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Talking Georgia basketball while watching the NCAA Tournament

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Four straight days last week – Thursday to Sunday – my eyes were glued to the television, specifically the following channels: CBS, TBS, TNT and TruTV.  I completely devoured the second and third rounds of the NCAA tournament as I spent what seemed like a solid 72 hours on my couch.  As I watched game after game, I constantly found myself wondering how this year’s UGA team would fare against either of the schools playing.  Was this season truly a failure for Coach Mark Fox’s team, or were they never really talented enough to begin with to even be considered for one of the 36 at-large bids?

One answer is that Georgia basketball came up short this year.  With two First Team All-SEC players on the roster in J.J. Frazier and Yante Maten, one would think that this team would have been announced on the NCAA’s selection show rather than the NIT’s.  Throw in the fact that Frazier and Maten were both upperclassmen and it stings a little bit more.  Frazier finished his career in 7th place on Georgia’s all-time scoring list, and if Maten scores over 500 points next season – which he’s done the past two years – he will crack the top 10 of the same list as well.  That’s a lot of talent to waste on a quick exit from the NIT.  And before anyone shouts out, “Wait! Maten got hurt”, consider that Georgia was 6-7 in the SEC before he went down.

Another reason, which is maybe even harder for Fox and die hard fans to swallow, is that the Dawgs never really had a chance to dance this season.  The Belmont game exposed a talent deficit on the Georgia roster that reared its head quite a few times this year.  The Dawgs got to spend several weeks this summer in Spain playing exhibition games, which means that the team got to hold practices in the off-season, a luxury that most coaches are not afforded.  This veteran-led squad should have been rearing and ready to go at the start of the season, and yet they weren’t.  Georgia laid a dud in the season opener at Clemson.  They also lost to Kansas, Marquette and Oakland.  Other than a road win at Georgia Tech, UGA really didn’t have much to speak of regarding non-conference wins as they headed into the SEC slate.  Once again, Mark Fox’s team failed to capitalize on early season opportunities to notch quality wins.  Hopefully the Dawgs learned that just being on the court with tough competition is not enough; they do, in fact, have to win a few of those games, too.

One area of the court where Georgia really struggled throughout the season was from beyond the arc.  The Dawgs made just 175 three-pointers to their competition’s 246.  UGA’s opponents got an extra 6 points a game from the perimeter, which is significant for a team that averaged less than 72 points a game.  The game of basketball has changed significantly over the past decade, and the three-pointer is an integral part of any good offense.  Yet, Georgia continues to be content with having only a few three-point threats on the roster at any given time.  Unfortunately, the Dawgs lose one of their more effective outside shooters in Frazier, meaning the team will get three’s next season from Tyree Crump, Maten from the top of the key, and where else?  Fox has yet to win an NCAA tournament game at Georgia, and unless he’s going to turn the Dawgs into an athletically supreme powerhouse like UCLA, Louisville or Kentucky, it would behoove him to add more outside shooters like nearly every team playing in the big dance.

Whether we compare the Dawgs roster this year to an NCAA tournament team or Belmont, it’s clear that they just don’t have enough players to be an upper echelon program.  Other than Maten and Frazier, who on Georgia would start for one of these tourney teams?  Maybe Derek Ogbeide?  Mark Fox likes to play 10 to 11 guys a game, and sadly, his 4 through 11 players would struggle to take minutes away from any of the Belmont players I saw in that NIT game.

Ultimately, this season has to be viewed as a disappointment for UGA basketball no matter how it is spun.  Another trip to the NIT felt like a step backwards.  Looking ahead to next season, there is a lot that Georgia fans have to be concerned about.  If it felt like Georgia was missing something on offense this year without Kenny Gaines and Charles Mann, imagine what it’s going to look like next year without Frazier.  Second, Yante Maten is not a lock to return to Athens.  He is currently projected as the 48th pick in the 2018 Mock Draft on NBADraft.net, but that site’s owner said that should Maten leave early he would be a projected second-rounder this year as well:

After averaging nearly 20 points and 10 boards a game this season, what motivation does Yante have to come back?  Statistically, the best he can do is match what he did this year, and that could be difficult with a less experienced backcourt.  Should Maten bolt for the NBA, what does next season look like for this program?

