Posts Tagged ‘Mississippi State’
Last night’s contest with Mississippi State had trap game written all over it. Sandwiched right in between last Saturday’s thrilling comeback over Tennessee and next Saturday’s showdown with SEC monster Kentucky was an unassuming matchup with another team brandishing a 5-7 conference record.
For the first twenty minutes of this one, Georgia looked as if they just weren’t all there. On offense, UGA clunked and clanked around the court as they turned the ball over 9 times and mustered a subpar 25% shooting percentage from the floor. J.J. Frazier, the hero from the game in Knoxville, went the whole half without a field goal, and his teammate, Yante Maten, managed only one himself. Defensively, the Dawgs played as if they hadn’t been made aware in the film room that the Maroon Dawgs could be dangerous from the perimeter. Missy State came into this game making 8 three-pointers a night in SEC games, yet by the intermission they already had connected on 6 of them.
Fortunately, somebody got the team some 5-hour energy at the break, and they actually came out of the locker room with a little poise. J.J. Frazier began to push the tempo more on offense, and the Dawgs went on a 12-3 run to start that half that erased the Maroon Dawgs 32-28 halftime advantage and gave Georgia a 40-35 lead after just 5 minutes of play.
The UGA offense snapped out of its funk and much of that had to do with Frazier, who started to resemble the player who dropped 29 points in Knoxville just a few days earlier. Frazier scored all 17 of his points last night in the final twenty minutes, 9 of which came off of three-pointers. Yante Maten took over in the paint, scoring 15 of his game-high 24 points following the intermission, and he snagged 5 more boards to give him 9 on the evening, just missing another double-double. As a team, UGA hit 67% from the floor over the game’s final twenty minutes of play as the Dawgs improved their shot selection as a team.
This game was actually tied at 54 apiece with 6:30 left, but UGA went on a critical 8-0 run that was capped off by a pair of free throws from Maten that saw Georgia take a 62-54 lead with just over 4:06 remaining. This stretch of game turned out to be too much for the Maroon Dogs to overcome as they couldn’t close the gap on UGA, and Mark Fox’s team earned the 79-72 home victory, which marked the Dawgs first SEC win streak since early January.
The offense wasn’t the only thing that underwent a metamorphosis after the break. Following the intermission, Georgia guarded much tighter on the perimeter and held MSU to just 3 second half buckets from beyond the arc. The UGA bigs played strong as well, holding the Missy State starting posts to just a 1 for 5 effort from the floor. Both Maten and Derek Ogbeide played incredibly sound post defense as they stayed on the floor and forced the MSU bigs to try to shoot over them.
The unsung heroes of this game for Georgia had to be Juwan Parker and E’Torrian Wilridge. Parker, who has officially brought the midrange jumper back to college basketball, quietly put together a 16-point effort after turning the ball over twice in the game’s first 4 minutes, and if his shot hadn’t been on last night then this contest could have easily turned out differently.
Wilridge seemed to benefit from the “first career start” mojo that Tyree Crump enjoyed on Saturday in Knoxville when he dropped 13 points on the Vols (Crump only played 5 minutes last night, which is certainly a head scratcher). On Tuesday, Wilridge earned Fox’s token start, and he did not disappoint as he peppered the stat sheet with 5 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists and a block. Three of his assists came during that 8-0 run that knocked the life out of MSU as Wilridge consistently got the ball inside to a cutting Maten.
With an RPI of 24, Georgia has positioned itself well for an NCAA Tournament birth…for now (Lunardi had UGA as a 10-seed in this week’s Bracketology). The Dawgs still have 13 SEC games remaining on their schedule, and if they don’t handle their business down the road (finish above .500) they could find themselves on the outside of the bubble. In the Maroon Dawgs, UGA will be taking on a team that has not had the most spectacular start to the 2014-2015 season. Missy State is 9-9 overall and just 2-3 in conference games; yet, a win over Georgia tomorrow and the other Bulldogs are dead-even with the red Dawgs in league play.
