Tennessee smacks Georgia 96-50 in a forgettable SEC opener

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Tennessee’s (12-1) 46-point win over the Georgia Bulldogs (8-5) this afternoon in Knoxville marked the largest margin of victory in the series since 1975, when Bernard King buried 18 field goals in a 36-point win for the Vols. The fact that Georgia scored a season-low 50 points certainly helped Rick Barnes’s team notch this accomplishment.

Much like last year, Georgia’s guard play is once again its Achilles heel. The Dawgs have no one that can put a defender on his back feet, and that’s a serious problem; especially when playing an elite team like Tennessee. As strong as UGA’s bigs may be, they will struggle to find offense against stout defensive teams that can exploit the Georgia backcourt. Tennessee pushed the Georgia guards well beyond the three-point line, which forced the Dawgs to attempt to start the offense 30 feet from the basket. No bueno.

The first half of this game was basically a train wreck for Georgia. Derek Ogbeide picked up 2 fouls in less than a minute to start the game. Not to be outdone, Nic Claxton tallied up 4 first half fouls and Rayshaun Hammonds picked up 3 himself. This trio had one more point (10) than total fouls before the break. Yikes.

Tennessee picked up Georgia full court on its first make in an effort to pressure the UGA guards and speed up Georgia’s offense. Let’s just say that Rick Barnes’s strategy worked out pretty well for his Volunteer team: UGA shot 33% from the floor and missed all 8 of its three-point attempts in the first half.

Georgia came out aggressive on defense to start this game by playing the Vols man-to-man. The foul trouble, however, forced Georgia to switch to zone, and Tennessee used the soft spots in that zone to heat up as they knocked down a barrage of mid-range jumpers. UGA’s defensive pressure seemed nonexistent as they forced Tennessee in to just 1 turnover in the game’s first 20 minutes. The Vols lit Georgia up from the field as they knocked down 57% of their shots, with stars Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield combining for 28 points prior to the break. Tennessee scored 53 points in the first half, which is the most points they’ve scored in a game all season before the intermission, and they took a 29-point advantage into the locker room.

For anyone still interested, they did in fact play a second half in Knoxville. Even with the huge lead, Tennessee continued to play with a greater level of intensity than Georgia. Even though Coach Barnes went deep into his bench following the intermission, his team still managed to extend the lead in this contest. Frankly, Tennessee is so talented that I’m fairly confident that the Vols’ bench would play a competitive game with Georgia, and they could quite possibly win.

Some lopsided stats from this one:

*Tennessee outrebounded Georgia 45 to 30

*Tennessee had 25 assists to Georgia’s 8

*Tennessee’s bench outscored Georgia’s 37-19

*Tennessee scored 25 points off turnovers to Georgia’s 3

*Tennessee scored 48 points in the paint to Georgia’s 26

The best thing Georgia can do is flush this one and focus on the SEC home opener coming up Wednesday against Vanderbilt, a team that UGA should be more competitive with.

Also, it wouldn’t hurt if Tom Crean could land a graduate transfer point guard that could step in and start immediately next season.

Box score:

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Dawgs fall flat in second half against Vols

The last play of the game was actually designed for Tyree Crump.  While the ball was being in-bounded to Turtle Jackson, Yante Maten attempted to set a high screen to free up Crump, but Tyree’s man went over the top and denied Crump the ball.  Georgia needed 3 points and there were only 5 seconds left, so Turtle hoisted up a shot from well beyond the arc that didn’t come close, and UGA lost for the second time in a week.

The Dawgs didn’t lose to Tennessee on that last play, though. Georgia only scored 19 points after the intermission as they shot 29% from the floor and 1 of 6 from the perimeter.  UGA gave the ball away 9 times in the second half, and Tennessee converted Georgia’s turnovers into 13 points.

Yante Maten, who’s faced two of the premier bigs in the SEC this week in TAMU’s Robert Williams III and Tennessee’s Grant Williams, had another tough night offensively.  Maten scored 18 points, but those points came at the expense of a 5 for 15 shooting effort. That makes Yante 10 for 33 from the floor this week; I can’t imagine there is a player in the league that’s more determined to play well in the SEC Tournament next week.  Much like in the game against TAMU, Maten missed shots around the rim that he’s knocked down consistently all season.  Conversely, Williams had a monster game inside as he scored 22 points before fouling out with over 3 minutes remaining.  He is a load inside and plays with a lot of physicality, which clearly wore on Maten because UGA’s big man, much like on Wednesday night, appeared to be exhausted down the stretch.  Or maybe it’s this season that is wearing down Maten.

