The Crimson Tide Roll Into Athens

fan
Swimmer Boy will attempt to distract and frighten Alabama players at the free-throw line

I think most UGA basketball fans would agree that Mark Fox’s first season has been a pleasant surprise.  This year we have seen Trey Thompkins develop into one of the best post players in the SEC.  Travis Leslie’s improvement and play has been exceptional, and he has shown up on ESPN’s “Top Plays” nearly as often as Kentucky’s John Wall.

This team has won a slew of games that on paper it probably shouldn’t have – Georgia Tech, Illinois, Tennessee and Vanderbilt – and has lost some very close games to some very good teams – Kentucky, Ole Miss, Miss St, Tennessee.

Overall, we want to think that this year’s team has improved from the dismal 2008-2009 campaign in which the Dawgs finished 3-13 in the SEC and had their coach fired before season’s end.

But sometimes the proof is in the pudding, and it sure would be nice to justify this improvement with a win over Alabama (4-7 SEC; 14-11 overall) on Saturday.  A victory against the Crimson Tide would give Georgia (3-8 SEC; 11-13 overall) its 4th SEC win (one more than last year), a wonderful piece of supporting evidence that this program is in fact moving in the right direction.

Alabama is led by first year coach Anthony Grant, who like Mark Fox, is transitioning from a mid-major schedule to the rigors of the SEC.  Grant was extremely successful at his last job with Virginia Commonwealth, leading the Rams to the NCAA tournament 2 out of the last 3 years.

And also like Fox, Grant’s Crimson Tide squad has beaten several big name teams this year – Baylor, Michigan, Mississippi State and Arkansas.  The Tide have suffered three one-point losses this season in SEC games, making them a mere 3 points away from possibly being 7-5 in the conference.

The strength of this Alabama team is its intense, pressure defense.  The Tide are first in the SEC in scoring defense, surrendering only 61.4 points a game (they rank 55th nationally in this statistical category).  They are holding SEC opponents to only 40.8% shooting from the field, and 26.8% from beyond the arc.  The Tide have held opposing squads under 60 points seven times this season.

On the offensive side of things, the picture is not as pretty for Alabama.  The Tide rank 11th in the conference in scoring offense at 61.1 per game, and have struggled in the half court set due to inconsistent outside shooting.

Alabama returns four starters from last year’s team that beat the Dawgs in Tuscaloosa 75-70.

Senior point guard Mikhail Torrance and sophomore forward JaMychal Green are leading the Tide in scoring in conference games at 14.8 each.  At 6’5″, Torrance is a tough match-up for most point guards in the league.  He likes to push the ball up the court and get his team into transition quickly (remember that they don’t score as efficiently in the half court).  He is also a pretty good outside shooter, knocking down 35% of his three-point attempts.  Torrance compliments his scoring with a team-leading 5.4 assists per game.

JaMychal Green is the scoring , rebounding (7.1 in SEC play) and shot-blocking leader (1.88 per game) in the Tide’s rather large frontcourt.  He is a very skilled athlete at 6’9″/220 lbs, and rumor has it he turned down Kentucky to come to Tuscaloosa.  Green is has posted 5 double-doubles already this season.

Junior Chris Hines starts at the other forward position, however, fellow junior Justin Knox rotates into the game quickly as these two guys share a lot of minutes.  Hines is 6’8″ and 220 lbs, while Knox stands at 6’9″ and tips the scales at 240 lbs.  Neither of these players scores many points (Hines – 3.3; Knox 5.7), but both provide some serious beef inside defensively.

The other two starters for the Tide are both natives of the state of Georgia, freshman forward Tony Mitchell (6’6″) and junior guard Senario Hillman.  Mitchell has had a very solid freshman campaign, averaging 9.3 points, 5.4 rebounds and making 34% of his three’s in SEC Play.  Hillman is another one of the Tide’s three-point threats, connecting on 34% of his three’s and averaging 7.8 points in conference games (he also scored 19 on Georgia in last year’s game).

Coach Grant’s team does not have a lot of depth, as they only play roughly eight guys night in, night out.  Junior guard Charvez Davis and senior point guard Anthony Brock are the only other reserves (other than Knox) that typically see the floor.  Both of these guards are hitting nearly 37% of their three-point attempts in SEC play, so you have to be aware of where they are on the court.

A Couple of Keys

Going Green

A phrase that is used and manipulated by corporations everywhere nowadays in an attempt to attract consumers.  In regards to the basketball game being played on Saturday, I am referring to Alabama’s JaMychal Green.  Green has struggled with foul trouble all season.  He has fouled out of three games, and he has committed four fouls in eight other contests.  He is such a big part of Bama’s offense and defense that it would be very beneficial to the Dawgs if they could get him on the bench (or better yet, out of the game).

Jeremy Price needs to do a better job of making strong post moves, and getting Green up in the air.  In the Tennessee game, Price’s offensive attempts against Wayne Chism were too slow and deliberate.  He was unable to get Chism to commit fouls, and rather, Wayne usually just blocked Price’s shots.

Hopefully Thompkins and Price can attack the Alabama defense and get Green to pick up some early fouls.

