Dawgs Fend Off Pesky Terriers

The Georgia Bulldogs picked up a 62-49 win over the Wofford Terriers in their first game of the season on Friday night, but the game wasn’t secure until the final five minutes.  Georgia’s Nemanja Djurisic (the Menace from Montenegro) stopped a Wofford run, which had the Terriers as close as 47-42, by pouring in 6 consecutive points off the bench.  Djurisic finished the game with 8 points and 4 rebounds in just 13 second-half minutes.

UGA’s guard trio of Gerald Robinson, Dustin Ware and newcomer Kentavious Caldwell-Pope provided all 30 of Georgia’s first-half points.  The Dawgs‘ bigs were virtually nonexistent before the break, scoring zero points and getting out-rebounded 24-14 by the Terriers.

Clearly the Bulldogs’ frontcourt received a stern talking-to at halftime in regards to their lack of effort on the glass, because they responded by winning the second-half rebounding battle 26-14 and scoring a combined 17 points.  Sophomore Donte Williams led the Dawgs with 13 boards on Friday night – the big man brought down 12 of them following the intermission.

The guards (GR2, Ware and KCP) disappeared after the midpoint, contributing just 8 points amongst the three of them.

Caldwell-Pope showed flashes of his McDonald’s All-American-ness in the first half, pouring in 13 points off of several threes and an athletic open-court dunk.  His second half, though, left a lot to be desired, with Pope failing to convert a field goal and scoring just two points (off of free throws).

The Bulldogs did do an excellent job of taking care of the ball on Friday night, committing only 8 turnovers (the Dawgs only had 1 turnover after the first half of play).

The Terriers were led by guard Brad Loesing’s 13 points.

This game was not an offensive showcase, as both teams shot under 35% from the floor.

It’s very early in the season, but after watching tonight’s game I’m left wondering if the Dawgs were rusty and harboring some first-game jitters, hence the close game with Wofford?  Or, is this Georgia team merely 13 points better than the Terriers?

One thing is for sure – if Georgia was a member of the SoCon they would certainly be considered a contender for the conference title.

In the SEC however, where the Bulldogs will compete against the likes of Kentucky, Florida, Vanderbilt, etc., the Dawgs could be in for a rocky ride once they get to conference play.

Looking Ahead to Next Year

When the 2011-2012 college basketball season rolls around next year, Mark Fox and the Georgia Bulldogs are going to experience life without Trey Thompkins and Travis Leslie.  In other words, the Dawgs are going to need to replace nearly 31 points and 15 rebounds per game.

The Georgia basketball program will probably take a step back next season, but how far back remains to be seen.  The Bulldogs’ frontcourt is taking a massive hit with the departures of Thompkins, Leslie, Jeremy Price and Chris Barnes.  For the past two seasons, one consistent strength of this team has been their tremendous size (mainly width) inside.

The backcourt, however, has the potential to be one of the best in the Southeastern Conference.  Gerald Robinson, Jr. averaged 12.2 ppg and 4.0 apg in his first season of big-time college basketball.  Robinson established himself as a shut-down defender on opposing point guards, and his offense was brilliant at times – unfortunately, there were lapses (games) where his offensive play was non-existent.  Next year, Coach Fox will look to GR2 to shoulder more of the scoring load (15+ ppg?), and he will have to be more reliable with his decision-making when he has the ball.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (KCP) has the skill set to possibly step right in and lead this team in scoring.  KCP has a silky-smooth outside shot and he can create for himself off the dribble as well.  At 6’6″, Pope gives Georgia some much-needed height on the defensive end.

And of course, the glue guy – Dustin Ware – will return for his senior year to provide both leadership and outside scoring.

Of the three bigs that Fox has signed for next year – Tim Dixon, John Florveus and Nemanja Djurisic – Dixon is the one that has me the most excited.  After watching one of his YouTube videos, it’s clear to see that he likes to run up and down the floor to chase rebounds, and at 6’10” he looks like a pretty skillful shot-blocker.  If I were to guess today, I’d say he finds himself in the starting five to begin the year along with GR2, Ware, KCP and a player to be named later…

…and that player is – Marcus Thornton.

