Yante Maten returns for senior season and in the process saves Mark Fox’s job

If Yante Maten had decided to forgo his senior year of basketball at the University of Georgia, the Dawgs would be heading into next season looking to replace 39 points per game, or over 54% of its offense.  Without Yante manning the paint, the over/under on conference wins for UGA would probably be somewhere in the neighborhood of 6.

Even with Maten in the lineup, this year’s team was 6-7 in SEC games prior to his knee injury at the start of the Kentucky contest in Athens; the Dawgs finished 9-9 overall in league games.

At this point, Mark Fox would have a tough time surviving a losing season in the SEC.  While I wasn’t privy to the conversation between Fox and AD Greg McGarrity when they discussed the coach’s 10-year plan for the UGA basketball program, I cannot imagine that “losing more SEC games than you win” in year 9 was on the original agenda.  Maten’s decision to come back to Athens for one last go around should be enough of a boost to keep the Dawgs in the middle the pack in the conference, which is probably good enough to keep Fox’s position safe.

While UGA fans should breath a sense of relief over Maten’s commitment to the G, Georgia is going to have to make up for the 18+ points that J.J. Frazier scored per game.  Frazier and Maten were both named First Team All-SEC players at the end of this season, and the team failed to reach the NCAA tournament due to a lack of quality wins.  Both of these players have been working out for several NBA teams over the past two weeks, yet the Dawgs were ousted from the first round of the postseason NIT by the Belmont Bruins.  Georgia couldn’t earn an NCAA berth with Frazier.  How will they get into the tournament without him?

Before you tell me that Juwan Parker, Derek Ogbeide, Turtle Jackson, Tyree Crump, Jordan Harris and E’Torrian Wilridge are all returning and that 4-star recruit Rayshaun Hammonds will soon be on campus, I want to remind everyone about the team from two years ago that also did not make the NCAA Tournament:  J.J. Frazier (Jr.), Kenny Gaines (Sr.), Charles Mann (Sr.), Yante Maten (Soph) and Derek Ogbeide (Fr).  The 2015-2016 team was even more talented than last year’s squad, and yet they too failed to make the NCAA’s.  The 2017-2018 Dawgs will feature the same frontcourt as the team from two years ago, but how will this season’s backcourt compare to Frazier, Gaines and Mann?

Maten’s return to the team certainly makes the Dawgs a far more competitive SEC team than they were a week ago.  But does Georgia have enough firepower in its arsenal to improve upon last year’s 9-9 showing?  Personally, I don’t think that they do.  However, given Mark Fox’s track record of playing upperclassmen early and often, fans may not get the chance to find out what the young guys can actually do.

 

 

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Kentucky too much for Georgia

Any notion Georgia (19-14) might have had of playing another close game with Kentucky (27-5) in today’s SEC tournament were quickly put to rest by a Wildcat team that came out determined to defend UGA better than it had during the regular season.  The Cats halfcourt defense suffocated Georgia and forced the Dawgs to start its offense well outside the three-point line.  J.J. Frazier constantly found himself surrounded by Kentucky defenders, and even when he didn’t have the ball a Wildcat defender was usually right on him playing deny defense.  Yante Maten, who still didn’t look anywhere close to 100%, struggled to score the ball around the rim.

Kentucky certainly wasn’t at its best offensively, but Georgia’s woes on that end of the  court made it impossible for the Dawgs to seriously threaten Coach Calipari’s team.  Georgia shot just 30% from the floor and turned it over 7 times in the first half, yet they only trailed the Cats 32-25 at the break.  A decent finish to the half – capped off by a corner three-pointer from Tyree Crump – offered UGA a glimmer of hope going into the intermission.

That hope, though, was dashed almost immediately by Kentucky at the start of the second half.  The Dawgs began the half with a turnover and 3 misses, and the Cats quickly pushed their advantage to 38-25.  UGA would only score 5 points for more than 8 minutes to begin the second half, and by the time Juwan Parker knocked down a jumper with 11:43 remaining the Dawgs had fallen behind 47-32.

Kentucky pushed its lead to 18 points after a monster dunk by Bam Adebayo with 9:54 left, making it 50-32.  Georgia couldn’t manage to cut the lead to under double-digits again, and the Wildcats essentially cruised to their first win of the SEC tournament.

Isaiah Briscoe and De’Aron Fox went for 20 apiece, but for the most part, Georgia defended the Cats pretty well.  The Dawgs contained Malik Monk, who they held to just 2 points, and they limited Kentucky to only 38% from the floor.

But ultimately the Dawgs’ offense did them in.  UGA finished with 13 turnovers, with J.J. Frazier and Yante Maten leading the way with 3 each.  Frazier and Maten scored 15 and 12, respectively, but they combined for just 7 for 28 from the floor, which just isn’t good enough for a team hoping to upset the SEC’s best team.

