Discussing Georgia’s SEC Tournament seed

Georgia’s win on Saturday coupled with losses by Ole Miss, Arkansas and Texas A&M made the Dawgs the benefactor of a four-way tie for third place.  Since Georgia had the best record amongst the tied teams, UGA earned the 3-seed in this week’s SEC tournament.  The cookie certainly crumbled in Georgia’s favor yesterday.

The double-bye could not have come at a better time for Coach Mark Fox as it will give his starting two-guard, Kenny Gaines, an additional day to receive treatment and to heal from a minor foot injury.  The Dawgs will play the winner of the Ole Miss vs. Missouri/South Carolina, with Georgia most likely playing the victor from a Rebels-Gamecocks matchup (SC beat Mizzou earlier in the year and the Cocks improved as the season progressed, while the Tigers have been mostly pitiful throughout).

Playing either South Carolina or Ole Miss would be intriguing for the Dawgs, considering UGA was swept by the Gamecocks, but then in turn did the sweeping themselves against the Rebels.

In the latest Bracketology reports, ESPN still has Georgia sitting at an 8-seed, and CBS, for whatever reason, has inexplicably dropped the Dawgs down to a 10-seed.

Kudos to Coach Mark Fox and this bunch of Dawgs for posting consecutive 20-win seasons the past two years, marking only the second time in program history in which that feat has transpired.  That wasn’t the only history that was made on Saturday, though – the Dawgs’ win on the Plains was its 6th conference road win of the season, setting a school record for that category.  Georgia’s road toughness is definitely an attribute that should serve them well in the NCAA Tournament.

Dawgs get 5th SEC road win in Oxford, enhance NCAA Tournament Resume

Marcus Thornton, who has not quite been himself offensively since returning from a concussion that saw him miss two games, appeared to be on track for another lackluster performance Wednesday night in Oxford.  The senior had just 2 points at the half as he struggled to finish around the basket against the Mississippi Rebels.

However, when his team needed him down the stretch, Thornton delivered.  With 5 minutes remaining in the game, Ole Miss had cut the UGA lead, which had been 12 points only a few minutes earlier, to 56-53 following a pair of free throws from Jarvis Summers.

Georgia desperately needed a bucket on its next possession, and thankfully Thornton managed to secure an offensive rebound and a stick-back to give his team a two-possession advantage.  Thornton finished the game with 18 points, but most impressive was the fact that he netted 12 of those points in the game’s final 5 minutes, carrying the Dawgs to an absolutely huge 76-72 SEC road victory.

Thornton also snagged a game-high 13 rebounds, giving him his 5th double-double of the season.

The Rebels’ defensive strategy in this one was to play heavy zone so as to force Georgia to beat them from the outside.  Considering that the Dawgs had been frigid from beyond the arc over the previous four games, hitting just 17 of its past 71 three-point attempts (24%), one could hardly blame Andy Kennedy for his plan of action.

Unfortunately for Ole Miss, though, UGA was locked in from the perimeter on Wednesday evening, connecting on 11 of 23 from  beyond the arc. Both Kenny Gaines and Neme Djurisic made 4 three’s apiece, rendering the Rebels’ zone ineffective.  Gaines led all scorers with 22 points, and Djurisic chipped in 17 to go along with 6 rebounds.  Gaines and Djurisic each hit a three-pointer in the second half that changed the score from a two-possession to a three-possession game, helping to keep the Rebels at bay.

Not only was Gaines on offensively, but the junior did a solid job of defending Stefan Moody, who entered last night’s contest as the leading scorer in the SEC through conference games at nearly 19 points a night.  Now, Moody did finish this game with 19 points, but 7 of them came in the game’s final minute of play with Georgia holding a commanding lead.  Before this game, Moody was near the top of the league in three-point percentage, making almost 40% of his attempts; yet, Gaines limited him to just 2 thee-pointers on 11 shots from the outside.

