Florida stops Georgia’s momentum in its tracks

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The Georgia Bulldogs (15-15, 5-12) came into Wednesday’s game against Florida in the midst of their best stretch of basketball all season. Winners of 3 of the last 4 games, UGA had to feel confident that they had a chance to avenge an earlier loss to the Gators, a game in which Georgia let a 22-point lead evaporate.

Sadly, the rematch resembled the first game between these two teams in several key ways, and the Dawgs emerged as the loser once again. Here are a few thoughts on what went down on Senior Night in Athens:

The turning point in the game

Tye Fagan’s layup with a little under 8 minutes to go in the game gave Georgia a 46-45 advantage in what had been a tight contest. Key words: “had been”. In less than 3 minutes, the Dawgs managed to commit 3 turnovers that coincided with a pair of triples from Noah Locke and an uncontested dunk from Keyontae Johnson that sent the Gators up 55-46 with 5:08 left. Locke hit another triple 3 minutes later that gave Florida a 64-52 lead and UGA fans a reason to head for the exits.

It all happened so quickly that I didn’t even have time to get properly frustrated and watch the lead slip away; instead, it vanished in an instant. Mike White’s team closed out the game on a 23-8 run as they completed the season sweep of this young UGA team.

UGA defense didn’t return from the locker room for the 2nd half

Florida entered this one as the best shooting team in SEC play. The Gators had been hitting almost 47% from the floor and nearly 38% from the perimeter. Through the first half against UGA, Florida had mustered just 41% on field goals and they had missed all 10 of their attempts from beyond the arc. The Bulldogs held the Gators, a team that was netting almost 74 a game, to just 28 points at the half.

Half number two was a different story, though. The UGA defense either became winded or just less interested in rotating and covering the perimeter. Florida took advantage and buried 7 of 13 three-point attempts to go along with a robust 54% shooting effort from the floor. The Dawgs have struggled all season to put together a defensive effort for a full game, and tonight was no different. Actually, this game was eerily similar to the loss in Gainesville in that Georgia kept Florida in check for the first 20 minutes (26 points) until letting the floodgates burst open after the intermission (55 points). I suppose Tom Crean’s team can take some solace in the fact that they only permitted the Gators net 40 on them in the final twenty minutes.

Georgia stars struggled

After taking just 2 shots in the first half, Anthony Edwards immediately asserted himself into the flow of the 2nd half as he drew 3 fouls attacking the basket in less than 3 minutes. He had 4 points as well during this stretch and the Dawgs had built up a 6-point cushion. However, aside from a monstrous dunk several minutes later, the Ant Man never really got any kind of offensive rhythm going in this one. He finished with 14 points, but that came at the expense of a 3 for 10 shooting effort from the floor and 3 turnovers.

Probably more frustrating for Tom Crean, though, was the disappearance of Rayshaun Hammonds in the second half. For whatever reason, Hammonds has struggled to stay engaged on offense for entire games this season even though he is an integral part of this team’s scheme on that side of the ball. The junior played a solid first half as he notched 10 points and snagged 7 boards. After the break, though, Hammonds scored only 2 more points and he ended up with 6 turnovers on the night. Two of those giveaways came during the aforementioned “turning point” when this UGA squad needed an upperclassmen to settle things down as Florida made its run.

Up next:

The Dawgs close out the regular season with a road trip to Baton Rouge to take on LSU.

Postseason projection:

None

Box score:

Dawgs end losing streak (and possibly Florida’s NCAA chances)

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Georgia closes one out

Jalen Hudson hit a jumper to cut Georgia’s (11-18, 2-14) advantage to 51-50 with 4:13 left in the game. On the road in a must-win game for the home team, this was the moment where UGA should have folded. Instead, the Dawgs went 4 for 4 from the floor during the final 4 minutes, which enabled Tom Crean’s team to preserve a 61-55 victory that snapped a 13-game conference losing streak.

This one had to feel good for just about everyone involved.

Jordan Harris, who was less involved offensively as he had been recently, converted maybe his biggest field goal of his career on a drive that sent the Dawgs up 59-55 with only 27 seconds remaining.

