Dawgs Host Gamecocks

The South Carolina Gamecocks (14-9 overall, 5-4 SEC) roll into Athens Saturday afternoon looking to complete their second straight season sweep of the Georgia Bulldogs Men’s Basketball team.

The ‘Cocks are coming off a 77-71 win over the Florida Gators, and are listed as a potential “bubble team” for NCAA tournament.  They still have games left against Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky and Vanderbilt, so needless to say, they are really going to want to get this one against the Dawgs.

Carolina won the first match-up between these two teams in Columbia 78-77.  It was a game in which Georgia held the lead for the majority of the night (the Dawgs actually had the lead for nearly 14 minutes in the second half), but Devon Downey took over in the game’s final minutes and finished up with 33 points.

Since the win over the Dawgs, Carolina has lost at Tennessee and won at home against the Gators (as mentioned above).  Their offense still pretty much revolves around Downey, who is averaging 30.1 points per game in SEC play.

However, Downey has gotten more support on the scoring front  from fellow guard Brandis Raley-Ross and forward Sam Muldrow.  Over the past two games, Ross and Muldrow are averaging 16.0 and 11.0 points, respectively.

During the Gamecocks’ last two games, this trio has taken nearly 70% of the team’s field goal attempts.  Ross has knocked down 7 of 20 three-point attempts over the last two games (his season average is 40.4%).  Teams can sometimes lose track of where he is on the court because they get overly concerned with keeping track of Devan Downey.

Carolina is only 1-6 on the road this season, that lone win coming in their SEC opener at Auburn.

Keys to the Game

Man Up

In the first half of the season Coach Mark Fox had his Bulldogs running an aggressive 1-2-2 zone with Travis Leslie up top, and I loved it.  However, I am not as big of a fan of the version I have seen lately (like in the Auburn game).  I don’t know if it’s a lack of focus or tired legs, but the Dawgs zone defense has broken down in the half court set and is giving teams way too many wide open looks.

The Dawgs need to come out and play hard-nosed man-to-man defense against the Gamecocks on Saturday.  Carolina does not have better athletes than Georgia, so matching up with them should not be a problem.  Georgia needs someone (Travis Leslie or EA?) to hound Downey and follow him everywhere he goes on the court.

Maybe mix in some of the zone periodically just to keep the ‘Cocks off-balanced.

The Big Payback

Trey Thompkins is 0-3 against South Carolina so far in his young career.  In the last meeting, Thompkins only scored one field goal in the games final 8 minutes (and he missed a reverse lay-up that could have put Georgia ahead).  Furthermore, Trey is coming off his worst performance of the year against Auburn, a game in which he fouled out while playing only 13 minutes.

The Dawgs need an All-SEC performance out of Thompkins on Saturday, and they especially need him on the court and scoring in the games closing minutes.

Notes

-If Travis Leslie puts up some good numbers against the ‘Cocks, he will probably be the leading candidate for this week’s “SEC Player of the Week” award (considering he already has 19 points & 17 rebounds to his name).  Last game against USC, Leslie had 5 dunks…what’s the over/under on how many flushes Leslie gets on Saturday?

-Georgia is 10-3 this season in games played in Athens, GA.

-I’ll be heading up to Athens tomorrow for this one.   Tip-off is at 4:00PM, and it would be great to see a packed-out Stegeman Colesium to welcome the team back.

-If you can’t make it, the game will be televised on Peachtree TV (channel 7 for all Comcast customers).

Dawgs lose a heart-breaker 78-77

Down by one to South Carolina, Georgia came out of a timeout with the ball underneath their own basket and only 20 seconds left…and looked confused.

McPhee in-bounded it to point guard Dustin Ware, who then proceeded to hand it over to reserve true freshman guard Ebuka Anyaorah – and this is where the play derailed (nothing against EA, he is a true frosh playing in the final seconds of an SEC road game).  EA got pressured from the Carolina defender, and threw an errant pass to Ware near the Dawgs’ bench that was on its way out-of-bounds.  Luckily for Georgia, the referees took pity on them and gave a very questionable foul to the Gamecocks’ superstar Devan Downey with 3.5 seconds left (to me it looked like he and Ware were both going for the ball and this one probably should have been a “no call”).

