Georgia falls a little short against #8 Bama

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The first time Georgia (14-11, 7-11) and Alabama played this year the Tide broke a school record by hanging 115 points on the Dawgs in a lopsided 33-point win. No matter how riveting Nate Oats’s pregame speech might have been, you can’t tell me that the Crimson Tide players didn’t come into their matchup with Georgia a little less focused on the task at hand than they should have been. How else do you explain the fact that after 10 minutes of play, Bama had just 1 three-pointer, 6 turnovers and trailed Georgia 20-13? Georgia managed to take a 36-30 advantage into the break after a chaotic 20 minutes in which these two teams combined for 25 turnovers.

The problem, however, is that Bama simply has a more talented team, and when one team is just plain better, there’s not a lot that can be done. The Dawgs shot better from the field (47%) and from beyond the arc (42%) than their SEC season averages. Georgia played carelessly and turned the ball over 20 times, but Alabama didn’t value the ball either as the Tide had 22 turnovers. Free throw shooting wasn’t great for Tom Crean’s team this afternoon as they hit 13 of 23; however, UGA has made only 69% from the line this year in conference play, so even if they shot like they have been, that’s just 3 extra points from the stripe, which wouldn’t make up the deficit in today’s 89-79 loss.

Not to state the obvious, but the Tide are a really good team, hence the SEC regular season championship. Bama has 3 players projected to go into the NBA in the next two years, according to NBADraft.net. The Tide had 5 players finish in double-figures and 4 players make at least 2 triples; Villanova transfer Jahvon Quinerly, who led the Tide with 18 points, may be their most dynamic offensive player and he comes off the bench. Bama’s second half offense took me back to what transpired in Tuscaloosa as the Tide connected on over 63% from the floor and 80% from the perimeter.

Nobody likes moral victories, but considering UGA was beat by 21 points by a lackluster South Carolina team on this same court a week ago, the fact that Georgia had this contest down to a one-possession game with a little over a minute remaining is somewhat remarkable in itself. Don’t lose sight of the fact that this UGA team won two more SEC games than they did a year ago when they had Anthony Edwards and Rayshaun Hammonds. The nucleus of this squad is coming back next year and there’s no reason to think that they won’t make even more progress.

Warning: this post contains some illuminating photos of UGA’s perimeter defense

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Tom Crean was brought to Athens to fix UGA’s offense. What the administration didn’t know is that he would be helping out opposing offenses as well. The Dawgs allowed Alabama to set an SEC school scoring record this afternoon in Tuscaloosa as the Tide tallied a whopping 115 points (to Georgia’s 82). After today, UGA is really starting to create some separation between themselves and the other worst scoring defenses in the league as the Dawgs are now permitting almost 85 a contest in SEC play (and they are 14th in the league in that category).

Before we get more into the debacle that was the UGA defense, it should be noted that Georgia guards K.D. Johnson and Sahvir Wheeler both turned in impressive offensive performances. Johnson led all UGA scorers with 24 points as he eclipsed the 20-point mark for his second consecutive game. Wheeler was effective as well as he notched 16 points on an array of drives and penetration. The rest of the Georgia offense wasn’t as memorable as the Dawgs shot an abysmal 2 of 19 from beyond the arc.

The real kicker about UGA’s haplessness from the perimeter was just how darn efficient Alabama was from that part of the court. By halftime, the Tide had matched their season SEC average of 11 triples en route to a 51-38 advantage. Bama would end up knocking down 18 three-pointers in this one on an impressive 60% shooting effort from the perimeter. The Tide didn’t just have 5 players finish in double-figures, but they were just 7 collective points shy of having 4 players end up with 20 points or more. I suppose when the SEC’s #1 scoring offense locks horns with the league’s worst scoring defense anything is possible.

