Dawgs Look to Tame ‘Cats

leslie
Will Cousins jump or get out of the way if he is in the direct path of another Leslie flush?

Before the Kentucky Wildcats took on the Tennessee Volunteers last Saturday, Coach John Calipari made headlines with the media by stating that winning the SEC title meant “nothing” to him.  He explained that his focus is (and always has been) on getting the best seed possible for the NCAA Tournament.

I guess it didn’t mean too much to his team either, as Tennessee buried the Wildcats 74-65, leaving the door still slightly open for Vanderbilt to claim the SEC crown.

I should think that Mark Fox’s Georgia Bulldogs will have the full attention of Coach Cal’s Cats, since a loss to the Dawgs on Wednesday could leave Kentucky with a somewhat uneasy feeling about their NCAA seed status.

The good news for Kentucky is that they have only lost twice this season, and the last time they lost (at South Carolina) the ‘Cats followed it up by whipping Vanderbilt 85-72.  In fact, before losing to Tennessee last Saturday, Kentucky was riding an eight-game win streak.  Maybe the occasional loss helps to wake this young team up?

Kentucky’s roster only features one player (sophomore Darius Miller) that is not currently projected to be a lottery pick in the 2010 and 2011 NBA Drafts.  According NBA draft analysts, freshman phenoms John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins will go first and fourth, respectively, and senior forward Patrick Patterson will be taken with the tenth pick in the 2010 Draft.  In the 2011 Draft, analysts project that fellow freshman Eric Bledsoe will be taken as the fifth pick overall.

I’m sorry, but how did these guys lose two games?

Kentucky leads the SEC in the following (numerous) categories – scoring margin (+10.1), field goal percentage defense (38.5%), 3-point percentage defense (27.1%), rebounding margin (+8.0), offensive rebounds (14.9/game), defensive rebounds (27.6/game) and last but not least, conference wins (12).

Kentucky is “scary good” on defense.  The ‘Cats height (tallest roster in basketball) and superior athleticism enable them to pressure teams relentlessly.  And even more importantly, they rebound the basketball well.  Meaning, against Kentucky you get one shot and then you’re done on offense.

Calipari’s four future lottery picks are the ones that do most of the scoring on offense.

In the backcourt, Wall leads the way with 16.3 points, 4.6 rebounds and 5.1 assists in conference games (a lot of people overlook his excellent passing game).  Bledsoe gives the ‘Cats 10.8 points and 1.6 steal a night in SEC play.

The Kentucky frontcourt features the double-headed monster that is DeMarcus Cousins and Patrick Patterson.  Both of these players are big and physical when they get the ball down on the block.

In SEC games, Cousins is averaging 17.1 points, 11.1 rebounds and shooting 54% from the field.  He is probably the front-runner for the SEC Player of the Year award (his main competition is his teammate John Wall).  His partner down low, Patrick Patterson, is scoring 13.0 points, grabbing 6.8 boards and making 53.4% of his attempts from the floor (he’s also knocking down 40.8% of his three-point tries on the season).

Sophomores Darius Miller, Darnell Dodson, DeAndre Liggins and freshman Daniel Orton are Kentucky’s “role” players.  Miller, Dodson and Liggins are all knocking down over 35% of their shots from beyond the arc this year.  At 6’10” and 255 lbs, Orton serves as another big body that Calipari can run into the game to alter shots and grab rebounds.

In the first meeting between these two teams in Lexington, Georgia surprisingly went into the half with a 35-34 lead.  However, the ‘Cats took control late in the game by feeding Cousins inside and riding his offense to the 76-68 victory (he finished with 16 points).  It is truly amazing that UGA was able to be in this game at all considering that the Dawgs turned it over 26 times!

Keys to the Game

Make Them Shoot

Bruce Pearl used several kinds of zone defenses to force Kentucky to shoot more from the outside in the Vols victory over the ‘Cats last Saturday.  In fact, many of Kentucky’s opponents these days seem to be showing them a lot of zone.  Guess what?  The ‘Cats are still shooting it.

Kentucky averages nearly 19 three-point attempts a game in SEC play, however, they only make 29.1% of them.  Earlier this week, Coach Calipari had this to say about his team facing more zone:

“It’s funny, because everybody has the ‘This is how you play them.’ Yeah, you hold your nose and close your eyes and hope we can’t make any shots. Yeah, that’s a good way to play. If we make shots — if we go 5-for-22, which stinks — we win going away.”