Sorry for the long post, but sports wise, this is my favorite time of year, and the contrast between the teams I am watching now compared to the one I watched inside Stegeman this season could not be more stark.

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Written by hoopdawg

March 23, 2017 at 8:10 pm

Belmont cruises past Georgia in Athens

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12529676Mark Fox’s Georgia Bulldogs’ appearance in this year’s NIT tournament was short-lived.  UGA attempted to defend its home court without the services of Yante Maten and Juwan Parker, and in the end, it failed as the Dawgs fell 78-69 to Belmont.  For the second straight year, Georgia will head into the offseason wondering “what if” in regards to this tournament.  Maybe it just wasn’t meant to be for the Dawgs this March, or maybe advancing to the semifinals of the NIT is an intricate part of year 9 of Fox’s 10-year plan.  Either way, UGA’s season is done as they finish 19-15 on the year (assuming we include the win over Division II Morehouse).

Tonight, Georgia struggled to cover the perimeter against a Belmont (23-6) team that entered this game hitting 10 three-pointers a night.  Surely defending the outside had to be a point of focus in practice the past several days.  Yet, the Bruins torched the Dawgs for 7 three’s in the first half.  UGA responded by switching to man defense out of the intermission, and Belmont promptly hit 3 more from beyond the arc.  Fox put his team back in its bread and butter – the matchup zone – only to see the Dawgs yield 4 more three-pointers.  By the time the final horn sounded, the Bruins had knocked down a whopping 14 three-pointers, and they finished with a blistering 45% mark from the perimeter.  For the Dawgs’ defense, mission not accomplished.

For a while in the second half, the Bruins simplified their offense down to an NBA-like style as they allowed Evan Bradds to back down whoever was on his side of the UGA zone until help came over and he could kick it to an open shooter.  Watching the Bruins score the ball over and over again in this fashion was quite painful as a UGA fan.  And Bradds had plenty of options to pass it to as he and three of his teammates finished the game in double-figures.  The Bruins were led by Dylan Windler, who scored 21 points.  Windler came into this contest netting just 9 a night against Ohio Valley competition, but this evening he shredded the Georgia defense and appeared to be virtually unguardable.

On the flip side, Georgia’s offense was J.J. Frazier, who led all scorers with 29 points.  Frazier used his athleticism to get to the basket basically whenever he pleased, but his efforts alone were not enough this time.  The rest of the UGA offense looked stagnant and almost content to stand by and watch the J.J. Frazier show.  Turtle Jackson and Tyree Crump each finished with 10 points, but did not shoot the ball particularly well, going 4 for 11 and 4 for 10, respectively.  The Dawgs didn’t shoot it well as a team as they connected on 42% from the floor and just 23% from beyond the arc.

Georgia’s ineptness on the offensive side of the ball is why this team only led Belmont for 19 seconds on Wednesday.

Even though Maten and Parker were out, one would think that Georgia should win this game at home.  The problem, though, is that other than Frazier and Ogbiede, the Bruins had better players on the court.  Belmont’s players shot the ball more efficiently and ran their offense to precision.  UGA’s 5 through 8 players on the roster should be at least as talented as a team from the Ohio Valley, and if that’s not the case their needs to be serious questions asked about the direction that this program is heading.

 

Written by hoopdawg

March 15, 2017 at 8:38 pm

Kentucky too much for Georgia

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Any notion Georgia (19-14) might have had of playing another close game with Kentucky (27-5) in today’s SEC tournament were quickly put to rest by a Wildcat team that came out determined to defend UGA better than it had during the regular season.  The Cats halfcourt defense suffocated Georgia and forced the Dawgs to start its offense well outside the three-point line.  J.J. Frazier constantly found himself surrounded by Kentucky defenders, and even when he didn’t have the ball a Wildcat defender was usually right on him playing deny defense.  Yante Maten, who still didn’t look anywhere close to 100%, struggled to score the ball around the rim.

Kentucky certainly wasn’t at its best offensively, but Georgia’s woes on that end of the  court made it impossible for the Dawgs to seriously threaten Coach Calipari’s team.  Georgia shot just 30% from the floor and turned it over 7 times in the first half, yet they only trailed the Cats 32-25 at the break.  A decent finish to the half – capped off by a corner three-pointer from Tyree Crump – offered UGA a glimmer of hope going into the intermission.

