Coach Mark Fox on recruiting, Jeremy Price update


I found a nice article by Seth Emerson of the Macon Telegraph – Mark Fox defends his recruiting track record – in which Coach Fox discusses some of his past recruiting successes as well as his staff’s strategies when evaluating players.

Other than Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, it’s hard for me to envision any future NBA players on the Bulldogs’ current roster.  However, I suppose I will reserve judgement until I have given Nemi Djurisic and John Cannon a few more years to develop…

Jeremy Price

For those of you who thought that Jeremy Price’s basketball career ended in Charlotte, North Carolina following UGA’s first-round loss to Washington in the 2011 NCAA Tournament, you should be pleasantly surprised to learn that Price has landed a spot playing professionally for the Joensuun Kataja of the Finnish Basketball League.  His team was recently ousted from the Korisliiga Playoffs in a game in which Price contributed 14 points and 3 rebounds.

I’ve included a highlight reel of some of Price’s best Finnish-es (his PG deserves a lot of credit for these buckets):

Georgia and Auburn Open Up 2011 SEC Tournament

Las Vegas has given the Georgia Bulldogs a 10-to-1 shot to win this year’s SEC Tournament.

The Dawgs don’t have to win the whole thing though (as nice as that would be) to earn an at-large berth into the NCAA Tournament; they just have to win one or two games – depending on which sports media website you have bookmarked on your internet browser.

Georgia will play the Auburn Tigers in the first game of the conference tournament at 1:00PM in the Georgia Dome.  This game will be the second meeting between these two teams within the state of Georgia this year, with the first coming earlier this season in Athens.

Jeremy Price scored 22 points in that game and the Dawgs beat the Tigers 81-72, but it took them an extra five minutes to do it.  Auburn’s Ernest Ross scored a season-high 30 points in the game, and his Tigers connected on 9 three-pointers (also a season-high) en route to a very close road loss.

As I mentioned in my last post, the Bulldogs are an astounding 13-1 when Price – “The Refrigerator from Decatur” – scores in double-figures – make what you will with that statistic.

To Georgia’s credit, Trey Thompkins and a few other UGA players were dealing with a flu bug due to some bad chili from the road trip to Arkansas – but the Dawgs team effort against Auburn that day did leave a lot to be desired.

Ross ended up putting together a nice sophomore season for the fighting War Eagles, averaging 14.3 ppg as well as 6.4 rpg in SEC play.  He was also the team’s most consistent outside threat, connecting on nearly 39% of his shot attempts from beyond the arc.

If the Bulldogs show up hungry and ready to play defense on Thursday, this game won’t even be close.  In conference games this season, Auburn made only 31.0% of their three-point attempts and just four three’s per contest (which was next to last in the conference).  The fact that Georgia let this Tiger team drop nine three’s on them in Athens is inexcusable.  The Dawgs really improved their three-point percentage defense over the course of the year though, limiting SEC opponents to just 31.4% from beyond the arc (which ranked third in the conference).  If Georgia can do a good job of closing out and contesting Auburn’s perimeter shots, they should put themselves in a great position to win.

Another area where this game could be won or lost will be on the boards, where both of these teams have found success this season.  Auburn averages 12.9 offensive rebounds per league game, which is third in the SEC.  Georgia, conversely, is second in the conference with 27.0 defensive rebounds per game.  Which team will play with more energy on Thursday and win the battle of the boards?

This is a much improved Auburn team that Georgia will be playing in the Dome.  Since the loss to UGA, Auburn has gone 3-4 in SEC games, and two of those losses were by just two points each (Alabama and Arkansas).

The main thing that concerns me heading into this game is the difference in mindsets for both of these teams.  Auburn finished the season 11-19 overall and 4-12 in the conference – it’s safe to say that barring a miraculous four-game run, they will not be playing any basketball after this week.

That being said, the Tigers should enter this game with nothing to lose, which could translate into a loose and relaxed Auburn team.

Georgia, on the other hand, has a bit more added pressure with a potential NCAA at-large berth on the line, and thus they run the risk of playing tight.  If the Dawgs were to slip up and drop this game to the Tigers, UGA would certainly be on the first bus to the NIT.

On top of that, a couple of well-known ESPN college basketball analysts have hinted that the Bulldogs may need to win two games to get themselves off the “bubble” (meaning wins over both Auburn and Alabama).