Calipari comes off as just a tad bit arrogant here, don’t you think?

Against Tennessee though, Cal’s squad only made 2 of 22 three-point shots.  In their past 4 games, Kentucky has made only 16 of 73 three-point attempts (22%).

The Dawgs will give themselves a much better chance at winning on Wednesday by taking Coach Pearl’s lead and showing Kentucky a lot of zone defense.

Hack-A-Cat

In the first game between these two teams, Georgia fouled Kentucky 25 times (Ajax, Barnes and Price all fouled out).  The ‘Cats shot 33 free throws, making 22 of them (that’s 66.7%).  On the season, Kentucky ranks 9th in the SEC in free throw percentage at 67.1%.

I would love to see Coach Fox employ the same strategy on Wednesday.  Not only does fouling force a bad FT shooting team like Kentucky to earn points at the charity stripe, but it could also frustrate the hot-headed Cousins.  DeMarcus is known for having quite the temper, and having Georgia’s bigs rough him up in the paint shouldn’t do much to keep him calm and under control.

Slow Pace

If the Dawgs can successfully run a zone and foul a lot inside, then chances are the tempo of this game should be nice and slow…which is exactly what Georgia wants.

Georgia does not want to have this game turn into a track meet, or it would be to Kentucky’s advantage.  The last thing Mark Fox (and the entire fan base at Stegeman Coliseum) wants to see is John Wall and Eric Bledsoe running up and down the court for easy dunks and lay-ups.

A large part of ensuring that this doesn’t happen will rely on the strength of Georgia’s guard play.  The Dawgs’ guards must be able to handle the Kentucky pressure and get the ball up the court.  Once the ball passes the half court line, hopefully Georgia will be able to milk at least 25 seconds off the shot clock before shooting.

Notes

Georgia has now won 4 straight games  in Athens, and they are 12-3 at the Steg on the season.

This is the last home game of the season for UGA, and thus will be Senior Night for Ricky McPhee, Albert Jackson and Tyler Whatley.

I’m so happy that Ricky McPhee decided to transfer to Georgia, and I only wish that we could have seen him play for two more years.

Albert Jackson was an instrumental part of the Dawgs 2008 SEC Tournament Championship, starting every game and averaging 7.3 points and 6.5 rebounds during that long and glorious weekend.

The game tips off Wednesday night at 8:00PM EST, and will once again be shown on the Peachtree TV channel.

I’ll be heading up to the game with some friends after work…anyone else going?

Anybody think the Dawgs can win?

Dawgs come up short at Rupp, lose 76-68

I watched ESPN’s Gameday Saturday morning, and no one predicted that Georgia Bulldogs would have the lead at the half against the Kentucky Wildcats…Nor did anyone think that the game would be tied at 59-59 with 7:35 remaining.

Kentucky did end up pulling away at the end of this one, and spoiled the Dawgs attempt of knocking off their second ranked opponent this week (largely because of the play by Kentucky center DeMarcus Cousins)…but it was a battle till the end.

Travis Leslie made it very clear  two minutes into the game that Georgia did not travel to Lexington to back down.  Leslie caught an outlet pass, took it the length of the court and finished with a monster tomahawk dunk right on Kentucky’s DeMarcus Cousins (Big Cuz probably never thought he would be face-to-face with Leslie’s thigh).

Thompkins put in another herculean effort, scoring 17 points and nabbing 13 rebounds in the face of the Cats big frontcourt.  Ricky McPhee had 13 points and was not at all intimidated by superstar frosh John Wall (McPhee actually gave the “silence” signal to the Kentucky fans after dropping a three-pointer in the first half).

Georgia did not protect the ball well, committing an atrocious 26 turnovers.

It is also becoming evident that the Dawgs do not have much depth – Thompkins and Ware played 37 minutes each, Leslie 36 and McPhee 35.  Mark Fox is doing his best to give these guys short rests by taking them out before TV timeouts, but this could catch up to Georgia in the latter part of the season…UGA needs some of its bench players to step up and contribute.

When Thompkins and Leslie are not on the floor the offense tends to self-destruct.

But all and all, I was very proud of the effort that Mark Fox’s team gave on Saturday.  They challenged the Cats from the start and fought hard until the last second.

I think that the Dawgs are going to surprise some teams in SEC play this season.

Great Quote – “The members of the media voted us unanimously as the last-place team,” Fox said to the media after the game. “If you guys are right, then this league is really balanced because Kentucky’s very, very good.”