That hope, though, was dashed almost immediately by Kentucky at the start of the second half.  The Dawgs began the half with a turnover and 3 misses, and the Cats quickly pushed their advantage to 38-25.  UGA would only score 5 points for more than 8 minutes to begin the second half, and by the time Juwan Parker knocked down a jumper with 11:43 remaining the Dawgs had fallen behind 47-32.

Kentucky pushed its lead to 18 points after a monster dunk by Bam Adebayo with 9:54 left, making it 50-32.  Georgia couldn’t manage to cut the lead to under double-digits again, and the Wildcats essentially cruised to their first win of the SEC tournament.

Isaiah Briscoe and De’Aron Fox went for 20 apiece, but for the most part, Georgia defended the Cats pretty well.  The Dawgs contained Malik Monk, who they held to just 2 points, and they limited Kentucky to only 38% from the floor.

But ultimately the Dawgs’ offense did them in.  UGA finished with 13 turnovers, with J.J. Frazier and Yante Maten leading the way with 3 each.  Frazier and Maten scored 15 and 12, respectively, but they combined for just 7 for 28 from the floor, which just isn’t good enough for a team hoping to upset the SEC’s best team.

Georgia’s NCAA tournament hopes are just about done.  If there’s any silver lining, I did read that UGA could potentially receive a 2-seed in the NIT.

 

 

 

Written by hoopdawg

March 10, 2017 at 3:16 pm

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UGA beats Tennessee and lives to play another day

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Even with Yante Maten back, Georgia still relied heavily on J.J. Frazier down the stretch today in Nashville. With the game tied at 47-47 and a little over 6 minutes remaining, Frazier asserted himself on a day in which UGA’s offense was rather stagnant and scored 8 of his team’s final 12 points. J.J. notched 6 of those 8 points at the free throw line as he attacked the teeth of the Tennessee defense in the latter part of this one.

But all of Frazier’s efforts could have been for not if he and his teammates hadn’t held strong on the Vols’ final possession. Trailing 59-57, Tennessee had a chance to tie or take the lead, but the Dawgs forced the Vols offense outside the three-point line, and Admiral Schofield’s attempt from beyond the arc fell short. Tennessee’s decision to not go back inside to freshman Grant Williams, who had been heating up over the final minutes of this contest, will certainly be a decision that coach Rick Barnes will revisit when he watches tape. Either way, UGA held on for the 59-57 win and earned another rematch with Kentucky on Friday.

The biggest story of this game had to be the return of Yante Maten, who finished with 12 points and 5 rebounds. Maten looked rusty for sure as he committed 5 turnovers and a step slow at times defensively. But overall, he and the other Georgia bigs did an amazing job of containing Williams, who lit the Dawgs up for 30 points earlier this season in Knoxville; today, Williams only scored 6.

The Dawgs were led offensively by Frazier, who netted 17 points to go along with 10 rebounds, giving him an uncharacteristic double-double.

This game as whole was rather sloppy for Georgia, and they were fortunate to get the win. The Dawgs looked incredibly clunky on offense as they turned the ball over 15 times and attempted only 46 field goals (of which they made 43.5%). Much of Georgia’s struggles on offense can most likely be attributed to a combination of first game jitters along with the task of working Maten back into the rotation. As good as Yante is and as happy as everyone in the Bulldog nation is to have him back, this team did learn to play without him, and this game showed that they had to adjust to having the big man back in the lineup.

The Dawgs played much stronger defensively than they did last Saturday against Arkansas. Georgia’s matchup zone yielded 7 three-pointers to the Vols, but the Dawgs rotated much better on Tennessee’s movement and limited the number of easy looks for the Vols’ bigs. After giving up 48 points in the paint to Arkansas on Saturday, UGA held Tennessee to just 12 points in the lane. Furthermore, the Georgia defense limited Tennessee to under 32% from the floor.

Georgia plays at the same time tomorrow against Kentucky with an NCAA at-large bid on the line.

