Florida stops Georgia’s momentum in its tracks

Featured

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:

Is this rock bottom?

Featured

That’s the question that many Georgia fans are either pondering or have answered after seeing the Dawgs blow a 20-point second half lead last night at Missouri. Like many of you, I assumed UGA was in a good spot after Anthony Edwards hit a triple to make it 59-39 with 13:33 left in the game.

When Mizzou cut the lead to 14 with 11:21 remaining, I still felt ok. Georgia will score; all they have to do is trade buckets with the Tigers the rest of the way.

Dru Smith cutting the UGA advantage to 8 points with 7:04 left started to make me nervous. By the time Mizzou trailed 65-62 with 3:31 remaining, I was confounded. Why hadn’t Tom Crean called a timeout? His team hadn’t converted a field goal in nearly 9 minutes.

After Mizzou reclaimed the lead 66-65 with 2:20 left, I did not think Georgia had the mental fortitude to close out the game, and the Dawgs proved me right.

This loss was deflating, and it moves Georgia into 13th place in the 14-team SEC. Everyone involved with the program on some level is frustrated.

Look at UGA’s remaining schedule. How many potential wins remain for this Georgia team?

Maybe Texas A&M at home? Or possibly Alabama? At Vanderbilt? The Aggies are 4-3 in conference play, Bama beat Auburn and historically, UGA struggles on that wonky court in Nashville. Last year, Tom Crean’s initial season produced 2 SEC wins. I never considered that they’d muster up a similarly low tally again this year, especially with the talent influx that this roster enjoyed due to one of the better Georgia recruiting classes ever.

Prior to the season, both ESPN and Sports Illustrated projected the Dawgs to finish 9th in the league; CBS was more optimistic as the network pitted the Dawgs at 7th, and in its description of this year’s team:

“Dawgs should be on any list of the top 10 most interesting/curious teams of 2019-20.”

The real curiosity at this point has to be centered around this team’s inability to get better as the season progresses, which I wrongly assumed they would earlier in the year.

Not having Sahvir Wheeler last night hurt. He’s this team’s best distributor and facilitator. But, the Dawgs did look really sound on offense for the first three-quarters of the game last night. Tom Crean’s guys were MOVING without the ball; Tyree Crump and Anthony Edwards were knocking down three-pointers off of passes rather than trying to do their best Steph Curry impersonations by shooting off-balanced and off the dribble. In the first half, UGA shot over 50% from both the field and beyond the arc en route to 42 points.

Nearly halfway through the second half, though, all that movement stopped. Guys started standing around and watching each other try to make plays off the dribble. The Dawgs hit only 36% from the floor in the final 20 minutes and made only 1 of 11 three-point attempts. All this futility led to a dismal 27-point second half effort against the 9th-best scoring defense in the SEC.

Junior Rayshaun Hammonds shot (and missed) his only field goal of the game during that meltdown of a second half. He failed to enter the scoring column even though he logged 33 minutes of play. How does that happen? Hammonds is the team’s second leading scorer and it should be impossible for him to become such an afterthought on offense in a game.

But Hammonds wasn’t the only one that disappeared. Anthony Edwards, who finished with 23 points at the expense of a 9 for 24 shooting effort, logged 2 points in the game’s final 13 minutes. He had opportunities to put the Dawgs on his shoulders and get them off the snide, but he couldn’t convert.

At some point this season, Tom Crean might be able to convince this team to play hard and smart for a full 40 minutes, and it’s going to be, in the words of Mugatu from Zoolander, “Glorious!!!”

I like Tom Crean’s offensive concepts, I just hope he can keep the players interested in executing them for the entire game. I also love the fact that he wants his teams to shoot the three ball, he just needs to bring in a few more guys that can make them.

Many UGA fans (me included) had high expectations for this year’s team with the idea that an NCAA tournament bid was not out of the question. Wins over Georgia Tech, SMU and at Memphis only served to fuel that optimism. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I hadn’t glanced at the 1st/2nd round locations for this season’s dance, just to see what would be a manageable trip, should Georgia be selected.

Conference play has stifled much of that hope by now. I’m curious to see where this team goes moving forward. Tom Crean has a heck of a tall task in front of him from here on out at keeping this young bunch motivated and interested in playing together.

