Dawgs shock #9 Tigers in Memphis

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Memphis coach Penny Hardaway had a defender playing deny defense on Georgia’s Anthony Edwards as soon as the freshman crossed halfcourt. The plan was simple: keep the ball away from the Ant Man and make the rest of the UGA team beat them. Unfortunately for the Tigers, that’s exactly how it played out.

By all accounts, Anthony Edwards had an off night. With fellow freshman Lester Quionones hounding him all afternoon, a frustrated Edwards connected on just 4 of 17 from the floor, which yielded 13 points. In the game’s final stretch, the moment seemed a little too big for the Ant Man as he turned the ball over on consecutive possessions with under 3 minutes remaining and his team up one, and he missed the front end of a one-and-one that could have iced the game with 2.4 seconds left.

Luckily, UGA’s supporting cast was up to the challenge set forth by Hardaway. Rayshaun Hammonds buried a triple to send the Dawgs up 62-61 with a little over 4 minutes in the contest. Sahvir Wheeler, who made the game-winner in the double-overtime win over SMU, sunk a jumper from just above the foul line to extend the Georgia lead to 64-61 with barely a minute left.

Hammonds had an absolute monster of a game for coach Tom Crean as he finished with 15 points and 12 rebounds while having to deal with future lottery pick Precious Achiuwa, who led all scorers with 20 points to go along with 15 boards. The Dawgs allowed Memphis to secure 15 offensive rebounds, which is a lot, but Rayshaun’s effort on the defensive glass was admirable.

Sahvir Wheeler is quickly becoming a media darling, and he’s certainly a burgeoning star as the freshman scored 10 points to add to his 7 assists and 2 steals. He is so disruptive on both ends of the court: defensively, opponents are putting the ball on the court around him at their own risk, and on offense, he’s constantly attacking and forcing defenses to adapt to him. To put it bluntly, without Wheeler, Georgia doesn’t win this game.

Senior graduate transfer Donnell Gresham finally came out of his shell a bit on offense as he knocked down 3 of 6 from beyond the arc en route to a 12 point effort. He also hauled in 8 boards, and Gresham made an incredibly heady decision to foul Memphis’s Boogie Ellis with 4 seconds remaining and UGA leading 65-62. This took away the potential for a game-tying triple and forced the Tigers to shoot free throws, which is something they did not do well on Saturday (55%).

One last UGA player that stepped up this afternoon, particularly in the first half, was Toumani Camara, who netted 8 points to go along with 5 rebounds. Camara sunk a pair of triples late in the first half that were instrumental in the Dawgs getting to the intermission tied with the Tigers. The freshman got into foul trouble after the break, which limited his ability to contribute much in the final twenty minutes.

Georgia came into this game confident that they could play with the #9 Tigers, who were without their 3rd leading scorer, D.J. Jeffries (12.5 ppg), who was dealing with flu-like symptoms. The Dawgs jumped out to a 10-5 lead by the first media timeout, and it was apparent early that Tom Crean’s team was prepared to fight.

Even when the Tigers opened up an 8-point advantage, its largest of the game, to make it 47-39 with over 15 minutes remaining, Georgia wouldn’t wither. Instead, the Dawgs went on a little 9-0 run of their own, and after a pair of three-pointers from Edwards and Gresham and a layup by Wheeler UGA was back on top 48-47 at the 13:22 mark.

Tom Crean’s team earned a Quadrant I win today on the road against the 9th ranked team in the country with its best player underperforming. A month ago, Georgia looked overwhelmed against both Dayton and Michigan State in the tournament in Hawaii; today, the Dawgs were poised and confident as the held a Memphis team that had been scoring over 80 a night to just 62 points. The Georgia defense frustrated the Tigers, who normally make nearly 48% from the floor, into an abysmal 32% shooting effort.

This young Georgia team continues to improve, and I think that Rayshaun Hammonds said it best in his post-game interview when he pronounced them all “sophomores” by this point.

A closer look at the UGA offense

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Georgia’s (8-3) 73-64 win over Georgia Southern (8-5) was probably closer than most Dawgs’ fans had hoped. UGA trailed the Eagles by 3 points at the half, and Georgia’s little brother from down south actually held a 1-point advantage with 4:44 left in the game.