Potentially Dangerous Situation

As we know by now, Georgia’s guard play has been somewhat of an Achilles heel for this team all season.  The match-up that Ware, McPhee, Leslie, EA and Vince Williams have against the Crimson Tide on Saturday does not look favorable for the Dawgs.  Alabama’s pressure-style of man defense coupled with their long bodies (Torrance at 6’5″ and Mitchell at 6’6″) could make it very difficult on Georgia’s undersized guards.  UGA is last in the SEC in turnovers at 16.5 a game!

How will the cookie crumble on Saturday?

Something’s Gotta Give

As mentioned earlier, Bama is locking down SEC opponents on defense, holding teams to 40.8% from the field and 26.3% from three-point range.

Georgia is currently second in the conference in both field goal and three-point percentage, at 47% and 38.2% respectively.  The Dawgs are shooting slightly better at home in SEC games, hitting 47.8% from the field and 40.6% from beyond the arc.

The game tips off at 4:00PM EST.

If you aren’t heading to Athens, the game can be seen on Comcast’s Peachtree TV (channel 7; HD channel 802).

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Dawgs Open SEC Play with….eeeekkk! Kentucky

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Kentucky should enjoy their success now, because it won't be long before the NCAA Rules Committee comes knocking on their door...

Georgia shocked the college basketball world on Tuesday night when they knocked off #17 Georgia Tech at home in Athens.

Saturday, the Dawgs begin SEC play with a date in Lexington to take on the undefeated #3 Kentucky Wildcats (where’s Florida Atlantic when you need them?).

These days you can’t watch a segment of ESPN’s Sportscenter without seeing something pertaining to the Cats’  undefeated season , or another gravity-defying dunk by freshman sensation John Wall.  Since Kentucky signed renowned coach/rule-breaker John “Calamari” Calipari (he left his last two programs in fraudulent ruins – UMASS & Memphis) the Cats have been at the forefront of college basketball’s media frenzy.

Kentucky super-Frosh John Wall is leading the team in scoring (17.2 points/game) and highlights (5.4/game).  What many people don’t realize about Wall is that he is a great passer too, netting 7.3 assists per game.  Speaking of “netting”, Mr. Wall is projected to be the first pick in next year’s NBA draft which will most likely send him to the New Jersey Nets…so he better cherish all this winning now cause last I check New Jersey was 3-32.

Kentucky’s frontcourt features two of the better forwards in the SEC in junior Patrick Patterson (16.7 points/8.3 reb) and freshman DeMarcus “Big Cuz”  Cousins (15.4 points/9.6 reb).  What’s even more impressive about Cousins is that he is producing these numbers in only 19.2 minutes a game…Big Cuz has a little bit of a “foul problem” (don’t worry he is taking an Anger Management class to control his temper) averaging 3.2 personal fouls a contest.

This UK squad is actually the tallest in the country going by average player height.  Maybe that’s why Kentucky is 11th in the country in total offensive rebounds, and pulling down nearly 43 total rebounds a night.  If the Dawgs defensive rebound as poorly on Saturday as they did against the Yellow Jackets they are going to get run out of the gym (there are actually several other scenarios in which they could get run out of the gym but I am trying to be positive here).

Not to sound like a defeatist, but when analyzing Kentucky it’s really hard to find weaknesses.  They are 15th in the nation in offensive scoring at 82.8 points a game, and they are shooting lights out – 50.2% FG; 40.6% 3PT.   Their defense has been stingy, surrendering only 64.3 per game.

They are 15-0 despite playing an EXTREMELY difficult schedule already which included games against Stanford, North Carolina, UCONN, Indiana and Louisville.

I am going to mix up the format a bit for this one…instead of “Keys to the Game” I think we will go with “Things That Could Help”.

“Things That Could Help”

1.  Get in the Zone – Even though Kentucky is a good shooting team, I still think that UGA needs to play more zone defense than man-to-man and hope that the Cats are cold.  The Dawgs just don’t have the personnel to match up with Kentucky in a man defense…as much as I love Ricky McPhee, I would hate to see him trying to guard Wall out on the perimeter.  Thompkins could hold his own against Patterson or Big Cuz, but one of these guys would then get a very favorable match up against either Jackson, Barnes or Price.

2.  Temper, Temper – As mentioned above, Big Cuz can be somewhat of a hothead and routinely gets into foul trouble.  If anyone watched the Louisville-Kentucky game, then you probably saw Cousins give a flagrant elbow to the head of a Louisville player while wrestling for the ball (unfortunately the referees didn’t see it and Cuz stayed in the game).  I would love to see Albert Jackson or Chris Barnes get really physical with Cousins from the start, and maybe frustrate him into some cheap fouls.

3. Beyond the Arc – UGA won the game at Rupp Arena last year 90-85 because they were on fire from 3-point range.  Georgia made 11 or 16 three point attempts en route to the win (they also shot 50% from the field).  I realize that this is a difficult performance to repeat, but when you are playing the #3 team in the country you have to bring your best game.  Hopefully McPhee, Ware and Thompkins are on (fingers crossed) or things could derail early (freshman Ebuka Anyaorah has also been shooting the ball well lately averaging nearly 6 points off the bench in his last 3 outings).

The game will tip off at 4pm Saturday in the confines of historic Rupp Arena.  It will be televised on the SEC Network (which I believe is Peachtree TV) and on the radio at 750AM.

Any other thoughts?