A closer look at the UGA offense

Featured

Georgia’s (8-3) 73-64 win over Georgia Southern (8-5) was probably closer than most Dawgs’ fans had hoped. UGA trailed the Eagles by 3 points at the half, and Georgia’s little brother from down south actually held a 1-point advantage with 4:44 left in the game.

This result isn’t that surprising, though, considering that Georgia was coming off of a heroic double-overtime win over SMU, coupled with the fact that Tom Crean’s team is just really young. In this case, it’s better to reserve too much judgement until this squad starts grinding through its SEC schedule, which will be a much more telling measuring stick of the state of the UGA program.

The Bulldogs’ defense, which has been suspect at times this season, put forth one of its better efforts as UGA held a team that typically scores 79 points to just 64. In addition, the Eagles managed only 40% from the floor and they committed 13 turnovers that Georgia manufactured into 19 points.

However, my main interest in writing about this game is to focus on the UGA offense.

Assistant coach Joe Scott spent time on the Princeton staff in the late 90’s in the same capacity as his role at UGA. During his time there, Princeton enjoyed 3 trips to the NCAA tournament using an inventive offense that scored tons of points off of backdoor cuts that came from players moving well without the ball.

Scott’s influence on this UGA offense is certainly noticeable. Now that Georgia has two players that can drive the ball into the middle of the lane off the dribble (Anthony Edwards and Savhir Wheeler), the Dawgs are getting a number of buckets each game from players cutting to the basket from the baseline when those lower level defenders commit to the ball. Against Georgia Southern, the Dawgs had 4 alley-oop dunks, a play that has not been a staple of UGA basketball for some time (albeit, two of them actually came off of breaks).

Toumani Camara looked the best of anyone yesterday at getting himself into the soft spots of the Georgia Southern zone, and he was rewarded by this movement as he had his strongest game of the year in which he scored 16 points on an 8 for 8 performance from the floor (to go along with 7 rebounds). The key will be if Camara can maintain this time of production against more stout competition next month.

The offense comes to a grinding halt when both Edwards and Wheeler are not on the court, though. Georgia opened up a 10-2 lead in a little over 3 minutes to start the game. Anthony Edwards started out great as he knocked down two mid-range jumpers before hitting his first triple en route a fast 7 points. However, just like last game, the Ant Man picked up 2 fouls early and he had to head to the bench before the first media timeout.

Wheeler entered the game, but he eventually got a rest while Edwards was still sitting, and the Eagles turned an 8-point deficit into a 23-22 lead with a little over 7 minutes remaining in the half. With both the freshmen on the bench, the Dawgs offense turned into an uglier version of itself in which the ball just swung around the perimeter until someone hoisted up a deep three-point attempt.

The problem with this kind of offense is that Georgia really isn’t a good three-point shooting team right now. To be more exact, UGA is making just 29% of its attempts from beyond the arc, which has them in a three-way tie for 313th in the nation. That’s ineffective to the point where the three-point attempts are almost beginning to feel like turnovers.

What’s even more frustrating is that the Dawgs are great at scoring inside the perimeter, and a lot of that can be attributed to the work of the aforementioned Coach Scott. UGA is currently the 7th best team in the nation at making two-pointers (57%). Both the Ant Man and Wheeler can get by just about anyone and get the ball into the lane, but they just aren’t doing that enough, especially Edwards.

Late in the game against the Eagles, Edwards, who finished with 23 points, had two sensational drives off the dribble that resulted with him getting easy points at the rim. He needs to do this more. A lot more. First off, getting those buckets and seeing the ball go through the net will help him feel more comfortable from the perimeter (that’s exactly how he started this game). Plus, it puts so much more pressure on opposing defenses and will undoubtedly get Georgia to the foul line in a bonus capacity on a regular basis.

I know that Crean wants his teams to shoot a lot of triples, and I believe Georgia has the players to hit those shots, but this squad is so much more successful from the perimeter off the kick out pass than trying to get those shots off the dribble. UGA doesn’t necessarily need to shoot less three-pointers, but they do need to be conscious of how they are getting those attempts.

Georgia has one last tune up (Austin Peay) before the schedule becomes grueling: at #9 Memphis, #19 Kentucky and then at #8 Auburn. Much like Camara, I expect this team to continue to improve and get better as the season progresses and the freshmen grow and mature.