It’s no secret that this Georgia team struggles to put up much resistance on the defensive side of the ball. But the manner in which UGA got torched today was fairly astounding considering that everyone knew that this Bama team is the not only the best three-point shooting team in the SEC, but one of the most effective in the nation as well. Yet, Georgia still didn’t close out with a purpose and contest shots. I’ve included screenshots of 6 of the Tide’s first 7 triples. I say this just to let the reader know that these images were not cherry-picked; I could have continued rewatching Bama knock down uncontested three after uncontested three, but that just felt like a waste of my Saturday evening. Anyhow, notice how open the Bama players on are all 6 of these looks; frankly, this is just a microcosm of the entire game:

Maybe 6 feet or more between them?
No UGA player even on that side of the court
Another 6 feet of separation
Garcia is there, but he’s flat footed and providing the Crimson Tide player with an excellent view of the rimi
One extra pass and this dude is WIDE open on the baseline
I would make this three also.

The most sobering realization from today’s game is the reminder of just how far away Georgia is from the SEC’s top programs. The Dawgs have lost to the league’s top 3 teams – Bama, Tennessee and Arkansas – by an average of 24 points, and that number would be more if the Vols hadn’t lost interest in UGA and kept the pedal down. I’m not ready to give up on the Tom Crean experiment yet; he deserves another season. However, if next year does not include a trip to the NCAA tournament, then I feel as though it will be time for the Dawgs and Crean to part ways.

Georgia’s 3PT defense crucial to its success

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The Georgia Bulldogs (12-7, 5-7) offense this season has been fairly productive despite a consistent lack of ball security. Even though the Dawgs are committing a league-leading 17 turnovers a night, Georgia is still 6th in scoring (75.9 ppg), which can largely be attributed to the team’s stellar field goal percentage (46.1%), the second best in the conference.

Against #16 Tennessee on Wednesday, the Dawgs gave the ball to the Vols 18 times, yet UGA still managed to hang 81 points on the SEC’s best scoring defense as Tennessee has been yielding just 65 a contest in league games.

Georgia’s Achilles Heel may lie in its inability to defend well enough beyond the arc. Tom Crean’s team is just 1-5 in SEC games in which the opposing team connects on greater than 38% of its three-point attempts, with Vandy being the lone exception as the ‘Dores made just under 40% in a 73-70 loss to the Dawgs last weekend. Conversely, in UGA’s other 4 SEC wins, teams are making only 25% of their shots from the perimeter. Could the key to whether this team wins or loses rely heavily on its ability to close out and contest triple attempts?

In Wednesday’s loss to the Vols, Georgia ultimately could not overcome a massive halftime deficit that saw Rick Barnes’s team take a 44-26 advantage into the break. The Dawgs halfheartedly defended around the arc in the first half and Tennessee, a team that entered the game making only 6 triples a night, had 8 of them by halftime. UGA cleaned this up following the intermission and limited the Vols to just 2 more triples in the game’s final 20 minutes, which enabled Georgia to cut the UT advantage down to single digits.

I’m not going to declare UGA’s defensive rebounding issues as completely solved, but protecting the glass hasn’t been nearly as problematic for the Dawgs lately as it was for much of the SEC slate. The Vols managed just 6 offensive rebounds that led to 9 second chance points against Georgia, marking the 3rd consecutive game in which the Dawgs held an opponent under 10 offensive boards. Tom Crean’s staff has obviously lit a fire under this team in regards to their effort when it comes to defensive rebounding; they’ve got to find a way to spread that intensity to UGA’s perimeter defense.

Enter #11 Alabama, UGA’s foe on Saturday. The Crimson Tide will mark Georgia’s second game against a ranked team this week, and on top of that, Bama is the best three-point shooting squad in the SEC. The Tide are knocking down almost 40% of their shots from beyond the arc, and they are manufacturing nearly 12 triples a night in league play. Bama is primed to capitalize on UGA’s ineffective perimeter defense.

With the amount of times this UGA team turns the ball over per game, they can’t afford to yield 5 additional triples to Bama like they did on Wednesday with the Vols (those 5 extra three-pointers were the difference in the game). The Dawgs must find a way to make the Tide uncomfortable from the outside if they want to have a shot at pulling off the upset on Saturday.