Thornton was fairly underwhelming in his first year as a Bulldog, averaging just 1.5 ppg and 1.9 rpg in 9.4 minutes of play ( to go along some dismal shooting – 35.3% from the floor and 41.7% from the line).  Despite his offensive woes, Marcus did turn into a pretty solid defender, and in the second half of the season he was typically interchanged with Travis Leslie on the other team’s best wing.

Thornton’s inability to finish around the rim this year does leave some room for concern, but let’s not forget about another Georgia freshman – Travis Leslie – who also looked lost on offense in his rookie season.  As a frosh, Leslie netted 6.3 ppg and 3.9 rpg in 14.3 minutes – however, that was on a much worse Georgia team.  In his first season, Travis Leslie looked generally out of control whenever he was in the game.

But then something happened: Mark Fox.  Under Fox’s tutelage, Leslie transitioned into an All-SEC player and is now turning pro.

If Thornton buys into Fox’s system and is ready to work, he could possibly undergo a Leslie-esque transformation.

The final key that I wanted to touch on for next season is Coach Mark Fox himself.  I think that for next year’s team to be successful, Fox is going to have to adapt his system a bit.  The Dawgs may have to alter or even ditch the triangle offense in 2012, and look to a more up-tempo style of play that will center around their strong backcourt.

Season predictions anyone?

Georgia Hosts High Point Tuesday Night 7PM

The Georgia Bulldogs (7-2) will take on the High Point Panthers (5-4) on Tuesday night in Athens, GA.

According to Rivals.com in this year’s preview of the Big South Conference, the Panthers “could be sleepers in the league race.”  High Point was projected to finish 5th in the conference, however, they are currently tied with Liberty for first with a 2-0 record in league play.

The heart and soul of this High Point team is its backcourt, led by preseason Big South Player of the Year Nick Barbour.  Barbour, a junior guard named to the All-League First Team, is a streaky shooter that is currently leading his team in scoring with 16.8 points per game.  He is not afraid to shoot it either, averaging nearly six three-point attempts a night while connecting on 31.3% of them.

Joining Barbour in the backcourt is fellow junior Shay Shine, who is the only other Panther scoring in double-figures at 12.9 points per game.  Shine is freakishly athletic – check out this dunk from a game earlier this season – and will definitely provide a challenge for Georgia guard Dustin Ware.

The Panthers do not start a player over 6’6″, and other than 6’8″ freshman Travis Elliott (12 minutes per game) they do not have anyone coming off the bench over 6’6″ either.  This lack of size on the inside has caused problems for the Panthers – in their four losses this season, they have posted a -7.25 rebounding margin.

When High Point gets killed on the glass, they get killed on the scoreboard as well.

Enter Stage Right:  Trey Thompkins (6’9″ 247 lbs), Jeremy Price (6’8″ 264lbs) and Chris Barnes (6’8″ 240lbs).

Mark Fox has 751 lbs of power forward at his disposal to unleash against this smaller High Point team.

Barnes is coming off one of his best games as a Bulldog, pouring in 12 points on 5 of 6 shooting from the floor in Georgia‘s win over Arkansas State last Saturday.  He looked very strong in the paint on offense, establishing great interior position and getting most of his shots right under the basket.

Trey Thompkins should have a mismatch at just about every moment on offense in this game.

If High Point comes out in a man defense, Gerald Robinson, Jr. and Dustin Ware should be prepared to feed their bigs the ball inside as much as possible.

If the Panthers show Georgia a 2-3 zone (which they may given their size disadvantage), GR2, Ware and Sherrard Brantley need to be ready to knock down open looks – this could open things up on the inside as well.

It all sounds so simple.

How well will the Dawgs execute?