Just how good is the high school basketball talent in Georgia?

Dennis Felton’s demise at Georgia, which was briefly stalled by a miraculous tornado-driven SEC Tournament Championship in 2008, ultimately came to roost because of the coach’s inability to keep the top high school basketball talent in state.

Mark Fox was hired because he had recruited well and made a winner out of Nevada, and I suppose the thinking inside the UGA Athletic Department was that with Atlanta just a little over an hour away, Fox could start convincing some of these talented Peach state recruits to stay home and play in the Red and Black.

As a former high school basketball player in DeKalb County, one of Atlanta’s biggest school districts, I’ve always felt that this city was loaded with high-end basketball talent, as I played against a number of major Division-I commits.  For years, college basketball analysts have labeled Atlanta a “hotbed” for recruiting, but I wanted to take a more objective look for myself.  Here is what I was able to dig up:

  • According to Hero Sports, Georgia has produced the 7th highest number of Division-I basketball players this season with 225.
  • In 2015, Georgia and Wisconsin tied for 7th place among states (with 13 players apiece) in regards to the number of players on rosters of teams ranked in the  AP Preseason Top 25.
  • Georgia produced the 5th most (44) Division-I college basketball players relative to its college-age male populations, according to a 2014 Deadspin article.
  • Georgia currently has 12 players from the state ranked on the 2017 ESPN100 list of the nation’s best recruits, the most of any other state.  The next closest state to Georgia is California, which has a total of 8 players on the same list.  Considering the population differential between those two states, I’d say that the fact that Georgia boasts 4 more blue chips than Cali is quite significant.  Below are the number of ESPN100 recruits from the state of Georgia during the Mark Fox era:
    • 2017 = 12
    • 2016 = 9
    • 2015 = 6
    • 2014 = 4
    • 2013 = 2
    • 2012 = 9
    • 2011 = 6
    • 2010 = 5

Maybe the most telling statistic from all of this is that over the past 8 years the state of Georgia has put 53 players on the ESPN 100 lists, and UGA has landed 3 of them: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Tyree Crump and Rayshawn Hammonds.  Not including next year’s class with Hammonds, Fox will have signed one of these ESPN100 guys at a rate of just under 1 every 3 years during his time in Athens.

If a UGA basketball coach could ever manage to land one of these ESPN100 recruits every season, the Dawgs would probably be dancing nearly every March.





Georgia shows up on some early Bracketology sites

On the eve of Georgia’s SEC home opener against the #23 Arkansas Razorbacks, Coach Mark Fox’s team landed in both ESPN and CBS’s initial Bracketology reports for 2015.  Coincidentally, the Dawgs showed up as a 10-seed in the Midwest Region of both brackets, though the two networks had them playing different 7-seed opponents.  ESPN’s Joe Lunardi currently has UGA squaring off with St. John’s in a second round game in Columbus, Ohio.  CBS’s Jerry Palm placed the Dawgs in the second round as well, pairing them with the Iowa State Cyclones.

While Georgia failed to crack into either of this week’s AP or Coaches Polls (though they did receive 4 votes in the Coaches), the fact that Fox’s team appeared in both of these early bracket estimates certainly demonstrates that some members of the media are beginning to take note of this team’s non-conference accomplishments (primarily, a convincing win over surging Seton Hall).

Georgia Bulldog basketball tidbits

The Georgia Bulldogs’ RPI received a small jolt on Sunday, moving from 21 to 18 in ESPN’s latest update, following Stony Brook’s upset of #13 Washington in Seattle.  The Dawgs coasted by Stony Brook 80-70 back on November 18th in Athens.  As the nonconference schedule winds down this week, UGA fans need to dust off their pom poms and start cheering for some of Georgia’s previous competition – even, ahem, Georgia Tech, who is currently 8-3 and boasting an RPI of 38.  The Dawgs’ RPI is being bolstered by their strong strength of schedule, which at the moment is listed as the 9th most difficult in the country, thanks in part to the two impending games that Georgia has coming up with #1 Kentucky.  While Georgia obviously needs to keep winning more than it loses if they hope to be in the NCAA tournament discussion, UGA can also benefit from solid seasons by teams like Gonzaga, Colorado, Minnesota and Seton Hall.