Dawgs topple Tech in Athens 82-78

Featured

After three cakewalks to begin the 2019-2020 slate, Tom Crean’s team got its first test of the season as the Georgia Bulldogs (4-0) took on their in-state rival, the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (2-1). This Georgia Tech team surprised a lot of people in its season opener when they went into Raleigh and got an 82-81 win over N.C. State, a team the media projected to be 5th in the ACC.

The game started out a little rocky as both teams were no doubt feeling some pregame jitters as it took almost 3 minutes before Michael Devoe, who netted 34 points, broke the scoring drought with a triple. The Dawgs didn’t get on the board until Rayshaun Hammonds knocked down a jumper after nearly 5 minutes had eclipsed.

Georgia had trouble dealing with Tech’s size inside, especially with the presence of 6’10” senior James Banks, who ended up with 6 blocks on the night. UGA tried to force the issue a little too much earlier on in the paint via their bigs; Georgia is going to face the challenge of dealing with bigger opposing frontcourts all season, but they seem to get to the rim better off of cuts from the wing position, especially when those cutters are Hammonds and Anthony Edwards.

Shockingly, the Dawgs managed to surpass 80 points despite the slow start.

Georgia’s offense COULD become dangerous

Even with a double-digit lead late the in the game, the Georgia offense remained aggressive in attacking the rim. Gone are the Mark Fox days of yore of running shot clock down the stretch and hoping to hold onto leads. Tom Crean’s team is playing fast no matter the time or situation, as evidenced by the high-flying alley-oop that Toumani Camara caught from Sahvir Wheeler with less than 3 minutes remaining in the game.

Rayshaun Hammonds was obviously the star of the night offensively has he played his best game of his career (and certainly his best first half) in which he scored 26 points to go with 9 boards. The junior from Atlanta was unconscious through the initial 20 minutes of this contest as he poured in 19 points on an array of triples and layups.

Freshman Anthony Edwards struggled in the first half as he failed to convert a field goal and mustered just 2 points. Josh Pastner had his team moving in and out of zone defenses, but no matter the look, whenever Edwards touched the ball he immediately had a second Tech defender shading over near him. Edwards tried to press things offensively and didn’t find much success on that side of the ball prior to the intermission.

However, when Hammonds headed to the bench with 26 points and his 4th foul with 10:16 left in the game and the Dawgs up 56-48, Edwards took over and scored 9 points during the nearly 5 minute stretch that Hammonds sat on the bench. He ended up with 16 second half points, and he did a much better job of waiting until he had the matchup he wanted before attacking off the dribble; Edwards also moved great without the ball as he scored multiple baskets off of backdoor cuts to the rim. Even though he was an all-world recruit, it’s still hard to believe that this was just his 4th collegiate game because he looks so comfortable on the court.

Sahvir Wheeler and Tyree Crump came up huge tonight in supporting roles on offense. Wheeler, who is just a treat to watch, continues to create offense off of penetration for both himself and his teammates as he finished the night with 5 assists. Crump played within himself and did not force his shots from the perimeter as he notched 11 points, which included some timely three-pointers to keep the Jackets at bay in the second half.

This Georgia team has not had this many potential scoring options on offense since the 2015 NCAA Tournament team that included Kenny Gaines, Charles Mann, Marcus Thornton, J.J. Frazier, Neme Djurisic and Yante Maten.

Georgia’s offense tonight was so much more effective from the left side of the court, which I attribute to Hammonds performance. He doesn’t really have a right hand, so to speak, so on nights like tonight when Hammonds has it cooking it makes sense that UGA would keep the ball on that side where he is more comfortable operating.

The UGA defense looked better this evening than it has this season

Despite allowing Devoe to reach 34 points, overall, the Georgia defense played fairly well. The Dawgs were intense for most of the game as they jumped into passing lanes and managed to notch 8 steals while forcing the Jackets into 15 turnovers. Crean’s team also outrebounded Tech by a count of 42-40, which is impressive considering the Jackets had a height advantage inside.

Tom Crean came to Georgia with the reputation of putting together long defenses that pressured teams to the half court line and created a lot of deflections and steals. That’s certainly how his most successful Indiana teams played. Tonight, UGA had that look on defense, and it’s exactly how this Georgia team will need to play every night since they will be the smaller team more often than not.