The win over Ole Miss puts UGA in a tie with LSU for 5th place in the conference with both teams sitting at 9-6, though the Tigers hold the tie-breaker over the Dawgs (since UGA let an 8-point lead escape in overtime in Baton Rouge).  For Georgia to finish in the top four of the SEC standings and earn a bye all the way to Friday of the conference tournament, a multitude of things have to go UGA’s way.  Unless Texas A&M just collapses and loses home games to both Auburn and Alabama, it seems unlikely that Georgia will be able to get past them in the standings.  Ole Miss and LSU play each other this weekend in Louisiana, and the winner of that contest will have the inside track on one of the top spots.

If Georgia could win out, meaning victories over Missouri, Kentucky (grabbing my collar as I type) and Auburn, the Dawgs probably would find themselves playing on Friday in the conference tournament.

Right now, though, the Dawgs need to only focus on Missouri – a team that is dead-last in the SEC with a 2-13 record – so that they avoid any more home letdowns (see recent games against Auburn and South Carolina).

Why is Georgia still being projected as just an 8-seed?

Heading into today’s game against the Auburn Tigers this afternoon, Georgia finds itself sitting comfortably in the RPI standings with a rating of 20.  If in fact the RPI is the baseline indicator for how the NCAA selection committee picks and seeds its bracket, then one would presume that UGA would be projected to be a 5- or 6-seed at this point in the year.

But that’s not the case.  In ESPN’s latest Bracketology, Joe Lunardi still has Georgia slotted as an 8-seed.  The network’s other college basketball guru, Eamonn Brennan, who orchestrates Bubble Watch each year, included this nugget about the Dawgs in his latest writeup:

“But every passing week of solidity gets Mark Fox’s team closer to its seeming No. 8-seed destiny.”

CBS’s Jerry Palm currently has Georgia pinned as a 9-seed.

These projections, though, don’t jive with where the committee has seeded teams that finished the year with RPI’s of 20 in the past.  Below are the last four teams to end the year with an RPI of 20 along with the seed that they were given in the tournament:

2014 – Cincinnati RPI 20 – 5-seed

2013 – Butler RPI 20 – 6-seed

2012 – Vanderbilt RPI 20 – 5-seed

2011 – Vanderbilt RPI 20 – 5-seed

So as far as this year’s UGA team is concerned, what gives?  Is this year’s Georgia squad being punished for UGA basketball’s historical lack of prestige?

Defense leads Georgia to 71-56 blowout of Missouri

(These late tip-offs make it difficult to put together a full-length post, so here are just some quick thoughts on this game)

Tonight’s win marks the first time a Georgia Bulldog Men’s basketball team has notched 10 conference wins since the 2002-2003 season.

Defense:

It’s no secret that UGA’s defense was what won this game tonight. Missouri entered this contest averaging almost 74 points a night in league games, and they were third in field goal percentage (44%) and second in three-pointe percentage (37%).

The Tigers ran into a brick wall this evening in Athens, though, where the Dawgs held Mizzu to a season-low 56 points on just 32% shooting from the floor. The Tigers made only 3 of their 18 attempts from beyond the arc.

Mizzu’s big trio of scorers – Jabari Brown, Jordan Clarkson and Earnest Ross – came into tonight’s game netting more than 55 points per contest in SEC play. However, Georgia’s defenders held these guys to just a combined 38 points, which was a big reason why the Tigers appeared so stagnant on offense.

Nice bounce back game by Charles Mann:

Charles Mann scored a total of 12 points in his games against Tennessee and South Carolina last week. Tonight, however, Charles was in charge, dropping 19 points to go along with a team-high 8 rebounds and 4 assists.

Great production from the bench for Coach Fox:

UGA’s bench combined for 17 points on 46% shooting from the floor, and they hauled in 13 rebounds. Mizzu’s backups tallied a total of just 4 points. Fox got some nice minutes from Neme Djurisic, who hit two big three-pointers to give Georgia a 31-22 lead at the half. Those three’s were Neme’s only points of the game, but he did grab 6 boards.