UGA defense drops the ball in 89-74 defeat in Tuscaloosa

This Georgia team’s biggest issue for the season has been turnovers, which were still a problem on Wednesday as the Dawgs coughed the ball up 13 times to Alabama, and the Crimson Tide managed to turn those mishaps into 22 points.

However, as of late, UGA’s defense has been its most limiting factor. They say that defense travels, but obviously, the Georgia D didn’t make this trip. Several days removed from allowing the South Carolina Gamecocks – one of the poorer shooting teams in the conference – to torch them from the perimeter with an 11 for 16 performance, the Dawgs once again struggled to defend the three-point line. The Tide connected on nearly 39% from beyond the arc, and none of those makes was more deadly than the 2 by Tevin Mack that allowed Bama to build up a double-digit lead (53-42) in just a little over 3 minutes into the second half.

The Dawgs are now last in the conference in scoring defense (80 ppg) in SEC play, and they are 3rd from the bottom in three-point percentage defense. Bama scoring 89 points means that Georgia has now yielded 80+ points to 3 of its last 4 conference opponents. Yikes!

But it’s not just the perimeter where UGA’s defense is failing. Alabama got WAY too many easy baskets around the rim because Georgia’s help defense continues to remain either too slow or disinterested. How many times did a Bama guard beat one of Georgia’s backcourt defenders and go all the way to the rim for a lay up? I lost count. The Tide scored 28 of its 41 first-half points in the paint, and they ended up with 48 points inside on the game. I’m not sure if Nicolas Claxton is playing more tentative to avoid getting in foul trouble, but he was certainly guilty of not rotating to help on multiple defensive possessions. Avery Johnson’s team made nearly 57% of its field goal attempts Wednesday, and that’s completely unacceptable. Winning on the road is almost impossible when the other team is scoring on 3 of every 5 possessions.

The first half of this game was fun, though, right? The pace was up tempo as the Dawgs and Tide played a back-and-forth 20 minutes in which both teams shot above 48% from the floor.

Alabama, however, proved that it could play defense when it needed to in the second half, when Georgia could not. The Tide limited UGA to just 34% from the floor in the second 20 minutes of play, and Johnson’s team forced the Dawgs into 7 more turnovers. UGA doesn’t have the offensive firepower this season to try to outscore teams for 40 minutes, save the Texas game, so Georgia better figure some things out defensively or the Dawgs could be stuck on 1 SEC win for quite a while.

Shout-out to…

Derek Ogbeide, despite playing through what has to be his most trying season at Georgia, continues to improve as the season progresses. Against the Tide, the senior led all UGA scorers with 17 points, marking his 4th consecutive SEC game in double-figures scoring.

Rayshaun Hammonds foul count

Last season, Hammonds tallied 81 personal fouls on the year. After Wednesday’s 4-foul performance, the sophomore now has 71 PFs this season, and he should have no trouble eclipsing last year’s total with 9 conference games remaining in the regular season. Hammonds had 13 points last night, but he played just 21 minutes. He’s this team’s best scoring option, yet Hammonds cannot manage to stay on the floor, which is definitely one of this year’s mysteries. I imagine this situation must be incredibly frustrating for Crean.

Box score:

Georgia wins without Maten

They double-teamed him.  They threw junk traps at him when he crossed half court.  At times, Alabama even had a defender completely face guarding him without any help responsibility.  Tide coach Avery Johnson threw the kitchen sink at Georgia’s J.J. Frazier, and in the end, none of it worked.  Frazier scored 11 of Georgia’s final 12 points and helped guide his team to a 60-55 road win over an Alabama team that is trying to position itself for an at-large NCAA tournament bid.