Up next

This evening’s victory of the Yellow Jackets marks the 5th in a row for Georgia, and it give the Dawgs a solid dose of momentum as they prepare to head to Maui next week for a challenging tournament that begins with a tough opener against an undefeated Dayton team. The winner will most likely face Michigan State in the second round.

Box Score:

Dawgs overwhelm WCU late

Featured

Quite possibly the biggest takeaway from Georgia’s 91-72 win over Western Carolina tonight in the season opener is that there really aren’t any significant takeaways. Last year, the Dawgs opened the season by blowing the doors off of Savannah State 110 to 76, and many fans clamoured that the “Tom Crean Era” of offense had officially begun. In reality, Georgia had one of the least efficient offenses in 2019 SEC play as they struggled to score points in league games.

Obviously, people didn’t expect the Catamounts, who were projected to finish 7th in the Southern Conference prior to the start of the season, to hold a 58-57 lead with a little over 9 minutes remaining in the game. But this is an incredibly young Georgia team playing in its first game together EVER. UGA has its own little Kentucky-like situation going on right now, and it’s on Tom Crean to determine the best combinations of his new talent with returning starters Rayshaun Hammonds, Tyree Crump and Jordan Harris (when he returns December 20th from his 9-game suspension for an “internal matter”).

Here’s what went well:

Freshman sensation Anthony “Ant Man” Edwards lived up to all of the hype that’s been following him around since he set foot in Athens. Edwards finished with a game-high 24 points to go along with 9 boards. His three-point shot appeared effortless as he buried 4 of 7 attempts, and 3 of those came in the second half and helped ignite an 11-2 Georgia run that put the Dawgs up 79-65 with just 2:25 left. Edwards looks comfortable with the ball in his hands, and he seemingly has no trouble facilitating offense from the point guard position.

Edwards, however, is projected to be the #2 pick in next year’s NBA Draft, so his success was somewhat expected. The surprise of the night had to be freshman point guard Sahvir Wheeler, who came off the bench to spark the UGA offense. Wheeler pushed the tempo while he was in the game, and he showed a strong prowess for finishing at the rim. The lefty ended up with 19 points and 3 assists, and I don’t really see how Crean can keep him out of the starting lineup for much longer. Wheeler’s ability to penetrate and keep defenders on their heels should free the Ant Man up for more open looks from the perimeter.

Areas for concern:

The losses of Nic Claxton and Derek Ogbeide left a gaping hole in the Georgia frontcourt as those two combined for over 32% of the scoring and nearly 40% of the rebounding. It’s no secret that UGA’s interior defense will more than likely be the Achilles’ heel of this team. Western Carolina’s Carlos Dotson, a load at 6’7″, 270 lbs and a member of the preseason All-SoCon Team, notched 17 points to go along with 15 boards as he manhandled the Georgia bigs in the paint. Amanze Ngumezi, who Crean will be counting on to hold it down in the interior, mustered just 4 points in 9 minutes of play due to his 4 personal fouls. Ngumezi is going to have the tall task of defending the opposing team’s largest player(s) all season, and unfortunately for him, that job is only going to become more challenging when this team enters conference play.

Georgia’s other forward, junior Rayshaun Hammonds, still looks like an unfinished product offensively. Hammonds shot just 2 of 12 from the floor on Tuesday as he struggled both around the rim and with his outside shot. With all these newbies on the court for the Dawgs, Hammonds has to be a steady presence on offense to keep teams more honest in how they defend the Ant Man.

Up next:

The Dawgs have a week to practice before returning to action next Tuesday when they host The Citadel inside Stegeman.

Box Score:

Dawgs fight to the bitter end in 2nd one-point loss in a week

Featured

Despite the fact that the Georgia Bulldogs (10-17, 1-13) have now dropped 12 straight SEC games, I’m convinced that they have to be one of the most entertaining teams stuck in a double-digit losing streak in the history of college basketball. This team has every reason to throw in the towel, yet, even though they are routinely down by 10 points or more, the Dawgs refuse.

The first time UGA could have quit was…

After opening up an 18-15 lead nearly 8 minutes into this contest, Georgia’s 2-3 zone rotations slowed, and Ole Miss began to find a rhythm from the perimeter, where they canned 6 triples in the final 10 minutes before the break. UGA’s offense, which appeared overwhelmed by the Ole Miss half court trap, coughed the ball up 7 times (12 overall in the first half) during this stretch, which helped to open up the Rebels’ transition offense. All of this ugliness resulted in a 39-29 advantage for Kermit Davis’s team at the break as the Dawgs once again fell apart at the close of the first half, which has become a staple of this team.

