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.

Georgia basketball’s Achilles’ heel

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The regular season came to a grinding halt yesterday in Baton Rouge, and Georgia Bulldog (15-16, 5-13) basketball fans most likely breathed a collective sigh. After being treated to a little mini-run of success a few weeks ago in which the Dawgs won 3 of 4 games, including a dramatic buzzer-beater against Vanderbilt in Nashville, UGA spent the past game and a half getting pulverized by LSU and Florida.

Yesterday’s drubbing at the hands of LSU was just a microcosm of an epidemic that has plagued this Georgia team all season: its defense (or lack thereof). The Dawgs ended the year with the second-worst scoring defense in SEC play as they allowed over 78 points a contest. In 13 of 18 conference games this year, Georgia allowed the opposing team score above their season SEC average in points. All season, this UGA team has been slow to react and provide help on penetration, and yesterday was no different as the Tigers scored 42 points in the paint and shot over 58% from the floor.

Probably the most concerning piece of the puzzle regarding the UGA defense is the lack of improvement that this team has shown. Over the past 3 games, the Dawgs are ranked 344th in the nation in defensive efficiency. The fact that this team is young is no excuse; they should have gotten better in this regard as the season progressed, yet they didn’t. In fact, one could go so far as to say that UGA regressed on the defensive side of the ball.

Tom Crean had his guys in a matchup zone for most of the game in Baton Rouge. However, it still appears that too many of Georgia’s players don’t understand the concepts of this particular defense. Sure, UGA’s perimeter guys switch off screens and movement on the wing. But once an opposing dribble-driver gets into the lane, there’s still little indication that any of Georgia’s 4 other defenders knows how to react. The Tigers had little issue shattering their season average of 80 ppg as they almost pushed the scoreboard to triple digits against a UGA team that provided little resistance. LSU hasn’t been a particularly strong three-point shooting team this year (32.5%), yet against Crean’s zones the Bayou Bengal Tigers canned over 52% of their attempts from beyond the arc.

With the losses of Nic Claxton and Derek Ogbeide from last year’s team, coupled with the sudden departure of Amanze Ngumezi, some drop off had to be expected. Obviously, this year’s squad was not built to deal with a lot of size from opposing frontcourts. However, this is a highly-athletic team, especially Anthony Edwards, Jordan Harris and Toumani Camara. Despite the glaring size disadvantages, Georgia should have been able to contain teams better on the defensive side of the ball.

Georgia opens up the SEC Tournament next week on Wednesday in a rematch with Ole Miss, a team that beat the Dawgs 70-60 in January back in Athens. Depending on which UGA team shows up, this experience in Nashville could go one of two ways: it ends painlessly on Wednesday, or Georgia plays into the start of the weekend. If the Dawgs do manage to get by the Rebel Black Bears, I think they have a realistic shot of beating Florida in the next round. I mean, surely UGA can find a way to hold onto a double-digit lead against a team that has beaten them twice this year, right?

Best case scenario: the SEC does not permit fans to attend due to concerns regarding the coronavirus, and Georgia steals the championship similarly to the 2008 tornado team.

Kentucky eliminates Georgia from the SEC Tournament (again)

Kentucky’s 62-49 win over Georgia (18-15) marked the 4th time in 5 years that Big Blue Nation has eliminated UGA from the SEC tournament.  Every one of those losses have prevented Georgia from earning an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.  If an SEC team is on the bubble this time of year in March, a win over the Cats is an easy way to impress the committee. Unfortunately, Coach Mark Fox hasn’t found a way to get that done.  His Georgia teams have never beaten Kentucky away from Athens.  Coach Calipari is the proverbial hump that Fox just cannot seem to get over.

Is this a great Kentucky team that is destined to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament? No.  They only have two players that would be considered dangerous scoring threats: Kevin Knox and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.  They don’t shoot the ball particularly well from the outside (under 35% on triples). However, they are long and athletic, and yesterday, the Cats were determined to play defense for 40 minutes, which turned out to be more than UGA could handle.