In fact, the SEC will feature a number of games tomorrow in which the winners/losers – if all the chips fell a certain way – could leave the league with an eight-way tie at 3-3. Coach Mark Fox’s team has an opportunity to put some separation between themselves and some of the other competition in the conference, meaning a win is critical.
Another reason that Georgia cannot afford a slip-up in Starkville on Saturday is related to that whole RPI-thingy. See, the Maroon Dawgs have an RPI of 177, which means that should they pull the upset they would go down as UGA’s worst loss on the season. Minnesota (RPI 99) and Georgia Tech (72) are now both ugly blemishes on Georgia’s tournament resume – these two teams are a combined 1-12 in conference play, and neither squad needs a pair of shades because the future does not look too bright. Tech still hasn’t played UVA, Duke or Carolina, and Minnesota has to play Iowa, Indiana and Wisconsin (twice).
I realize that everyone reading this blog knows that a big reason the Dawgs fell to GT was that Kenny Gaines, who was coming back from a bout with mononucleosis, played just 18 rusty minutes. But, the NCAA Tournament Committee will more than likely not know about that little tidbit since they do not have time to comb through the personnel histories of all the teams that they are considering.
Finally, as a UGA basketball fan, I understand just how precious it is when Georgia reaches the Big Dance because it happens oh so rarely. However, at the risk of becoming a bit spoiled, I’d like to go on record saying that should UGA be privileged enough to be selected this year, I truly hope the Dawgs can avoid seeds 7-10. The 7,8,9 and 10 seeds, which are typically given to teams from large conferences, are kind of a let down. Yes, fans are excited that their team is going to the tournament, but a win only means that their squad has to go on to most likely play a 1- or 2-seed.
Q: How do you lose a 13-point lead with only 4:16 to play in the game?
A: Commit 5 turnovers and score 2 points
When Albert Jackson made both free throws to put Georgia on top 65-52 with only 4:16 left in the game, I definitely was starting to think that the Dawgs could pull off their first SEC win of the season (and on the road at that).
But Mississippi State had other things in mind. The Bulldogs got into a full-court trap press that forced UGA into multiple turnovers, and essentially “all-out panic mode”. State made three 3-point shots (they were merely 5-25 from beyond the arc before that) and finished out the game with a 20-4 run.
This leaves the Georgia Bulldogs with an 8-8 record overall, and winless in the SEC (0-3). This was Georgia’s third straight game in which they led at the half yet still lost. I am still pleased with everything that Coach Mark Fox is getting out of this team that is generally less talented than it’s opponents (MSU was favored by 13.5), but I am also worried that the team’s morale could take a hit.
The Dawgs are staying in these games by mostly sheer will and effort, and today was no different as they pulled down an outstanding 18 offensive rebounds (a very telling “effort” stat). If the losses continue to pile up, will the effort eventually deteriorate?
I thought that Georgia’s bigs gave them very good minutes today. Albert Jackson scored a season-high 11 points to go along with 6 rebounds (if he hadn’t made the turnover at the end that led to a Phil Turner 3-pointer I might go so far as to say he played a perfect game). Jeremy Price played hard and finished with 6 points, 5 rebounds and 3 assists (unfortunately, he too had a terrible turnover at the end that led to Miss St points). Chris Barnes only played 12 minutes, but he was productive as he grabbed 4 rebounds (3 offensive) and scored 3 points.
All and all, the UGA bench gave Coach Fox a much better performance today. Thompkins picked up his 2nd foul with 8:47 left in the first half…after the State player made the two free throws, the UGA lead was cut to 18-15. This was the last action that Trey would see for the rest of the half, yet his compatriots were able to build the lead up to 41-30 at the break.
Travis Leslie finished with a pretty good line – 14 points, 15 rebounds, 5 assists and 4 steals – but he got a majority of those stats in the first half. Mississippi State clamped down on Leslie in the second half, holding him to only 2 points on 1 of 7 shooting from the field. However, Leslie did catch two more backdoor alley-oop dunks (he leads the country in this statistic with 6 on the season), and he continues to be my favorite player for his relentless hustle (and highlights).