Instead, this happened…

Tom Crean coached them up at halftime, and Georgia reentered the court a team transformed. The Dawgs figured out the Rebels’ 1-3-1 trap as they started to drive the ball into the soft spots of the zone. UGA’s defense was forcing turnovers themselves as they caused Mississippi to give it away 5 times in the initial 5 minutes of the second half. With 15:07 left, Turtle Jackson buried a three-pointer that capped off a 17-4 Georgia run that saw the Dawgs take a 46-43 advantage.

The second time the Dawgs could have quit was…

After going back and forth for nearly 6 minutes, Mississippi’s star guard, Breein Tyree, who is netting nearly 19 a night in SEC play, took over the game. Tyree, who the Dawgs had held relatively in check for most of the afternoon, suddenly became unguardable. The junior scored 12 of his team’s next 14 points on a barrage of drives and triples, and following his three-pointer with 4:04 left, his Rebels held a commanding 67-60 lead.

Personally, at this point, I thought the game was over. This 12-4 run by Ole Miss seemed insurmountable considering the Dawgs had already overcome one large deficit. I was fully ready to watch the Rebels salt the remainder of this contest away.

But then Jordan Harris happened…

If the previously mentioned 6-plus minutes of gametime were the “Breein Tyree Show”, then the final segment of this game should be known as “The Jordan Harris Hour”. The junior from Iron City, Georgia single-handedly brought the Dawgs back into this one in this game’s final moments. Harris contributed 7 points, 2 rebounds and a steal in the last 4 minutes of play, and he put his team in a position to win in the closing seconds (he finished with 15 points on the afternoon).

About that last play

I know Tyree Crump hit the triple that tied the game against Missy State earlier in the week, but he probably wasn’t positioned to repeat that feat on the Dawgs’ final possession Saturday. Crump, who missed the last-second attempt against the Rebels, had to take the shot from well beyond the arc.

I realize that Claxton was surrounded by Ole Miss defenders, but look who is wide-open under the basket – none other than the star of “The Jordan Harris Hour”, Jordan Harris.

I’m sure that Claxton will want that pass back when he watches the film.

Final thoughts

Just like in the losses to LSU and Missy State, the Dawgs earned another moral victory on Saturday in the 72-71 loss to Mississippi. No one really likes moral victories, but for some reason with THIS team THIS season they don’t feel THAT bad.

After a lackluster offensive performance in this contest’s first 20 minutes of play, Georgia came out of the intermission and canned over 65% of its shots from the floor. The perimeter defense was frustrating as slow defensive rotations and UGA defenders going under screens allowed Ole Miss to hit 12 triples (4 more than their SEC average) on a 43% shooting night from the arc. However, defensive lapses have been a hallmark of this squad this season, and maybe I’m just growing numb to them.

Bottom line: Georgia had an opportunity to steal a win on the road against what is most likely going to be an NCAA tournament team, and they came up 1 point short for the second time in a week.

The Dawgs are losing games, but they haven’t lost an ounce of fight, which is certainly encouraging for what the future could hold in the Tom Crean era.

Examining Georgia & Florida by their SEC numbers

Featured

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.

Looking ahead to next season

Tom Crean had me at “We’re going to shoot the 3.”  He uttered this statement several months ago at his first official press conference as the head basketball coach at UGA.  The three-point line is paramount in college basketball today, yet Coach Mark Fox never seemed to get this.  Either that, or he was just stubborn and resisted.  Fox’s inability to recruit perimeter shooters certainly was a contributing factor to his downfall at Georgia.   Instead of joining the rest of the basketball world and designing an offense around the arc, Fox chose to hunker down and continue with his hard-nosed, defensive, slow the game down to a crawl approach.  This style of play is effective at keeping teams in contention in games, but it obviously did not support a winning style of play as his UGA teams routinely lost games during the critical final stretch.

At this point, Crean has done nothing other than make a series of highly-energized speeches about how excited he is about this program and where he sees it going.  Based upon his track record at both Indiana and Marquette, he should be able to put a product on the court that is far more entertaining than what Georgia fans grew accustomed to under Fox.  If it hadn’t been for J.J. Frazier, Fox may have been ousted a year earlier; Frazier’s ability to freestyle and create his shot from anywhere masked Fox’s pedestrian offense from fans.