Hopefully Coach Mark Fox has his starting five keyed-in and ready to take care of the task at hand (Auburn), because none of the bubble watches, bracketologies or “potential play-in games” matter if Georgia doesn’t win this first tournament game.

The Georgia Bulldogs definitely have a team that is capable of winning this SEC Tournament, and the bracket couldn’t have worked out any better in their favor, with both Florida and Vanderbilt on the opposite side.

If the Bulldogs are going to go on a run here in Atlanta this weekend though, they will have to have the support of the Georgia fan base.  It would be awesome to see the UGA fan base come out to the Dome on Thursday and turn it into Stegeman Coliseum.

Georgia fans have the shortest commute by far of any other SEC team.  Whether you have to take a late lunch, a half day or miss class, I personally think it would be well worth it to head on down to the Georgia Dome to pick up some tickets and support this UGA basketball team.

Dawgs Fall Short in Tuscaloosa

The Alabama Crimson Tide came into Saturday’s game against the Georgia Bulldogs (20-10; 9-7) averaging an SEC-worst 5.1 three-pointers per game.  Senior Charvez Davis hit five three’s himself though, two of which came during a critical stretch that put his team up 50-40 with only 9:37 remaining.  Bama had its biggest lead of the game with its star player, JaMychal Green, on the bench with four fouls.

Georgia was unable to capitalize in Green’s absence, and the Dawgs sputtered to a 65-57 loss in Tuscaloosa.

The Tide’s SEC-leading defense lived up to its billing on Saturday, forcing Georgia into 16 turnovers and holding the Dawgs to just 41.3% from the floor.  Alabama’s full-court press kept the Bulldogs off-balance, and Georgia managed to get off just 46 field goal attempts – usually the Dawgs are hoisting up at least 60 FG shots per game.

Coach Mark Fox sounded more displeased on the post-game locker room radio show yesterday than I can remember following a loss this year.  After the Dawgs’ heart-breaking losses to both Florida and Tennessee, Fox was obviously upset, but he also seemed to feel bad for his team for having to endure those tough defeats.

After the Bama game, however, Fox sounded pissed.  He did not like the Bulldogs effort in the game yesterday, especially on the boards, where Georgia yielded 14 offensive rebounds to the Tide – the Dawgs lost the battle of the boards by a tally of 30-28.

JaMychal Green, who dealt with foul trouble for a majority of the second half, finished the game with 19 points and 9 rebounds, leading all scorers.

Georgia’s scoring came from Trey Thompkins and Travis Leslie, who ended the game with 15 points apiece.  Trey was ultra-productive on Saturday, as he also grabbed 10 rebounds in just 27 minutes of play – his fifth double-double of the season.

Gerald Robinson, Jr. struggled mightily against the Tide, finishing the game with 8 points on just 2 of 12 shooting from the floor.  Robinson dished out 4 assists, yet he matched that total with 4 turnovers.

The Bulldogs turned the ball over too many times to expect to win on the road against a team that hadn’t lost at home yet this season.  Travis Leslie was the main culprit on Saturday, leading his squad with 6 turnovers in the contest.

Jeremy Price was ineffective against Alabama, posting only 6 points and making just one field goal.  I don’t want to go on record as saying that the Dawgs go as Jeremy Price goes, but Georgia is 13-1 this season in games where Jeremy scores in double-digits.

The Dawgs wrap up their 2010-2011 SEC slate with a 9-7 record, which is a great accomplishment for this team and for Coach Mark Fox.  At the moment, Georgia is sitting at fourth place in the SEC East, with their final position in the standings dependent upon the outcome of the game today between Kentucky and Tennessee.

If Kentucky wins, Georgia stays in fourth.  If the Vols come out on top, then the Bulldogs will wind up in fifth place due to a slew of unfavorable tie-breakers.

FYI – the Bulldog Nation wants Kentucky to take care of business in Knoxville so Georgia can get the East fourth-seed in next week’s conference tournament.  If that were to happen, the Dawgs would take on Auburn in the first round and the winner would go on to play Alabama.

The East five-seed plays Arkansas in round one, with the winner facing an unfavorable second-round match-up with the Florida Gators.

Go Cats.

Georgia Hopes to Hand Alabama First Home Loss

The Alabama Crimson Tide are 15-0 when playing in Tuscaloosa this season – not bad, not bad at all.