J.J. seems to be saving his best basketball for the finish of his UGA career as he followed up last Saturday’s 36-point effort in the loss to Kentucky with a 28-point game tonight in Tuscaloosa.  Frazier once again put the Dawgs on his back and dropped 17 points in the second half, but one play in particular truly typified the toughness and fight that he brings to this team, night in, night out.  With over 4 minutes left in the game, Alabama took a Derek Ogbeide miss and quickly pushed it up the floor with a chance to take its first lead of the night, only to have Frazier chase down point guard Dazon Ingram and strip the ball away.  J.J. then jetted past the lone Tide defender and soared for the basket, which pushed the UGA advantage up to 54-51.  Just when Alabama appeared poised to take control of the game’s momentum, Frazier masterfully stole it right back.

While J.J. was certainly fantastic in this contest, Georgia definitely missed Maten inside.  After opening up a 30-18 halftime lead in which the Crimson Tide shot an abysmal 22% from the floor, Georgia’s failure to handle its business on the defensive glass allowed the Crimson Tide to creep back into the game.  Alabama ended up with 17 offensive rebounds, which is 3 more than their SEC average, and they scored 17 of their 55 points off of second chance points.  In contrast, the Dawgs managed to grab only 3 offensive boards, and they were out-rebounded by a count of 42-30.

Even though Bama has been one of the more inept offensive teams in conference play, credit the Bulldogs for holding them to 16 points under their SEC game average.  The Tide had two stretches in the first half – one of 7 minutes and one of 5 – in which they were unable to convert a field goal.

For UGA, Frazier was the only player to finish in double-figures, while the Tide had three guys end up in double-digits, with Ar’Mond Davis leading the way with 17 points.

Ultimately, Coach Mark Fox’s team has to be breathing a huge sigh of relief as they avoided losing their 5th conference game this year in which the Dawgs held a lead in the final 4 minutes of the game.  In addition, Georgia proved that while it will certainly be more difficult, they are capable of winning without Yante Maten.

The Dawgs have a super short turnaround before returning home to play the LSU Tigers in Athens on Saturday evening.

 

 

The Crimson Tide Roll Into Athens

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Swimmer Boy will attempt to distract and frighten Alabama players at the free-throw line

I think most UGA basketball fans would agree that Mark Fox’s first season has been a pleasant surprise.  This year we have seen Trey Thompkins develop into one of the best post players in the SEC.  Travis Leslie’s improvement and play has been exceptional, and he has shown up on ESPN’s “Top Plays” nearly as often as Kentucky’s John Wall.

This team has won a slew of games that on paper it probably shouldn’t have – Georgia Tech, Illinois, Tennessee and Vanderbilt – and has lost some very close games to some very good teams – Kentucky, Ole Miss, Miss St, Tennessee.

Overall, we want to think that this year’s team has improved from the dismal 2008-2009 campaign in which the Dawgs finished 3-13 in the SEC and had their coach fired before season’s end.

But sometimes the proof is in the pudding, and it sure would be nice to justify this improvement with a win over Alabama (4-7 SEC; 14-11 overall) on Saturday.  A victory against the Crimson Tide would give Georgia (3-8 SEC; 11-13 overall) its 4th SEC win (one more than last year), a wonderful piece of supporting evidence that this program is in fact moving in the right direction.

Alabama is led by first year coach Anthony Grant, who like Mark Fox, is transitioning from a mid-major schedule to the rigors of the SEC.  Grant was extremely successful at his last job with Virginia Commonwealth, leading the Rams to the NCAA tournament 2 out of the last 3 years.

And also like Fox, Grant’s Crimson Tide squad has beaten several big name teams this year – Baylor, Michigan, Mississippi State and Arkansas.  The Tide have suffered three one-point losses this season in SEC games, making them a mere 3 points away from possibly being 7-5 in the conference.

The strength of this Alabama team is its intense, pressure defense.  The Tide are first in the SEC in scoring defense, surrendering only 61.4 points a game (they rank 55th nationally in this statistical category).  They are holding SEC opponents to only 40.8% shooting from the field, and 26.8% from beyond the arc.  The Tide have held opposing squads under 60 points seven times this season.

On the offensive side of things, the picture is not as pretty for Alabama.  The Tide rank 11th in the conference in scoring offense at 61.1 per game, and have struggled in the half court set due to inconsistent outside shooting.