How soon can Crean create success in Athens?  That’s the million dollar question.  UGA fans may have been SLIGHTLY spoiled in this department after seeing Kirby Smart follow up his initial 8-5 season with a trip to the national championship game.  However, UGA basketball fans tend to be a bit more reserved when it comes to expectations; that’s what happens when your team has only made 5 trips to the NCAA Tournament over the past two decades.  Crean will most likely get a pass for the first couple of years, at least until he gets some of HIS players on the court.  After that, fans will want to see more than just trips to the NIT; Crean is going to have to get Georgia dancing on a semi-regular basis to legitimize his presence here over Fox’s.

As far as next year is concerned, I definitely have some worries.  Georgia did not deal well with J.J. Frazier’s departure last year as they ended up last in the SEC in scoring at 68.1 ppg; the team’s ineptness on offense contributed to their 18-15 record overall and a 7-11 conference record.  Next year, the Dawgs will be looking to replace another leading scorer, Yante Maten, who will vacate a league-high 19.3 ppg.

UGA’s leading returning scorer will be Turtle Jackson, who netted a little over 8 points a night last season.  The most probable starting five will be Turtle, Tyree Crump, E’Torrion Wilridge, Rayshaun Hammonds and Nicolas Claxton, though Teshaun Hightower and Derek Ogbeide could easily work themselves into the starting lineup at some point.  Maybe 6’9″ freshman Amanze Ngumezi works his way into the mix as well. Either way, that is not a squad that strikes fear in the eyes of its opponents.  That right there is a team that’s ceiling at best is the NIT.  Some of those aforementioned players might perform better in Crean’s system, which I hear gives players more freedom to create.  However, if you compare that group to any of the SEC teams that went to the NCAA tournament last season, Georgia’s not anywhere close.

Most likely, next year will look a lot like this year in regards to overall record.  If Crean can land a couple of 4- or 5-star recruits in the 2019 class, he could get things cooking at Georgia sooner rather than later.  I think what I’m most excited about in regards to Crean is the potential to watch a Georgia basketball game and see UGA with three players on the court at the same time that can all potentially hit a three-pointer.  That would be something that hasn’t been seen inside of Stegeman Coliseum in quite a while.

Auburn blows Georgia out in 2nd half to cruise to 79-65 win

13070174.jpeg
Tucker native Bryce Brown lit up the Dawgs for 28 points.

Before we even talk about that second half, consider this chilling fact: Auburn has 3 starters that are from Georgia (12-6, 3-4).  Shooting guard Bryce Brown, who scored 28 points on 5 three-pointers, is from Tucker.  Georgia’s Juwan Parker, who was the recipient of much of Brown’s abuse, probably wishes that his coach had offered the Auburn junior.  Tigers’ point guard Jared Harper had 13 points, 6 assists and 2 steals; Anfernee McLemore had 10 points, 8 rebounds and 3 blocks.  All of them are from the Peach State.

Here’s the box score:

Screen Shot 2018-01-20 at 8.57.58 PMScreen Shot 2018-01-20 at 8.58.14 PM

At this point, it’s still hard to believe that the first half even happened.  After building up a 40-26 lead at the break, Georgia fell to pieces coming out for the final 20 minutes of play.  Auburn switched out of its man defense and into a 1-3-1 zone, and Georgia responded by standing around a lot on offense.  The Tigers came out of the intermission firing from the perimeter as they hit 4 of 5 from beyond the arc in the first 5 minutes, and all of a sudden the Georgia lead was just 42-39.  Auburn would knock down 6 three’s in the second half and 10 in the game.  After holding the Tigers, a team averaging 83 points a game in SEC play, to just 26 points in the first 20 minutes, it was surreal to watch Bruce Pearl’s team blow the doors off Georgia in such an incredibly dominant fashion.  Auburn shot 25% in the first half, but knocked down over 58% in the second, while Georgia went from 56% from the field prior to the break to just 25% from the floor after it. UGA didn’t convert its first field goal of the second half until there was only 6:45 left to play in the game. I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed a team dish out a 31-4 run to start a half; I hope I never have to see such a spectacle again.