They are 11-4 in the conference and could possibly split the regular season title with Florida (if the Gators were to stumble at Vanderbilt on Saturday), yet they are on the NCAA Bubble due to a lack of love from the people at RPI, Inc.  The Tide sport a less-than-stellar RPI of 86, largely due in part to their soft out-of-conference schedule – they have the 129th hardest schedule in the nation (eeehhh).

Bama has gone 3-2 against teams from the SEC East, however, and they need this game over an RPI Top 50 team like the Georgia Bulldogs (20-9; 9-6) to bolster their tourney resume.  The Tide should be plenty motivated come Saturday afternoon, and there’s a chance that they might play a Dawgs team that could be without its star player – Trey Thompkins.

Thompkins has been nursing a toe injury all week, and at the moment he is listed as questionable for the game.

It would be a shame if Trey couldn’t go for Georgia, because I was very excited to see the match-up between him and Bama’s version of Trey Thompkins – JaMychal Green.  Green has put together an excellent junior season for Coach Anthony Grant, leading his team with 16.7 ppg and 7.7 rpg in conference play.  Similarly to Thompkins, Green is a versatile big that can score the ball both inside and out.

Green is joined in the frontcourt by sophomore wing Tony Mitchell, who is scoring 16.6 ppg and grabbing 6.3 rpg in SEC contests.

The Tide get scoring on the perimeter from freshman point guard Trever Releford – he is netting 11.7 ppg and dishing out 3.2 apg in league games.

Alabama Coach Anthony Grant wanted his team to be strong defensively coming into this season, and it’s safe to say his kids bought in.  The Tide are holding opponents to merely 61.1 points per game, tops in the SEC.  Bama leads the conference in field goal percentage defense, limiting opponents to just 39.6% from the field.  They are also leading the SEC in steals with 9.2 per game, and they are fourth in the league in blocked shots at 5.1 per contest.  This team gets it done on the defensive side of the ball, and that is why they have won 11 conference games this season.

Offensively, much like Georgia, the Tide prefer to get their points from inside the arc.  Bama is shooting just 26.3% from three-point range, and they are hitting only 3.1 three-point field goals a game – both of which rank them last in the SEC.  Conversely though, they are knocking down nearly 50% of their 2-point field goal attempts in conference games this year.

If Trey can’t go on Saturday, Georgia is going to face a very stiff challenge in Tuscaloosa.  Coach Mark Fox’s triangle offense will not run as smoothly with either Jeremy Price or Chris Barnes at the high post position, as neither player is a significant scoring threat from more than eight feet from the basket (that’s being very generous to Barnes).

The Dawgs are going to have to find other ways to score, and hopefully Gerald Robinson and Travis Leslie can create offense from the wing positions.

Dustin Ware is coming off his best three-point shooting performance since the Georgia Tech game, knocking down 5 of 7 from beyond the arc in the win over LSU on Thursday.  Ware is connecting on an SEC-leading 47.7% of his three-point attempts this season.  Coach Fox is going to need Dustin to step up and make some outside shots on Saturday.

In my (humble) opinion, this game is far more significant for Alabama than it is for Georgia – dare I say “must win” for the Tide?  With the Dawgs’ win over LSU on Thursday, Georgia put themselves in a very good position to earn an at-large berth to this year’s NCAA tournament – that’s what  a strong RPI of 37 will do for you.  Bama however, could be left out of the dance if they were to lay an egg and drop one to the Dawgs on Saturday.

That being said, if the Bulldogs were to go into Bear Bryant Territory and knock off the Tide, Georgia would head into next week’s SEC Tournament looking to improve their NCAA tourney seed (vs wondering if they are in or not).

Hopefully Trey’s toenail is getting the best medical attention that UGA can provide.

If he can’t play though, can the Dawgs win an SEC road game without him?

Georgia goes for win number 20 tonight against LSU

If the Georgia Bulldogs (19-9; 8-6) can win in Athens on Wednesday night against the LSU Tigers, then they should be in good shape for the postseason, according to  Joe Lunardi’s latest Bracketology had Georgia playing in Tampa, Florida as an 11-seed versus 6-seed Villanova – personally, I’d prefer a different match-up.

Georgia is a better team than LSU, and the Dawgs should win tonight (Vegas has the Bulldogs as a whopping 15-point favorite).

Georgia has an RPI of 35, while LSU’s is a dismal 207.  Georgia is the fourth-highest scoring team in the league at 70.5 ppg, while LSU is dead-last with 58.3 ppg.  The Tigers are 10th in the conference in team defense, surrendering 70.6 ppg.

