Clemson smothers Georgia in season opener

The strength of this Clemson Tiger team last season was its defense, and coach Brad Brownell road that defense on Friday night to a 74-64 victory in the season opener against the Georgia Bulldogs.  All night long, the Tigers pushed the Dawgs away from the basket, using a strong man-to-man to stymie the UGA offense.  Clemson held Georgia to under 43% from the floor, and they turned the Dawgs over 14 times inside Littlejohn Coliseum.

The Tigers jumped on Georgia from the start, opening up a 21-9 lead less than 10 minutes in following a three-pointer from Avry Holmes.  Clemson star forward Jaron Blossomgame picked up two fouls early and sat for much of the first half, but guard Game DeVoe picked up the slack in his absence, knocking down two three’s before the break en route to 12 first half points.  The Tigers held J.J. Frazier to just 3 points prior to the intermission, which enabled them to head into the break with a 40-30 advantage.

The Dawgs closed the gap in the second half after Turtle Jackson hit a pair of three-pointers to cut the Clemson lead to 51-48 with 10:18 remaining in the game.  The Tigers jumped on Georgia immediately out the ensuing timeout though, going on a 12-2 run that was capped off by an old-fashioned three-point play by Donte Grantham, putting his team up 63-50 with 7:43 left.  This stretch by Clemson took the life out of the Dawgs, and Clemson kept UGA at bay for the remainder of the night.

DeVoe led the Tigers in scoring with 15 points, and Blossomgame chipped in another 13.

Yante Maten carried the Dawgs on the night, scoring 19 points to go along with 12 rebounds, posting his first double-double of the season.  Frazier was the only other UGA player to finish in double-figures, scoring 11 points; however, it took him a 5 for 13 shooting effort to get there.

Clemson’s defense definitely exposed a huge question mark that Georgia will have to address at some point this season: who will score other than Frazier and Maten?  Other than Derek Ogbeide’s 9 point-effort on a 4 for 5 performance, most of the other UGA players struggled.  Most noticeably among them being Juwan Parker, who shot an abysmal 3 for 10 from the floor. Coach Mark Fox must get offensive output from some of his role players, but I’m not sure Parker is a viable option.  He certainly has enjoyed shooting it from the perimeter during his time at Georgia, but unfortunately for the Dawgs Parker has made just 19% of his attempts from beyond the arc.  At some point, someone – either Parker or Fox – needs to decide that that’s not a productive shot for this team.

Teams are going to continue to overload their defense on Frazier this year, just like the Tigers did tonight.   Coach Brownell had his guards stick with Frazier even when he didn’t have the ball in an effort to force the four other UGA players on the court to beat them, and, for the most part, it worked.

Coach Mark Fox’s team will get a chance to earn its first win of the year on Monday night in Athens when they play host to the Bulldogs from Asheville, North Carolina.

Georgia-Clemson Preview

A couple of NCAA Tournament hopefuls will be squaring off on Friday night when Georgia travels to Littlejohn Coliseum to take on the Clemson Tigers.  For now, UGA is in the “First Four Out” category of ESPN’s Preseason Bracketology, while Clemson was no where to be found.  Although, any bracket predictions being made before the season has tipped off should be taken lightly.

The strength of this Tiger team last year was its defense.  A rangy bunch, Clemson ranked first in the ACC last season in blocked shots at 5.2 per game, and they were third in fewest points allowed at 64.5 per contest.  Last year, UGA was plagued in numerous games by long stretches of offensive ineptitude, a weakness that Coach Mark Fox’s team must eliminate if they want to play into late March this year.

A year ago, the Dawgs manhandled the Tigers in Athens 71-48.  UGA was led by seniors Kenny Gaines and Charles Mann, who combined for 35 points to carry Georgia to the home win.  In that game, UGA limited Clemson superstar Jaron Blossomgame to just 5 points, which was almost 13 under his average.

Fast forward to 2016.  Georgia no longer has Gaines or Mann, and they once again will have to take on a Tiger team led by Jaron Blossomgame, a preseason First Team All-ACC selection.  Blossomgame is currently projected by NBADraft.net to go #17 in their 2017 Mock NBA Draft.  At this point, Georgia doesn’t have any players in that Mock.

This contest should present both a formidable challenge and an opportunity for UGA junior Yante Maten.  In the exhibition game last week, Maten had his way against the inferior competition from Fort Valley, Georgia.  Against Clemson, Maten will have his hands full dealing with a potential NBA first-round draft pick in Blossomgame.  That being said, there should be an NBA scout or two inside Littlejohn on Friday; Yante will have a chance to show them what he can do while going head-to-head with a probable prospect.

Friday’s season opener at Clemson could definitely have selection implications in March.  Coach Mark Fox’s team has the possibility of earning a quality win that could boost its NCAA resume, and we’re not even halfway through November.

Tough to put a finger on Georgia’s tourney status

The Georgia Bulldogs are getting mixed reviews from several of the larger sports media outlets concerning their position (or lack there of) in this year’s NCAA tournament.

Even ESPN’s two major tournament projectors seem to be split on the subject.

Joe Lunardi, creator of the network’s Bracketology, has Georgia (along with Alabama) as one of his “First Four Out” – he only has four SEC teams included in this year’s March Madness.  However, ESPN’s “Bubble Watch” seems to think that the Dawgs could earn an at-large berth into the NCAA’s with a win in the first round of their conference tournament.