Basically, the wheels starting coming off, came off and then rolled all the way to Toomer’s Corner before Mark Fox and Georgia recognized what was happening.  Fox let his team play through the Tiger onslaught all the way to the first media timeout of the second half, despite his team being the victim of a 10-0 run. Auburn would score 15 more points to Georgia’s 2 before Fox deemed it necessary to call a timeout to try to stymie the Tigers’ momentum.  By that point, UGA’s 14-point halftime advantage had turned into a 51-44 lead for Auburn. Yante Maten, the obvious person to get the ball to when things needed to settle, only had 2 shot attempts through the first 14 minutes of the second half.  Maten wasn’t without fault, however, as he gave the ball away 3 times during that same time span and ended up with 6 turnovers on the night. Georgia’s offense stopped moving and its passes got sloppy as the Dawgs committed 13 turnovers following the break (18 in the game).  Whatever Fox’s strategy was for calming his team in this raucous atmosphere, it didn’t take. Personally, I thought the team might have benefited from a timeout on several occasions early in the second half just to slow things down a bit.

Even when Georgia held the advantage in the first half, it didn’t feel sustainable. For starters, Juwan Parker, a career 20% three-point shooter, had 3 triples and 13 points before the intermission.  UGA never looked comfortable on offense against Auburn’s man pressure, and the Dawgs certainly weren’t attacking the rim – Georgia didn’t shoot a single free throw in the first half until Hammonds took a pair with 5:01 left once the Dawgs got into the bonus.  UGA hit 7 from the stripe during this final stretch before the half which helped them add to their lead.

I hate to sound like a broken record, but once again Georgia’s guard play was inadequate, and this definitely feels like it will be the recurring theme for the remainder of the season.  Auburn, much like LSU, South Carolina and Missouri, extended its man-to-man defense and pushed the Georgia guards well outside the perimeter.  UGA’s Turtle Jackson does not possess the ball-handling skills that are necessary to put a defender on his heels and create space – that’s just not his game.  Freshman Teshaun Hightower may become that player, but he’s not there yet.  Jackson’s scoring average has dipped below double digits to 9.8 ppg, leaving Maten as the only Bulldog averaging in double-figures.  Through the first 7 SEC games, Turtle is getting only 5.3 points a night.  Jackson is seeing a lot more defensive pressure, and that trend will only continue as the Dawgs progress through their SEC slate.

When Coach Fox signed 4-stars Jordan Harris and Tyree Crump two years ago, it seemed that he had found his backcourt replacements to handle the spot that J.J. Frazier would eventually vacate.  However, neither of those guys played a whole lot last year, which might have hampered their development.  Harris’s role on the team is convoluted at best as he’s a two-guard that doesn’t like to handle the ball and can’t shoot it that well.  If Harris were 6’7″ he’d be a perfect wing a la former UGA player Brandon Morris, but alas, Jordan is just 6’4″ and stuck with the misappropriated title of “shooting guard”. Tyree Crump came into he game and scored 5 points quickly – one on a beautiful spin move that he finished at the bucket and then another on a triple.  For whatever reason, though, the sophomore only logged 8 minutes tonight.  Even when UGA couldn’t buy a bucket in the second half, Crump, who might be the second-best scorer on the team, remained on the bench.  The knock on Crump is that he doesn’t defend well and turns the ball over too much.  Correct me if I’m wrong, but doesn’t that describe nearly every Georgia guard?  I’d think Crump’s scoring prowess could at least negate some of those criticisms, especially on a team that has major issues on the offensive side of the ball.

The remainder of Georgia’s SEC schedule is daunting to say the least: two games with Florida, two with #21 Tennessee, another with #17 Auburn, one at Vandy (where UGA never wins), one at South Carolina and a home game against a Texas A&M team at the end of February when the Aggies should be at full-strength and in full NCAA Tournament form.  Mark Fox’s team will be extremely fortunate to finish this season with a .500 conference record.

 

 

Rationalizing UGA’s 3 SEC losses and comparing freshman Rayshaun Hammonds to past and present UGA bigs

Reconciling UGA’s 3 conference losses by looking at the strength of the SEC

The SEC is without a doubt a much better conference today than it was five years ago.  The league currently has 10 teams in the RPI Top 50, according to NCAA.com.  The conference had 12 recruits from the 2017 class land on the ESPN100 – no other league had more.  The SEC’s level of play has reached new heights for the conference, and ESPN analysts are projecting that as many as 8 teams could make this year’s NCAA Tournament.  In short, it’s not an easy place to play night in, night out.