The first half came out of nowhere.  After the disappointing letdown earlier in the week to TAMU, I was shocked at how poised Georgia looked for the first 20 minutes of this one.  There were no signs of a hangover from the TAMU loss whatsoever.  The Dawgs had just 2 turnovers before the break, they shot 53% from the floor, and they hit 7 of 12 from the perimeter.  Tennessee began the game in a full-court man press, but Georgia looked unfazed. The Dawgs got into a stacked set that allowed Hammonds to flash the middle and receive the ball so that he could then hand it off to Turtle to bring down the court.  Easy, peasy, right?  This didn’t look anything like the UGA team that has struggled to make outside shots and move the ball efficiently against a press; this looked like an NCAA Tournament team.  Georgia had maybe its best possession of the season late in the half: Maten drove, kicked it to Hammonds in the corner, who swung it to Turtle on the wing, who found Crump on the opposite wing, where he buried a triple.  The Dawgs had 8 team assists before halftime, and they went into the locker room with a 42-34 advantage.

Random thoughts:

-Even though Crump’s turnover with 39 seconds left and Georgia trailing 62-61 proved to be costly, I was pleased to see Fox sticking with him down the stretch.  Crump played great off the bench before the break as he hit two triples and scored at the rim on a drive from the top of the key – I’d almost forgotten what it looked like to have a Georgia guard score on a dribble-drive.  Crump’s first half performance obviously caught the attention of Vols coach Rick Barnes because he had his defenders playing full-on deny on Tyree out of the their man defense.  If Georgia had another guard that could penetrate and get into the lane, they might have been better equipped to take advantage of Tennessee’s lack of help defense on the perimeter.

-After scoring 10 points on Wednesday night against TAMU and playing what were arguably his best minutes to date as a Bulldog, Teshaun Hightower logged just 1 minute in Thompson-Boling Arena on Saturday.  That can be explained by…

-Admiral Schoefield and Grant Williams combined for just 16 points in the Vols’ loss in Athens last month. Yesterday, the two Tennessee bigs contributed 45 of their team’s 66 total points, and Schoefield hit a huge shot with less than 30 seconds left that bolstered his team’s lead to 64-61.

-Georgia concludes the season with a 16-14 record overall, and they finished 7-11 in the SEC.  That’s the Dawgs worst conference record under Coach Fox since the 2011-2012 season in which Georgia went 5-11 in the league before being knocked out of the SEC Tourney in the first round by Vanderbilt, who UGA plays on Wednesday night in St. Louis.

-I checked the weather forecast for St. Louis for the next 10 days: it’s going to be cold, cloudy and there might be some scattered rain.  A decade ago, Georgia won the SEC Tournament and saved Coach Dennis Felton’s job for another season with a lot of help from a tornado that ripped through Atlanta and forced the games to be played at Georgia Tech in front of players’ families only.  The Dawgs could certainly use some sort of similar natural intervention if they are going to win this week’s conference tourney, but it doesn’t look like another tornado is in the cards.

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Georgia wins second in a row with upset of #18 Tennessee

Derek Ogbeide was clearly having a good time yesterday inside Stegeman Coliseum.  The UGA big cheesed for the camera after a huge old-fashioned three-point play.  When a Tennessee big got called for traveling late in the second half, Ogbeide skipped down the court with his hands up high as he simulated the official signal for traveling with his dancing fingers.  The junior from Atlanta had plenty to be excited about as his offense carried the Dawgs down the stretch and enabled Georgia to hold off the #18 Tennessee Volunteers in their 72-63 upset win on Saturday (UGA’s 5th straight W over the Vols).

Ogbeide had 16 points and 11 rebounds, marking his second double-double in a week.  It’s no shock that Ogbeide’s improved play has coincided with two enormous conference wins for this UGA basketball program.  He’s finally becoming the threat on the opposite block that many hoped he would be all season.  With all the attention that Yante Maten garners, it was expected that Ogbeide would benefit offensively on the opposite block, and those hopes are beginning to come to fruition as the junior scored on an array of drop-step buckets, dunks and tip-ins.