Dustin Ware went to the free throw line for a one-and-one, and an opportunity to tie or take the lead.  Before I tell you what happened on Ware’s free throw (as if you don’t already know), it should be noted that the Bulldogs did not have a SINGLE PLAYER in the lane to offensive rebound on the shot.  I don’t know who is to blame for this (Fox or the players?), but it seems pretty inexcusable to not have anyone in to offense rebound when you are shooting a one-and-one and your team is LOSING by a point.

Anyhow, Ware missed the front end of the one-and-one and Carolina grabbed the rebound to secure the win.  This makes two games now (the other was against Wofford) in which Ware had an opportunity to tie the game from the free throw line in the final seconds and couldn’t convert.

Georgia has now lost three SEC games by a total of 8 points – Ole Miss by 4; Miss State by 3 and SC by 1.  The Dawgs are still winless in true road games in both the regular season and in SEC play.  Mark Fox’s team is now 9-10 overall, and 1-5 in the SEC…it’s tough for me to put a positive spin on it right now.

The loss to South Carolina was as agonizing as the ones to Ole Miss and MSU.  Just as in those other two games, the Dawgs played pretty well overall.  UGA finished the game with 16 assists to only 9 turnovers, they shot 50% on field goals and out-rebounded the Gamecocks 28-25.

Georgia led for a majority of the first and second halves, and got the lead as high as 9 following a Trey Thompkins 3-pointer with 9:23 remaining in the game to put UGA up 63-54 (Thompkins blew a kiss to the fans after the shot – probably should have saved that one till the game was more secure).

Travis Leslie had his best game of the year, scoring 21 points to go along with 7 rebounds and an onslaught of highlight reel dunks.

Trey Thompkins had a pretty good game – 17 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists.  However, he only scored 2 points in the final 9 minutes of the game.  The Dawgs have to be able to rely on Trey more down the stretch in close games for offense.  He is the team’s best player, and if he can’t be counted on for big buckets in the final minutes then Georgia will continue to struggle in closing out ball games.

The Gamecocks’ Devan Downey led them again with 33 points, and scored 12 of them in the final 8 minutes of the game.  That makes two-straight wins in which Downey has pretty much single-handedly willed his team to victories.

The good news for Georgia is they head back to Athens for a pair of games next week against Arkansas (Wed) and Vanderbilt (Sat).

How is everybody else feeling about the SC game?

Gamecocks Host the Bulldogs

Before examining the Georgia Bulldogs (9-9) next opponent, I want to share a couple of uplifting notes about the Dawgs’ 1-4 SEC Conference record.

The casual on-looker might dismiss this 1-4 record as a bad start to conference play.  However, two very important points need to be considered: strength of schedule (thus far) and home/away games.

The combined record of the Bulldogs’ first 5 opponents (Kentucky, Ole Miss, Miss St, Tennessee, Florida) is 80-19, with an overall SEC record of 18-9.  Every team that the Dawgs have played has a winning conference record (and overall).

The combined record of the Dawgs’ next 4 opponents (SC, Arkansas, Vandy, Auburn) is 47-33, with an overall SEC record of 11-11 (I only used 4 teams because they play SC again after Auburn).  Georgia still has to lace up its shoes and play these games, but in theory the competition should not be as strong as what UGA has already faced.

Another point to consider is that of the remaining 11 SEC games, the Bulldogs will get to play 6 of them in Athens (where they are 9-2 this year).

That being said, Georgia is still 0-6 in “true” road games this year and 0-3 in the conference.  It’s time for Mark Fox to go out and get his first SEC road win (especially since UGA has lost in Columbia the last two seasons).