 

Written by hoopdawg

March 9, 2017 at 3:37 pm

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UGA’s defense hurting without Yante Maten

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Since Yante Maten went down several minutes into the Kentucky game last month, Georgia’s J.J. Frazier has amped up his offensive output to the tune of nearly 30 points per game.  With Maten averaging almost 18 a night in SEC play, the Dawgs needed more points from somewhere, and a lot of that somewhere was Frazier.  UGA went 3-2 over this stretch of games without their best interior player, which is certainly a testament to the will of this team, and they actually averaged slightly more points (73) in league games than before he got hurt (72.4).  They head into the SEC tournament next week with the uncertainty of whether they will have Maten or not when they take on Tennessee on Thursday.  It seems most likely that Yante will not play, and Georgia will once again need to find a way to make up his missing points.  However, UGA’s defense has also been suffering without Maten, and the Dawgs must become stronger on that side of the court if they hope to make any noise in Nashville.

In the 13 conference games prior to Maten’s injury, the Dawgs were holding opponents to a little over 72 points a contest.  Over the past 5 games though, that number has ballooned to 76.

UGA’s ability to secure the defensive glass has also taken a big hit recently.  Defensive rebounding percentage, when compared total rebounds, is a far more telling statistic of a team’s rebounding prowess as it takes into account the opponent’s offensive rebounds as well.  It is essentially the percentage of the missed shots in a game that a team rebounds (Def Rbd / Def Rbd + Opp Off Rbd).  Before Yante went down, Georgia’s defensive rebounding percentage was 71%; since, it’s dropped to 64%.  That is significant because it means that opponents are getting more second chance opportunities on offense, which most likely has led to the increase in points allowed by the Dawgs.

One final area where Georgia has regressed over the past 5 games has been in team blocks, which has fallen from 3.8 a game to just 2.6.

Yesterday’s defensive collapse in Arkansas, in which UGA let the Hogs scored 48 of their 85 points in the paint, was a consequence of weak interior defense.  The Dawgs play a Tennessee team with a big frontcourt that averaged almost 12 offensive boards a night in SEC games.  Georgia edged the Vols by a point in Knoxville earlier this season, but getting a similar result on Thursday could prove challenging without Maten anchoring down the defense.

Written by hoopdawg

March 5, 2017 at 10:31 am

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Arkansas overpowers Georgia 85-67

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Georgia’s string of miraculous finishes orchestrated by J.J. Frazier came to a screeching halt today in Hogville as Arkansas punished the Dawgs 85-67 in Fayetteville this afternoon.  A game that was close for the first twenty minutes quickly spiraled out of control for UGA as Arkansas began to assert its will both offensively and defensively.  Georgia followed up a 38% first half effort from the floor by shooting just 25% after the break, while Arky made over 60% of its shots in the game’s final twenty minutes.

The Razorbacks started the second half with a 10-2 run that saw their 38-37 halftime lead blossom to 48-39 with 17:30 left.  With a little over 15 minutes remaining, J.J. picked up his 4th foul and had to sit with his team trailing 53-44.  Arkansas brutalized the Dawgs in Frazier’s absence, going on a 9-2 run that put them up 62-46 with 11:46 remaining.  Frazier would return, but it would not matter.  The Hogs continued to score without much resistance and coasted to a relatively easy home win.

UGA’s defense failed big time on Saturday.  The Dawgs’ zone looked out of sorts all afternoon, especially on defending cutters inside the lane.  Georgia’s rotations by its help defenders were basically nonexistent, and Arkansas took advantage by racking up a whopping 48 points in the paint.  The Razorbacks had 4 players finish in double-figures, and they shot over 55% from the field as a team.  Maybe the Dawgs came into this game focused on locking down the perimeter, since Arkansas is the best three-point shooting team in SEC play.  UGA managed to hold the Hogs to just 21% from beyond the arc, but it didn’t matter as Arky had a field day accumulating a plethora of easy baskets in the lane.

For Georgia, the sledding wasn’t nearly as simple on offense.  The Razorback defense consistently pushed the UGA guards out well beyond the three-point arc, which forced the Dawgs into a number of off-balanced shots.  Frazier led all scorers with 24 points, but he had to work hard for them as he routinely was the target of traps whenever he came off ball screens on the perimeter.  Arkansas is much more talented than Alabama, LSU and Auburn.  J.J. needed help on the outside, but he didn’t get it.  Tyree Crump and Juwan Parker each shot 2 for 10 from the floor, and Turtle Jackson connected on just 2 of his 7 attempts.  As amazing as Frazier has been in the past three wins, he wasn’t able to do it alone against a more talented Razorback defense.