The Georgia defense was once again the main attraction, however, as the Dawgs held a Volunteer team that entered this game scoring almost 75 a night in SEC games to just 63.  The Vols were making more than 37% of their attempts beyond the arc in league play, yet on Saturday they only connected on 32%.  Yante Maten, in addition to his 19 points, shut down Tennessee’s leading scorer Grant Williams.  Maten held Williams to just 5 points, which is over 12 below his conference average.  Maten’s offense forced Williams into foul trouble, which frustrated the UT big into a 1 of 8 performance from the field.

I realize it sounds simple, but credit Mark Fox’s team for not folding and relinquishing the lead against an aggressive opponent, something that has been an issue for this UGA team this season (see @ Missouri, @ Auburn, Arkansas).  With 5:14 remaining, Kyle Alexander tipped in a missed Tennessee shot that cut the Georgia advantage to 54-51. The Vols got into their full-court pressure (that they applied for much of the latter portion of the game), and I began to chew my fingernails as it felt like things were going to potentially unravel.  Tyree Crump assuaged my fears, however, when he buried a three-pointer that sent the Dawgs back up by 6 points.  Several possessions later, with the Vols only one stop away from having the chance to make it a one-possession game, Crump again hit a timely triple that turned out to be a dagger as it put UGA up 62-54 with just 1:54 left.  All 11 of Crump’s points came in the final 5 minutes of this contest.

Two key stats that were in UGA’s favor:

Second chance points: UGA 19, Tennessee 8.

Points in the paint: UGA 29, Tennessee 19.

Not to sound like a broken record, but both Ogbeide and Maten can’t be praised enough for how well they outplayed the Tennessee frontcourt duo of Williams and Admiral Schoefield.  In addition to Williams’s struggles, Schoefield had a lackluster outing as well as he shot just 5 of 13 from the floor en route to 11 points.  UGA’s two bigs outscored these guys by a tally of 35 to 16, and that was probably the difference in the game.

Box score:

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Up next

Georgia heads to Columbia on Wednesday to look for revenge against a South Carolina team that just snapped a six-game losing streak with an impressive upset win over #10 Auburn.

As both UGA and college basketball fans, we have a tendency to start thinking things like “If my team does this and this and this, then they should be in the NCAA Tournament, right?” My advice: don’t do that.  This week was big for Georgia basketball as it injected life into a season that appeared to be spiraling downward, and it might have saved Coach Fox’s job.  However, it’s also the first time UGA has won consecutive SEC games since January 3rd and 6th when the Dawgs beat Ole Miss and Alabama.  At this point, Georgia’s still not anywhere close to sniffing the NCAA Tournament, and for now, that’s fine.  UGA fans should enjoy these last two wins because they both seemed highly improbable after last Saturday’s home loss to Auburn.

Georgia has another opportunity to further distance itself from the cellar of the SEC on Wednesday, and hopefully that’s this team’s only focus.

Big week for UGA basketball starts with Tennessee on Wednesday

Coach Mark Fox’s team has gotten out to an 0-3 start in conference play, but this week presents the Bulldogs (9-8; 0-3) with a great opportunity to dictate the direction of the season.  Georgia’s first three SEC opponents have all been conference contenders, with a combined SEC record of 7-2.

The Dawgs get Tennessee and Ole Miss at home over the next four days (who are a combined 2-4 in SEC play), and both games are potentially winnable for UGA (the second being more winnable than the first).

Should Georgia buckle down in Athens and take both of these contests they could be sitting at 2-3 by week’s end, giving themselves and UGA fans reason to look ahead to the remainder of the season.

A split would be less satisfying and might leave the Dawg Nation with some reasonable concerns heading into next season.

If Georgia can’t defend the Steg and they drop both games then, well, it’s going to be a LONG, LONG season.