The numbers don’t get much prettier for LSU, as they rank in the bottom three of the conference in twelve statistical categories.  They do not shoot the ball well at all, mustering just 38.7% from the field and 27.1% from beyond the arc.

You get the picture right?  LSU hasn’t been very good this season.

But they did win at Auburn in early January, a team that took the Dawgs to overtime when they played in Athens.  They also won at Missy State last Wednesday, and they took a 43-41 lead into the break against Vandy on Saturday before falling 90-69.

Georgia has nine losses this season, yet all of them were to opponents ranked in the RPI Top 50.  The Dawgs record this year against the RPI Top 50 is an underwhelming 3-9, however, they do not have any “ugly” losses – which will definitely be taken into account by the NCAA selection committee.  Georgia can ill-afford to slip up and drop a game that they should win at this point of the season.

If the Dawgs defend well tonight in Stegeman, they will give themselves an excellent chance to come out victorious.  Georgia is right in the middle of the pack of the SEC in scoring defense, allowing conference opponents 67.5 ppg.  However, they are limiting teams to just 40.5% from the floor, ranking them third in league in that category.  The Bulldogs have been a fairly sound defensive team throughout this season, but lately they have been plagued by second-half lapses.  In the past five games, the Dawgs are surrendering nearly 20 more points to opponents after the break versus before it.  For whatever reason, Georgia has not been stepping onto the floor ready to defend in the second half lately.

As mentioned early, the Tigers are one of the worst-defensive teams in the league this season (70.6 ppg).  The magic scoreboard number for opponents this year has been 80 points – LSU has yielded 80 or more points 13 times this season, and they have gone 2-11 in those contests.

Last Saturday night against South Carolina, Georgia’s Trey Thompkins went for 20 points, his first time doing so since the Florida game on January 25th.  It would be nice to see Trey get back into a rhythm on offense for this final stretch of games before heading into the SEC tournament next week (and potentially the NCAA’s).

This game will also mark the last home game for seniors Jeremy Price and Chris Barnes, who have platooned at the forward position this season for Coach Mark Fox.  Neither of these seniors has ever been part of a 20-win team, and they will have a chance to reach that plateau this evening.

Dawgs Coast at Home

On Thursday night, the Georgia Bulldogs (19-9; 8-6) used a zone defense for nearly the entire game in their loss to the Florida Gators.  In Athens on Saturday, the South Carolina Gamecocks deployed the same strategy, showing the Dawgs zone for the full forty minutes.

Georgia picked it apart.

The Bulldogs attacked the zone with precision-like efficiency – knocking down open shots from the wing, getting the ball to Trey Thompkins in the high post (who in turn either scored or found the cutters along the baseline).  Georgia shot 46.0% from the field and nearly 37.0% from beyond the arc.

Thompkins buried a three-pointer with 10:53 left in the first half to put his team up 15-6, and the Gamecocks never recovered.  The Dawgs took a 39-22 lead into the break, and then proceeded to play even-basketball with the Cocks for the remainder of the game – coasting to a 64-48 win.

I was surprised to see Coach Darren Horn keep his team in a zone, especially coming out of the intermission with the Cocks trailing by 17 points.  One would think that he might want to switch to a man-to-man to pick up the tempo, but that wasn’t the case.

Trey Thompkins led the Dawgs with 20 points and 8 rebounds, his first 20-point performance since the Florida game on January 25th.  Trey also turned in another great defensive effort, recording 3 shot blocks and 7 defensive boards – he now has 18 blocked shots over the past 8 games.

Gerald Robinson, Jr. struggled again on offense, going 3 for 10 from the floor and finishing with just 8 points and 6 turnovers.  He did however, shut down Carolina’s Bruce Ellington once again, limiting him to 7 points and only 3 field goals (on 12 attempts).  As good as a freshman campaign as Ellington has had, you can be sure he does not want to see Robinson on the court again this season.

Jeremy Price played a very productive 24 minutes for Coach Mark Fox, scoring 14 points on a barrage of dunks and snagging 6 boards.  Price had an emphatic dunk-back on an offensive rebound in the first half, and then proceeded to dazzle the Stegeman crowd with his rendition of Aaron Rodgers’ “Championship Belt”.  As entertaining as this spectacle was to see live, let’s hope it never happens again (Price was lucky not to get a technical foul).