Georgia’s NCAA tournament hopes are just about done.  If there’s any silver lining, I did read that UGA could potentially receive a 2-seed in the NIT.

 

 

 

UGA beats Tennessee and lives to play another day

Even with Yante Maten back, Georgia still relied heavily on J.J. Frazier down the stretch today in Nashville. With the game tied at 47-47 and a little over 6 minutes remaining, Frazier asserted himself on a day in which UGA’s offense was rather stagnant and scored 8 of his team’s final 12 points. J.J. notched 6 of those 8 points at the free throw line as he attacked the teeth of the Tennessee defense in the latter part of this one.

But all of Frazier’s efforts could have been for not if he and his teammates hadn’t held strong on the Vols’ final possession. Trailing 59-57, Tennessee had a chance to tie or take the lead, but the Dawgs forced the Vols offense outside the three-point line, and Admiral Schofield’s attempt from beyond the arc fell short. Tennessee’s decision to not go back inside to freshman Grant Williams, who had been heating up over the final minutes of this contest, will certainly be a decision that coach Rick Barnes will revisit when he watches tape. Either way, UGA held on for the 59-57 win and earned another rematch with Kentucky on Friday.

The biggest story of this game had to be the return of Yante Maten, who finished with 12 points and 5 rebounds. Maten looked rusty for sure as he committed 5 turnovers and a step slow at times defensively. But overall, he and the other Georgia bigs did an amazing job of containing Williams, who lit the Dawgs up for 30 points earlier this season in Knoxville; today, Williams only scored 6.

The Dawgs were led offensively by Frazier, who netted 17 points to go along with 10 rebounds, giving him an uncharacteristic double-double.

This game as whole was rather sloppy for Georgia, and they were fortunate to get the win. The Dawgs looked incredibly clunky on offense as they turned the ball over 15 times and attempted only 46 field goals (of which they made 43.5%). Much of Georgia’s struggles on offense can most likely be attributed to a combination of first game jitters along with the task of working Maten back into the rotation. As good as Yante is and as happy as everyone in the Bulldog nation is to have him back, this team did learn to play without him, and this game showed that they had to adjust to having the big man back in the lineup.

The Dawgs played much stronger defensively than they did last Saturday against Arkansas. Georgia’s matchup zone yielded 7 three-pointers to the Vols, but the Dawgs rotated much better on Tennessee’s movement and limited the number of easy looks for the Vols’ bigs. After giving up 48 points in the paint to Arkansas on Saturday, UGA held Tennessee to just 12 points in the lane. Furthermore, the Georgia defense limited Tennessee to under 32% from the floor.

Georgia plays at the same time tomorrow against Kentucky with an NCAA at-large bid on the line.

 

UGA’s defense hurting without Yante Maten

Since Yante Maten went down several minutes into the Kentucky game last month, Georgia’s J.J. Frazier has amped up his offensive output to the tune of nearly 30 points per game.  With Maten averaging almost 18 a night in SEC play, the Dawgs needed more points from somewhere, and a lot of that somewhere was Frazier.  UGA went 3-2 over this stretch of games without their best interior player, which is certainly a testament to the will of this team, and they actually averaged slightly more points (73) in league games than before he got hurt (72.4).  They head into the SEC tournament next week with the uncertainty of whether they will have Maten or not when they take on Tennessee on Thursday.  It seems most likely that Yante will not play, and Georgia will once again need to find a way to make up his missing points.  However, UGA’s defense has also been suffering without Maten, and the Dawgs must become stronger on that side of the court if they hope to make any noise in Nashville.

In the 13 conference games prior to Maten’s injury, the Dawgs were holding opponents to a little over 72 points a contest.  Over the past 5 games though, that number has ballooned to 76.

UGA’s ability to secure the defensive glass has also taken a big hit recently.  Defensive rebounding percentage, when compared total rebounds, is a far more telling statistic of a team’s rebounding prowess as it takes into account the opponent’s offensive rebounds as well.  It is essentially the percentage of the missed shots in a game that a team rebounds (Def Rbd / Def Rbd + Opp Off Rbd).  Before Yante went down, Georgia’s defensive rebounding percentage was 71%; since, it’s dropped to 64%.  That is significant because it means that opponents are getting more second chance opportunities on offense, which most likely has led to the increase in points allowed by the Dawgs.

One final area where Georgia has regressed over the past 5 games has been in team blocks, which has fallen from 3.8 a game to just 2.6.

Yesterday’s defensive collapse in Arkansas, in which UGA let the Hogs scored 48 of their 85 points in the paint, was a consequence of weak interior defense.  The Dawgs play a Tennessee team with a big frontcourt that averaged almost 12 offensive boards a night in SEC games.  Georgia edged the Vols by a point in Knoxville earlier this season, but getting a similar result on Thursday could prove challenging without Maten anchoring down the defense.