Wednesday night’s opportunity pits Georgia against the Tennessee Volunteers (8-9; 1-2), who may be one of the tougher sub-.500 teams in the nation.  The Vols’ arduous schedule has already seen them play games against Duke, Memphis (twice), Pittsburgh, Florida, Mississippi State and Kentucky (with the Gators being the only team out of that bunch that UT beat).  Tennessee did lose to all of the previously mentioned teams not named Florida, but four of the six losses were by just 5 points or less.

Unlike Vols’ teams of late, this bunch actually shoots the basketball pretty well, knocking down 46% of their field goal attempts and 38% of their three’s.

Sophomore point guard Trae Golden has been rock-solid for the Volunteers so far this year, leading his team in both scoring and assists with 14.2 and 5.4, respectively.

The other Tennessee player averaging in double-figures is junior behemoth Jeronne Maymon, who is netting 11.5 points to go along with a team-high 7.7 rebounds per game.  Maymon appears to be carved out of stone at 6’7″ and 265 pounds, so the Georgia bigs best be ready to bang on Wednesday evening.

If the Dawgs hope to right the ship this week in Athens then they are going to have to tighten up their team defense.  Through the early portion of conference games, Georgia is second to last in points allowed (73.7) and field goal percentage defense (52.2%).  These are not acceptable defensive results for a team struggling on the offensive end of the court, where the Bulldogs are tallying only 57.7 points per contest in SEC play (also second to last).

Another area on the floor where Georgia has really been getting man-handled is on the boards.  The Dawgs at the moment sport a -7.3 rebounding margin in conference games, which is better than just one other team – Arkansas.

Georgia desperately needs the Dustin Ware of late December 2011 to return to being an active member of this team’s offense.  In the final three holiday games before the new year, Dustin was netting 15.3 points and canning almost 57% of his shots from beyond the arc.  Since the SEC season began Ware has been a virtual ghost, averaging under 6 points and hitting only 27% of his three-point attempts.  His fellow guards – Kentavious-Caldwell Pope and Gerald Robinson, Jr. – could sure use some scoring support in the backcourt.

The tip is at 8:00PM and Georgia should be prepared for a physical game with the Volunteers inside Stegeman.

Will the Dawgs notch their first conference win of the season on Wednesday?

Georgia Hosts Tennessee

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The "Braveheart" Special: McPhee vs McBee

This Saturday, Georgia will be playing host to Bruce Pearl’s #8 Tennessee Volunteers in Athens at 5:00PM EST.

This will mark the Dawgs fourth-ranked opponent in their last five games.

Unless you have been living under a rock for the past two months, you are probably well aware of the drug/gun scandal that several Volunteer players were involved in.

The result of that incident: senior G/F Tyler Smith was kicked off the team and reserves C Brian Williams, G Melvin Goins and Lithonia, GA native G Cameron Tatum were suspended indefinitely (Goins and Tatum were actually re-instated onto the team earlier this week).  These four players represented 40% of this team’s offensive production through the first 12 games of the season (Smith was the team’s leading scorer last year and was averaging in double-figures again this year).

Amazingly, this Tennessee team has won five games in a row with the help of only 6 scholarship players and a mix of walk-ons.  Two of those wins were against #3 Kansas and #22 Ole Miss…go figure?

This Vols squad is led in the backcourt by Scotty Hopson, Bobby Maze and J.P. Prince (6’7″ brother of NBA player Tayshaun Prince).  In his sophomore season, Hopson is leading Tennessee in scoring (13.5) and 3-point shooting (40.6%).  His wiry 6’7″ frame allows him to shoot over defenders from the outside, but Hopson is not afraid to take the ball to the rim as well (he had a couple of very impressive dunks against Alabama).

Maze and Prince are chipping in 8.8  and 7.0 points/game, respectively, though neither of them is much of a shooting threat.  Both of these guys play great defense, and rarely turn the ball over.

In the frontcourt, the headline name for UT is senior C Wayne Chism.  If you have never seen Mr. Chism play, he’s easy to spot with his white headband that he sports about 3″ too high on his forehead.

Chism is the Vols leading rebounder at 6.5 per game to go along with 12.1 points.  He is also actually a pretty good outside shooter, knocking down 39% of this 3-point attempts.

In the last five games, these four leaders have stepped up their efforts to compensate for the loss of their four suspended teammates.  All of them are averaging more points per game than their season averages – Chism 15, Hopson 14, Maze 12, Prince 9.4.

