Georgia gets #12 Florida in Athens today at 4:00PM

The Georgia Bulldogs (12-15; 3-10) relationship with the #12 Florida Gators on the hard court is beginning to become eerily similar to the connection that the Dawgs share with the Gators on the football field (in that Florida wins nearly every time).

The Bulldogs have dropped 15 of the last 17 basketball games to Florida, making this match-up particularly one-sided.

According to the odds makers in Las Vegas, who slotted the Gators as an 8-point favorite, this trend of Florida domination should continue today in Stegeman.

Coach Billy Donovan’s Gators have been an offensive juggernaut in SEC play this season, scoring over 70 points per contest.  Florida has been especially strong from beyond the arc, where they are connecting on 38.1% of their attempts and making a league-leading 9.2 three-pointers per game.

The Gators may have the most complete backcourt in the country, led by junior Kenny Boynton, freshman Bradley Beal and senior Erving Walker.  All three members of this guard trio are netting double-digits on a nightly basis in conference play, with Boynton and Beal leading the way with 15.4 ppg and 14.6 ppg, respectively.  Boynton, who is enjoying his best season yet as a Gator, has made over 40% of this three-point attempts in league games this year.

Coach Mark Fox’s Bulldog team needs to defend the perimeter well this afternoon in an effort to limit Florida’s backcourt from lighting them up.  Fortunately, three-point defense has been somewhat of a strength for this Georgia team as they have held opposing SEC squads to under 33% on threes, ranking them 5th in the conference in that category.

Florida won the first contest between these two teams back in early January, burying Georgia 70-48 in the O’Connell Center.  In that game, the Dawgs held Florida to 7 of 21 shooting from beyond the arc and matched the Gators with 31 rebounds.  Just hearing those two statistics might leave Bulldog fans wondering how Georgia lost by so many points.

The big difference in that game came at the free throw line, where Georgia went an unsightly 1 for 9, while Florida canned 15 of 18 attempts.

One unfortunate symptom that has emerged this year, resulting from Georgia’s lack of an inside game, is that the Bulldogs are not getting to the charity stripe.  In the entire Division I of the NCAA there are only 23 teams out of 337 that are attempting less free throws than Georgia.

In SEC play, the Dawgs are only tossing up 14 free throws per game, pitting them at 11th in the conference (just above South Carolina).  To make matters worse, when Georgia does get to the line they are only making 68% of their attempts, which is 9th in the SEC.

I’m not sure if there is a cure for the Dawgs this season in regards to getting more free throw attempts, but hopefully it will be a major focal point for the UGA bigs in the off-season.

The recipe for a Georgia upset today lies in their ability to make three-pointers, which should come as no surprise to any UGA basketball fan.  The Dawgs have shot over 40% from beyond the arc just three times in league play this year – Tennessee, Arkansas, Missy State – and they won two of those games.

The perimeter game needs to start with freshman Kentavious-Caldwell Pope, who has been mired in a terrible slump over the past three games, averaging just 8.3 points while shooting 27% from the field and 15% on three-point attempts.

KCP has to find a way to put the ball in the basket because senior Gerald Robinson, Jr. cannot keep providing all the offense for Coach Fox’s team.  Georgia’s recent three-game skid has somewhat overshadowed the fact that GR2 has been playing his tail off, netting nearly 16 points to go along with 5.3 boards, 3.3 assists and 2.3 steals during that same stretch.  Against both Vandy and South Carolina, Robinson was the only Bulldog to finish the game in double-figures.

If a couple of Bulldogs were to step up and provide some much-needed offensive support to Robinson, then it is not out of the realm of possibilities that the fans in Stegeman could be treated to an afternoon upset.

Georgia at Florida in Prime Time on ESPN2

The Georgia Bulldogs (18-8; 7-5) head to Gainesville on Thursday night for a rematch with the #13 Florida Gators, who beat the Dawgs in Athens earlier this season 104-91.  The first meeting between these two teams was one of the better college basketball games of the year, with Georgia coming from behind to send the game into overtime only to have Florida’s Erving Walker hit a three-pointer to force a second overtime.  The Gators were the only team interested in playing in the second overtime as they outscored the Dawgs 19-6 en route a big SEC road victory.