This result isn’t that surprising, though, considering that Georgia was coming off of a heroic double-overtime win over SMU, coupled with the fact that Tom Crean’s team is just really young. In this case, it’s better to reserve too much judgement until this squad starts grinding through its SEC schedule, which will be a much more telling measuring stick of the state of the UGA program.

The Bulldogs’ defense, which has been suspect at times this season, put forth one of its better efforts as UGA held a team that typically scores 79 points to just 64. In addition, the Eagles managed only 40% from the floor and they committed 13 turnovers that Georgia manufactured into 19 points.

However, my main interest in writing about this game is to focus on the UGA offense.

Assistant coach Joe Scott spent time on the Princeton staff in the late 90’s in the same capacity as his role at UGA. During his time there, Princeton enjoyed 3 trips to the NCAA tournament using an inventive offense that scored tons of points off of backdoor cuts that came from players moving well without the ball.

Scott’s influence on this UGA offense is certainly noticeable. Now that Georgia has two players that can drive the ball into the middle of the lane off the dribble (Anthony Edwards and Savhir Wheeler), the Dawgs are getting a number of buckets each game from players cutting to the basket from the baseline when those lower level defenders commit to the ball. Against Georgia Southern, the Dawgs had 4 alley-oop dunks, a play that has not been a staple of UGA basketball for some time (albeit, two of them actually came off of breaks).

Toumani Camara looked the best of anyone yesterday at getting himself into the soft spots of the Georgia Southern zone, and he was rewarded by this movement as he had his strongest game of the year in which he scored 16 points on an 8 for 8 performance from the floor (to go along with 7 rebounds). The key will be if Camara can maintain this time of production against more stout competition next month.

The offense comes to a grinding halt when both Edwards and Wheeler are not on the court, though. Georgia opened up a 10-2 lead in a little over 3 minutes to start the game. Anthony Edwards started out great as he knocked down two mid-range jumpers before hitting his first triple en route a fast 7 points. However, just like last game, the Ant Man picked up 2 fouls early and he had to head to the bench before the first media timeout.

Wheeler entered the game, but he eventually got a rest while Edwards was still sitting, and the Eagles turned an 8-point deficit into a 23-22 lead with a little over 7 minutes remaining in the half. With both the freshmen on the bench, the Dawgs offense turned into an uglier version of itself in which the ball just swung around the perimeter until someone hoisted up a deep three-point attempt.

The problem with this kind of offense is that Georgia really isn’t a good three-point shooting team right now. To be more exact, UGA is making just 29% of its attempts from beyond the arc, which has them in a three-way tie for 313th in the nation. That’s ineffective to the point where the three-point attempts are almost beginning to feel like turnovers.

What’s even more frustrating is that the Dawgs are great at scoring inside the perimeter, and a lot of that can be attributed to the work of the aforementioned Coach Scott. UGA is currently the 7th best team in the nation at making two-pointers (57%). Both the Ant Man and Wheeler can get by just about anyone and get the ball into the lane, but they just aren’t doing that enough, especially Edwards.

Late in the game against the Eagles, Edwards, who finished with 23 points, had two sensational drives off the dribble that resulted with him getting easy points at the rim. He needs to do this more. A lot more. First off, getting those buckets and seeing the ball go through the net will help him feel more comfortable from the perimeter (that’s exactly how he started this game). Plus, it puts so much more pressure on opposing defenses and will undoubtedly get Georgia to the foul line in a bonus capacity on a regular basis.

I know that Crean wants his teams to shoot a lot of triples, and I believe Georgia has the players to hit those shots, but this squad is so much more successful from the perimeter off the kick out pass than trying to get those shots off the dribble. UGA doesn’t necessarily need to shoot less three-pointers, but they do need to be conscious of how they are getting those attempts.

Georgia has one last tune up (Austin Peay) before the schedule becomes grueling: at #9 Memphis, #19 Kentucky and then at #8 Auburn. Much like Camara, I expect this team to continue to improve and get better as the season progresses and the freshmen grow and mature.