Travis Leslie had the most complete game of any Bulldog though, finishing with 15 points, 7 rebounds and 6 assists.  Leslie’s point totals can sometimes sneak up on you, but he has now gone for 15+ points in nine conference games this season.

It was reassuring to see the Bulldogs take a lesser opponent (South Carolina) and beat them soundly as opposed to letting them hang around (Auburn) – especially on their home floor.  The Dawgs are now tied with the Kentucky Wildcats for third place in the SEC East (Tennessee was upset at home by Mississippi State).

If the Dawgs can take care of business on Wednesday night against LSU, they will get to the 20-win plateau as well as put themselves in a great position to earn an at-large bid into this year’s NCAA tournament.

Georgia at Florida in Prime Time on ESPN2

The Georgia Bulldogs (18-8; 7-5) head to Gainesville on Thursday night for a rematch with the #13 Florida Gators, who beat the Dawgs in Athens earlier this season 104-91.  The first meeting between these two teams was one of the better college basketball games of the year, with Georgia coming from behind to send the game into overtime only to have Florida’s Erving Walker hit a three-pointer to force a second overtime.  The Gators were the only team interested in playing in the second overtime as they outscored the Dawgs 19-6 en route a big SEC road victory.

Florida (21-5; 10-2) is undoubtedly the best team in the conference this year, and they are currently riding a five-game winning streak.  The Gators, however, could be playing once again without their preseason All-SEC Second-Team forward Chandler Parsons.  Parsons sustained a deep thigh bruise in Florida’s win over Tennessee on February 12th, forcing him to sit out the second half of that game as well as the LSU game last Sunday – a game that the Gators won 68-61.

Florida coach Billy Donovan did not sound positive about whether or not his star forward would play during Monday’s press conference.

“Right now, I’m not personally, overly optimistic that he’ll play,” coach Billy Donovan said. “I think in his mind, he’d like to try to play. … The last time he did anything physically was this past Friday and he couldn’t do much at all.  We’ll prepare for the game without him and if he plays, it’s a bonus.”

Georgia coach Mark Fox didn’t seem to be buying it though, saying that the Dawgs would “prepare like he is going to play”.

Whether Parsons plays or not remains to be seen, but either way this game is still a difficult road test for a Georgia team that has not won a game in Gainesville in nine years.

That being said, this year’s Bulldogs squad seems to prefer life on the road.  Following the Dawgs’ huge win last Saturday in Knoxville over Tennessee, Georgia now holds an 7-2 record in true road games on the season, and they are 4-2 in SEC games played away from Athens.

In the first game between these teams, the Dawgs did not have an answer for Florida’s dynamic guard tandem of Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton.  Walker and Boynton scored 24 points apiece, and they shot a combined 24 free throws (connecting on 20 of them).  Both guards used a plethora of high screens to get themselves into the paint where they were able to create at will.  Georgia’s bigs must do a better job of stopping penetration off the pick-and-roll, and making it more difficult for Walker and Boynton to get into the lane.

Florida center Vernon Macklin, who is a load inside at 6’10” and 245 pounds, is having a solid senior season for Coach Donovan, averaging 12.7 ppg and shooting over 57% from the field in conference play.  Macklin shot 10 of 15 from the floor and scored 23 points in the game in Athens, his highest scoring output in an SEC game this season.  With the way Trey Thompkins has been defending lately – 15 blocks in his last six games – I would not be at all surprised to see Coach Fox put him on Florida’s big center (and move either Jeremy Price or Chris Barnes on to Alex Tyus).

Though Trey has been playing some inspired defense lately, he has struggled to find offense since the first game against the Gators (the last time he went for 20 points or more).  In the seven games since the Florida one, Thompkins is shooting just 37.3% from the floor and averaging only 12.3 points.  Despite Trey’s offensive woes, the Dawgs have gone 4-3 in this same span of games.  Imagine how dangerous Georgia would be if Thompkins could get his shot going again?

Georgia has two home games left this year on their conference slate – South Carolina and LSU.  If they win those (as they should), they’ll finish with a winning SEC record and will most likely earn an at-large berth into this year’s NCAA tournament.

That means, in a way, that the pressure is off for the game on Thursday (another perk from the win against the Vols).  Mark Fox’s team should play as if they have nothing to lose, and treat this game as a bonus opportunity to upset a conference rival on their home court (and to possibly improve their NCAA seeding – last “Bracketology” had the Dawgs as a 10-seed).