Nic Claxton also contributed two buckets during the aforementioned stretch. Claxton finished with a career-high 25 points as he shouldered the majority of the offense in this one with teammate Rayshaun Hammonds playing limited minutes due to a foot injury. Claxton knocked down both his three-point attempts, and he abused the Florida big men off the dribble for much of the night. This effort by the Georgia sophomore was certainly the first time this season he has played the part of “go-to” man for this team for the entire game, and it’s certainly a good look for Claxton.

UGA’s man defense

Tom Crean and his staff deserve a huge “attaboy” for the scout job and defensive strategy that they put together for this one. Coach Crean had his team matchup in a man defense for most of this contest, and Florida had no answer, especially as the the UGA defenders switched on nearly everything in an attempt to better contest perimeter shots. After the initial 6 minutes of play, the Gators had scored only 6 points as they struggled to adjust to the relentless Georgia pressure.

Georgia’s defensive numbers in this game were just sublime. UGA held the Gators to their second-lowest offensive output in SEC play, with lowest being the 54 points Florida mustered against Kentucky; the Gators shot under 40% from the floor, and they made only 5 of their 21 three-point attempts. KeVaughn Allen, who’s been netting nearly 15 points a night in league games, managed just 5 points on a forgettable 1 for 10 shooting performance. Georgia did such a good job of blanketing Allen that at times it was easy to forget that the senior was even participating in this contest.

The only flaw in the Georgia defensive effort was the Dawgs’ inability to secure defensive rebounds, which has been a struggle for this team all season. UGA entered this game 11th in the league in defensive rebound percentage (67%), which is the number of defensive boards a team gets plus the number of offensive rebounds yielded divided by its total rebounds. This statistic basically illuminates how well a team is at preventing opponents from getting second-chance opportunities because the higher the defensive rebound percentage, the less offensive rebounds a team is allowing. On Saturday, Georgia yielded 12 offensive rebounds to the Gators, and fortunately for Tom Crean’s team those only resulted in 6 second-chance points for Florida.

Dawgs flip the script

The basic narrative for a UGA basketball game this season, especially in league play, has been something like this:

  • Georgia takes lead early
  • Dawgs get careless with the ball and fall apart towards the end of the first half (most likely trail by double-digits)
  • UGA plays itself back into the game to start second half
  • Georgia either fades down the stretch and inevitably loses (possibly in heartbreaking fashion)

This one started out according to script, with UGA opening up an 18-8 advantage with 11:18 left in the half after Claxton buried a triple. The Dawgs were careless with the basketball as they turned it over 11 times in the first half, and those mishaps led to 15 Gator points. However, UGA’s defense kept them in it and that was a huge reason why Georgia trailed by just a point at the intermission. As frustrating as it must have been for Tom Crean to see his team shoot 55% from the floor prior to the break and still be down, he had to take some satisfaction in that the giveaways did not turn into a huge Florida lead.

The Gators came out of the gates firing on all cylinders to start the second half as Mike White’s team scored 6 quick points to build up a 34-27 lead. But Georgia hung around and methodically continued to chip away at the Florida advantage until Tye Fagan buried a triple that helped his team retake the lead 41-39 with over 11 minutes of gametime remaining. Even more importantly, Georgia only turned the ball over 4 times following the intermission, and Florida managed just 1 point off those hiccups.

The end of the game, which I covered at the top of this post, was obviously different than the last 4 game’s story lines because Georgia learned how to close out and finish.

Final thoughts

This team has been on the cusp of snapping this losing streak for two weeks now, and the fact that the Dawgs, who have suffered a string of crushingly close losses, continued to play with a lot of fight and intensity is a testament to both the players and Coach Crean.

Georgia ending its losing streak without its second-leading scorer is just another aspect of this contest that makes last night’s win even more amazing. Add in the salt that Florida fans have to be feeling considering that A) this transpired on their court and B) this loss could eliminate the Gators from an at-large bid, and UGA fans should be all smiles on Sunday.