Dawgs overwhelm WCU late

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Quite possibly the biggest takeaway from Georgia’s 91-72 win over Western Carolina tonight in the season opener is that there really aren’t any significant takeaways. Last year, the Dawgs opened the season by blowing the doors off of Savannah State 110 to 76, and many fans clamoured that the “Tom Crean Era” of offense had officially begun. In reality, Georgia had one of the least efficient offenses in 2019 SEC play as they struggled to score points in league games.

Obviously, people didn’t expect the Catamounts, who were projected to finish 7th in the Southern Conference prior to the start of the season, to hold a 58-57 lead with a little over 9 minutes remaining in the game. But this is an incredibly young Georgia team playing in its first game together EVER. UGA has its own little Kentucky-like situation going on right now, and it’s on Tom Crean to determine the best combinations of his new talent with returning starters Rayshaun Hammonds, Tyree Crump and Jordan Harris (when he returns December 20th from his 9-game suspension for an “internal matter”).

Here’s what went well:

Freshman sensation Anthony “Ant Man” Edwards lived up to all of the hype that’s been following him around since he set foot in Athens. Edwards finished with a game-high 24 points to go along with 9 boards. His three-point shot appeared effortless as he buried 4 of 7 attempts, and 3 of those came in the second half and helped ignite an 11-2 Georgia run that put the Dawgs up 79-65 with just 2:25 left. Edwards looks comfortable with the ball in his hands, and he seemingly has no trouble facilitating offense from the point guard position.

Edwards, however, is projected to be the #2 pick in next year’s NBA Draft, so his success was somewhat expected. The surprise of the night had to be freshman point guard Sahvir Wheeler, who came off the bench to spark the UGA offense. Wheeler pushed the tempo while he was in the game, and he showed a strong prowess for finishing at the rim. The lefty ended up with 19 points and 3 assists, and I don’t really see how Crean can keep him out of the starting lineup for much longer. Wheeler’s ability to penetrate and keep defenders on their heels should free the Ant Man up for more open looks from the perimeter.

Areas for concern:

The losses of Nic Claxton and Derek Ogbeide left a gaping hole in the Georgia frontcourt as those two combined for over 32% of the scoring and nearly 40% of the rebounding. It’s no secret that UGA’s interior defense will more than likely be the Achilles’ heel of this team. Western Carolina’s Carlos Dotson, a load at 6’7″, 270 lbs and a member of the preseason All-SoCon Team, notched 17 points to go along with 15 boards as he manhandled the Georgia bigs in the paint. Amanze Ngumezi, who Crean will be counting on to hold it down in the interior, mustered just 4 points in 9 minutes of play due to his 4 personal fouls. Ngumezi is going to have the tall task of defending the opposing team’s largest player(s) all season, and unfortunately for him, that job is only going to become more challenging when this team enters conference play.

Georgia’s other forward, junior Rayshaun Hammonds, still looks like an unfinished product offensively. Hammonds shot just 2 of 12 from the floor on Tuesday as he struggled both around the rim and with his outside shot. With all these newbies on the court for the Dawgs, Hammonds has to be a steady presence on offense to keep teams more honest in how they defend the Ant Man.

Up next:

The Dawgs have a week to practice before returning to action next Tuesday when they host The Citadel inside Stegeman.

Box Score:

Dawgs rebound with an 81-69 win over Oakland

Just three days removed from the Arizona State game, a game in which Georgia (6-4) blew a 17-point lead, the Dawgs returned to action against much less formidable competition in the Oakland Golden Grizzlies. The GG’s sputtered into Athens boasting a 4-7 record and an RPI of 262, AND they’ve replaced all five starters from a year ago, which makes them the third greenest team in college basketball.

Sometimes I struggle to come up with commentary on games that the Dawgs SHOULD win handedly; plus, as Jay Bilas commonly says on Twitter, “I gotta go to work”, so here are my quick takeaways from last night’s contest.

