Dawg put together complete game, advance to play Florida

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In a truly bizarre day of basketball in which the NCAA announced it would be playing its tournament without fans, the Georgia Bulldogs (16-16) opened up the SEC tournament against the Ole Miss Rebels in the only day of action for this competition in which spectators would be allowed to be present.

After a depressing week of UGA hoops which resulted in losses to both Florida and LSU (in quite embarassing fashion), the Dawgs stepped on the court in Nashville and played their most complete game in a while against a Rebel Black Bear team that beat them earlier this season in Athens.

From the opening tip, Georgia appeared more energized, and the Dawgs were certainly the aggressors as they won the majority of 50-50 balls in this one. From the start, UGA’s offense was a thing of constant motion. The Rebels tried to slow the Dawgs down by playing some combinations of 1-3-1 and 2-3 zones, yet Georgia just continued to methodically move the ball to the soft spots in the defense. Tom Crean’s team finished the game with 19 assists, which is incredible considering how much this team as struggled to remain productive against zone defenses all season.

Senior Jordan Harris definitely wins the “Most Active” award, though. Harris moved without the ball the entire game and it resulted in his best performance of the year: 21 points and 7 rebounds. He scored off of cuts from the top of the key and the baseline, and Harris kept positioning himself as a perfect target on the perimeter, where he canned 3 of 4 triples.

The other offensive stud of the night was Rayshaun Hammonds, who bullied the Rebels with 22 points and 11 boards. Coach Kermit Davis had no answer for Hammonds, who scored from just about everywhere on the court as well: on the block, short corner, around the free throw line and from beyond the arc.

As a team, the Dawgs made over 54% of their shots from the floor, which was significantly higher than their season average of 43%. But again, UGA’s unselfishness with the ball and the players’ ability to create offense without the ball in their hands led to 42 points in the paint to Ole Miss’s 38.

All of the positives on offense this evening are even more significant considering that UGA’s leading scorer, Anthony Edwards, had an off night as he mustered only 6 points on a 2 for 13 effort from the floor.

The other big story of the night was the Georgia defense, which has definitely been a limiting factor for this team all season. Tonight’s UGA squad looked nothing like the bunch that traveled to Baton Rouge last weekend. Players were rotating and helping on penetration. Shots were being contested from all angles. Breein Tyree ended up with 18 points, but that’s still more than 4 below his SEC average, and he did it at the expense of a 6 for 16 shooting effort. Georgia forced Ole Miss into 15 turnovers on the night to UGA’s 12, which is impressive considering the Rebels were the 4th best team in the conference this season in turnover margin (+.5).

The one scary part of this game came at the 5:59 mark when Khadim Sy converted a dunk to make it an 8-point game and every UGA fan started to think “here we go again” in the back of their head (since Georgia has had a knack for blowing double-digit leads this season). Sahvir Wheeler had other plans, though, as the freshman went into attack mode and scored 8 of this 15 points down the stretch to help the Dawgs hang on to the 81-63 victory and play into the second round.

Tomorrow, Georgia gets its third shot at Florida, a team that has beaten them twice this season with rather suffocating defense. However, it is difficult to beat a team three times in a year. Also, the last time UGA knocked off Ole Miss in its first game of the SEC Tournament and the remainder of the games were played without fans (like this one will be from here on out) was 2008, and well, you know what happened.

Three thoughts on UGA basketball’s first “bad loss”

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The Georgia Bulldogs (11-8, 1-5) haven’t quite hit rock-bottom. That opportunity will come on Tuesday night when they play 1-5 Missouri in a game that could have the loser tied for the worst record in the SEC, depending on Vanderbilt’s result this week. Any optimism that UGA fans harnessed prior to this season is certainly coasting on fumes at this point. The fervor surrounding Tom Crean’s historic top five recruiting class feels like a distant memory after watching his team lose at home to an Ole Miss squad that entered Saturday with a NET ranking of 125.

What’s happened to the offense?

Earlier in the year, Georgia’s offense was entertaining to watch. Once the ball got into the high post, the Dawgs routinely hit cutters slashing down from the short corner for easy finishes at the rim. Did that happen once yesterday?

Ole Miss coach Kermit Davis through a slew of junk zone defenses at UGA, with traps occuring around the baseline and on the wings. Instead of moving, Tom Crean’s team just stood around. Georgia shot 31% from the floor and scored only 20 points in the paint against a Rebel team that had been allowing SEC opponents to connect on 45% from the field. Coach Davis’s team is not known for its suffocating defense, despite how futile UGA appeared when they had the ball in their hands. The Rebels entered this contest forcing opponents into 11.6 turnovers a game, yet Georgia managed to cough it up 16 times, which led to 20 Ole Miss points.

One stretch of offensive play that was particularly painful to watch occurred late in the first half and then bled into the start of the second. Jordan Harris buried a triple with 3:24 remaining till the break to bring Georgia to within five. Over 7 minutes later, he hit another three that broke an exhausting scoring drought that cut the Ole Miss lead to under double-digits. Tom Crean was brought into his position to reinvigorate the UGA offense, but this segment of game felt reminiscent of the Mark Fox days.