Another factor that is supporting Georgia’s RPI position is the fact that they do not have any “bad losses” – yet.  Had UGA not succeeded in getting by Mercer last week in three overtimes, Coach Mark Fox’s team would be lamenting a loss to the Bears, who are all the way down to 268 on the RPI scale. This week, the Dawgs have games against Kansas State and Norfolk State, who have RPI’s of 168 and 183, respectively.  Going into Manhattan on Wednesday will be a tough test for the Dawgs, and it almost seems unfair to UGA that they would be penalized for a road loss at KSU – but, such might be the case in the fickle world of college basketball should the Dawgs drop Wednesday’s contest.  Even though K-State is a Big 12 team, losing to an opponent with an RPI over 150 might be difficult for the NCAA selection committee to stomach come March.

One of Georgia’s biggest unknowns coming into this season was freshman Yante Maten, who Coach Fox inserted into the lineup immediately this season with the hopes that he might provide some scoring in the frontcourt.  However, Maten’s biggest contribution thus far has been on the defensive side of the ball, where he is blocking 2.2 shots per game, which is tied for 47th in the country.  The freshman has already tallied 4 or more blocks in three games this year, coming against Stoney Brook, Chattanooga and Seton Hall.

Georgia, though, has been getting it done as a team defensively this season as well.  The Dawgs are blocking nearly 6 shots per contest as a team, which is 18th best in the nation.  On the boards, Georgia is hauling in 41 rebounds a night, which is 21st in the country; and more importantly, the Dawgs are controlling the defensive glass, where they are grabbing a over 29 boards per game, putting them at 6th in the country in that category.

Oh, and Georgia got 2 votes in this week’s Coaches Poll.

Georgia wins its third conference road game, downing Vols 68-62 in Knoxville

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope must not want to relinquish last week’s SEC Player of the Week award because after tonight’s 24-point performance in Knoxville he is well on his way to claiming it again.

Pope played magnificently on Wednesday night for his team, burying 5 of 7 three-pointers – all of which came when Georgia’s lead was just 5 points or less.

In the game’s final two minutes, with Tennessee trailing by only 3 points, KCP was as poised as ever. The sophomore calmly scored 5 unanswered points, including a clutch three-pointer with a Vols’ defender in his face to put Georgia up 66-58 with only 51 seconds remaining. Those points were the nail in UT’s coffin, and the Dawgs would head back to the locker room (singing all the way) with a 68-62 SEC road victory – their third of the season.

While KCP was the main storyline for the Bulldogs on Wednesday, Georgia also got significant contributions from guards Vincent Williams and Kenny Gaines, who chipped in 10 and 12 points, respectively. Both of these guys also made big field goals down the stretch with less than 4 minutes left that helped the Dawgs maintain their advantage over Tennessee (Gaines’s baseline jumper at the 2:37 mark served to ease the memories of his back-to-back first-half bank shots).

Even though Tennessee’s star players – Jordan McRae and Jarnell Stokes – managed to score 17 and 16 points, respectively, the UGA defensive pressure for much of the night was quite strong. The Dawgs held the Vols to just 3 of 11 shooting from beyond the arc, and they forced Coach Martin’s team into 13 turnovers (11 of which came in the first half).

Georgia began the game white-hot, nailing 7 of their 13 three-point attempts before the break. On the evening, the Dawgs finished with 11 three’s, their highest output of the season from beyond the arc.

The victory this evening puts the Dawgs’ overall record at an even 11-11, and they have now gone over the .500 mark in SEC play with a 5-4 record. This win is UGA’s fourth in a row in league play, which is something that hasn’t been done since 2003, under coach Jim Harrick. Something tells me that Coach Fox’s team managed this streak legitimately, though.