1 The most effective way to get a team out of a zone is to shoot the lights out, and UGA did just that during the first half on Tuesday night. Oakland switched into a 1-3-1 early, and the Dawgs took advantage from the perimeter as they hit 8 shots from beyond the arc prior to the intermission; Turtle Jackson led the way with 4 triples himself, and Tyree Crump chipped in a pair as well. I was shocked that Oakland coach Greg Kampe stubbornly kept his team in this defensive look for as long as he did, and Tom Crean’s team happily took the open looks and converted them into a 45-34 halftime advantage.

2 Coach Crean said after Saturday’s loss that his team has to learn to finish games, and after watching last night’s contest, apparently that’s still a work in progress. Oakland applied man pressure for much of the second half, and UGA’s shot selection started to become less favorable as the Dawgs made just 2 of 13 from the perimeter in the game’s final 20 minutes. Also, part of finishing games is actually having your starters on the court to finish them. Similarly to the game on Saturday, Derek Ogbeide missed significant time due to foul trouble (against ASU, Rayshaun Hammonds was on the bench for accumulating too many personal fouls as well). Ogbeide needs to be reminded of just how thin this team’s frontcourt is this year, and that it’s imperative that he be able to play more than 3 minutes following halftime. The Dawgs suffer defensively without their senior big on the floor, and last night was no different as Oakland’s Xavier-Hills Mais scored 13 of his 21 following intermission, and the GG’s made 6 triples due to UGA’s defense having to rotate and overcompensate for the weaker interior defenders.

3 Nicolas Claxton, who is becoming an absolute stat-stuffer, assumed the role of “Go-to guy” in the crucial final portion of this game. With a little under 5 minutes left, Georgia held a slim 66-64 advantage over Oakland, and this contest was nowhere near assured for UGA. Claxton asserted himself by establishing position in the paint, and the sophomore scored 5 points and snagged 2 boards in less than a minute. Teshaun Hightower chipped in a pair of buckets as well, and with 2 minutes left, UGA had a 76-64 lead that they would not relinquish. Claxton did not have his best shooting effort of the year (4 of 12), but he simply seems to be everywhere on the court: 17 points, 13 rebounds, 3 blocks, 3 assists and a steal.

The Dawgs have a few days to chill before heading to Atlanta to take on rival Georgia Tech at high noon.

Hot-handed Georgia beats Texas Southern 92-75

After coasting for the previous 20 minutes, the Georgia Bulldogs (5-3) saw their 25-point second half lead whittle down to a 78-66 advantage with a little over 5 minutes remaining following a 13-0 run by the Texas Southern Tigers (3-6). A game that seemed a forgone conclusion suddenly had become far more competitive than Tom Crean most likely preferred. Thankfully, Tyree Crump, who had his best shooting night as a Bulldog, buried a three-pointer from the top of the key to stop the bleeding and solidify the home win for the Dawgs. 

This win was a much-needed jolt of momentum for UGA as they head into a twelve day layoff due to final exams. Texas Southern was an NCAA tournament team a year ago after winning the SWAC, and they were projected to finish 2nd in the league this year.  The Tigers are now 3-6 on the season, but their schedule thus far has been brutal as Georgia marked the sixth Power 5 team that Texas Southern has played on the road, with wins at both Baylor and Oregon. Put simply, the Dawgs beat a team tonight that is better than its record indicates.

Georgia’s offense was clicking on Monday evening in Athens. UGA entered this contest connecting on just under 6 three’s a game, yet by the intermission the Dawgs had already hit that mark. The hot shooting from the perimeter, which must have come as a bit of a surprise to the Tigers considering UGA came into this game making less than 32% of its attempts from beyond the arc, took Texas Southern out of its defensive game plan.  The Tigers started the game in a zone in the hopes of forcing Georgia to beat them from outside, but the Dawgs’ efficiency from the perimeter forced the Tigers to extend its pressure, which resulted in a slew of easy scores for Georgia close to the bucket as UGA notched 24 of its 52 first-half points in the paint.

UGA’s proficient shooting extended into the second half as well as the Dawgs ended up with 11 three-pointers on the night, tying their season-high from the opener against Savannah State. Tyree Crump, who led all scorers with a career-high 25 points, was responsible for 5 of those triples. Crump did not start this game, but he nearly outscored a Texas Southern bench that was responsible for 26 points on the night. Georgia’s starting frontcourt is fairly solid; it’s the backcourt that remains a major question mark at this point in the season. In order for Georgia to live its best life, Crump needs to become a double-digit scorer for this team (like, starting now).

