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.

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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?