Georgia is tied with Arkansas for six place in the conference, and with the way this team is playing and improving a 10-win SEC season does not sound nearly as out of the question as it might have a month ago.

Georgia opens up SEC play in Gainesville

The Georgia Bulldogs (6-7) will begin conference play on Wednesday as they head south to take on the #11 Florida Gators (10-2).

The Gators returned a solid core of players – Kenny Boynton, Patrick Young, Erik Murphy – this season from a team that was just a basket away from reaching the Final Four in last year’s NCAA Tournament. ESPN’s Myron Metcalf likes Florida to win the SEC, citing senior forward/center Erik Murphy as a critical portion of that prediction. Murphy – Florida’s second-leading scorer at 12.1 ppg – is a big body to contend with inside at 6’10”, yet he possesses a surprisingly soft touch from the outside, hitting over 45% of his three-point attempts.

Unfortunately for Florida Coach Billy Donovan, Murphy is listed as “doubtful” for the game against Georgia, and he may miss up to two weeks with a rib injury.

The Gators will definitely miss Murphy’s offense on Wednesday night, and his absence is certainly a huge plus for a UGA team that could use any and every possible advantage available in their first SEC road game of 2013.

Coach Mark Fox’s defense must capitalize on the weakened Florida lineup by centering much of their defensive focus on shutting down senior guard Kenny Boynton. Boynton, a preseason First-Team All-SEC selection, leads the Gators with nearly 14 points per contest, and he is an extremely streaky shooter with the ability to change games quickly from the perimeter.

However, in each of Florida’s two losses this season – Arizona and Kansas State – Boynton struggled to score, managing just 16 total points on a combined 6 for 21 shooting performance from the floor. In both of the aforementioned games, Boynton shot woefully from beyond the arc, making only 2 of his 12 attempts.

The message for the Georgia backcourt: Stop Boynton and you might stop Florida.

If the Dawgs can contain Boynton and not let junior Patrick Young hurt them too much in the paint, they may find themselves hanging around late in the game – Vegas doesn’t think so though, slotting Georgia as an 18-point underdog in this one.

Young is monster in the frontcourt, standing 6’9″ and weighing nearly 250lbs (most of which appears to be solid muscle). He is chipping in over 10 points and almost 7 boards a night for Billy Donovan thus far.

Georgia is riding a four-game win streak into Gainesville, though I would like to note that the team they face on Wednesday night is going to look nothing like the squads UGA entertained in Athens in December. In addition, this game will be the first conference game of the year for the freshmen, meaning that “playtime” is over for Charles Mann and Brandon Morris – from here on out, the defenders are going to be bigger and quicker across the board.

Finally, Coach Fox must continue to get solid offensive production from sophomore big Nemanja Djurisic. The Montenegro Express has been scorching hot the past two games, averaging 19 points and 6 rebounds. The Dawgs have to be able to rely on Neme to help supplement some of the scoring in SEC play so that Kentavious Caldwell-Pope does not have to do it all himself.

Oh yeah – the last time Georgia won a game at the O’Connell Center was over a decade ago (2002).

Georgia takes on Iona in Athens on Saturday

The Georgia Bulldogs (2-6) return to action on Saturday after nearly a two-week layoff from the hard courts to take on the Iona Gaels (3-4) of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC).

Georgia’s lackluster start to the 2012-2013 season earned them the esteemed position of “bottom rung” in the latest SEC Conference Power Rankings by ESPN. Considering this team’s first month of basketball I’d say that this week’s ranking was well-deserved, since the Dawgs’ only victories thus far have come over Jacksonville and East Tennessee State (both of whom possess losing records).

Despite the rather big hole that Georgia has dug themselves into, this holiday schedule does provide UGA with an opportunity to right the ship before they open up SEC play at #5 Florida on January 9th (eeek!). If Georgia were able to notch victories in their next five games – all of which are at home – the Dawgs could take a winning record into the conference schedule.