Kentucky’s match-up zone gave Georgia fits.  The Cats’ guards enforced their will upon the UGA backcourt, which resulted in Georgia having trouble getting into its sets since the offense was starting so far from the basket. The Dawgs struggled to get the ball inside to their bigs. Even when Yante Maten got touches, he was indecisive with the ball and allowed himself to be swarmed by Wildcat defenders.  Yante was held under double-figures in scoring for just the second time this season as he managed only 9 points in the loss yesterday on a 2 of 10 shooting performance.  Coach Calipari’s defensive scheme of taking away Maten worked so well that it didn’t even matter that his team couldn’t muster much on the offensive end.  UGA shot 28% from the floor and 26% from beyond the arc; the Dawgs chunked up 23 three-point attempts, which is not a good look for this Georgia team.  UGA scored just 12 points in the paint to Kentucky’s 38; the Dawgs couldn’t find success on the block, so they settled for a multitude of perimeter shots. Game over.

The lone bright spot on offense for UGA was Tyree Crump, who snapped out of his recent shooting funk and knocked down 4 of his 8 three-point attempts en route to a career high 17 points.  The other Georgia guards were far less effective: Turtle Jackson (2 for 12), Teshaun Hightower (0 for 6).  If the UGA backcourt could have managed to knock down a few more three’s, it might have forced the Kentucky defense to pay less attention to Maten, but that’s been a running theme for the season.

Ultimately, Georgia is just not built to deal with a team of Kentucky’s caliber.  This UGA team showed a lot of fight the past two days, especially in the second round upset of Missouri, but once again the Dawgs were no match for a more athletic bunch of Wildcats.  UGA’s freshman simply do not resemble Kentucky’s; the Cats’ newbies are at a whole different level.  As long as Calipari reigns supreme in Lexington, Georgia is not going to be able to match up with his teams’ athleticism. The only way UGA ever starts beating Kentucky is if they can get more shooters on the roster, because that is and always has been the great equalizer in college basketball. For some reason, though, the UGA basketball program cannot seem to figure that out.

Georgia spoils return of Michael Porter, Jr. in 62-60 win over Missouri

The final stretch of this game lasted a lifetime.  After building up a 55-46 lead with 8:24 left, Georgia (18-14) scored only 3 more field goals the rest of the contest as Missouri’s defense put the clamps on the Dawgs. It felt like things were slipping away.  Mizzou couldn’t finish a layup to take the lead with Georgia up 61-60.  Rayshaun Hammonds snagged the Tiger miss and was immediately fouled, but the freshman only hit 1 of 2 from the line.  Then, Claxton seemingly saved UGA’s season with an offensive board off the Hammonds miss, but unfortunately he couldn’t convert either of his free throws.

I’d seen this movie before. I knew this wouldn’t end well for Georgia. With 7 seconds left, Mizzou in-bounded the ball and got it exactly where they wanted it – in the hands of a wide-open Kassius Robertson, who’s made over 43% of his three-point shots this year.  This was the moment where Georgia was supposed to lose.

Instead, Robertson’s shot went long and the ball was batted around a few times before time expired.  Dawgs win.

Georgia advances in a game that not many people had them pegged winning.  For starters, it was basically a home game for the Tigers.  Also, in case you’ve been living in a cave the past 48 hours, freshman phenom Michael Porter, Jr. returned to take on Georgia this afternoon. He scored 12 points, but it came at the expense of a 5 for 17 shooting performance from the floor.  After not playing a minute since the first game of the year, Porter entered today’s game and took more shots than any other Tiger player.  His presence obviously altered the chemistry of Coach Martin’s team. Mizzou guards Robertson and Jordan Barnett, who combined for 30 points a night this season, scored a total of 10 points between them this afternoon.

The Porter brother that proved to be the biggest thorn in Georgia’s side was Jontay, who scored 20 points (12 of which came from beyond the arc).  I shudder to think how badly their high school team must have throttled the competition in Columbia the past few years.

Just an all around gutty effort by the Bulldogs.  Mizzou jumped on Georgia early as they built a 10-0 lead in a little over 5 minutes of game time.  UGA failed to wither, though. Rather, the Dawgs responded with a 19-2 run of their own and found themselves leading 19-12 with under 7 minutes left in the half following a jumper by Teshaun Hightower.  Georgia would hold Mizzou to just 24% from the floor prior to the break, and the Dawgs headed to the locker room with a 33-24 lead.

Hightower once again provided the Dawgs with a big spark off the bench.  The freshman scored 11 of his 13 points before the intermission; he also hauled in 7 rebounds.  Hightower is unafraid to take the ball to the basket, and it’s been a refreshing sight to see him scoring around the rim as UGA hasn’t gotten much of that kind of production from its backcourt this season.

