What is Georgia’s ceiling?

The Georgia Bulldogs will be navigating the waters of college basketball this season without Yante Maten, the team’s leading scorer from a year ago and an All-SEC regular.  UGA was picked to finish 13th in the Southeastern Conference by the media, and that’s totally fair.  Georgia struggled to put the ball in the basket last season as they averaged just 68 points a night, which was 301st in the nation in that category.  This team has to figure out how to score without the services of one of the program’s all-time best players in Maten.

Enter Tom Crean.  Georgia’s new skipper was brought in to breathe some life into a basketball program that had become rather mundane when it possessed the ball. No one will ever really know what Mark Fox’s goals were offensively except Fox and his players, but to the outside observer it appeared that Fox had an incredibly regimented set that didn’t allow for a lot of variation or creativity.

Under Crean, I expect to see Georgia push the ball in transition quite a bit more. When Crean was at Indiana, his teams ran a lot of extended, high-pressure defense that forced opposing teams into turnovers and rushed shots. These miscues allowed the Hoosiers to push the ball up the court relentlessly.   For the first three years of Crean’s tenure at Indiana, the Hoosiers were in rebuilding mode. However, once they started reaching the NCAA tournament on a regular basis, starting in 2011, Crean’s teams finished in the top twenty nationally in scoring 4 of the next 5 seasons.  Once the guy had his players and systems in place, his team had little trouble putting the ball in the basket.

Let’s get back to the Dawgs, though.  Georgia doesn’t return a single player that averaged in double-digits in scoring last year.  To think that Crean is going to just swoop in and turn this bunch into an 80+ppg juggernaut instantaneously would be asinine.  The Dawgs’ top returning scorers are William Jackson, Derek Ogbeide, Rayshaun Hammonds and Tyree Crump.  If Georgia is going to finish higher than the second-to-last spot that the media pegged them at it’s going to depend on the growth of both Hammonds and Crump under Crean.  Both of these guys were 4-star recruits coming out of high school, yet neither of them has lived up to their respective billings since arriving in Athens. To be fair to these players though, they weren’t given much freedom to be creative with the ball under Fox, so it will be interesting to see if they make the jump that Georgia so desperately needs them to this year under Crean.

Defensively, the Dawgs could be better this year as Jordan Harris (also a former 4-star recruit) returns to the team along with sophomore Nicolas Claxton, who I expect to be quite the shot-alterer this season.  While I’m hoping that Crump is a starter since I feel that he’s this team’s most legitimate backcourt scorer, the Dawgs could boast the most left-handed heavy lineup in the country should Crean decide to start Harris, Hammonds, Ogbeide and Claxton alongside Turtle.

Georgia brings in five new freshmen, with the 6’9″ 4-star forward Amanze Ngumezi and the 6’6″ 3-star wing JoJo Toppin being the most intriguing.  Ngumezi is a large-framed kid who was brought in to fill the void that Maten’s departure created. Obviously that’s not going to happen over night, but he’s going to be relied on to contribute off the bench right away.  Toppin is a high-flyer who should help Georgia with his slashing ability, which is something UGA hasn’t gotten from the wing position since Brandon Morris played.

Ultimately, this team is riddled with a lot of unknowns: new coach, new system, new players.  Let’s be clear – this is definitely a rebuilding year.  Georgia was 7-11 in the SEC a season ago and 18-15 overall; the Dawgs are going to have to fight to finish around .500 this year.  But that’s ok because I’m POSITIVE that this team will be more fun to watch.  Georgia fans need to think long-term in regards to Crean. I’m not talking Mark Fox “10-year plan” long-term; I’m thinking more like three.

Georgia won’t finish 13th in the league either.  The Dawgs will definitely prove the doubters wrong and end up 11th or 12th in the SEC, mark my words.



Quick reaction to Georgia’s 72-62 loss to UMASS

The Georgia Bulldogs (7-2) got a big-time reality check in Amherst on Saturday courtesy of the Massachusetts Minutemen (6-5).  After building some momentum heading into final exams with wins over St. Mary’s, Marquette and Winthrop, Georgia laid an egg and suffered a 72-62 loss to a .500 team with an RPI of 183.  The Dawgs’ NCAA Tournament hopes took a hit this afternoon as this one definitely qualifies as a “bad loss”.