The Gators are 12-3 this year in Gainesville, and again, they haven’t lost one to Georgia in the Oconnell Center in 9 years.

Georgia’s victory in Knoxville last Saturday was their first at Tennessee in over a decade.

It might be time for the Dawgs to end another streak.

First Time in a Decade

The Georgia Bulldogs (18-8; 7-5) looked like an NCAA tournament team on Saturday in their 69-63 win over the Tennessee Volunteers.  This was a game that Tennessee needed as badly as Georgia, making the victory that much more impressive.

Georgia used a 17-0 run in the first half to build up a 22-7 lead, and they weathered the Vols’ first run to take a 33-25 lead into the half.  There may have been a lid on the rim that Tennessee was shooting on before the break, but Georgia was playing some pretty inspired defense as well.  Coach Mark Fox did a beautiful job of changing his defense from man to zone, keeping the Vols offense off rhythm.

If it weren’t for a career game from Tennessee’s Scotty Hopson, Georgia would have run away with this one early on.  Hopson was unstoppable, torching Georgia for 32 points on a barrage of drives, dunks and three-pointers.

Tennessee turned up the defensive intensity coming out of intermission however, and with 9:27 left they had a 48-45 lead, as well as all the momentum and a raucous Knoxville crowd behind them.

In the face of adversity and with their backs against the wall, the Dawgs simply fought back.  Trey Thompkins shot wasn’t working on Saturday, so his teammates picked up the slack.  During the game’s final ten minutes, Jeremy Price scored 8, Dustin Ware had 6 and Gerald Robinson and Travis Leslie each netted 4 points (Trey had two as well).

Georgia was led in Knoxville by Jeremy Price’s 20 points, with three other players scoring in double-figures for Coach Fox – Leslie (15), Ware (12), Thompkins (11).

Trey was clearly frustrated offensively, finishing just 4 of 14 from the floor on the game.  However, he showed a lot of leadership in his effort on Saturday.  Thompkins led the Dawgs with 9 rebounds, 7 of which came on the defensive end.  His hands were active on defense, creating 6 steals (career best) and swatting 2 shots.

Georgia limited Tennessee to just 9 offensive boards, their second-lowest tally of the season.  Coach Mark Fox had clearly challenged his team to perform better on the defensive glass after they had yielded 23 o-rebs to Vanderbilt in Athens on Wednesday.  The Dawgs responded by keeping the Vols off the boards, and winning the rebounding battle 35-27.

At 7-5 in the conference, Georgia is now tied with Kentucky for third place in the SEC East.  If the Dawgs can split their last four games (holding serve at home), they will finish the season with a winning league record.

On Friday, ESPN’s Doug Gottlieb had the Dawgs listed as “out” of this year’s NCAA Tournament field.

After Georgia’s inspired road win over Tennessee on Saturday, he might need to reevaluate his drawing board.

Big RPI Opportunity For Georgia on Wednesday

The Georgia Bulldogs‘ (17-7; 6-4) game against the #18 Vanderbilt Commodores on Wednesday is another huge opportunity for the Dawgs.

A win would all but assure Georgia of a winning conference record (assuming home wins over SC and LSU).  Not to mention that it would give them another victory over a team with a very high RPI (#15 Vandy).  Beating Vanderbilt on Wednesday would put Georgia on track to earn an at-large berth into this year’s NCAA tournament.

If the Bulldogs were to – eh’hem – lose to Vandy however, dancing in March becomes quite a challenge.  A loss to Vanderbilt would mean another squandered opportunity at home against a nationally ranked opponent (in front of a national audience).  It would also mean that the Dawgs would then have to win another SEC road game to finish with a winning conference record.

Georgia has not beaten the Florida Gators in Gainesville in nine years, and they haven’t taken a game in Knoxville in over a decade.  The Alabama Crimson Tide is undefeated at home in SEC games this season.  These are the remaining road games on Georgia’s conference schedule.

Now I am not saying that the Dawgs can’t win in Gainesville, Knoxville or Tuscaloosa, but it sure would make life a lot easier on Georgia (and their fans) if the Dawgs could just take care of business Wednesday night.