Despite being hounded with double-teams all game, Yante Maten still logged a double-double as he scored 21 points and grabbed 10 rebounds.  Maten’s ability to draw contact on the inside was a big factor in both of Mizzou’s starting bigs – Kevin Puryear and Jeremiah Tillmon – fouling out.  Yante did struggle offensively over the final 2 minutes as he missed all 3 of his field goal attempts, but the Georgia big man did knock down a huge jumper from the wing on an in-bounds play that gave UGA a 61-57 advantage with 3:29 left.

Up next for Georgia is Kentucky, a team that Mark Fox has never beaten outside of Athens.  Should UGA manage another upset on Friday, they will certainly take a big step closer to the NCAA Tournament bubble.

mizz-ugauga-mizz

 

Discussing UGA’s SEC tournament seed scenarios

Florida secured the SEC regular season title with their 64-52 win over Alabama on Saturday. The victory also assures the Gators of the 1-seed in this year’s conference tournament, meaning they will take on the winner of the 8/9 game on Friday afternoon in Nashville.

With only one week of the regular season remaining, Georgia (14-15,8-8) is currently residing in the 8th spot in the league. Were the conference tourney to begin today, the Dawgs would take on LSU on Thursday and the winner would earn a rematch with Florida.

Current SEC Standings
Florida 13-3
Alabama 11-5
Kentucky 11-5
Ole Miss 10-6
Missouri 10-6
Arkansas 9-7
Tennessee 9-7
Georgia 8-8
LSU 8-8
Vanderbilt 7-9
Texas A&M 7-9
Auburn 3-13
Mississippi St. 3-13
South Carolina 3-13

UGA plays Kentucky at home on Thursday before traveling to Tuscaloosa to challenge Alabama in their regular season finale.

The highest that Georgia could finish this season is 6th in the league. For this to occur, the Dawgs must win out this week and get some help from Arkansas and Tennessee – Arkansas drops consecutive games at Missouri (possible) as well as their home final against Texas A&M (maybe impossible), and Tennessee manages to lose a game to either Auburn or Missouri.

Should Georgia drop both contests this week to UK and Bama, the Dawgs could plummet all the way to the 11-seed, assuming that both Vandy and the Aggies win each of its remaining games and LSU wins one. While UGA could probably win a game or two playing the 14-seed and then potentially the 6-seed, Georgia would likely be dog-tired (pun intended) by the time Friday rolled around, where they would be playing a well-rested 3-seed team (again, assuming UGA won both the 1st and 2nd round games).

If the Dawgs split games this week – which seems like the most probable result – Georgia would be in a thick of a race between UT, LSU and Vandy, with the 7-, 8-, 9- and 10-seeds at stake.

I think that this Bulldog team has the ability to make a run in this year’s SEC tournament, especially considering their road pedigree in league play. However, should UGA land in the 8/9 game, it would take an incredible effort for the Dawgs to beat the league’s best team on zero days rest.

Let’s all hope for the 6-, 7- or 10-seed.

Road Woes Continue For Dawgs

Beep, beep, beep, beep.

That’s the sound of the Georgia Bulldogs basketball team reversing into the SEC Tournament.

The Dawgs offense picked up right were it left off in the second half against Kentucky…stumbling.

Georgia got its first field goal against LSU on a Jeremy Price dunk with 14:52 remaining in the first half to put them up 4-2.  After falling behind to the Tigers 2-0, Georgia was able to (slowly) go on a 9-2 run to put them up by 7 points with 12:52 left in the half.

Then LSU coach Trent Johnson switched his team into a zone defense that completely took the Dawgs out of their offense.  The Tigers went on a 12-5 run of their own and tied the game at 14 apiece with 8:17 remaining.

The first half showcased some pretty horrendous shooting by both teams.  Georgia finished the half hitting only 36.4% from the field, but LSU wouldn’t be outdone, knocking down a mere 26.9% from the floor.

The teams went into the break locked up at 20-20.

The second half featured more poor shooting, and Georgia continued to struggle with LSU’s zone defense.  With 7:37 remaining in the game, Travis Leslie had scored only 1 point.  Leslie (along with the other Georgia guards) was struggling to penetrate the Tiger zone and draw defenders off the dribble.

Coach Fox made a nice adjustment with Leslie, moving him down low to the baseline so he could follow the ball – Leslie scored 6 points in the second half (he finished with 7).