On Saturday night, the Bulldogs head to Columbia, SC to take on the South Carolina Gamecocks aka “The Fighting Devan Downeys”.

The Gamecocks win last Tuesday night over the #1 Kentucky Wildcats was extra amazing considering the hit that their roster took earlier this season.

Coming into the 2009-2010 season, the Gamecocks were returning 4 starters  from a team that finished 21-8 last year.  Needless to say, many ESPN analysts were predicting the ‘Cocks would earn a trip to this year’s NCAA tournament.  During the 5th game of the year against Miami, 6’7″ senior forward Dominique Archie was lost for the season with a sprained knee – he was averaging 14.4 points and 6.0 rebounds.  After the 7th game, 6’7″ junior power forward Mike Holmes was dismissed from the team by Coach Darrin Horn for repeatedly violating team rules – he was averaging 9.4 points and 4.3 rebounds.

Before the loss of both starters, the Gamecocks were off to a hot 6-1 start…they are 6-7 since (yet 3-3 in SEC play and again, they did beat #1 Kentucky).

To say that the South Carolina offense revolves around Devan Downey is a gross understatement – he is the offense.  In their first six games in SEC, Downey is taking nearly 39% of the ‘Cocks field goal attempts!  His 22.4 points per game is tops in the conference, and 8th in the country.  He shoots the ball pretty well from 3-point range, and has an endless supply of running trick shots…Downey is a tough match-up for any guard in the country (including John Wall).

Fellow senior guard Brandis Raley-Ross is the only other Gamecock player scoring in double-figures, averaging 10.4 points and shooting a solid 41.7% from 3PT.

On the inside, 6’9″ junior forward Sam Muldrow is very active on defense, blocking 3.4 shots a game (which is second in the SEC behind Jarvis Varnado).  He is also contributing 9.2 points and 5.7 boards.

Other than Downey, no one on this Gamecock roster really jumps out at you.

South Carolina’s style of play is not going to light up the scoreboards or highlight reels.  They basically look to play a half-court game on both offense and defense in order to keep it low-scoring and close going into the final minutes…then they turn the reigns over to Devan Downey and see where he can take them.

I am not doing any “Keys to the Game” for this one.

If the Dawgs are going to go into Columbia and steal an SEC road win, they simply need to get back to what they do well – offensive/defensive rebound, strong help defense and pounding the ball inside on offense.

South Carolina is last in the SEC in rebounding margin at -3.6 a game.  Georgia’s bigs should be licking their chops going into this one, determined to own the glass.

Defensively, I am still looking to see more of the 1-2-2 defense that Mark Fox brought to Athens.  However, I want to see the version that was used against Miss St, Tenn and the first 10 minutes of the Florida game – contesting 3’s and ROTATING underneath.  Against the Gators, the Dawgs’s bigs were consistently out-of-place underneath when the ball was swung quickly around the perimeter.  Hopefully Coach Fox worked the kinks in the practices on Thursday and Friday.

On offense, I think the ball needs to go down to Trey early and often.  It’s so hard to win on the road in this conference, but when you have a superstar like Thompkins in the paint he needs to be used to get everything going at the beginning of the game.  If Trey can get a couple buckets at the start, it’s going to open things up for everybody else – meaning Ricky McPhee, Dustin Ware and Travis Leslie.

Lastly, the turnovers have to be significantly reduced.  The Dawgs rank last in the SEC with an abysmal -3.2 turnover margin per game.  On top of that, the Gamecocks are leading the conference with 9.4 steals per game as a team.  Everybody needs to play strong and smart when they have the ball – no panicky or silly passes.  In my opinion, I’d rather see a guy being trapped take a 5-second call instead of throwing it to the other team…at least with the 5-second call you get to set up your defense.

I believe this game will be  more suited to the Dawgs’ half-court style of play (more so than say the Missouri or Florida games).  It’s should be fairly low-scoring, and will probably go down to the wire.

The game tips off at 7pm and will televised on the Fox Sports Network (channel 48 for all you Comcast customers).