Vanderbilt won the first match-up between these two teams 73-66 in Nashville back in January.  In that game, 6’11” junior center Festus Ezeli scored 18 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, his only double-double in an SEC game this season.  Ezeli’s 18 points matched his season-high in a conference game, with the big man from Nigeria absolutely dominating Georgia’s Jeremy Price and Chris Barnes on the inside.  In 23 minutes of play, Price and Barnes combined for 2 points, 3 rebounds and 9 personal fouls (with Jeremy fouling out).

Over the past four games, Georgia’s Trey Thompkins has really stepped up his interior defense, registering 10 shot blocks in that span (he ranks 7th in the SEC in blocked shots with 1.8 per game).  Maybe Coach Mark Fox needs to switch up the match-ups defensively and let Trey have a go at Ezeli?

Vandy’s other two big guns on offense are sophomore John Jenkins and junior Jeffrey Taylor.  Jenkins, who is a strong candidate for SEC player of the year, is leading the conference in scoring with 22.3 ppg as well as shooting over 46% from beyond the arc.  Defenders have to remain very close to this guy, because much like BYU’s Jimmer Fredette, he can get his shot off quickly and from just about anywhere inside the half court line.

The match-up between Vanderbilt’s Jeffery Taylor and Georgia’s Travis Leslie will feature two of the best athletes (and dunkers) in the country.  Taylor is averaging 14.3 ppg in conference play (to Leslie’s 15.0 ppg) this season, and he contributed 15 points when the teams hooked up back in January.

Travis Leslie has played some of his best basketball against the ‘Dores, netting 23.5 ppg over the past two seasons in four games – including his career-high 34-point performance in the SEC tournament loss to Vandy last season.  Trey Thompkins is most likely to see a plethora of double-teams on Wednesday, and he will need to be able to find Leslie cutting and slashing down the lane.

The South Carolina game marked the 9th time this year that Georgia has finished a game with more turnovers than assists.  Astonishingly though, the Dawgs rank second in the conference with a 1.2 assist-to-turnover ratio, and they are first in the SEC in assists at 16.0 per game.

Despite their high assist-to-turnover ratio, Georgia has become increasingly careless with the basketball.  Through the first five games of SEC play, the Dawgs were giving the ball away just 11.8 times per game.  In the last six contests however, Georgia has been turning it over 15 times a game.  The Bulldogs are now averaging the 4th highest number of turnovers in the conference at 13.8 per contest – Auburn, Ole Miss and South Carolina are all turning it over less.

Georgia also currently owns the dubious title of the worst turnover margin in the SEC at -3.6.  The Dawgs are about to embark on a very difficult chunk of their schedule – Vandy and then road trips to Tennessee and Florida.  Coach Fox’s team has to clean things up and protect the ball better if they want to compete and close out in these games.

Georgia has gone 0-3 in weeknight games in Athens thus far in 2011, with losses to Tennessee, Florida and Xavier.  What hurts more is that all three of these losses were televised nationally by ESPN or ESPNU (not too mention that they made for some agonizing trips back to Atlanta for yours truly).  Wednesday night’s showdown will be airing live on ESPNU as well, so once again, Georgia will have the attention of the entire basketball nation for a weeknight game.

Though the Dawgs don’t have any bad losses on their tournament resume, they don’t have too many quality wins either.  Their record against the RPI Top 50 is an unsightly 2-7, and Vanderbilt represents the last chance for them to get a quality win at home against a high-RPI team.  In the latest edition of ESPN’s “Bubble Watch“, the Dawgs are listed under “Work Left to Do” – meaning they are by no means a lock for an at-large berth.  When referring to the Vandy game, ESPN “Bubble Watch” author Eamonn Brennan simply stated, “A win is advised”.

Subtext: Georgia needs to win this game to get on the right side of the tournament bubble.

Mark Fox has now coached Georgia through 55 games, but Wednesday night’s against the Commodores will be his most important one yet.

Resume Game: Xavier at Georgia

When the Georgia Bulldogs (16-6; 5-4) square off against the Xavier Musketeers (16-6; 8-1) in Athens on Tuesday night, both teams will be sharing a common motivation:  to bolster their respective NCAA tournament resumes.

Ultimately, that is what this game is all about (hence why it was added right in the midst of each team’s respective conference schedules).

Xavier boasts an RPI rating of 24, while the Dawgs are currently carrying a rating of 36.  The Musketeers are 2-3 in games this season played against the RPI Top 50, while Georgia is just 2-6.  It would be sufficient to say that both of these teams need this win to impress the NCAA Selection Committee (with Georgia needing it more).