UMASS went all Clubber Lang on Georgia from the start, jumping out to an 8-0 lead that quickly blossomed to 13-2 and then 24-7.  The Dawgs appeared disinterested in guarding the perimeter as they allowed the Minutemen, a team averaging 7.6 three’s a night, to hit 8 three-pointers in the first half (and finish with 12 on the night).  Luwane Pipkins, who scores a little over 18 ppg, was unstoppable in the first half as he scored 12 points on an array of three’s and off-balanced shots.

UMASS’s offensive onslaught left the Dawgs a bit shell-shocked, and in turn Georgia tried to press to much offensively to catch up, which led to a handful of bad looks by Coach Fox’s team.  Yante Maten, who finished with 20 points and 9 rebounds, scored 14 before the break on a 7 for 12 shooting performance; the rest of his team made only 3 of their 19 attempts from the floor.  The result: Georgia trailed 43-24 at halftime.

The Dawgs opened up the second half with a 12-5 run that cut the UMASS lead to 48-36.  Even better, Georgia found themselves in the bonus with over 15 minutes remaining in the game.  The Dawgs appeared poised to work themselves back into this one.  However, UGA only attempted 8 free throws for the remainder of the afternoon.

Even though the Dawgs were down by double-digits or more for nearly 37 minutes of this game, the real dagger came with a little under 8 minutes remaining.  At the time, UMASS led 60-47 until Pipkins buried a three-pointer from the top of the key with the shot clock expiring to push the Minutemen advantage to 63-47.  That shot seemed to take the air out of any hopes that Coach Fox’s team might have held regarding a late-game comeback.

Heading into this game, Georgia seemed to be on the up and up, which is probably why I feel like I have so many questions regarding what transpired today inside the Mullins Center.  I will sit them below:

Why did Jordan Harris, who has been used sparingly at best so far this season, play 17 minutes in the second half?  Harris shot a woeful 1 for 8 from the floor, yet Fox stuck with him for nearly the entire half.  Mark Fox’s substitution patterns are typically rapid and ongoing, but Harris somehow managed to avoid leaving the floor despite playing rather poorly.  The only reason I can see for Fox keeping him on the court is that he felt Harris needed the exercise.

-Why was Yante Maten assigned the task of defending Rashaan Holloway?  At over 300 pounds, Holloway was an absolute load to deal with in the paint.  He used his width to pound Maten inside as he scored 12 points in just 21 minutes of play (the big fella had to deal with some foul trouble).  Derek Ogbeide, who only had 1 personal foul, played only 2 minutes after the intermission.  It seems to me that he would have been more suited to bang with the mammoth Holloway, and Yante might have been less winded down the stretch if hadn’t had to work so hard on the defensive side of the ball.

-Why was Tyree Crump left on the bench?  Tyree Crump is a scorer, pure and simple.  Georgia shot under 36% from the floor today, and they desperately needed an offensive spark from the bench.  Crump even went so far as to provide that spark late in the second half when he entered the game and sunk consecutive three-pointers to make it a 10-point game.  UGA got a steal on the next possession and Crump turned it over trying to force a pass into the lane, which resulted in him being promptly yanked by Coach Fox. Tyree finished the game with 8 points in just 10 minutes.  I’m not sure what Crump does that irks Fox so much, but he’s going to need him on the floor to put the ball in the basket this season or Georgia’s going to lose more games that it shouldn’t.

-Why did freshman Teshaun Hightower only log a minute of play?  Hightower seemed to be establishing himself as a reliable backup point guard to Turtle Jackson prior to the 11-day layoff, but he barely saw the floor in this one.  The freshman’s strengths seem to be defense (because of his length at 6’4″) and his willingness to attack the basket, both qualities that could have been used against UMASS today.  He air-balled a three-pointer from the corner in the first half and then never saw the court again.  I kept waiting for him to return in the second half as I thought he could push the action on offense and take advantage of Georgia being in the bonus, but that never happened.

If anyone has answers or responses to any of my aforementioned questions, please comment below.