Arkansas overpowers Georgia 85-67

Georgia’s string of miraculous finishes orchestrated by J.J. Frazier came to a screeching halt today in Hogville as Arkansas punished the Dawgs 85-67 in Fayetteville this afternoon.  A game that was close for the first twenty minutes quickly spiraled out of control for UGA as Arkansas began to assert its will both offensively and defensively.  Georgia followed up a 38% first half effort from the floor by shooting just 25% after the break, while Arky made over 60% of its shots in the game’s final twenty minutes.

The Razorbacks started the second half with a 10-2 run that saw their 38-37 halftime lead blossom to 48-39 with 17:30 left.  With a little over 15 minutes remaining, J.J. picked up his 4th foul and had to sit with his team trailing 53-44.  Arkansas brutalized the Dawgs in Frazier’s absence, going on a 9-2 run that put them up 62-46 with 11:46 remaining.  Frazier would return, but it would not matter.  The Hogs continued to score without much resistance and coasted to a relatively easy home win.

UGA’s defense failed big time on Saturday.  The Dawgs’ zone looked out of sorts all afternoon, especially on defending cutters inside the lane.  Georgia’s rotations by its help defenders were basically nonexistent, and Arkansas took advantage by racking up a whopping 48 points in the paint.  The Razorbacks had 4 players finish in double-figures, and they shot over 55% from the field as a team.  Maybe the Dawgs came into this game focused on locking down the perimeter, since Arkansas is the best three-point shooting team in SEC play.  UGA managed to hold the Hogs to just 21% from beyond the arc, but it didn’t matter as Arky had a field day accumulating a plethora of easy baskets in the lane.

For Georgia, the sledding wasn’t nearly as simple on offense.  The Razorback defense consistently pushed the UGA guards out well beyond the three-point arc, which forced the Dawgs into a number of off-balanced shots.  Frazier led all scorers with 24 points, but he had to work hard for them as he routinely was the target of traps whenever he came off ball screens on the perimeter.  Arkansas is much more talented than Alabama, LSU and Auburn.  J.J. needed help on the outside, but he didn’t get it.  Tyree Crump and Juwan Parker each shot 2 for 10 from the floor, and Turtle Jackson connected on just 2 of his 7 attempts.  As amazing as Frazier has been in the past three wins, he wasn’t able to do it alone against a more talented Razorback defense.

The only other Bulldog to score in double-digits was Derek Ogbeide, who finished with 12 points to go along with 7 rebounds.  He scored 10 of those points before the break, and then Ogbeide sort of disappeared in the second half as the Razorbacks ratcheted up the pace of this game.

Andy Katz labeled this one as a must win for Georgia if they hoped to earn an at-large berth to the NCAA tournament.  With the loss, it would seem that UGA would need to reach the finals of the SEC Tournament to receive serious consideration for the Big Dance.  The fact of the matter is that Georgia really doesn’t have many significant wins on its resume.  Vanderbilt is the only RPI Top 50 team that the Dawgs have beaten this year.  To play on into March in the only tournament that matters, Georgia probably needs to notch a couple of RPI Top 50 wins next week.

Georgia completes sweep of Auburn

12486347Just when it seemed like J.J. Frazier could officially do no wrong, he did.  With 12 seconds left and Georgia leading 79-78, Frazier tried to force a pass through the teeth of the Auburn defense and it was stolen.  All of a sudden, Frazier’s Senior Night fairy tale ending seemed in jeopardy.  The Tigers inbounded the ball to Jared Harper with only 7 seconds left, and he promptly tossed up a three-pointer which missed and allowed UGA to hold on for its third straight win.

Other than Frazier’s mental lapse in the final moments of this contest, the Dawgs did an excellent job of taking control of this game when it counted down the stretch.  The two teams went into the final media timeout knotted up at 73-apiece.  UGA tightened up its defense when it counted, though, and they held Auburn to just 1 of its final 6 field goal attempts.

Even though J.J.’s turnover could have been incredibly costly, the Dawgs would have never even been in a position to win without him.  Frazier, who came into this game averaging 31 a night over the past three contests, fittingly scored 31 tonight against Bruce Pearl’s team. He knocked down 5 of his 9 shots from beyond the arc, and J.J. also scored on an array of tricky drives that I will sorely miss seeing inside Stegeman next season.  South Carolina’s Sindarious Thornwell may have been the leading SEC Player of the Year candidate a week ago, but I have to imagine that Frazier is giving him a serious run for his money at this point because what J.J. has done without the help of Yante Maten has been nothing short of miraculous.