Despite the poor offensive play by Georgia, they still had the ball with the game tied 48-48 with under a minute to play.  Dustin Ware brought the ball up the court, and then attempted to make a lob pass to Jeremy Price from well outside the three-point line…the ball sailed out-of-bounds.

LSU junior guard Bo Spencer knocked down a jumper on the next possession to put his Tigers up 50-48 with only 19 seconds left in the game.

The Dawgs moved the ball across half court and then called timeout to set up a play with 11 ticks on the clock.

Georgia in-bounded the ball and got it into Leslie’s hands on the right wing.  It looked like Fox had instructed Leslie to get the ball to Thompkins on the block, but he couldn’t make the entry pass.  Instead, Leslie dumped it to Jeremy Price in the middle of the floor and Price took a turnaround jumper from just inside the three-point line that clanked off the rim.

And the Dawgs dropped another game on the road, making them 0-11 overall and 0-8 in the SEC in games played away from the Steg.

Tasmin Mitchell led the Tigers with 20 points and pulled down 6 rebounds, ending his career at home as a winner.

Georgia finished the game shooting 36.5% from the field, and turned it over 16 times (Travis Leslie led the team with 6).

Trey Thompkins led Georgia with 19 points and 16 rebounds, yet he made only 7 of 23 from the floor.  However, despite Trey’s poor shooting, he was the only Bulldog who looked comfortable with the ball in his hands and taking it to the basket.

For the second straight game Leslie looked a bit out of it on offense, and Ware and McPhee were pretty much non-factors (although to McPhee’s credit he did grab 6 rebounds and dished out 5 assists).

The Dawgs finished the season 5-11 in the SEC and 13-16 overall.  The NIT looks like it is now out of reach.

This was LSU’s second SEC conference win of the season.

The loss to the Tigers leaves Georgia with a lot of questions as they head into their opening round game against Arkansas next Thursday:

With an 0-11 road record, can the Dawgs realistically hope to close out a conference tournament game in Nashville?

Which Travis Leslie will be traveling to the tournament?  Over the past two games, Leslie has made 7 of 22 field goals and scored a total of 15 points.  Georgia cannot expect to go far in the tournament without Leslie’s offense.

What will the team’s confidence level be like riding a two-game losing streak?

Georgia’s SEC Tournament Picture

The South Carolina Gamecocks could not defend their home turf last night, losing to Alabama 79-70 in Columbia, SC.

This means that the Georgia Bulldogs remain in 5th place in the SEC East since they have 4 SEC East wins to South Carolina’s 3 (which is the tie-breaker used by the SEC since both teams have 5-10 conference records).

If the SEC tournament were to start today, Georgia would have the E5 seed and would play Auburn (W4 seed).  The winner of this game would then get a date with what looks most likely to be Kentucky (E1 seed) in the second round.

South Carolina would have the E6 seed and would play Ole Miss (W3 seed) in round one, and then the winner of that game would most likely play Vanderbilt (E2 seed) in the second round.

This Saturday, the Gamecocks and Bulldogs both wrap up their seasons on the road.  Carolina goes to Vandy, and the Dawgs head to Baton Rouge to take on LSU.

Here are the possible seed scenarios that could unravel following these two games:

Georgia beats LSU; South Carolina beats Vandy —> Georgia’s seed is E6; SC’s seed is E5

Georgia beats LSU; South Carolina loses to Vandy —>  Georgia’s seed is E5; SC’s seed is E6

Georgia loses to LSU; South Carolina loses to Vandy —-> Georgia’s seed is E5; SC’s seed is E6

Georgia loses to LSU; South Carolina beats Vandy —-> Georgia’s seed is E6; SC’s seed is E5

In my opinion, the best scenario for Georgia would be to beat LSU and then take on the SEC West 4th seed.  If the Dawgs could win these two games, it would put them at 15-15 before another rematch with Kentucky.  Even if the Dawgs were to lose another close one (meaning the first game was close, not last night’s) to the ‘Cats, the NIT committee may extend an invite to Georgia since ESPN is in love with Travis Leslie and his high-flying acrobatics.

However, if Carolina were to pull off the upset in Nashville, then the Dawgs would get the SEC East 6th seed and would play either Ole Miss or Arkansas in the first round of the tournament.  With Vanderbilt waiting in the second round, and Kentucky all the way on the other side of the bracket, this scenario gives Georgia the best chance at reaching the finals of the SEC tournament (and once you get to that point all bets are off).

So what is everyone rooting for?