Though Iona is rolling into Athens with a 3-4 record, Georgia need be concerned about the Gaels because of their ability to score the basketball, something UGA has not shown a prowess for yet this season. Iona is netting nearly 79 points per game, and they have eclipsed the 90-point mark twice already this season. Georgia, conversely, has yet to crack 70 points in a game this year.

The Gaels run with a four-guard offense and they will look to push the basketball at every opportunity. Iona gets over 50% of its scoring from senior guard Lamont “Momo” Jones and junior Sean Armand, who contribute 21.7 ppg and 19.9 ppg, respectively, ranking them 7th and 29th in the nation in points per game. Jones creates his points off the dribble, while Armand is a lights-out shooter, knocking down a robust 48% of his attempts from the three-point line.

If Georgia sleepwalks into the start of this game, as they have done in previous contests this season, they could find themselves trailing the Gaels by a wide margin. The Gaels buried Wake Forest 94-68 on November 17th, and they just lost an 81-73 heart-breaker to Rutgers last Saturday in Madison Square Garden. Iona should be unfazed by the confines of Stegeman Coliseum, and this team is highly capable of extending Georgia’s losing streak to three games.

As far as the Dawgs are concerned, I’d really just like to see something different, either offensively or defensively (or both). Before the Georgia Tech game, I highlighted the fact that UGA might benefit from playing a bit more up-tempo, considering the ineffectiveness of their halfcourt game. Hopefully this layover has given Coach Mark Fox some time to implement some press looks that could serve to move the ball up and down the court quicker. With athletes like Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Kenny Gaines and Brandon Morris, I see no reason why Georgia cannot attempt to play with a little more urgency.

Before this season began, Coach Fox expressed his excitement about working with and coaching this group of Bulldogs. Now, it’s time for his team to show us why.

Clippers send Travis Leslie to D-League

As if the 79-49 whipping that the Georgia men’s basketball team received last night at the hands of Kentucky wasn’t damaging enough to the psyche of the UGA players and fans, today the Bulldog program took another shot on the chin as its NBA representation was slashed by 25% with the Los Angeles Clippers’ demotion of Travis Leslie.

Leslie, a three-year player for the Dawgs and a key member of last season’s NCAA Tournament team, was designated today – according to ESPN LA – to the Bakersfield Jam of the Developmental League.  He appeared in only 8 of the Clippers first 33 games, averaging 1.5 points and 1 rebound per game.

Travis Leslie’s latest tweet revealed some frustrations the young man obviously has with his team’s decision:

“How can u prove something when u don’t get a chance”

Leslie’s decision to forgo his senior season at Georgia raised a few eyebrows as many observers and fans thought that he might benefit from one more year of college basketball so that he could enhance his shooting and dribbling skills.

I do not know Travis Leslie’s family situation and what role that played in his choosing to leave early, but I am almost positive that some hot-shot agent filled his head with a lot of lofty promises that most likely nudged him towards turning pro.

I hope that Leslie makes the most of his opportunity in Bakersfield so that he will enjoy a speedy return to the NBA.

Georgia set to take on LSU Wednesday night

The Georgia Bulldogs (12-14; 3-9) and LSU Tigers (16-10; 6-6) were projected to finish 8th and 9th in the conference, respectively, heading into the 2011-2012 season.  At this point in the year, LSU has exceeded expectations while the Dawgs have come up a bit short.

The Tigers are riding a three-game win streak into Wednesday night’s game, while UGA will be looking shake off the remnants from last week’s losses in hopes of avoiding its third-straight conference loss.

LSU’s most recent win was a 68-58 victory over South Carolina in Columbia last Saturday, something Georgia failed to accomplish a week ago from Wednesday.

LSU Coach Trent Johnson, who was Fox’s boss at Nevada for four years, is on the verge of doing something special with this Tiger team in his fourth season as their leader.  LSU hasn’t been listed on Joe Lunardi’s Bracketology or the ESPN Bubble Watch (yet), but a win over Georgia on Wednesday and they might start turning some heads with a winning SEC record.

The Tigers have knocked off two ranked teams this year – #10 Marquette and then-ranked #23 Mississippi State.  LSU has defended home turf pretty well this season in conference play, notching a 5-1 record at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.

