Dawgs rebound with an 81-69 win over Oakland

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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.

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Hot-handed Georgia beats Texas Southern 92-75

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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.

 

 

Looking ahead to next season

Tom Crean had me at “We’re going to shoot the 3.”  He uttered this statement several months ago at his first official press conference as the head basketball coach at UGA.  The three-point line is paramount in college basketball today, yet Coach Mark Fox never seemed to get this.  Either that, or he was just stubborn and resisted.  Fox’s inability to recruit perimeter shooters certainly was a contributing factor to his downfall at Georgia.   Instead of joining the rest of the basketball world and designing an offense around the arc, Fox chose to hunker down and continue with his hard-nosed, defensive, slow the game down to a crawl approach.  This style of play is effective at keeping teams in contention in games, but it obviously did not support a winning style of play as his UGA teams routinely lost games during the critical final stretch.

At this point, Crean has done nothing other than make a series of highly-energized speeches about how excited he is about this program and where he sees it going.  Based upon his track record at both Indiana and Marquette, he should be able to put a product on the court that is far more entertaining than what Georgia fans grew accustomed to under Fox.  If it hadn’t been for J.J. Frazier, Fox may have been ousted a year earlier; Frazier’s ability to freestyle and create his shot from anywhere masked Fox’s pedestrian offense from fans.

How soon can Crean create success in Athens?  That’s the million dollar question.  UGA fans may have been SLIGHTLY spoiled in this department after seeing Kirby Smart follow up his initial 8-5 season with a trip to the national championship game.  However, UGA basketball fans tend to be a bit more reserved when it comes to expectations; that’s what happens when your team has only made 5 trips to the NCAA Tournament over the past two decades.  Crean will most likely get a pass for the first couple of years, at least until he gets some of HIS players on the court.  After that, fans will want to see more than just trips to the NIT; Crean is going to have to get Georgia dancing on a semi-regular basis to legitimize his presence here over Fox’s.

As far as next year is concerned, I definitely have some worries.  Georgia did not deal well with J.J. Frazier’s departure last year as they ended up last in the SEC in scoring at 68.1 ppg; the team’s ineptness on offense contributed to their 18-15 record overall and a 7-11 conference record.  Next year, the Dawgs will be looking to replace another leading scorer, Yante Maten, who will vacate a league-high 19.3 ppg.

UGA’s leading returning scorer will be Turtle Jackson, who netted a little over 8 points a night last season.  The most probable starting five will be Turtle, Tyree Crump, E’Torrion Wilridge, Rayshaun Hammonds and Nicolas Claxton, though Teshaun Hightower and Derek Ogbeide could easily work themselves into the starting lineup at some point.  Maybe 6’9″ freshman Amanze Ngumezi works his way into the mix as well. Either way, that is not a squad that strikes fear in the eyes of its opponents.  That right there is a team that’s ceiling at best is the NIT.  Some of those aforementioned players might perform better in Crean’s system, which I hear gives players more freedom to create.  However, if you compare that group to any of the SEC teams that went to the NCAA tournament last season, Georgia’s not anywhere close.

Most likely, next year will look a lot like this year in regards to overall record.  If Crean can land a couple of 4- or 5-star recruits in the 2019 class, he could get things cooking at Georgia sooner rather than later.  I think what I’m most excited about in regards to Crean is the potential to watch a Georgia basketball game and see UGA with three players on the court at the same time that can all potentially hit a three-pointer.  That would be something that hasn’t been seen inside of Stegeman Coliseum in quite a while.