Georgia Opens Up December With UAB

The good news for the Georgia Bulldogs (4-2) is that they have only two games in December that will require their undivided attention – UAB (6-1) and Georgia Tech.  Their other five non-conference opponents – Arkansas State, High Point, Mercer, Charleston Southern, Eastern Kentucky – should basically serve as glorified tune-ups before the Dawgs get into their 2011 SEC schedule.

The bad news is that Georgia plays UAB and Georgia Tech one after the other, leaving little room for error.

On Friday, Georgia will play host to a UAB team that was predicted to finish 8th in the Conference USA coming into the 2010-2011 season after losing their top scorers from last year – Elijah Millsap (16.1 ppg) and Howard Crawford (11.8 ppg).

Despite the modest expectations, Coach Mike Davis’s UAB Blazers have gotten out to a hot start, winning 6 of their first 7 games – including a 70-65 overtime win against the Arkansas Razorbacks.  The Blazers only loss was a 69-66 heart-breaker on the road at Arizona State – the Sun Devils hit a three-pointer with 2.2 seconds left to win the game.

And in case you missed it, UAB whipped Georgia last year in Birmingham 72-56 (the same day the football team lost to Kentucky in Athens – not a good day for UGA sports).

The reason for UAB’s strong start this season has a lot to do with their veteran backcourt, led by seniors Aaron Johnson and Jamarr Sanders.  Point guard Aaron Johnson currently leads the nation with 9.0 assists per game (he is 4th all-time on UAB’s career assist leaders list), and he sports an impressive 2.74 assist-to-turnover ratio.  Johnson is lightening-quick, and he can definitely get into the lane to create his own shot (9.6 ppg).

Coach Mike Davis is a fan of his point guard as well, praising him after the Blazers 59-53 win over Jacksonville State on Wednesday – “”Aaron (Johnson) is playing so hard, with so much energy right now, it’s unbelievable. If there’s a point guard out there who is better, I want to see him. I’m talking about an overall player, the way he can score, pass the ball, play defense, the way he takes charges. If we can get everyone playing that way, we can be a good team.”

The match-up between the Dawgs‘ Gerald Robinson, Jr. and UAB’s Aaron Johnson should be fun to watch – don’t blink though, or you might miss something.  Both of these players like to attack the teeth of the defense and put defenders on their heels.

Jamarr Sanders is more of a catch-and-shoot guy, netting 15.3 ppg while shooting 34% from three-point range.

The UAB frontcourt is very athletic, featuring a pair of 6’8″ bigs – junior Cameron Moore and sophomore Ovie Soko.  Moore not only leads the Blazers in both scoring (18.4 ppg) and rebounding (9.3 rpg), but the big fella can stroke it from the outside, knocking down 59.3% from the field and 64.7% from beyond the arc.  Soko, who hails from London, England, is contributing 12.4 points and 7.1 boards per contest – not bad for a Brit.  Both of these guys are more effective on offense when facing the basket (vs playing with their back to it).

One of the keys to this game will be the Dawgs‘ perimeter defense, which has not been impressive through the team’s first 6 games.  Georgia currently ranks last in the SEC in three-point percentage defense, allowing opponents to shoot over 42% from beyond the arc – shooters are loving the view over the Dawgs‘ defenders.

Georgia must do a better job of contesting outside shots, and that needs to start with UAB because this team can (and will) put it up.  As a team, the Blazers are hoisting up nearly 22 three-point attempts a game, connecting on almost 37% of them.  If Georgia isn’t prepared to get a hand in the face of these UAB shooters, the Dawgs could be in for a LONG night (see the Mississippi Valley State game).

Offensively, the story behind the three-point line has also not been very pretty for the DawgsGeorgia is shooting just 28.6% as a team from beyond the arc, which ranks dead-last in the SEC.  The Dawgs are making an SEC-low FOUR three-pointers a game, which is a big reason why they currently rank 10th in the conference in scoring at just 69.7 ppg.  If Mark Fox could just get 2 or 3 more three-pointers a game (from say, Dustin Ware, Sherrard Brantley or Trey Thompkins) it would do wonders for the Dawgs‘ scoring average – not to mention it would force opponents out of their zone sets.