Florida (21-5; 10-2) is undoubtedly the best team in the conference this year, and they are currently riding a five-game winning streak.  The Gators, however, could be playing once again without their preseason All-SEC Second-Team forward Chandler Parsons.  Parsons sustained a deep thigh bruise in Florida’s win over Tennessee on February 12th, forcing him to sit out the second half of that game as well as the LSU game last Sunday – a game that the Gators won 68-61.

Florida coach Billy Donovan did not sound positive about whether or not his star forward would play during Monday’s press conference.

“Right now, I’m not personally, overly optimistic that he’ll play,” coach Billy Donovan said. “I think in his mind, he’d like to try to play. … The last time he did anything physically was this past Friday and he couldn’t do much at all.  We’ll prepare for the game without him and if he plays, it’s a bonus.”

Georgia coach Mark Fox didn’t seem to be buying it though, saying that the Dawgs would “prepare like he is going to play”.

Whether Parsons plays or not remains to be seen, but either way this game is still a difficult road test for a Georgia team that has not won a game in Gainesville in nine years.

That being said, this year’s Bulldogs squad seems to prefer life on the road.  Following the Dawgs’ huge win last Saturday in Knoxville over Tennessee, Georgia now holds an 7-2 record in true road games on the season, and they are 4-2 in SEC games played away from Athens.

In the first game between these teams, the Dawgs did not have an answer for Florida’s dynamic guard tandem of Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton.  Walker and Boynton scored 24 points apiece, and they shot a combined 24 free throws (connecting on 20 of them).  Both guards used a plethora of high screens to get themselves into the paint where they were able to create at will.  Georgia’s bigs must do a better job of stopping penetration off the pick-and-roll, and making it more difficult for Walker and Boynton to get into the lane.

Florida center Vernon Macklin, who is a load inside at 6’10” and 245 pounds, is having a solid senior season for Coach Donovan, averaging 12.7 ppg and shooting over 57% from the field in conference play.  Macklin shot 10 of 15 from the floor and scored 23 points in the game in Athens, his highest scoring output in an SEC game this season.  With the way Trey Thompkins has been defending lately – 15 blocks in his last six games – I would not be at all surprised to see Coach Fox put him on Florida’s big center (and move either Jeremy Price or Chris Barnes on to Alex Tyus).

Though Trey has been playing some inspired defense lately, he has struggled to find offense since the first game against the Gators (the last time he went for 20 points or more).  In the seven games since the Florida one, Thompkins is shooting just 37.3% from the floor and averaging only 12.3 points.  Despite Trey’s offensive woes, the Dawgs have gone 4-3 in this same span of games.  Imagine how dangerous Georgia would be if Thompkins could get his shot going again?

Georgia has two home games left this year on their conference slate – South Carolina and LSU.  If they win those (as they should), they’ll finish with a winning SEC record and will most likely earn an at-large berth into this year’s NCAA tournament.

That means, in a way, that the pressure is off for the game on Thursday (another perk from the win against the Vols).  Mark Fox’s team should play as if they have nothing to lose, and treat this game as a bonus opportunity to upset a conference rival on their home court (and to possibly improve their NCAA seeding – last “Bracketology” had the Dawgs as a 10-seed).

The Gators are 12-3 this year in Gainesville, and again, they haven’t lost one to Georgia in the Oconnell Center in 9 years.

Georgia’s victory in Knoxville last Saturday was their first at Tennessee in over a decade.

It might be time for the Dawgs to end another streak.

Gators Come to Athens

The Florida Gators (9-4 SEC; 20-8 overall) roll into Athens this Saturday to take on the Georgia Bulldogs (4-9 SEC; 12-14 overall).

The Gators have won three games in a row, including a 75-62 win over the Tennessee Volunteers last Tuesday.

Barring a total meltdown, it appears that Billy Donovan’s team has just about played itself into this year’s NCAA Tournament.  However, after Saturday’s game with Georgia they have Vanderbilt at home and then they conclude the regular season at Kentucky.  Needless to say, the Gators definitely want/need to get another SEC win, and their best chance is probably against the Dawgs.

Back in January, Florida pounded the Dawgs 87-71 in Gainesville.  The Gators forced Georgia into 19 turnovers, and scored 50 points off Bulldog turnovers and second chance shots…it was not a fun game to watch if you were Dawgs fan.