This victory puts UGA at 16-11 overall and 10-5 in the conference. While Georgia has yet to be listed officially on any NCAA bubbles, the Dawgs continue to burst the bubble dreams of their SEC counterparts. UGA’s sweep of Mizzu this season has to have the Tigers feeling pretty uneasy about their NCAA chances.

Georgia hits the road to take on Arkansas this Saturday in another game that could be bubbly.

Up Next: Missouri

Last season, the Missouri Tigers won the Big 12 Tournament Championship and reached the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament (oh yeah, and they beat the Dawgs in Athens 83-76).

They lost their top 3 scorers from that team, but they haven’t dropped off that much.  Mizzu is currently 10-3 and riding a 5-game win streak that includes an 81-68 victory over the two team’s common opponent – The Fighting Illini.  The Tigers are 8-0 at home this season, and are actually in the midst of a 27-game home winning streak that dates back to the 2006-2007 season.

Nervous yet?

We are just getting started…

This Mizzu team plays tenacious full-court pressure and they are deep.  Nine out of ten Tigers have reached double-figures in scoring so far this season, and ten different players are averaging 10.8 minutes per game.

The Tigers are currently ranked #2 in the country in steals at a blistering 12.7 per game, and they have reached DOUBLE-FIGURES in steals 11 out of 13 games!  This is an unbelievable statistical accomplishment…Furthermore, Mizzu is forcing opponents into 21.8 turnovers a game and scoring an average of 28 points off those turnovers.

They are holding opponents to an ugly 38.5% from the field, and Mizzu is only surrendering 62.8 points a contest (they are scoring 83.8 per game themselves).  Their defensive leader is 6’3″ senior point guard  J.T. Tiller, who last year was named the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year…Guess where Tiller is from?  Marietta, GA…he claims he wasn’t offered by any schools  in Georgia (nice job D. Felton).

On the offensive side of the ball, the Tigers are hitting 47.1% of their field goal attempts along with 40.8% from behind the arc.  They are led by smooth-shooting sophomore guard Kim English who is averaging 16.8 per contest.  Missouri’s scoring is so balanced that I think it would be silly to list all the guys and their point averages cause it looks something like this – 10, 10, 9, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 5.

The only chink in the armor that I could find in this team is that they tend to get out rebounded…Missouri is averaging 36.5 rebounds per game but opponents are beating them out at 37.5.

Keys to the Game

  • Hit the Boards – In two of Missouri’s three losses this season, they were significantly out rebounded by their opponents…in an 89-83 loss to Vanderbilt, the Commodores grabbed 46 rebounds to the Tigers 25.  Against Oral Roberts, Mizzu lost the rebounding battle 28 to 36 and were beaten 60-59.  Georgia does have a big front court (Thompkins, Jackson, Barnes, Price), and those guys need to really assert themselves and give the Dawgs an advantage inside.
  • Slow It Down – Missouri wants to press full-court all day and rattle opponents into turnovers.  Williams, Ware and McPhee need to be prepared (actually the whole team does) to play strong with the ball and get it across half court.  If Georgia can handle the pressure and limit turnovers they will slow down Mizzu’s momentum.  Once the ball crosses half court, I want to see the Dawgs use most of the shot clock.  Mizzu wants this thing to turn into a chaotic track meet that will enable them to get a bunch of easy fast-break points.  The Dawgs need to slow this game down and “ugly” it up a bit.

The game tips off Saturday at 4:00PM ET. We’ll have to listen to this one on 750AM, unless you are planning on either going to the game or you are a subscriber to the Missouri Sports Network (it might be on ESPN360 as well).

I think this is going to be the Dawgs toughest opponent yet (especially since UGA is still searching for its first road win)…any other thoughts?  Can Georgia extend it’s current win streak to four games?