The Dawgs started out super slow in this one as they allowed the Tigers to hit 4 three-pointers en route to a 20-9 lead a little over 10 minutes into the game.  UGA also struggled to contain Auburn on the offensive glass as they let the Tigers haul in 7 of their own misses.  In addition, Georgia turned the ball over 9 times before the break, so all things considered, the Dawgs should have felt fortunate to go into the intermission trailing 37-30.

UGA had trouble defending the perimeter for most of the night as Auburn knocked down 12 of its 27 three-point attempts.  But this is a Tiger team that can get hot from beyond the arc, where Auburn is making 9 three’s a game in SEC play.  Mark Fox mixed up zones and man in an attempt to close out on the Auburn shooters, but the Tigers were still successful from the outside.  Tonight’s game marks the 6th SEC contest in which they have made 10 three-pointers or more, and the 10th time overall this season.

While Auburn got after the glass early, Georgia won the overall rebounding effort by a count of 39-36, and much of that credit goes to big man Derek Ogbeide.  Ogbeide, who does the dirty work for this team night in and night out, entered this contest 3rd in SEC games in rebounding with 8 boards a night.  This evening, Ogbeide finished with a double-double, snagging 15 rebounds to go along with 10 points as he controlled the paint for the Dawgs.

The only other UGA player to score in double-digits was Tyree Crump, who poured in 10 points in 11 minutes off the bench.  Crump knocked down 2 of his 3 shots from beyond the arc, and he’s now scored 22 points over his last 28 minutes in the past 3 games.

Georgia is now 18-12 overall and 9-8 in the conference, and they now have a legitimate opportunity to punch an at-large NCAA berth ticket this Saturday with a win at Arkansas.

 

 

UGA does enough to hang on against LSU

12475030The narrative for Georgia’s (17-12; 8-8) basketball team has become incredibly predictable these days.  Basically, it goes something like this: with its best interior player watching from the sidelines, one undersized point guard continues to refuse to let this team lose.

Despite at one point holding a 17-point advantage in the first half, UGA found itself with the ball and trailing LSU 80-79 with only 6.9 seconds left.  The Dawgs got the ball to J.J. Frazier, who quickly split a double team before sprinting down the court and drawing a foul with less than 2 seconds left.  Frazier buried the two free throws, which gave UGA an 81-80 edge.  LSU attempted a full court pass, but it landed in Derek Ogbeide’s hands.  Ogbeide began walking with the ball as if the game were over, and fortunately for Georgia, the referees missed an obvious traveling violation and found a foul in the video replay that sent Ogbeide to the line with only 1.3 left.  Georgia would win 82-80, and more importantly, the Dawgs avoided what could have been a shameful home loss to a Tiger team that rolled into Athens with a 1-14 SEC record.

As refreshing as it was to see Frazier pull out another win for this team, the fact that Georgia relinquished its huge lead and almost lost to the worst team in the conference, even without Maten, is concerning.  After shooting 55% from the floor and building up a 44-37 halftime lead, the Dawgs began to unravel midway through the second half.  Georgia bolstered its advantage to 55-42 following an E’Torrian Wilridge three-pointer with 16:54 remaining.  But then UGA got careless with the ball, turning it over 7 times after the break.  The Dawgs also failed to defend the glass and allowed LSU to haul down 7 of its 11 offensive boards in the second half; the Tigers scored 14 second chance points to Georgia’s 6.  UGA came dangerously close to becoming the team that would snap LSU’s 14-game SEC losing streak.

Georgia escaped today, but it was so much closer than it should have been.  I fear that the offense is almost becoming too Frazier-centric down the stretch.  While obviously a team wants the ball in the hands of its best player when it counts, for the final 4 minutes of the LSU game the Dawgs merely stalled for 20 seconds before getting the ball to J.J. so that he could try to create something.  Frazier missed his final 5 field goal attempts, largely because the Tigers were dedicating nearly all their defensive resources to stopping him.  I’m not so sure this offensive strategy will work against a stronger opponent like Auburn, and I’m positive its not going to be enough against Arkansas.

But the thing is, even though Jordan Harris is also apparently injured, Mark Fox has other offensive weapons at his disposal, yet he continues to be reluctant to use them.  For the second straight game, freshman Tyree Crump came off the bench and buried a pair of three-pointers, only to spend the majority of the game on the bench.  Tonight, Crump played 8 minutes and scored 6 points and dished out 2 assists; Turtle Jackson played 32 minutes, scoring 9 points and handing out 2 turnovers.  Fox’s unwillingness to play Crump, even though he continues to provide perimeter offense, will certainly go down as one of the mysteries of this team’s season.

In addition to Frazier’s 29 points and 8 assists, both Ogbeide and Juwan Parker finished in double-digits as they scored 12 apiece.  LSU, who was led by Antonio Blakeny’s 20 points, also had 3 players end up in double-figures, with Brandon Sampson and Skylar Mays netting 15 each.