However, last year the Gators handled the Dawgs 83-57 in Gainesville, only to be beaten in Athens 88-86.

This Florida team is better than last year’s squad, though.

The Gators might have the best backcourt in the SEC, and certainly one of the best in the country.

Sophomore point guard Erving Walker is averaging 16.1 points and 5 assists per game in SEC play, while hitting nearly 37% of his three-point attempts on the season.  In the first meeting between these two teams, Walker torched the Bulldogs for 21 points and dished-out 10 assists.

Freshman guard Kenny Boynton is scoring 13.4 points in conference games, and he too dropped 21 points on Georgia back in January.

On the inside, the Gators frontcourt features juniors Chandler Parsons (6’9″), Alex Tyus (6’8″) and Vernon Macklin (6’11”, 240 lbs).   Parsons is having a big junior season, averaging 11.8 points and 7.7 rebounds per SEC contest.  He also has a nice touch from the outside, burying 36.1% of his three-point tries on the year.

In conference play, Tyus is scoring 13.2 points and nabbing 7.5 rebounds per game.  In the first game against the Dawgs, Tyus led the Gators with 23 points.

Rounding out the Florida frontcourt is center Vernon Macklin, who is contributing 11 points and 4.8 boards a night in SEC games.

The Gators are very balanced on offense, and they can hurt teams from both inside and out.  Other than Kentucky, Florida is probably the second most talented team in the league.

It will be very interesting to see how Georgia comes out on Saturday following another back-breaking road loss.

Keys to the Game

Breaking the Press

I know that this is a pretty simple “key”, but the Dawgs’ 19 turnovers coupled with their inability to handle Florida’s full-court pressure were two big reasons that they were blown out in January.  There were too many times when the ball was thrown errantly down the middle of the court, resulting in a turnover.

Florida is going to show Georgia a full-court trap press on Saturday until the Dawgs show that they can handle it.  McPhee and Ware have got to be conscious of where they are on the court when they break to the ball.  There have been too many instances this season when a Georgia guard has received the in-bounds pass near the corner of the court, right on the baseline.  This is just asking to get trapped!  The Dawgs have got to find ways (set some picks maybe?) to get the ball in the guards hands closer to the middle of the court so that they have room to operate (and are less likely to get trapped).

Georgia needs to break the Gator press, and then work to get this game moving at a snail’s pace.

Get Inside

In Thursday night’s loss at Vanderbilt, Travis Leslie and Ricky McPhee each played 41 minutes.  Dustin Ware played 40 and Thompkins a mere 34.  I realize that these are young men in probably the best shape of their lives, but one day off is one day off no matter how you look at it.  Tired legs can make even the best shooters’ jump shots come up just a bit short.  The Dawgs would be well served by getting the ball inside and pounding the glass.

Saturday Magic

Mark Fox’s Bulldogs are undefeated (4-0) this season in Saturday afternoon SEC home games.  Two of those wins were over Tennessee and Vanderbilt – both were and are still ranked.

Florida Coach Billy Donovan has taken note as well, saying earlier this week, “For me, personally, it’s more about moving into third place in the SEC East. We’re all jockeying for position right now and maybe we can catch Vandy for second, but we’re going up against a Georgia team that I think everyone in our league will attest plays very well at home.”

Side Note…Say What?

The Atlanta Journal Constitution (AJC) has stated that the Georgia’s basketball team’s only tangible goal left this season (barring a miraculous SEC tournament championship) is to play the role of spoiler…starting with the Gators.

I respectfully disagree.

A win over Florida would give Georgia 5 SEC wins, and a legitimate shot at getting their 6th of the year in the season finale at LSU (I am not going to be so bold as to predict a win over Kentucky).  This would DOUBLE the number of SEC wins for this team from last year’s sum of three.  That would be a pretty good accomplishment.

Not to mention that should Georgia win on Saturday, they will put themselves in a position to reach .500 on the season, and possibly earn an NIT berth (this is again assuming a win at LSU, and then two wins in the SEC Tournament).

Making the NIT is another tangible goal for this young team.