    UGA (4-3) at St. John’s (6-1) in the DirectTV SEC/Big East Invitational in New York, NY at 7:00PM EST on ESPN2

    The Dawgs have got their work cut out for them tonight.  Vegas has the Red Storm favored by 11.5 which basically means that they don’t think UGA has a chance.  St. John’s is receiving votes in both the AP & Coaches polls, and they are currently ranked 4th in CBS Sportsline’s RPI.

    Unfortunately for Georgia  the site that was chosen for the game (Madison Square GardenSEC/Big East Invitational) is actually where St. John’s plays HALF of their regular season home games (the other half are played on their campus at Carnesecca Arena in Queens, NY)…and call me crazy, but I don’t see many UGA fans making the trip to “The Big Apple” to watch this one.  I am going to go out on a limb and guess that a majority of the people in the stands will be cheering for the Red Storm.

    This experienced St. John’s team (they return all five starters from last year’s squad) has been tested early in the season, and for the most part they have been successful.    They have already beaten Temple and Siena (who won the MAAC the last two years and should contend to win it again); the Red Storm travel to Cameron Indoor Stadium and lost to Duke 80-71 in a competitive game.   This game is going to be treated with extreme importance to the Johnnies…they know that they need to accumulate as many non-conference wins as possible before getting into their Big East schedule if they want to be considered for the NCAA Tournament at the end of the season (and they do have a real shot of making the tournament).

    Who on the Red Storm should worry you if you are a Dawgs fan?

    Jr. Guard/Forward DJ Kennedy is a superb athlete who can score inside and out.  He is currently averaging 17.7 points per game and shooting a robust 44.8% from beyond the arc.

    Junior Guard Dwight Hardy can also fill it up from three-point land, shooting a solid 37.5%.  Hardy is a native of Bronx, NY, and during high school he built quite a reputation as an amazing street ball player in the Harlem Summer Leagues….point being, he isn’t just a shooter.  He likes to take it to the rim and score off the dribble as well.

    Junior Forward Sean Evans is a big body (6’8″, 255lbs) and probably St. John’s best inside player.  He averages  10.0 points/7 rebounds a game, and prides himself on being a very versatile defender.  He will most likely be matched up on Thompkins and will be looking to frustrate him early and often.

    Ok, Ok…Enough about St. John’s.  Let’s turn the focus over to Georgia, and what needs to be done for them to win the game.

    UGA’s “Keys to the Game

    • Trey All Day (and Night): “Big time players make big time plays in big time games” – one of the oldest clichés in sports.  However, for young Trey Thompkins this couldn’t be a better motto going into tonight’s game.  He will be playing in one of the most famed venues in all of basketball in Madison Square Garden against a storied St. John’s program.   He is being handed a wonderful opportunity to show the country his talents on ESPN2’s prime time slot.  He cannot have another 0 for 6 performance like he did against Virginia Tech last Sunday.  Georgia is 1-3 this season in games when Trey scores under 15.
    • Slow it Down: This certainly will not be the case in a lot of games this season for the Dawgs, but I really feel like they should do their best to keep this a half-court game.  St. John’s will want to turn it into a track meet so that they can free up Kennedy & Hardy in the open court and allow them to operate in space.  UGA has a slight size advantage and can possibly win the battle on the boards with Thompkins, Jackson, Price, Barnes & Leslie crashing.
    • Ware & McPhee for 3!!!: The Dawgs really need these two to come out of the gates knocking down some buckets from outside the arc.  The better they shoot, the more the Red Storm defense will have to shade its guards towards the perimeter – leaving Thompkins with more chances to play one-on-one in the paint.

    I expect to see Mark Fox’s team play with more fire than they have yet this season.  This UGA basketball team lives in anonymity even on its own campus because of the prestigious juggernaut that is Georgia Football.   Tonight’s game will give them a rare “spotlight”, and hopefully they can seize the opportunity!