UGA searching for its first win in Gainesville under Coach Mark Fox

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The Stephen C. O’Connell Center has not been kind to UGA over the past 15 years.

Mark Fox has never won a game in Gainesville.  Let that sink in for a moment.  Matter of fact, Fox’s UGA teams have only been victorious 3 times in their 12 meetings with the Gators overall during that same time span.  The last time the Dawgs did manage to pull off a road win against Florida was during the 2001-2002 season, when now assistant coach Jonas Hayes was a player (UGA won 84-79 that day).

The fact that the Gators have been so dominant against Georgia shouldn’t be surprising, though.  Florida has had considerably better talent walk through its doors over the past 15 years.  I mean, the Gators did win back to back national championships in 2006 and 2007 during the Joakim Noah era.  Florida regularly goes to the NCAA Tournament, while UGA has been twice since Fox set foot in Athens.

But its not just the Gators that Coach Mark Fox’s teams have struggled against.  Generally speaking, Georgia hasn’t fared well against elite competition during Fox’s tenure.  Over the past seven seasons, the Dawgs have compiled a 2-30 record versus what ESPN deems the RPI Top 25.  Currently, Florida has an RPI of 3.

To say that Georgia has a lot of things going against itself historically as they rumble into Gainesville for a midday showdown with the Gators is an understatement.

November losses hurting Georgia’s tournament hopes

The Georgia Bulldogs sit alone at third in the SEC standings with a conference record of 10-5 on the season.  

If the Dawgs hope to mosey into the NCAA tournament conversation though, it won’t be their SEC record that is the problem.  Currently, Georgia’s RPI – which is 82, according to ESPN – is being weighted down by basketball games that occurred last year, specifically in November.

Yes, UGA’s 2013-2014 schedule contains two glaring eyesores – Temple and Georgia Tech – that are not helping Georgia’s case for a postseason at-large bid.

Temple, who beat the Dawgs 83-81 in the Charleston Classic on November 22nd, has gone on to have a train wreck of a season.  The Owls are 7-19 overall and just 2-12 in American Athletic Conference, earning them an RPI of 165.  If you remember that game, UGA actually had the ball down two with a few seconds on the clock, but Georgia’s in-bounds play was botched – by that, I mean Donte Williams took a deep three – and the Dawgs lost a heartbreaker.  

The loss to Temple is pretty hard to justify, especially considering how terrible they have been since.  Early in the year, Georgia’s defense had not yet developed into the stalwart that it is today, which was probably a major reason for the defeat.

The loss to Georgia Tech, however, is more haunting for UGA.  The Jackets are 13-14 overall and 4-10 in the ACC, and they carry a lowly RPI of just 160.  

But, Georgia Tech has dealt with a slew of personnel issues this season.  Robert Carter, who averages nearly a double-double each night, missed the first 10 ACC games.  Tech lost reserve/sometimes starter Kevin Morris to injury, along with freshman point guard Travis Jorgensen.  In addition, coach Brian Gregory had to dismiss sophomore guard Solomon Poole, who was scoring over 6 points per game.  

The point of all this lamenting over the Jackets’ decimated roster is that all of these aforementioned players were on the court in Stegeman when Tech beat Georgia 80-71 on November 15th.  This fact seems lost amongst bracketologists though, and what appears to the casual observer glancing at UGA’s “body of work” is that they lost to a team with an RPI over 150.

The bottom line is that Georgia is not going to get much love from the Bubble Watchers because of their RPI, and the only way UGA can work their way into the discussion is by continuing to win.

I believe that if Georgia can win 1 out of the next 3 games as well as 2 in the conference tournament, they might have a chance of sneaking into the Big Dance.

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Can the law firm of Morris, Mann and Gaines keep Georgia winning into March?

I also feel that if UGA can take this upcoming game from Arkansas the bracketologists may just have to put Georgia on the bubble, since they will have knocked everyone else from the SEC off it.

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!