What did everyone else think about the game?

Dawgs Open SEC Play with….eeeekkk! Kentucky

goodfellas
Kentucky should enjoy their success now, because it won't be long before the NCAA Rules Committee comes knocking on their door...

Georgia shocked the college basketball world on Tuesday night when they knocked off #17 Georgia Tech at home in Athens.

Saturday, the Dawgs begin SEC play with a date in Lexington to take on the undefeated #3 Kentucky Wildcats (where’s Florida Atlantic when you need them?).

These days you can’t watch a segment of ESPN’s Sportscenter without seeing something pertaining to the Cats’  undefeated season , or another gravity-defying dunk by freshman sensation John Wall.  Since Kentucky signed renowned coach/rule-breaker John “Calamari” Calipari (he left his last two programs in fraudulent ruins – UMASS & Memphis) the Cats have been at the forefront of college basketball’s media frenzy.

Kentucky super-Frosh John Wall is leading the team in scoring (17.2 points/game) and highlights (5.4/game).  What many people don’t realize about Wall is that he is a great passer too, netting 7.3 assists per game.  Speaking of “netting”, Mr. Wall is projected to be the first pick in next year’s NBA draft which will most likely send him to the New Jersey Nets…so he better cherish all this winning now cause last I check New Jersey was 3-32.

Kentucky’s frontcourt features two of the better forwards in the SEC in junior Patrick Patterson (16.7 points/8.3 reb) and freshman DeMarcus “Big Cuz”  Cousins (15.4 points/9.6 reb).  What’s even more impressive about Cousins is that he is producing these numbers in only 19.2 minutes a game…Big Cuz has a little bit of a “foul problem” (don’t worry he is taking an Anger Management class to control his temper) averaging 3.2 personal fouls a contest.

This UK squad is actually the tallest in the country going by average player height.  Maybe that’s why Kentucky is 11th in the country in total offensive rebounds, and pulling down nearly 43 total rebounds a night.  If the Dawgs defensive rebound as poorly on Saturday as they did against the Yellow Jackets they are going to get run out of the gym (there are actually several other scenarios in which they could get run out of the gym but I am trying to be positive here).

Not to sound like a defeatist, but when analyzing Kentucky it’s really hard to find weaknesses.  They are 15th in the nation in offensive scoring at 82.8 points a game, and they are shooting lights out – 50.2% FG; 40.6% 3PT.   Their defense has been stingy, surrendering only 64.3 per game.

They are 15-0 despite playing an EXTREMELY difficult schedule already which included games against Stanford, North Carolina, UCONN, Indiana and Louisville.

I am going to mix up the format a bit for this one…instead of “Keys to the Game” I think we will go with “Things That Could Help”.

“Things That Could Help”

1.  Get in the Zone – Even though Kentucky is a good shooting team, I still think that UGA needs to play more zone defense than man-to-man and hope that the Cats are cold.  The Dawgs just don’t have the personnel to match up with Kentucky in a man defense…as much as I love Ricky McPhee, I would hate to see him trying to guard Wall out on the perimeter.  Thompkins could hold his own against Patterson or Big Cuz, but one of these guys would then get a very favorable match up against either Jackson, Barnes or Price.

2.  Temper, Temper – As mentioned above, Big Cuz can be somewhat of a hothead and routinely gets into foul trouble.  If anyone watched the Louisville-Kentucky game, then you probably saw Cousins give a flagrant elbow to the head of a Louisville player while wrestling for the ball (unfortunately the referees didn’t see it and Cuz stayed in the game).  I would love to see Albert Jackson or Chris Barnes get really physical with Cousins from the start, and maybe frustrate him into some cheap fouls.

3. Beyond the Arc – UGA won the game at Rupp Arena last year 90-85 because they were on fire from 3-point range.  Georgia made 11 or 16 three point attempts en route to the win (they also shot 50% from the field).  I realize that this is a difficult performance to repeat, but when you are playing the #3 team in the country you have to bring your best game.  Hopefully McPhee, Ware and Thompkins are on (fingers crossed) or things could derail early (freshman Ebuka Anyaorah has also been shooting the ball well lately averaging nearly 6 points off the bench in his last 3 outings).

The game will tip off at 4pm Saturday in the confines of historic Rupp Arena.  It will be televised on the SEC Network (which I believe is Peachtree TV) and on the radio at 750AM.

Any other thoughts?