The game tips off at 4:00PM EST on Saturday.  I have to be in Charlotte for work, so I’ll be watching it on the SEC Networks (aka Peachtree TV).  The game is sold out, so it should be an awesome atmosphere!

Gators Handle Dawgs 87-71

In the post-game wrap-up after the game, Coach Mark Fox proclaimed “We have to play defense better if we want to win on the road.  We have to rebound better if we want to win on the road.”

That about sums up Wednesday night’s  loss in Gainesville at the O’Connell Center.

The Dawgs didn’t defensive rebound well, turned the ball over too many times and looked totally lost on defense when Florida reversed the ball.  The Gators scored an astounding 50 points off turnovers and second-chance points!

Georgia had 19 turnovers to Florida’s 10, and UGA was out-rebounded 27-23 (which is shocking since Georgia came into this game with a +4.5 rebounding margin).  The Gators were ferocious on the offensive glass, hauling in 13 offensive boards.

The Dawgs, however, only brought down 7 offensive rebounds – they came into the game averaging 12.5 on the season.

Georgia did shoot the ball very well, knocking down 59.6% from the field and 57.1% from beyond the arc (problem was they only took 47 shots due to excessive turnovers).

Trey Thompkins and Ricky McPhee combined for 63% of the Dawgs offense.  Thompkins was on fire, connecting on 10 of 12 shots including 2 for 2 on 3-pointers.  McPhee knocked down five 3’s and finished the night 8 of 11 from the field.  Travis Leslie was the only other Georgia player in double-figures, scoring 11 points and grabbing a team-leading 8 rebounds…he also had two more alley-oop dunks and may show up on ESPN again tonight.

Florida’s dynamic guard duo of Kenny Boynton and Erving Walker proved too much for Georgia to handle.  Walker burned the Dawgs for 21 points on four 3’s (which all were from FAR outside the line) and dished out 10 assists.  Boynton hit three 3’s himself and ended up with 21 points.

Forward Alex Tyus was unstoppable all night, hitting 10-14 on field goals and leading the Gators in scoring with 23 points.

Georgia is not 0-6 in true road games (not counting the Illinois game), and 0-3 in SEC away games.

The Dawgs have to shake this one off, though, and get ready for another difficult SEC road game this Saturday night as they take on the South Carolina Gamecocks in Columbia, SC.

In case you missed it Tuesday night, the Gamecocks just knocked off the #1 Kentucky Wildcats.

Dawgs Head to Florida

jarvis hayes
On January 19, 2002, Jarvis Hayes scored 23 points and the Dawgs won at Florida 84-79...this was the last time Georgia won at the O'Connell Center

The Georgia Bulldogs basketball team (9-8) rolls into Gainesville on Wednesday night to take on a hot Florida Gators team that is coming off a thrilling buzzer-beater win over South Carolina last Saturday.

The Gators have been somewhat of an anomaly this year.  Florida has recorded wins over Michigan State, NC State and Florida State, yet they lost at home to South Alabama and Richmond.

Billy Donovan’s squad started out conference play with back-to-back losses to Vanderbilt and Kentucky, but have since won three straight games to put them at 3-2 in the SEC.

On Wednesday, Mark Fox’s Dawgs will be trying to do something that hasn’t been done since the 2001-2002 season…win in Gainesville.  Last year in the game at Florida, the Gators lit up the Bulldogs with eleven 3-pointers in an 83-57 rout (and basically put the nail in Dennis Felton’s coaching coffin).

The SEC road has not been kind to the Dawgs over the years, as they have tallied up just 4 wins in the past 3 seasons coming into the 2009-2010 campaign (they are 0-2 this year away from The Steg in SEC play).

And to top it all off, the Florida Gators have now won 35 of their last 43 SEC home games.

This Gator squad’s strength is its backcourt, which may be one of the best in the country.  Freshman Kenny Boynton and sophomore Erving Walker account for 38% of Florida’s offense, combining for 27.4 points per game.  The Gators as a team hoist up twenty 3-pointers a game, and their starting guards are a big reason for that.  These two players have taken a total of 465 field goal attempts this year, and 256 of them were from 3-point range (that’s 55%!).  Walker is the better shooter of this tandem(38.2% 3PT), and he is also very good at creating his own shot off the dribble.