The only other Bulldog to score in double-digits was Derek Ogbeide, who finished with 12 points to go along with 7 rebounds.  He scored 10 of those points before the break, and then Ogbeide sort of disappeared in the second half as the Razorbacks ratcheted up the pace of this game.

Andy Katz labeled this one as a must win for Georgia if they hoped to earn an at-large berth to the NCAA tournament.  With the loss, it would seem that UGA would need to reach the finals of the SEC Tournament to receive serious consideration for the Big Dance.  The fact of the matter is that Georgia really doesn’t have many significant wins on its resume.  Vanderbilt is the only RPI Top 50 team that the Dawgs have beaten this year.  To play on into March in the only tournament that matters, Georgia probably needs to notch a couple of RPI Top 50 wins next week.

Written by hoopdawg

March 4, 2017 at 6:07 pm

Georgia completes sweep of Auburn

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12486347Just when it seemed like J.J. Frazier could officially do no wrong, he did.  With 12 seconds left and Georgia leading 79-78, Frazier tried to force a pass through the teeth of the Auburn defense and it was stolen.  All of a sudden, Frazier’s Senior Night fairy tale ending seemed in jeopardy.  The Tigers inbounded the ball to Jared Harper with only 7 seconds left, and he promptly tossed up a three-pointer which missed and allowed UGA to hold on for its third straight win.

Other than Frazier’s mental lapse in the final moments of this contest, the Dawgs did an excellent job of taking control of this game when it counted down the stretch.  The two teams went into the final media timeout knotted up at 73-apiece.  UGA tightened up its defense when it counted, though, and they held Auburn to just 1 of its final 6 field goal attempts.

Even though J.J.’s turnover could have been incredibly costly, the Dawgs would have never even been in a position to win without him.  Frazier, who came into this game averaging 31 a night over the past three contests, fittingly scored 31 tonight against Bruce Pearl’s team. He knocked down 5 of his 9 shots from beyond the arc, and J.J. also scored on an array of tricky drives that I will sorely miss seeing inside Stegeman next season.  South Carolina’s Sindarious Thornwell may have been the leading SEC Player of the Year candidate a week ago, but I have to imagine that Frazier is giving him a serious run for his money at this point because what J.J. has done without the help of Yante Maten has been nothing short of miraculous.

The Dawgs started out super slow in this one as they allowed the Tigers to hit 4 three-pointers en route to a 20-9 lead a little over 10 minutes into the game.  UGA also struggled to contain Auburn on the offensive glass as they let the Tigers haul in 7 of their own misses.  In addition, Georgia turned the ball over 9 times before the break, so all things considered, the Dawgs should have felt fortunate to go into the intermission trailing 37-30.

UGA had trouble defending the perimeter for most of the night as Auburn knocked down 12 of its 27 three-point attempts.  But this is a Tiger team that can get hot from beyond the arc, where Auburn is making 9 three’s a game in SEC play.  Mark Fox mixed up zones and man in an attempt to close out on the Auburn shooters, but the Tigers were still successful from the outside.  Tonight’s game marks the 6th SEC contest in which they have made 10 three-pointers or more, and the 10th time overall this season.

While Auburn got after the glass early, Georgia won the overall rebounding effort by a count of 39-36, and much of that credit goes to big man Derek Ogbeide.  Ogbeide, who does the dirty work for this team night in and night out, entered this contest 3rd in SEC games in rebounding with 8 boards a night.  This evening, Ogbeide finished with a double-double, snagging 15 rebounds to go along with 10 points as he controlled the paint for the Dawgs.

The only other UGA player to score in double-digits was Tyree Crump, who poured in 10 points in 11 minutes off the bench.  Crump knocked down 2 of his 3 shots from beyond the arc, and he’s now scored 22 points over his last 28 minutes in the past 3 games.

Georgia is now 18-12 overall and 9-8 in the conference, and they now have a legitimate opportunity to punch an at-large NCAA berth ticket this Saturday with a win at Arkansas.

 

 

Written by hoopdawg

March 1, 2017 at 9:20 pm

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