Of course, offense never comes easy when a team’s two leading scorers cannot find any rhythm, which was the case for Georgia on Saturday. Anthony Edwards made only 3 of 12 from the floor for a total of 13 points. All his makes were from beyond the arc, where he hit just 3 of 10 shots. For whatever reason, the UGA freshman seems resistant to utilize his powerful frame and drive the ball at the rim. Instead, he continues to try to create offense from the perimeter, which absolutely lets opposing defenses off the hook.

Rayshaun Hammonds’s 4-point performance can’t even be blamed on foul trouble this time. The junior never seemed engaged on offense as he hit only 1 of 8 from the floor. His most troubling miss came in the second half when he got the ball under the basket on an inbounds play with the much smaller Tyree guarding him. Hammonds managed to throw the ball completely over the rim on a weak take that looked like shot he would have taken as a freshman.

The defense is still a problem

I’d thought part of Georgia’s struggles on the defensive side of the ball were due to the strength of the competition that this team had taken on to start conference play. Ole Miss quickly debunked that theory.

First, a little background on the Rebels’ offensive woes prior to Saturday’s event. The Rebel Black Bears coasted into Athens with the second-worst offense in SEC games as they were scoring just a hair under 60 points a night. In addition, this Ole Miss team was hitting only 37% of its shots from the floor and just 26% of the attempts from three-point range; both of those stats were second-worst in the conference as well. There’s a reason the Rebels were winless in league play before setting foot inside Stegeman.

One thing Georgia proved yesterday is that they can make any team better on offense. Coach Davis’s team made 52% of its shots and over 55% from the perimeter to en route to 70 points.

With less than 4 minutes left in the game and Ole Miss leading 59-53, Georgia desperately needed a stop. Rebel point guard Breein Tyree, who finished with 20 points, blew by his defender around halfcourt and then coasted to the basket for an uncontested layup as the UGA defenders pondered whether that was a situation in which they should have provided some help. This play either highlighted Georgia’s inability to communicate or lack of effort, take your pick.

But maybe the most frustrating defensive lapse of the afternoon was the way in which UGA attempted to defend the 6’10” Khadim Sy. Somehow, the Ole Miss center continued finding himself being guarded on the block by one of the Georgia point guards, so the Rebels kept dumping the ball down to him in the paint, where he notched 16 points. At first, I associated these mismatches to defensive switches that led to these isolation plays. However, there were multiple possessions where Tye Fagan initially met Sy at the free throw line as he headed down low. Something was definitely amiss, yet Coach Crean never once called a timeout to rectify this situation. Even if Crean was taking a Mr. Miyagi approach and hoping that his guys could problem-solve, that wasn’t happening and they needed their coach to intervene.

Two lone bright spots

While this game definitely casts a dark shadow on the remaining prospects of Georgia’s season, Jordan Harris and Sahvir Wheeler’s performances on offense were admirable. These two Dawgs provided a much-needed offensive spark in a game in which this team’s two leading scorers took the afternoon off.

Senior Jordan Harris came off the bench to net 15 points to go along with 8 boards, 3 steals and 2 blocks, all in just 19 minutes of play. Harris is easily UGA’s best defender, and at 6’4″, he may be its strongest rim protector as well. At this point, Crean probably has to consider starting Harris over Donnell Gresham just for the boost in athleticism he provides on the defensive end.

Seeing Wheeler score in double-figures again was refreshing after what had been a rather rough start to conference play for the freshman. Prior to the SEC slate, Wheeler had been averaging 8.6ppg, but that number had fallen to just 4.2 ppg in league games. Conference play can definitely wreck some player’s offensive numbers, so hopefully yesterday’s game gives Wheeler some added confidence moving forward because UGA needs him to be a threat on that side of the ball.

Up next:

At 1-5 Missouri on Tuesday

Current postseason projection:

NIT First Four Out

Box Score:

Georgia evens up SEC record with 71-60 win over Ole Miss

The Georgia Bulldogs (10-3) notched their first conference win of the season with a 71-60 victory over the Mississippi Rebels inside Stegeman on Wednesday night.  The Rebels built up an early 11-8 lead with 13:40 left after a free throw by Markel Crawford, but once the Dawgs took the lead, which they did on a jumper by Jordan Harris to make it 12-11, they never looked back.  UGA went into the locker room with a 39-31 advantage, and the Dawgs basically coasted for much of the second half to secure the home win.  Here are some observations:

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The game was over when…

With the shot clock expiring and just 7:53 remaining, Ole Miss’s Dominik Olejniczar jumped out and fouled Juwan Parker on a hurried three-point attempt.  This play had to cause any remaining hair on Andy Kennedy’s head to instantly fall out.  The Rebels had scored just 1 field goal over the last 5 minutes of play, and after Parker knocked down 2 of 3 from the line, Georgia’s lead sat comfortably at 56-44.

Ole Miss’s offensive woes

To be fair, this wasn’t your grandfather’s Ole Miss (8-6) basketball team.  Though the Rebels came into Stegeman with a 1-0 SEC record after besting South Carolina in the opener, Mississippi had already lost games to Illinois State, South Dakota State, Utah and Middle Tennessee.