Box score:

Why Georgia lost to Florida on Saturday

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There’s a reason the Florida Gators entered Saturday’s game with the 3rd best defense in the SEC in league games, and it’s because Mike White does a great job of mixing up his defensive looks. For nearly the entire game, Florida showed the Dawgs (9-8, 1-4) a full-court zone press on any makes or turnovers that they transitioned into a little half-court trap. The Gators ran some man-to-man, and they occasionally showed some match-up zone.

All of these sets were highly-effective at keeping the Bulldogs off-balanced offensively. Other than the initial stretch of the second half, Georgia’s offensive resembled a game of “Hot Potato” for much of this one. The Dawgs committed 20 costly turnovers in this game that led to 28 Gator points.

Another tactic that Mike White used with his team in zone was that he had his guys double Nic Claxton any time he touched the ball inside. This strategy worked well for Florida and really frustrated Claxton, who had 0 points in the first half. The sophomore had as many turnovers (4) as field goal attempts by the time the teams went to the intermission. Claxton would finish with 9 points in a game in which he constantly had defenders swarming him whenever he received the ball on the block.

Has anyone else noticed that Georgia has been pressed relentlessly for the majority of SEC play? Expect this trend to continue as teams will seek to exploit UGA’s glaring weakness – its guards – until the season ends on either Wednesday or Thursday of the SEC tournament. If you watch college basketball other than Georgia games, notice how good teams do not get pressed that often because it puts too much pressure on the defense to guard in transition. For UGA, though, this is not the case.

There were two stretches of this game that were particularly brutal for Tom Crean’s team. The first was the beginning of the game, which Georgia started out with 4 turnovers and misses on all 6 of its field goal attempts. Florida had an 8-0 lead less than 5 minutes into this game, which they basically used as a buffer for the remainder of the half as they took a 33-23 advantage into the break.

The other portion of this contest that was particularly hard to watch occured, unfortunately, in the final quarter of the game. After a nice drive and lay-up by Jordan Harris with 9:38 remaining, the Dawgs went on a nearly six-and-a-half minute drought that included 6 turnovers; the bleeding was stopped when Nic Claxton hit a pair of free throws to make it 55-50 Florida with 3:11 remaining.

This offensive lull was such a bummer after the offensive fireworks that the Dawgs displayed coming out of the locker room. Georgia started the second half red hot and went on a 19-7 run that enabled them to take a brief lead, and it served to wake up a Stegeman crowd that hadn’t really been given much to cheer for in the game’s initial 20 minutes.

Obviously, a large part of UGA’s struggles since conference play began can be attributed to the backcourt. However, guard play is not the only issue with this Georgia team. UGA’s frontcourt has begun to look rather ordinary as the Dawgs have gotten deeper into the SEC slate, particularly Rayshaun Hammonds.

Florida coach Mike White road his star player, Kevaughn Allen, during the last five minutes of the game, and Allen answered the call as he scored 7 of his game-high 13 points. Hammonds, who is still UGA’s leading scorer at 13.7 ppg, was nowhere to be found. The sophomore put up a goose egg and committed 4 turnovers; other than a big second half against Vandy, Hammonds has basically been a no-show in SEC play, where he’s now averaging just 5.4 ppg. Rayshaun’s inability to step and be an offensive leader is putting additional, and unnecessary, pressure on the Georgia guards.

I continue to see the hashtag #TrustTheProcess in regards to the program on Twitter, and I most certainly do. I have full faith in Tom Crean as both an innovative offensive coach and an excellent recruiter who will take this program to a higher level. However, I feel that this season is more about giving Crean a break for the dearth of talent that Mark Fox left behind at the point guard position, which is making life really hard for UGA in conference play.

Box Score:

Examining Georgia & Florida by their SEC numbers

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Both Georgia (9-7, 1-3) and Florida (9-7, 1-3) will be looking to shake themselves out of a four-way tie for 9th in the conference when the teams lock up in Athens tomorrow. For UGA, the season thus far is going about as expected as the Dawgs were pegged to finish 13th in the SEC prior to the start of league play. Florida, however, has been a bit of a disappointment considering the media predicted the Gators to be the 5th best team in the conference before the season began.