I realize that we haven’t scratched the surface of conference play, but UGA’s trio of starting lefty bigs seem legit.  Rayshaun Hammonds, Nicolas Claxton and Derek Ogbeide attacked the glass relentlessly this evening as they collected 27 boards between them; they were just a few rebounds shy of all ending the night with double-doubles (Ogbeide was the only one to secure that feat).  Georgia had 15 offensive rebounds which led to 21 second chance points.

Derek Ogbeide, who is averaging in double-figures for the first time in his career, looks a lot more comfortable in Crean’s offense. Personally, I much prefer him receiving the ball in the paint versus at the top of the key (where Fox generally had him as a set piece in his offense), and I’m guessing that he feels the same way. 

On the defensive side of the ball, Georgia limited the Tigers to just 35% from the floor, which is below their season average.  Texas Southern’s leading scorer, Jalyn Patterson (15 ppg), was held to just 3 points on a forgetful 1 for 14 shooting performance from the floor. 

The Dawgs return to action on December 15th when they host the Arizona State Sun Devils, who are currently 7-0. Though, that could certainly change as they have a date with #6 Nevada later on this week.

Dawgs bust scoreboard in 110-76 win over Savannah State

Tom Crean proclaimed that his team was going to shoot the three, and he wasn’t lying. His Georgia Bulldog squad hoisted up 27 of them last night against Savannah State.  He also alluded to the idea that the Dawgs would play more up tempo, which they certainly did as UGA put up 70 field goal attempts – an impressive feat considering the Dawgs coughed the ball up 23 times.  In last year’s 79-54 season-opening win over Bryant, Georgia took just 60 shots from the floor.  UGA’s 110-76 win over Savannah State marked the first time the Dawgs have eclipsed the century mark in scoring since 2007, when a Dennis Felton-led squad put up 107 on Jacksonville State in that season’s first game.

One thing is for sure, Georgia basketball looks different this year.  Clearly, Crean has drilled it into his players heads that he wants them to get shots up earlier in possessions.  Georgia had just one shot clock violation against the Tigers, and I don’t anticipate that we will see too many more of those this season.  From the opening tip, the Dawgs were pushing the ball on both makes and misses.  This speed of play is a welcome change of pace from the Mark Fox days, when the game could at times be slowed to a crawl as players purposelessly moved the ball around the perimeter.

In the halfcourt set, Crean has this team properly spaced and ready to attack. Savannah State tossed a lot of junk trap zones at Georgia since they were clearly overmatched and unable to play man.  The Dawgs routinely found soft spots in the zone on the perimeter that turned into open threes, or, when players penetrated, two guys moved to open spots and made themselves available to receive the ball. Crean seems to have simplified the offense for this team in a way that promotes creativity.  Watching Mark Fox’s offense wasn’t fun for the fans, and it couldn’t have been much fun for the players as they routinely looked like they were trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.  Crean’s style appears to be the antithesis of what Georgia basketball has been for the past decade, and that is refreshing.

The Dawgs were not without fault, however, as they let a Tiger team that lost 11 players from a year ago cut a 25-point halftime lead to just 9 points after Zaquavion Smith hit a three-pointer to make it 63-54 with a little over 14 minutes left to play.  Georgia’s defense overall looked sloppy; the guards did not provide nearly enough resistance against the Savannah State penetration.  Luckily, Nicolas Claxton, who scored 15 points to go with 13 boards, was there to clean things up near the rim as the sophomore tallied up 5 blocks, but that’s not always going to be the case when Georgia faces stiffer competition (like on Tuesday at Temple).

The 23 UGA turnovers were unfortunate as well, especially considering that point guards Turtle Jackson and Tye Fagan led the way with 3 apiece. Ultimately, those turnovers didn’t hurt against the Tigers, but they will eventually become problematic as the season progresses if the Dawgs can’t find a way to clean things up.