Alabama returns four starters from last year’s team that beat the Dawgs in Tuscaloosa 75-70.

Senior point guard Mikhail Torrance and sophomore forward JaMychal Green are leading the Tide in scoring in conference games at 14.8 each.  At 6’5″, Torrance is a tough match-up for most point guards in the league.  He likes to push the ball up the court and get his team into transition quickly (remember that they don’t score as efficiently in the half court).  He is also a pretty good outside shooter, knocking down 35% of his three-point attempts.  Torrance compliments his scoring with a team-leading 5.4 assists per game.

JaMychal Green is the scoring , rebounding (7.1 in SEC play) and shot-blocking leader (1.88 per game) in the Tide’s rather large frontcourt.  He is a very skilled athlete at 6’9″/220 lbs, and rumor has it he turned down Kentucky to come to Tuscaloosa.  Green is has posted 5 double-doubles already this season.

Junior Chris Hines starts at the other forward position, however, fellow junior Justin Knox rotates into the game quickly as these two guys share a lot of minutes.  Hines is 6’8″ and 220 lbs, while Knox stands at 6’9″ and tips the scales at 240 lbs.  Neither of these players scores many points (Hines – 3.3; Knox 5.7), but both provide some serious beef inside defensively.

The other two starters for the Tide are both natives of the state of Georgia, freshman forward Tony Mitchell (6’6″) and junior guard Senario Hillman.  Mitchell has had a very solid freshman campaign, averaging 9.3 points, 5.4 rebounds and making 34% of his three’s in SEC Play.  Hillman is another one of the Tide’s three-point threats, connecting on 34% of his three’s and averaging 7.8 points in conference games (he also scored 19 on Georgia in last year’s game).

Coach Grant’s team does not have a lot of depth, as they only play roughly eight guys night in, night out.  Junior guard Charvez Davis and senior point guard Anthony Brock are the only other reserves (other than Knox) that typically see the floor.  Both of these guards are hitting nearly 37% of their three-point attempts in SEC play, so you have to be aware of where they are on the court.

A Couple of Keys

Going Green

A phrase that is used and manipulated by corporations everywhere nowadays in an attempt to attract consumers.  In regards to the basketball game being played on Saturday, I am referring to Alabama’s JaMychal Green.  Green has struggled with foul trouble all season.  He has fouled out of three games, and he has committed four fouls in eight other contests.  He is such a big part of Bama’s offense and defense that it would be very beneficial to the Dawgs if they could get him on the bench (or better yet, out of the game).

Jeremy Price needs to do a better job of making strong post moves, and getting Green up in the air.  In the Tennessee game, Price’s offensive attempts against Wayne Chism were too slow and deliberate.  He was unable to get Chism to commit fouls, and rather, Wayne usually just blocked Price’s shots.

Hopefully Thompkins and Price can attack the Alabama defense and get Green to pick up some early fouls.

Potentially Dangerous Situation

As we know by now, Georgia’s guard play has been somewhat of an Achilles heel for this team all season.  The match-up that Ware, McPhee, Leslie, EA and Vince Williams have against the Crimson Tide on Saturday does not look favorable for the Dawgs.  Alabama’s pressure-style of man defense coupled with their long bodies (Torrance at 6’5″ and Mitchell at 6’6″) could make it very difficult on Georgia’s undersized guards.  UGA is last in the SEC in turnovers at 16.5 a game!

How will the cookie crumble on Saturday?

Something’s Gotta Give

As mentioned earlier, Bama is locking down SEC opponents on defense, holding teams to 40.8% from the field and 26.3% from three-point range.

Georgia is currently second in the conference in both field goal and three-point percentage, at 47% and 38.2% respectively.  The Dawgs are shooting slightly better at home in SEC games, hitting 47.8% from the field and 40.6% from beyond the arc.

The game tips off at 4:00PM EST.

If you aren’t heading to Athens, the game can be seen on Comcast’s Peachtree TV (channel 7; HD channel 802).