CBS Sportsline’s Jerry Palm has Georgia as a 9-seed, and Sports Illustrated’s Andy Glockner likes the Dawgs as a 10-seed.

Let’s turn our attentions back to Joe Lunardi though, and his unfavorable impressions of Coach Mark Fox’s team.

Lunardi has become a regular on ESPN’s morning “Sportscenter” show recently, and when he has discussed Georgia’s resume he has continued to harp on the Dawgs’ 3-9 record against the RPI Top 50 and their lack of quality wins.  One thing that fails to come up in his analysis of the Bulldogs is the fact that Georgia has a higher RPI than seven teams that Lunardi currently has “in” – St. Mary’s, Clemson, Illinois, Colorado, Boston College, Florida State and Virginia Tech.

I have always been under the impression that a team’s RPI was a strong indicator of their worth in college basketball, but apparently Joey L. disagrees.

The fact that he has Colorado “in” over the Dawgs is inexplicable to me – Georgia has a better overall record, a better conference record, a much higher RPI (CU’s is 76) and the Dawgs bested the Buffs without the services of Trey Thompkins earlier this year in a head-to-head match-up in Athens.

Lunardi hosted a chat at 4:00pm yesterday on ESPN.com, and I actually submitted him this same question regarding the Buffs and Dawgs – shockingly, he didn’t choose my question as one of the eight he decided to respond to.

Getting to Know the Fighting Illini

Before I preview the Illinois team that Georgia will take on this Saturday night, I thought I would mention that Michael Jordan‘s (remember him?) son, Jeffrey, is a member of the Fighting Illini squad.  In fact, young Jeffrey made a statement earlier in the year that he would not be returning to the team for his junior season so that he could focus on his studies…I guess he didn’t have to focus too hard because he is now back on the team and playing the role of backup point guard.  He doesn’t fill up the stat column quite like his father did (Jeff is averaging 2.4pts/2.4rbd/2.8ast), but his coach Bruce Weber likes to use him to spell starting point guard and leading scorer, Demetri McCamey.  If you never got to see MJ play in person, you can at least see his eldest son JJ play Saturday night at the Gwinnett Arena (if that’s any consolation).

Illinois overachieved last season by making the NCAA’s.  This year, expectations are sky-high.  The Illini started the season ranked in the Top 25 in both polls.  Joe Lunardi of ESPN had them listed as a 3 Seed in his first Bracketology of the season (I think he had them as a 9 Seed in his December 15 update).  Illinois is currently 8-2 and receiving votes in both the AP & Coaches poll.  They have won 4 games in a row, with two of those wins coming at #19 Clemson and against #24 Vanderbilt.  In the Clemson win, the Fighting Illini came back from a 23-point second half deficit to win 76-74.

Illinois brings back 3 starters from last year’s team that pounded Georgia 76-42 in Champaign.  Point guard Demetri McCamey scored 19 points (13 in the first 8 minutes) and forward Mike Davis along with 7’1″ center Mike Tisdale each added 14 in a game that was close for only one half (UGA trailed 30-23 after one; lost the second half battle 46-19).  These 3 juniors along with two freshman sharp-shooters (DJ Richarson &  Brandon Paul) round out the starting five.

All five of the aforementioned players are scoring in double figures on a nightly basis.  They have a very deep bench that is spotlighted by versatile senior forward Dominique Keller – a solid defender and great 3pt shooter at 50% on the year.  Juniors Jeff Jordan (18.4 min/game), Bill Cole (15 min/game) and Alex Legion (11.2 min/game) all see significant time on the court.

This is very good shooting team: they rank 20th (out of 347 teams) in the country in field goal percentage at 49.5% and 55th from beyond the arc at 39.1%.   They like to get McCamey, Richardson and Paul going from beyond the arc, which opens up the paint for Davis and Tisdale (if you missed it earlier, he is 7’1″ tall) to operate.  Mike Davis is a smooth scorer around the bucket and a monster on the glass (9.9 rebounds/game).    Tisdale actually has a pretty nice touch from about 15-18′, which is certainly unusual for most 7-footers (minus Dirk Nowitzki).

Coach Bruce Weber is known for having teams that play strong defensively, and this one is no different as they are currently holding opposing teams to an ugly 38.9% from the field.  The Illini are also doing  a good job rebounding defensively and limiting teams to just one shot opportunity per possession.

In their only two losses this season to Utah and Bradley, Illinois shot atrociously from the field at 39% and 39.7%, respectively.  They also were limited to 11.1% from three-point land against Utah, and only a managed a slightly better 3pt% against Bradley at 22.2%.

Illinois and Georgia share one common opponent so far this season – those pesky Wofford Terriers (for those of you who might not remember, the Terriers beat the Dawgs in Athens earlier this year 60-57).  The Terriers were actually tied with Illinois 50-50 until Bill Cole made a layup with 12:34 left in the second half to put Illinois up by a bucket.  The Illini went on to win the game 78-64 in front of a home crowd of nearly 13,000 .

One last side note:

Before taking the coaching job at Illinois in 2003, Bruce Weber was the head coach of the Southern Illinois Salukies from 1998-2003.  In the 2002 NCAA Tournament, Weber’s 11th-seeded Salukies upset 3-seeded Georgia in the second round to go on to the Sweet Sixteen before falling to Connecticut.