All and all, though, this was definitely an entertaining first game. Crean is highly-animated on the sidelines.  He daps players up when they succeed, and he waves his arms maniacally in frustration when they err . He’s clearly way more Kirby Smart than Mark Richt as far as where he wears his emotions, which is smack-dab on his sleeve. Make no doubt about it – this is a rebuilding year.  But, it’s going to be fun to watch.

Box Score:

SVSuga

 

What is Georgia’s ceiling?

The Georgia Bulldogs will be navigating the waters of college basketball this season without Yante Maten, the team’s leading scorer from a year ago and an All-SEC regular.  UGA was picked to finish 13th in the Southeastern Conference by the media, and that’s totally fair.  Georgia struggled to put the ball in the basket last season as they averaged just 68 points a night, which was 301st in the nation in that category.  This team has to figure out how to score without the services of one of the program’s all-time best players in Maten.

Enter Tom Crean.  Georgia’s new skipper was brought in to breathe some life into a basketball program that had become rather mundane when it possessed the ball. No one will ever really know what Mark Fox’s goals were offensively except Fox and his players, but to the outside observer it appeared that Fox had an incredibly regimented set that didn’t allow for a lot of variation or creativity.

Under Crean, I expect to see Georgia push the ball in transition quite a bit more. When Crean was at Indiana, his teams ran a lot of extended, high-pressure defense that forced opposing teams into turnovers and rushed shots. These miscues allowed the Hoosiers to push the ball up the court relentlessly.   For the first three years of Crean’s tenure at Indiana, the Hoosiers were in rebuilding mode. However, once they started reaching the NCAA tournament on a regular basis, starting in 2011, Crean’s teams finished in the top twenty nationally in scoring 4 of the next 5 seasons.  Once the guy had his players and systems in place, his team had little trouble putting the ball in the basket.

Let’s get back to the Dawgs, though.  Georgia doesn’t return a single player that averaged in double-digits in scoring last year.  To think that Crean is going to just swoop in and turn this bunch into an 80+ppg juggernaut instantaneously would be asinine.  The Dawgs’ top returning scorers are William Jackson, Derek Ogbeide, Rayshaun Hammonds and Tyree Crump.  If Georgia is going to finish higher than the second-to-last spot that the media pegged them at it’s going to depend on the growth of both Hammonds and Crump under Crean.  Both of these guys were 4-star recruits coming out of high school, yet neither of them has lived up to their respective billings since arriving in Athens. To be fair to these players though, they weren’t given much freedom to be creative with the ball under Fox, so it will be interesting to see if they make the jump that Georgia so desperately needs them to this year under Crean.

Defensively, the Dawgs could be better this year as Jordan Harris (also a former 4-star recruit) returns to the team along with sophomore Nicolas Claxton, who I expect to be quite the shot-alterer this season.  While I’m hoping that Crump is a starter since I feel that he’s this team’s most legitimate backcourt scorer, the Dawgs could boast the most left-handed heavy lineup in the country should Crean decide to start Harris, Hammonds, Ogbeide and Claxton alongside Turtle.

Georgia brings in five new freshmen, with the 6’9″ 4-star forward Amanze Ngumezi and the 6’6″ 3-star wing JoJo Toppin being the most intriguing.  Ngumezi is a large-framed kid who was brought in to fill the void that Maten’s departure created. Obviously that’s not going to happen over night, but he’s going to be relied on to contribute off the bench right away.  Toppin is a high-flyer who should help Georgia with his slashing ability, which is something UGA hasn’t gotten from the wing position since Brandon Morris played.

Ultimately, this team is riddled with a lot of unknowns: new coach, new system, new players.  Let’s be clear – this is definitely a rebuilding year.  Georgia was 7-11 in the SEC a season ago and 18-15 overall; the Dawgs are going to have to fight to finish around .500 this year.  But that’s ok because I’m POSITIVE that this team will be more fun to watch.  Georgia fans need to think long-term in regards to Crean. I’m not talking Mark Fox “10-year plan” long-term; I’m thinking more like three.

Georgia won’t finish 13th in the league either.  The Dawgs will definitely prove the doubters wrong and end up 11th or 12th in the SEC, mark my words.