When breaking down the Tigers statistically, it is hard to find any one category that they have really excelled at in league games (other than their 6 wins).  Similarly to Georgia, LSU ranks outside the top half of the SEC in scoring offense, scoring defense, field goal percentage, field goal percentage defense and rebounding margin.  I’ve only seen them play a couple of games this year and the best thing I can say about this Tiger team is that they know how to find ways to win at the end of games (unlike Coach Fox’s Dawgs).

The biggest problem for the Bulldogs on Wednesday will be finding a way to limit 7′ (260 pound) junior center Justin Hamilton, who is putting together a solid SEC season – scoring 15.8 points and hauling down 7.5 boards per contest.  Hamilton is a lot to contend with in the paint, yet that will be the challenge for John Florveous and Co.

Freshman point guard Anthony Hickey has been superb running Coach Johnson’s offense so far this season, netting 10.6 points and dishing out nearly 4 assists in conference games.

Georgia’s Kentavious-Caldwell Pope has been in a horrid funk as of late, which probably played a large part in the team’s recent struggles against both Vanderbilt and South Carolina.  In these two UGA losses, KCP mustered only 15 points while shooting an abysmal 6 for 25 from the floor.  During the same stretch of games, Pope’s combined 1 for 14 performance from beyond the arc was equally forgettable.

In the Dawgs’ 3 SEC wins this season, KCP has averaged 15.7 points and shot nearly 35% on his three-point attempts.  Conversely – in the 9 conference losses – Pope’s numbers are noticeably lower, with him scoring only 13.1 points and hitting just 31% from beyond the arc.

It is no secret to any UGA basketball fan that as KCP goes, so go the Dawgs.

I’m going to make one last plug for the NIT – probably out of blind love for Georgia more than anything else (like logic) – and I promise if LSU wins on Wednesday I will not mention this post-season tournament again on this blog for the rest of the season.

However, I cannot give up on the Bulldogs’ NIT chances when they are still ever so slightly within reach.  All Georgia has to do is win in Baton Rouge, and then defend Stegeman against #11 Florida and South Carolina (even an optimist like myself has to chalk the impending game in Lexington down in the loss column for UGA).

Piece of cake, right?

Gators wallop Dawgs 70-48 in Gainesville

If you had told me before tonight’s game that Florida’s Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton would be held without a field goal until less than 5 minutes remained in the first half, I would have speculated that the Dawgs were giving the Gators all that they could handle.

Apparently Florida is a pretty deep team though, and despite the slow start for Billy Donovan’s backcourt in this one his Gator team was able to find scoring from other sources.

After falling behind 7-0 right off the bat, the Dawgs were able to crawl back into the game and only trailed Florida 13-9 following a heady off-the-backboard-self-pass-basket by Nemanja Djurisic.  Djurisic’s first-half offensive production, which included 10 total points, was critical to keeping the Bulldogs from being blown out before the intermission.

Florida reserve guard Mike Rosario scored 7 unanswered points to open up an 18-9 Gator lead with 9:44 left in the half.  Then freshman sensation Bradley Beal went nuts from beyond the arc, knocking down 3 (of his 4) threes prior to the break which opened up a 33-13 Gator lead.

Thankfully Nemi was able to sink 2 open three-point attempts that enabled the Dawgs to head to the locker room trailing 35-21.

Florida was on cruise control for most of the second half though, increasing their lead to 47-26 with 16:53 remaining in the game, following an Erving Walker three-pointer.

Georgia did make one last push at the Gators late in the game, and they were able to trim the margin to 56-43 after Dustin Ware knocked down his second shot of the half from beyond the arc.  The Bulldogs 10-4 run, however, was probably aided more by Florida’s lack of interest at that point than by Georgia’s own play.

Whatever the case, the Dawgs’ success was short-lived and the Gators closed out the game with a 14-5 run, securing a 70-48 victory along with their first conference win of the season.