Xavier coach Chris Mack doesn’t have a lot of depth in his lineup, but he does have a veteran starting five (two seniors, two juniors and a sophomore) that has been able to handle playing big minutes this season.  The Musketeers are one of the more complete teams that Georgia will play all year, with the ability to score the basketball both inside and out – they have four starters scoring in double-figures regularly.  If I were to liken the X-Men to an SEC team, I would probably choose the Florida Gators, who the Musketeers lost a 71-67 nail-biter to back in December of 2010.

Gerald Robinson, Jr. will have quite a challenge on Tuesday night, as he will most likely draw the undesirable task of defending Xavier’s Tu Holloway.  Holloway, a preseason Atlantic 10 First-Team Selection, is leading the X-Men in scoring (20.8 ppg) and assists (5.0 apg).  Matter of fact, he is one of just four Division I players in the country that is averaging both 20 points and 5 assists on the year.  Tu Holloway is difficult to guard because he can score it in so many different ways: off the drive, on a pull-up jumper or by just setting up from beyond the arc (where he is connecting on nearly 35% of his attempts).

Joining Holloway in the backcourt is sophomore shooting guard Mark Lyons.  Lyons is netting 13.8 ppg while knocking down nearly 39% of his three-point attempts, making him the perfect outside compliment to Holloway’s dribble penetration.

The Xavier frontcourt features 6’8″ senior Jamel McLean and 7’0″ junior Kenny Frease.  McLean, the team’s leading rebounder at 8.8 rpg, is exceptionally athletic for his size.  His athleticism allows him to be tenacious on the offensive glass (nearly 4 o-rebs per game), and he has already posted seven double-doubles this season.

Kenny Frease has a very soft touch around the rim, and he is contributing 11.9 ppg and 6.8 rpg for this Musketeer team.  Georgia’s Jeremy Price and Chris Barnes will have a tough time matching up with Frease on the block, as both players will be yielding at least four inches in height.  Price and Barnes have struggled this year when playing against bigger centers, surrendering 18 points to Vanderbilt’s Festus Ezili and 23 to Florida’s Vernon Macklin.  Coach Mark Fox must get a better defensive effort from his two senior bigs on Tuesday.

Interestingly enough, Price and Barnes are the only players on the Dawgs’ roster that played in their team’s 73-61 loss to Xavier back in the first round of the 2008 NCAA Tournament (following Georgia’s miraculous “Tornado”-induced SEC Tournament Championship).  In that game, Jeremy Price contributed 10 points and 5 rebounds – a similar effort on Tuesday night would be nice.

As aforementioned, Coach Mark Fox will require a solid defensive effort from Gerald Robinson in this game.  I’m sure that Coach Fox would like to see some of Robinson’s offense return as well.  In the first five SEC games of the season, Gerald averaged 18.0 ppg and looked much more assertive on offense, regularly attacking the basket off the dribble.  Over the past four games, Robinson has appeared timid to strike, scoring just 10.0 ppg.  He has also become noticeably more careless with the basketball, averaging 4 turnovers per contest during that same stretch.

The X-Men are 3-4 in true road games this season, while Georgia is 10-2 in games played at Stegeman Coliseum.

The Bulldogs are coming off of consecutive wins last week over Arkansas and Auburn.  Both games may have been more competitive than the Dawgs would have liked, but they got the wins none-the-less.

Georgia currently has four wins on their schedule that the NCAA Selection Committee would deem “quality wins” – Colorado, UAB, Kentucky and at Ole Miss (who now sports an RPI of 57 following their upset of Kentucky last week).  Quality wins can carry a team to an NCAA at-large berth, and the Dawgs could use at least two more before the regular season draws to a close.

On Tuesday night, both Xavier and Georgia will be fighting to add another “quality win” to their respective tournament resumes.  Both teams moved up in ESPN’s latest Bracketology, and the winner of tomorrow night’s game should see an improvement in their projected seeding.

As the college basketball season progresses, the stakes continue to get higher each week.  Wins and losses start to become even more critical, as a team’s “body of work” starts to really take shape.

Tuesday nights in Athens have been unkind to Georgia so far in 2011, with devastating losses to both Tennessee and Florida.

Will the Dawgs be able to snap their “Tuesday losing streak” tomorrow night?