The only common opponent that these two teams share currently is Tennessee, who bested Florida 78-67 in Gainesville last weekend; however, that result was a heck of a lot more competitive than the 46-point drubbing the Dawgs took at the hands of the Vols in Knoxville earlier this month.

Now that we’ve transitioned to conference play, statistics in SEC games become far more insightful than cumulative season stats. At this point, I’m not interested in how Rayshaun Hammonds performs against a Savannah State, Sam Houston State, Illinois State or Texas Southern; his play against conference competition, which hasn’t been stellar thus far (6.7 ppg), is a much stronger measuring stick.

Without further adieu, here is how the Dawgs and Gators stack up numbers-wise through four SEC games:

Offense

  • Scoring offense: Florida 12th (65.2), Georgia 13th (64.8)
  • FG%: Georgia 12th (38.8%), Florida 14th (36.6%)
  • 3-Point%: Florida 9th (30.8%), Georgia 14th (24.5%)
  • 3-Point FG per game: Florida 3rd (9.3), Georgia 12th (6.3)
  • Turnover margin: Florida 1st (+4), Georgia 13th (-3.8)

Defense

  • Scoring defense: Florida 3rd (67.8), Georgia 11th (80.2)
  • FG% defense: Georgia 11th (44.7%), Florida 12th (45.4%)
  • 3-Point FG% defense: Georgia 12th (35.4%), Florida 14th (38.1%)
  • Rebounding margin: Florida 10th (-3.8), Georgia 13th (-6.8)
  • Blocked shots: Georgia 1st (6.5), Florida 12th (2.8)
  • Steals: Florida 7th (6.5), Georgia 10th (5.8)
  • Defensive Reb.%: Florida 7th (67.5%), Georgia 14th (61.5%)

Other than a few outliers, both of these teams are near the bottom of the SEC in more than a few important categories. Neither squad has been impressive offensively, though Florida’s team defense hasn’t been too shabby. Statistically, I’d say the Gators have a slight edge, but the fact that the game is in Athens should tip the scales in UGA’s favor a bit. In other words, I expect a competitive game tomorrow.

3 quick takeaways from UGA’s 72-69 win over Florida

MatenSZN

What can be said about Yante Maten that hasn’t already been said?  The guy is on pace to lead the SEC in both points and rebounds, and he’s has to be in serious consideration for the conference’s Player of the Year award.  The senior willed his team to an improbable comeback in a game that Georgia trailed for the majority of regulation.  The Dawgs rode Maten in the second half as they fed him the ball inside religiously.  Yante scored 16 of his 23 points after the intermission.  With the Dawgs trailing 59-53 and just 25 seconds remaining, the game appeared to be over.  On the next possession, however, Maten buried a triple with 17 seconds remaining that made it a one-possession ball game.  On the ensuing Gator in-bounds play, Jalen Hudson cut too hard and couldn’t control his momentum, which led to him traveling as he received the ball.  Then Yante Maten went all “1990s Reggie Miller vs. The New York Knicks” and hit another contested three-pointer that tied the game at 59-59 and sent it to overtime.

UGA defense

The Dawgs played incredibly stout man defense last night in Gainesville.  The UGA guards stayed in front of a talented Florida backcourt for much of the night and frustrated some of the better shooters in the SEC.  Georgia held Florida, a team that entered this contest scoring more than 77 a night, to just 59 points in regulation; the Gators shot under 38% from the floor. Jalen Hudson, the team’s leading scorer, was held to just 2 points, and Chris Chiozza could muster only 5 on an ugly 2 for 14 shooting performance.  With 10:03 left in the game and Florida up 50-39, Georigia’s defense put the clamps on and held the Gators without a field goal for nearly 8 minutes, which was eerily similar to the 9-minute stretch in the second half in Athens in which Florida failed to convert from the floor.  Egor Koulechov, who had 19 points, finally scored a bucket with 2:36 remaining, but by then UGA had trimmed the Gator advantage to 53-50.   Georgia’s defense certainly enabled this comeback.