The game never really felt that close and aside from Nemi Djurisic, who finished with 14 points and 6 rebounds, most of the Georgia players looked overwhelmed and out-matched in Gainesville on Tuesday night.

Kenny Boynton and Bradley Beal led the Gators with 17 points apiece, and sophomore big Patrick Young snagged 10 rebounds to go along with 8 points.

Georgia shot their typical 37% from the floor against Florida, and they were an abysmal 1 for 9 from the free throw line.  The Gators, on the other hand, hit 50% of their field goal attempts and made a stellar 15 of 18 free throws.

The result from Tuesday night’s game should not have come as a shock to many UGA basketball fans.  Along with being 0-2 in SEC play, Georgia has now dropped 10-straight contests at Florida, dating back to 2002.

As ESPN announcer Jimmy Dkyes mentioned 42 times on Tuesday night, the Dawgs are too thin inside and should be hurt by the lack of an inside game (thanks for the keen insight).  Despite the obviousness of Dykes’ comments, he is absolutely right and tonight’s game was just another example of how limited Coach Mark Fox’s team looks when playing against stronger opponents.

At Vanderbilt on Saturday.


CBE Classic

The Georgia Bulldogs (3-0)  are set to play the #22 California Bears (3-0) tonight at 9:45pm in the CBE Classic in Kansas City, Missouri (the game will be televised on ESPN2).  After games against Wofford, Bowling Green and South Dakota State, the Cal Bears should present a much more formidable challenge to Coach Mark Fox’s young team.

The oddsmakers in Las Vegas are expecting a close contest in tonight’s matchup, pegging the Bulldogs as a mere 6-point underdog.

Cal was picked to finish second in the newly-aligned Pac 12 prior to the start of the season, and the strength of this team resides in its backcourt, where the Bears boast two preseason All-Pac-12 First Team guards in senior Jorge Gutierrez and sophomore Allen Crabbe.  Crabbe is pacing Cal through three games this year with 16.7 ppg, while Gutierrez is chipping in 13.3 ppg as the team’s second-leading scorer.

As a team, Cal has been red-hot from beyond the arc so far this season, knocking down over 40% of its three-point attempts.

Georgia’s Donte Williams could have his hands full in the paint tonight trying to defend Cal senior Harper Kamp.  The Bears’ big man is a load inside, standing at 6’8″ and weighing nearly 250 pounds.  In the team’s first three games, Kamp  has  almost averaged a double-double, netting 9.7 ppg and nabbing 8.3 rpg.

Despite the Bears lofty preseason expectations and national ranking, Georgia does actually match-up fairly well with Cal.  Gerald Robinson, Jr. and KCP will be asked to defend Gutierrez and Crabbe, and if the Bulldogs guards are up to the challenge UGA should have an opportunity to hang around in this game.  GR2 and KCP are leading the Dawgs in scoring at 13.7 ppg and 13.3 ppg, respectively.

Robinson has played pretty well up to this point, but if Georgia is going to have success this season and surprise some teams, GR2 must assert himself more on offense.  Robinson, a preseason All-SEC Second Team selection, possesses a lightening quick first step to go along with tremendous speed.  He is obviously a fairly unselfish player by nature, but for the betterment of UGA basketball this year, I would like to see GR2 being a little more aggressive when Georgia has the ball because of his ability to create offense.

Finally, Georgia as a team has shot the ball atrociously so far this year, hitting only 40.4% from the field and an even uglier 23.9% from beyond the arc.  The Dawgs, who lack much of an inside scoring presence, will not be able to continue winning if their outside shooting does not improve – being undersized and lacking a perimeter game is a combination that does not bode well for teams in basketball.

Other than that, the cream puffs are out of the way and now the Dawgs are about to see what they are made of early in the season.  Georgia will get either #25 Missouri or Notre Dame on Tuesday, depending upon the outcomes of tonight’s games, and then they travel north to take on #14 Xavier this Friday.

If the Dawgs can’t correct their rebounding and shooting issues quickly, they could find themselves sitting at 3-3 by week’s end.