Miss State came into today’s game averaging nearly 10 three-point field goals a game. At the half, State had only made one. The Bulldogs heated up in the second half to hit 7 more threes, and their defensive intensity did a complete 180 from the lackluster performance in the first half.
MSU guards Dee Bost and Phil Turner led the Bulldogs with 15 apiece, and Varnado added 14 points, 14 rebounds and 6 blocks.
Georgia ran a 3-2 zone defense for almost 85% of the game (it felt like), and for the most part it worked well as the Dawgs were able frustrate MSU from beyond the arc – State shot 8 of 31, or only 25.8% (they usually shoot over 41%).
At the end of the game though, it seemed like the Bulldogs were getting better penetration from Bost which led to more wide-open 3PT looks on kick-outs (I would have like to see Fox switch to a man-to-man defense with 3:30 left).
This was a tough one to swallow…what’s everybody else think?
This Saturday, the Georgia Bulldogs (8-7) travel to Starkville in search of their first SEC win of 2010 to take on the Mississippi State Bulldogs (13-3). Finally! The Dawgs get to play an unranked team (although Miss St is receiving votes in both polls).
Mississippi State returns all five starters from last year’s team that accomplished the following: won the SEC Tournament, earned an NCAA Tournament bid and beat Georgia twice (once in Athens and once in the SEC Tourney). Needless to say, expectations of a bigger season in 2010 are alive and well in Starkville (upsetting in-state rival Ole Miss last Saturday probably helped too).
Miss State is led by 7th-year senior center (just kidding) Jarvis Varnado, who is most famous around the conference for his shot-blocking ability. This year has been no different. Varnado is swatting 5 shots a game and has already had two 8-block games. Remember his 10 block performance he had against UGA in 2008? Let’s hope that he doesn’t come close to that total again this Saturday.
Varnado sets the tone for this Mississippi State defense which is tops in the SEC, surrendering only 59.6 points per game (this ranks #23 in the country in team scoring defense) and holding opponents to 35.9% from the field (also best in the conference). Guess what? Those are not the only two categories that State is leading the SEC in…they are also grabbing 42.2 rebounds a game. So they play great defense and rebound well (which means they are limiting teams to only one shot), sounds like the Dawgs have their work cut out for them.
On offense, Miss State uses Varnado’s size inside to play a high-low game and open up the perimeter for shots. The Bulldogs are (once again) leading the SEC in team 3-pointers made at nearly 10 a game, and in 3-point percentage at 41%.
State’s 3pt gun-slingers include juniors Ravern Johnson (14.6 pts), Kodi Augustus (9.5pts), Barry Stewart (11.1 pts) and sophomore point guard Dee Bost (11.6 pts). Augustus is the only player mentioned above that is listed as a “forward”, but even he tends to lurk outside the blocks and look for jump shots. But hey, when you have Jarvis Varnado owning the paint (13.9 pts/10.9 rbds a night) I guess that’s a luxury the other players enjoy.
What Georgia Should Look to Do:
1. Take Jarvis Out of the Game – In their win over Ole Miss last Saturday, the Bulldogs (MSU) used a 2-3 zone defense in the second half to control the tempo of the game and outscore the Rebels 43-33 en route to an 80-75 win. The Dawgs cannot allow this to happen. Mississippi States wants a slow-paced game so that they can pack in their zone and let Varnado have ownership of the paint. UGA needs to get Travis Leslie and Ricky McPhee running the court from the start – the quicker the balls transitions to the other end, the less time Jarvis has to get back on defense.
2. Man Defense, give it to my man – Should Rick Stansbury be so bold and allow his Bulldogs to play man-to-man against Georgia, UGA should look to get the ball to Thompkins nearly every time. If Trey can get the ball and square up to the basket from about 15′-18′ out, I don’t think that Varnado can guard him off the dribble in space.
Las Vegas has Mississippi State favored over the Dawgs by a whopping 14.5 points! Guess the odds-makers think UGA is heading to Starkville to lay an egg.
The game tips off at 3:00pm EST and will be televised on ESPN2. If you don’t have a TV or you haven’t paid Comcast in a while you can always listen for free on 750AM.