The arrival of Tyree Crump

All season, Georgia has been searching for a point guard to create offense and replace some of the points that J.J. Frazier used to facilitate.  In the second half on Tuesday night, Tyree Crump started to look like that guy.  Crump finished with 13 points – 11 of which came after the break – including a clutch three-pointer that cut the Florida lead to 57-53 with only 1:08 left in regulation.  Crump also had 5 assists, several of which led to wide-open dunks for Derek Ogbeide (who had 10 points on the night).  I know the knock against Crump has been his defense, but he looked good last night on Chiozza; the Florida senior had trouble getting open looks with Crump constantly pestering him.  Over the last stretch of regulation and then into overtime, Tyree played with more confidence than I’ve seen him display in his nearly two years in Athens.

Quick recap: Dawgs upset Gators 72-60 to earn huge SEC win

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Maten’s 20 points carried his team in tonight’s win over Florida

Below is the box score from tonight’s game and some quick thoughts on what were the keys to Georgia’s (13-8; 4-5) victory:

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Big defensive effort

Georgia’s defense suffocated Florida inside Stegeman this evening, especially down the stretch.  After Jalen Hudson hit a three-pointer to put his team up 51-48 with 10:40 left in the game, the Gators went over 9 minutes before converting another field goal.  But by the time Keith Stone made said triple, his Gators were down 66-56 with just 1:09 to play.  Florida shot 2 for 19 over the final 10 minutes of this contest.  Granted, the Gators definitely became a little selfish during this span and didn’t necessarily run much of an offense, but credit the Bulldog defense for making life difficult for Mike White’s team when the game was on the line.

The Dawgs held Florida to just 60 points, which is the Gators’ lowest offensive output of the season.  Mike White’s team entered this game scoring 81 points a night and shooting nearly 45% from the floor; tonight Georgia limited Florida to under 37% on its field goal attempts.

Responding at the right time

We all know the old adage that basketball is a game of runs, but this game REALLY was a game of runs.  With Georgia trailing 24-18 with 6:47 remaining in the first half, Tyree Crump came off the bench to bury a triple and cut the Gator lead in half.  Crump would hit another three-pointer two possessions later, and his hot hand sparked a 15-2 UGA spurt that was capped off by an emphatic dunk from Yante Maten which made it 33-26, Georgia, and enabled the Dawgs to carry a 37-32 lead into the intermission.

Florida started the second half with guns ablazin’ and ran off a 12-2 run in less than 3 minutes that gave them a 44-39 edge.  This was the moment when Georgia fans began to wonder if UGA was destined to lose its grip on another big lead a la the Auburn and Arkansas games.  Luckily, the players had shorter memories and didn’t seemed fazed by the rejuvenated Florida team that returned for the second half; the Dawgs went on a 14-3 run over a nearly 7-minute span that saw a 48-43 Gator lead evaporate and turn into a 57-51 UGA advantage.  And then of course the Georgia defense (highlighted above) kept the clamps on the Gators and enabled Georgia to earn another RPI Top 50 win (with Florida sitting at 38 before the game).

Bench steps up

Mark Fox got 20 points and some overall solid contributions from his bench tonight.  In addition to his two three’s, Crump also had a pair of boards and two nice assists. Jordan Harris had 7 points himself to go along with 5 boards, and he probably had his best dribble-drive of the season on a take through the lane late in the second half.  But the biggest effort of the night for a UGA player that didn’t start had to be the play of freshman Nicolas Claxton.  Claxton continues to be a force on the offensive glass, where he hauled down 4 of his 8 boards.  I was surprised to find that he only had 3 blocks because honestly it felt like he had more with the way he’s altering shots in the paint.  At this point, it seems that Claxton has wrested Mike Edwards’s spot of “first big off the bench”, and at this rate he may play himself into a starting role as he appears to be gaining ground on Derek Ogbeide.

Up next

Georgia hits the road to take on Mississippi State in Starkville this Saturday night.  The Maroon Dawgs have been rather stout at home, where they have earned wins over Missouri, Vanderbilt and Arkansas.

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!