The Florida frontcourt is tall (yet thin) and features juniors Alex Tyus 6’8″, Chandler Parsons 6’9″, Vernon Macklin 6’10” and senior Dan Werner at 6’8″.  Tyus can score inside with his back to the rim, yet he also has a surprisingly soft touch from 15′-18′.  He is averaging 11.9 points a game, and is the Gators leading rebounder at 7.1 per contest.

Chandler Parsons (he hit the 3pt shot that beat SC) is averaging 10.7 points/6.6 boards, and he often looks to pop out for 3’s (shooting 35%).  Reserve Dan Werner is another guy that will shoot it from beyond the arc, yet so far this season he connecting only 30.2% of the time.

You may be noticing trend in Florida’s shot selection on offense – they like to jack it up from downtown.

The Gators are second in the conference in team defense, surrendering only 62.8 points per game.  However, they are second to last in blocks per game with only 2.95 per outing.  They do a good job of guarding the perimeter, but their bigs do not give them much support on the inside (Tyus and Parsons are awfully thin and struggle against wider opponents).

Keys to the Game

Handle the Pressure – Coach Fox’s team should expect to see a lot of full-court pressure from the Gators on Wednesday.  In last Saturday’s win over Tennessee, Georgia only saw token pressure from the Vols when bringing it up the court.  I expect Billy Donovan’s team to run a more aggressive full-court trap press, trying to force Georgia into turnovers.  The Gators prefer to play up-tempo, and will want to make this game somewhat chaotic and fast-paced.  Dustin Ware, Ricky McPhee, Vincent Williams and EA (Ebuka Anyaorah) need to play strong with the ball.  Trey Thompkins, Jeremy Price and Albert Jackson must be careful with their ball-reversal passes when taking on the press (can’t have a repeat of what happened at the end of the Mississippi State game).

Get in the (1-2-2) Zone! – Against Mississippi State and Tennessee, the Dawgs played in a 1-2-2 zone defense for the majority of both games (with Travis Leslie out on top).  This defensive set limits the number of quality looks for opponents from 3-point range.  Georgia held MSU and UT to 25.8% and 18.8% from beyond the arc, respectively.  Hopefully Fox will have his team in the same defense on Wednesday, ready to challenge and contest all Gator 3-point field goal attempts.  With Georgia’s size inside I don’t see the Gators getting too many second chances.

OutFox Them – Last Saturday was a good day for both of these programs.  Georgia ended a 10-game losing streak with their upset of the #8 Vols, and Florida won their 3rd straight SEC game on a thrilling last-second shot by Chandler Parsons.  How will these teams handle their recent successes?  Luckily for Coach Donovan, his Gator team is playing at home and will have a rowdy crowd backing them up.  Mark Fox has a greater challenge ahead of him – not only does he have to get his players focused on THIS game (and put the UT game in the past), but he also has to get them ready for another SEC road trip.  Hopefully Fox can keep his guys level-headed, and ready to dictate a slower tempo in this game.

The game tips off at 7PM EST and will be televised on CSS.  On the radio, you can listen to the first half on 750AM, and the second half on 97.1FM.

Side notes:

-Pat Forde of ESPN gave Mark Fox his “Coach who earned his comp car this week” award in his this week’s “Forde Minutes”.  He also proceeded to mention what none of us Georgia fans dare say at this point for fear that it won’t come true…the Dawgs have an outside shot at finishing .500 in the SEC.

-Congratulations again to Travis Leslie for nabbing the SEC Player of the Week award.  His dunks are becoming a regular part of ESPN’s Sportscenter highlights.

-During the Kentucky-South Carolina game on Tuesday night, ESPN analyst Jimmy Dykes (who was calling the game for ESPN) mentioned that he was looking forward to the Georgia-Florida matchup on Wednesday night.  Dykes went on to proclaim the Dawgs as the best team in the country to be ranked last in a conference, citing wins over Georgia Tech, Illinois and Tennessee.

Bonus side note from Hoop Dawg:

This is my first year with this blog, and I just wanted to say that I am loving all the comments!  Keep them coming…

It’s great to know that there are so many other fans of UGA basketball out there, and I love having a place like this where we can discuss the team, coaches, players, opponents, etc.

Anybody smell a Gator upset?