The Rebels run a spread out offense that looks to get shots up as quickly as possible, and unfortunately for them, they were not falling.  Ole Miss ended up hitting just 35% from the floor on the evening, and they only made 6 of 26 from beyond the arc.  Guards Deandre Burnett and Terence Davis, who came into Athens averaging more than 28 points between them, scored a combined 8 points on Wednesday night.  Georgia’s defensive effort was fair, but honestly, it didn’t need to be that great because the Rebels were chunking up misses at such a prolific rate.  There were a few moments, especially in the first half, where Ole Miss’s guards were able to blow by UGA defenders for some easy layups, but other than that, not much clicked for Andy Kennedy’s team.

UGA’s offensive heroes

The Georgia offense faced a combination of man defense mixed in with some junk zones on Wednesday, but overall the Rebels appeared rather disinterested in playing defense; honestly, Ole Miss just seemed ready to be back on offensive again.

The Dawgs pounded the ball inside to Yante Maten and Derek Ogbeide, who both had their way with the Rebel frontcourt defenders.  Maten scored 14 of his 15 points prior to the intermission, but even more importantly, he brought a lot of energy to the UGA team.  Yante had several old-fashioned three-point play attempts in the first half in which he could be seen beating his chest in order to pump up his teammates.  After a hard-fought loss at Kentucky on Sunday, it was reasonable to believe that this UGA team might struggle to get up and be ready for this homestead.

Ogbeide finished with 14 points and 8 rebounds, and he really seems to be finding his niche within this UGA offense.  Derek has developed both a hook and up-and-under move (going to his left of course) that are starting to go down on a consistent basis for the Bulldogs.

Juwan Parker led all UGA scorers with 18 points on a perfect 4 for 4 effort from the beyond the arc.  Ole Miss’s defenders made little attempt to rotate when Kennedy had them in zone, which left Parker wide open on the wing for triple after triple.  The only time I recall him having a perimeter shot contested was the play mentioned above in which he was fouled on a three-point shot. The senior also snagged 11 boards and logged a double-double, which had to make him feel good considering his former teammate, J.J. Frazier, was courtside to bear witness.

And finally, welcome back Jordan Harris.  After an inconsistent start to the season, Harris once again looked the part of a high-profile recruit in last evening’s contest.  The sophomore scored 10 of his 12 points before the break, and that total included a pair of three’s.  This Georgia Bulldog team desperately needs more consistency in its perimeter shooting, and hopefully Wednesday’s night’s game shows that Harris is up to the task.

Next up

This Saturday the Dawgs will host an Alabama team that upset #5 Texas A&M at home only to lose at Vandy on the road the following game.  Both teams will be trying to stay above .500 in the conference, and it’s an excellent RPI opportunity for the Dawgs as the Tide are currently at 42, according to NCAA.com.

 

 

Third place on the line as Dawgs take on Rebels

The Georgia Bulldogs (13-10; 7-4) are at a critical juncture in the season where opportunity is both literally and figuratively knocking at their door.

On Saturday, UGA will host the Ole Miss Rebels with third place in the conference at stake.  A win this weekend would bolster the Dawgs’ SEC record to 8-4, and it would move them a step closer to bypassing the first two rounds of the conference tournament by way of finishing in the top four in the league standings.

Earlier this week, ESPN released its first Bubble Watch of the year – a weekly segment that analyzes the chances that teams have of earning at-large bids to the NCAA tournament in March.  At the moment, ESPN blogger Eamonn Brennan has the SEC down for two NCAA Tournament “locks” (meaning they are in) – Florida and Kentucky (no surprises there).

However, I found it incredibly interesting that of the five teams that Brennan lists from the conference with “Work left to do” – Tennessee, Missouri, Ole Miss, LSU and Arkansas – all of them are on Georgia’s remaining schedule of SEC games.

UGA actually has the chance to put itself into consideration for at at-large bid to this year’s NCAA tournament over the next three weeks based upon their remaining opponents.

Now, whether Georgia can embrace and rise to those challenges is a different story.  The Dawgs most likely would need to be very successful in a majority of those aforementioned games because they just can’t seem to shake off the stigma of being a mediocre program.

Brennan mentioned Georgia twice in his SEC segment of the Bubble Watch, but unfortunately both plugs were just to highlight the fact that Missouri and LSU had suffered “bad losses” to the Bulldogs (a team that is currently tied for 3rd in the league standings).

If Georgia wants respect they are going to have to earn it.

This key stretch of games starts Saturday with the Ole Miss Rebels, a team that is led offensively by a crazy person – Marshall Henderson. The Rebels’ backcourt has been shouldering half of the team’s scoring load in conference play with Henderson netting 20 ppg and junior guard Jarvis Summers contributing another 16.2 ppg.

The Dawgs’ perimeter defense has been steadily improving, and it will need to be on point this weekend as Ole Miss comes into Athens making more three-pointers (over 8) per game than any other SEC team in league games.  

After a 1-4 start to the season that had most Georgia fans cringing at the thought of conference play, UGA has put itself in position to challenge for a top spot in the league with a very meaningful SEC game on the horizon this weekend in Athens.