All of Georgia’s losses this year – Kentucky, Missouri, South Carolina – have been hard for fans to reconcile.  At Kentucky, UGA once again held a lead late into the game (up 53-49 with 5:19 remaining) only to see the Cats surge ahead and eke out the victory.  In Columbia, the Dawgs flopped and flailed on offense, and they didn’t play a whole of defense in the second half either in their loss to Missouri.  Last Saturday, Georgia’s offense was inept, and the Dawgs yielded 18 offensive boards to the Gamecocks, who rolled out of Athens with the win.

In those aforementioned games, Georgia certainly did not play anything close to its best basketball, especially on the offensive side of the court.  However, I could rationalize each of those losses as such:

Kentucky: since John Calipari took the reigns of the Wildcats, only 5 teams have won inside of Rupp Arena.  His teams have played well over 100-something games in Lexington under Coach Cal, and they’ve only lost 5 of them.

Missouri: the Tigers just knocked off #21 Tennessee at home last night.  They’ve beaten Florida at home this season, too.

South Carolina: Frank Martin’s team could be hitting its stride as they followed up their road win in Athens with a stunning upset victory at home over #18 Kentucky on Tuesday.

To be clear, I’m not making excuses for how the Dawgs played in any of these games.  For sure, Georgia needs to clean things up on offense (and possibly push the tempo), and whether they have the guards on the roster to make that happen remains to be seen.  But fans should acknowledge that these are good teams that beat Georgia, and these losses may not be as devastating in the long run as they might have felt when they occurred.

Comparing Rayshaun Hammonds to former UGA 4-star forwards and others

Rayshaun Hammonds, who started the first 16 games of the season for Georgia, was not a starter on Tuesday night in Baton Rouge.  Against the Tigers, the freshman only logged 14 minutes; he’d been averaging over 26 minutes a game prior to this one.  Logic says that Coach Fox was punishing Hammonds for his lack of effort and aggressiveness against South Carolina, a team that blanked him (though he did haul in 7 boards).

Here’s a look at Hammonds stats so far this year:

hammonds.PNG

Here are the freshman year numbers for some of Georgia’s most recent 4-star bigs (and one 3-star who is still playing for the Dawgs):

Marcus Thornton (4-star)

Thornton.PNG

Trey Thompkins (4-star)

Thompkins

Jeremy Price (4-star)

Price

Yante Maten (3-star)

 

Maten.PNG

At this point, Hammonds’s stats are sitting somewhere between Maten’s and Price’s.  Maten’s jump in scoring from freshman year to sophomore year was incredible as he averaged over 16 ppg in his second year in Athens.  Price, however, never averaged in double-digits during his UGA career, but that was because Thompkins and Travis Leslie (and later Gerald Robinson, Jr.) were doing the majority of the scoring.  Next year will be a big one for both Hammonds and UGA as he will be called upon to shore up a bulk of the points that will be abandoned by Yante’s departure.

Other SEC 4-star bigs from the 2017 class

Dan Gafford (Ark): 12.1 ppg, 6.3 rpg

Jeremiah Tillman (Mizz): 8.7 ppg, 4.3 rpg

Chuma Okeke (AU): 7.8 ppg, 5.8 rpg

Rayshaun Hammonds (UGA): 6.9 ppg, 5.2 rpg

Darious Hall (Ark): 4.8 ppg, 2.9 rpg

Chase Johnson (UF): 4.3 ppg, 2 rpg

Alex Reese (Bama): 3.7 ppg, 3.1 rpg

Ejike Obinna (Vandy): 3.7 ppg, 3.1 rpg

Galen Alexander (LSU): 2.1 ppg, 2.4 rpg

Mayan Kiir (LSU): 2.1 ppg, 2.1 rpg

Derrick Walker (UT): 1.3 ppg, 1.8 rpg

Ibrahim Doumbia (SC) 0.5 ppg, 0.9 rpg

Isiah Jasey (A&M): 0.3 ppg, 0.4 rpg

Isaiah Stokes (UF): DNP

While other factors are certainly at play here (playing time, scheme, roster talent, etc.), statistically speaking, Hammonds is outperforming the majority of his 4-star forward peers.