game.  For all intents and  purposes, Georgia was down for the count.  Except they weren’t.  Tyree Crump, who garnered his first start of the season, scored 8 points during the final stretch of this contest, including a three-pointer that bolstered the UGA lead to 70-64 with just 2:26 left.

Tennessee brutalized Georgia to start the second half, going on a 17-5 run that saw the Vols open up a 53-39 advantage.  The manner in which Tennessee scored during this stretch should have demoralized UGA as the Vols pounded the ball inside possession after possession. Yet for some reason, the Dawgs remained unfazed.  Frazier scored 7 of his game-high 29 points during a critical 12-2 Georgia run that cut the UT lead down to 55-51.

The Dawgs absorbed a 30-point effort from freshman sensation Grant Williams.  Only one other Tennessee player finished in double-figures.

Similarly, UGA had just one player besides J.J. Frazier – Tyree Crump – end up in double-digits.  Crump scored a season-high (against Division I teams) of 13 points, and most of them came during the final quarter of this contest.

This win came out of nowhere, and while it is incredibly satisfying for Georgia basketball fans, it will surely leave many with a series of “what if” questions.  What if the Dawgs didn’t melt down at Texas A&M?  What if J.J. hit those last second shots against Florida and Kentucky?

For tonight, though, UGA fans should simply enjoy this win.

 

Written by hoopdawg

February 11, 2017 at 6:36 pm

UGA basketball: The Going Slow Edition

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The Georgia Bulldogs are 3-0 and sitting atop of the conference standings, and if they continue to play at this level they have a real shot at earning an automatic bid to this year’s NCAA tournament.

If only the Dawgs played in the Big South Conference then everything in my opening statement would be true.  Georgia has played three teams from the Big South this year – UNC-Asheville, Gardner-Webb and Charleston Southern – and they trashed all of them.  Sure, the Garder-Webb game was close at the half (UGA held a 3 point lead), but the Dawgs ended up coasting to a 77-59 win.  Georgia easily bested UNC-Asheville, who is currently in first place in the league with an 11-2 record.  Who’s to say that UGA couldn’t amass a similar or even better record if they were playing a Big South slate of games?

All of this is obviously parody, or maybe fantasy?  The reality is Georgia is stuck in the SEC where they are 4-7 and in the midst of a five-game losing streak in conference games. Even though the Dawgs play in a Power 5 conference, they look a lot more like a mid-major, which is kind of sad considering they have two preseason All-SEC players on the roster.

But other than Yante Maten and J.J. Frazier, this Georgia team doesn’t have the type of talent you expect from a Power 5 school.  Juwan Parker would be a solid 6th man on a lot of quality teams, but the third scoring option?  Parker, who at 6’3″ is grossly undersized for the wing position, is shooting less than 38% from the floor and below 18% from beyond the arc, yet he has taken the third most shots on the team.

I love Derek Ogbeide’s effort on defense.  He is a committed rebounder and a shot-blocking threat.  But his offensive game is not where it needs to be at this point.  Ogbeide has essentially one move that he does nearly every time he gets a touch on the block: turn left, hook shot.  And SEC teams have begun to take notice.  Several times against Florida on Tuesday, the Gator defender overplayed Ogbeide so much to the left that it appeared that he was gifting him the right side of the basket, but Derek didn’t bite and still went left.

It’s too early to make assumptions on Jordan Harris and Tyree Crump.  As highly-touted recruits, both players are capable of making tremendous jumps between their freshman and sophomore years, especially Harris since he actually gets regular court time.

But what about the rest of UGA’s cast?  Guys like Turtle Jackson, Mike Edwards, Houston Kessler, Kenny Paul Geno, E’Torrion Wilridge.  How successful would those guys be in the Big South?  All of them get regular minutes on Coach Fox’s team, but none of them is the least bit dangerous with the ball in their hands, which gives opposing defenses an incredible advantage over Georgia, especially when more than one of them is on the court at once.  At times this year, J.J. Frazier has appeared to be pushing it a bit and maybe taking some shots that he shouldn’t.  But when Maten is on the bench, can you really blame him?

I’m not trying to slam any of these guys.  I realize that they are just college kids that were offered an opportunity to play for UGA and they took it.  The fact that they might be in over their heads is not their fault; it’s Mark Fox’s.

In year eight of his ten-year plan, this is the team that Fox has assembled.  They turn the ball over a lot (more than 14 a game) and they do not shoot well from the outside (281st in the nation in 3PT%).  Apparently, both of these aforementioned reasons have Fox indicating that it’s time to slow things down.  I guess I need to pop over to Jittery Joe’s before the game today because seeing this team play any slower is going to potentially put me into nap mode.

Going slow is definitely an option that a coach has when his team has a talent deficit compared to their opponent, which has been the case for Georgia in most SEC games this year.  But he also has the choice to speed things up a bit.  Turtle, Edwards and Wilridge might not put the fear of God into too many defenders, but they are all long players that are highly athletic.  When Maten is out of the game, why not utilize their main collective strength and put them in a full-court trap press, similar to the one that Texas A&M ran.  Sorry, too soon?

Anyhow, imagine Edwards guarding the ball and then trapping with either Turtle or Wilridge (or Parker or Geno for that matter), depending on which side the ball goes. Presses can create offensive opportunities for stagnant offenses, yet Georgia barely ever does it.

The Dawgs have one and a half outside shooting threats and only two guys who can create their own shot.  But they do have some athletes, and athletes can put pressure on ball handlers in the open court.

 

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February 11, 2017 at 7:34 am

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