I watched the Blazers beat Middle Tennessee State 76-71 in November, and UAB played man defense nearly the entire game.  Mike Davis only plays six or seven guys (four starters average over 31 minutes per game), but they are physical and athletic and really get after teams.

It will be interesting to see if Davis keeps his team in a man defense against the Dawgs, who looked mystified against the 2-3 and 1-3-1 zone looks that they saw last week at the Old Spice Classic.

Georgia basketball fans (myself included) were pretty down in the dumps following the Dawgs‘ performance in the tournament in Orlando last week – blowing a 12-point halftime lead against Notre Dame, and then back-to-back lackadaisical efforts against both Temple and Manhattan.  This Georgia team, according to several ESPN analysts, was supposed to be the best in years and primed for a breakout season – last weekend they didn’t look like a team worthy of such high praise.

However, I am a firm believer in Coach Mark Fox and I expect to see a much better effort this Friday against UAB.  Something tells me that Fox has not been happy with the team defense thus far either, and I think we will see a big improvement tomorrow night (especially in the paint).  With Trey back on the practice court this week,  the offense should start to run more smoothly and not look quite as forced (as it did in the Old Spice Classic).

The Dawgs have a chance to go on a nice little run here in December, and there is the possibility of getting to 11-2 before opening up SEC play in January.

It starts tomorrow night with the UAB Blazers.

Recruiting Rankings, Trey and the SEC East

The amount of preseason hype surrounding this upcoming season for Mark Fox’s Georgia Bulldogs has been slightly unprecedented.  Georgia basketball fans are not accustomed to seeing their team mentioned in the annual Preseason Top 25 rankings, nor are they used to having TWO players on the Preseason All-SEC First Team (Thompkins & Leslie).

And the hype is not limited to 2010.

ESPN currently has the Dawgs ranked #21 in it’s Class of 2011 Team Basketball Recruiting Rankings, with Kentavious Caldwell being the highlight of the class thus far.  These are BASKETBALL recruiting rankings…and Georgia is in them!

Check out this interview I found with Foxsports.com’s John Goodman and Trey Thompkins.  During the interview,  Thompkins discusses why he came to UGA, how excited he is about playing with Gerald Robinson, dealing with the preseason hype and trying to guard Kevin Durant this past summer at the Team USA practices.

One more thing to ponder – how stacked is the SEC East?

With four teams (UF, Kentucky, Tenn & Georgia) in Andy Katz’s Preseason Top 25, and one (Vandy) listed in the “Dozen More to Watch” it seems that the SEC East may be the toughest half of any conference in the nation going into the 2010-2011 season.

Need further proof?

Doug Gottlieb listed Florida, Kentucky and Tennessee in his list of twenty teams that he sees as legitimate Final Four contenders heading into next year.

It is going to be ultra-competitive in the SEC East this year, and I think there is a very realistic chance that this half of the conference sends five teams to the NCAA Tournament.

Bulldogs in 2011 NBA Draft

jarvis hayes
Not since Jarvis Hayes was the the 10th pick overall in the 2003 NBA Draft has Georgia had a player leave early for the NBA

This morning I found myself perusing the NBA Draft website, which allows users to look at the NBA’s “Mock” drafts for 2010 and 2011 (basically how they anticipate the draft going based on the information that the NBA draft experts have right now).

What I saw on the link for the 2011 Mock NBA Draft was amazing!  The site currently lists Travis Leslie as being the 12th pick in the draft, and Howard “Trey” Thompkins going 19th.

This is great news for these two young players, but to Georgia basketball fans it could mean that these guys will only be with the Dawgs for one more year.

With the addition of junior guard Gerald Robinson, Jr next season, and the added maturity that Thompkins, Leslie, Dustin Ware and Jeremy Price will gain over the summer, it is safe to say that the Dawgs should be contenders in the SEC next year (and quite possibly potential dancers in next year’s NCAA Tourney).

Hopefully Coach Mark Fox will be able to take advantage of his talented roster next year, because he could lose a couple of juniors to the NBA after the season…something that hasn’t been an issue for a UGA basketball coach in quite some time.