Off the bench, Tennessee has gotten great play from sophomore F Renaldo Woolridge (6’8″, 208lbs) and freshman F Kenny Hall (6’8″, 220lbs).  Over the past five games, Woolridge is averaging 7.4 points/5.4 rebounds and Hall is giving the Vols 8.4 points/6.0 rebounds (both guys only average 4.8 points/game on the season).  Kenny Hall (from Stone Mountain, GA) is very active on the offensive glass, so the Dawgs better be aware of where he is on the court when shots go up and get a body on him.

I watched this team win at Alabama on Tuesday night, and it was interesting to see how their style of play has been affected by the loss of the suspended players.  Bruce Pearl’s past teams at Tennessee have thrived off running a full-court press for a majority of the game, dictating a fast tempo and forcing opponents into turnovers.  However, with less personnel at his disposal, Pearl’s team has been forced into playing a half-court game.

Bruce Pearl has never lost to the Dawgs since his arrival at Tennessee in 2005.  His Vols have won 10-straight against Georgia, and will be looking to make it 11 on Saturday.

Georgia’s Keys

Men vs Boys – Wayne Chism is the only UT player that weighs 240lbs or more (he’s listed at 246).  The Dawgs have 4 guys that tip the scales over that 240lb plateau – Chris Barnes – 240, Trey Thompkins – 247, Jeremy Price – 264 and Albert Jackson – 265.  Georgia needs to make the most of this size advantage and bang down low on the thinner Vols.  Dustin Ware and Ricky McPhee should be looking to dump the ball down to the Georgia bigs early and often.  The Dawgs are third in the SEC in rebounding margin (+4.1), and in Saturday’s game UGA needs to continue its domination on the glass.

Kiddy Pool Depth – This “key”  is somewhat tied into the first one in that it is focused on Georgia getting the ball inside early.  Tennessee’s depth chart got axed by 33% after the scandal, which means that when a starter goes off a walk-on player enters.  The Dawgs need to look to draw fouls on offense so that they can get into the Vols’ bench.  This would give Georgia a rare talent-advantage over an opponent (usually its the Dawgs that are doing more with less).

From Downtown!!! – Guess where Georgia ranks in the SEC at 3-point field goals made per game?  If you guessed last, then “Yes! You are correct, Sir!”.  The Dawgs are shooting only 33.2% from behind the arc, and making merely four 3’s a game (and McPhee is making 2 of them per contest).  I’m not saying that I think that UGA should start chunking up 24 3-pointers a game like Mississippi State (Dawgs shoot 12/game), but it would be nice if they could take & make just a couple more.  Thompkins is second on the team in 3pt% at a solid 39.1%, yet he has only taken 23 shots from there on the year.  I wouldn’t mind if Trey started looking for a few more (like one or two) three-point shots a game…a couple more 3’s would remove some pressure on offense, and help open things up more in the paint.

Bonus Note:

Saturday’s game will give fans a rare chance to see a match-up between two walk-ons, both presumably of Scottish decent.  If you haven’t guessed, I am referring to the Dawgs senior guard Ricky McPhee and Tennessee’s freshman guard Skylar McBee.

McBee made headlines when he hit a 3-point field goal with time winding down on the shot clock to all but seal the Vols upset victory over the then #1 Kansas Jayhawks.  He received offers to play at East Carolina, Marshall, Santa Clara and Winthrop, but elected to stay close to home and walk-on at UT.  This was probably a wise decision since he has been playing 15.5 minutes per game, contributing 4.8 points.

The elder McPhee (also known as the Pride of Lawrenceville) transferred to Georgia after two seasons at Gardner Webb University.  This season, McPhee has started every game for the Dawgs and is averaging 9.8 points in 30.4 minutes.  He has also established himself as Coach Fox’s best perimeter defender (and is certainly a crowd/blog favorite).

It will be interesting to see if these two players defend each other at all on Saturday.  Both of them continue to serve as inspirations to future walk-ons and Scotts everywhere.

– I will be heading up to Athens with a few buddies for this one…  If you can’t make the trip, the game will be televised on the Fox Sports Network and 750AM radio.

Any other thoughts on what Dawgs need to do to win this one?