Georgia picks up win at home against East Tennessee State

The Georgia Bulldogs (2-4) put on a shooting clinic on Friday night in front of sparsely filled Stegeman Coliseum in a 54-38 win over the East Tennessee State Buccaneers.

The Dawgs connected on 63% of their field goal attempts, marking their best field goal percentage in a game this season (or last for that matter).

The Buccaneers showed Coach Mark Fox’s team a heavy dose of zone defense for the entire night, which the Bulldogs quickly figured out and exploited by getting the ball into the high post which allowed them to hit a number of backdoor cutters (Donte Williams).

ETSU actually jumped out in front of Georgia 11-10 after a three-pointer from freshman Lester Wilson with 12:13 left before the break.  UGA responded with a 15-0 run that saw them take a 25-11 advantage with less than 5 minutes remaining till halftime.  Georgia finished out the first half strong, taking a 31-13 advantage into the intermission, and the Buccaneers were never really able to recover from this deficit.

Twice in the latter part of the second half ETSU pulled within 11 points, and each time they were met with a Kentavious Caldwell-Pope three-pointer that helped to bolster the Dawgs’ lead.

KCP, who finished with a game-high 13 points, also snagged 7 rebounds and dished out 4 assists to go with his timely three-point baskets.

The Bulldogs were extremely efficient on offense, dishing out a season’s best 21 assists to only 17 turnovers.  Donte Williams, the beneficiary of many of those backdoor passes, chipped in 12 points, which mostly came in the form of thunderous baseline dunks.  Georgia’s offense last night looked much more like the version of basketball that UGA fans enjoyed when Trey Thompkins and Travis Leslie were still donning the Red and Black.

Even though the opposing team was undersized and missing its starting backcourt, it was encouraging to see how well the Dawgs handled playing against a zone defense.  Much like the UCLA game, Georgia once again made a conscious effort to get the ball into the paint, which led to 28 points.

If this team is a work in progress, then maybe we are starting to see the beginnings of a turnaround after the dismal start that saw UGA drop consecutive home games to Youngstown State and Southern Mississippi.

I’m not so sure that the Georgia team from two weeks ago would have won last night’s contest quite so handedly.

Clippers send Travis Leslie to D-League

As if the 79-49 whipping that the Georgia men’s basketball team received last night at the hands of Kentucky wasn’t damaging enough to the psyche of the UGA players and fans, today the Bulldog program took another shot on the chin as its NBA representation was slashed by 25% with the Los Angeles Clippers’ demotion of Travis Leslie.

Leslie, a three-year player for the Dawgs and a key member of last season’s NCAA Tournament team, was designated today – according to ESPN LA – to the Bakersfield Jam of the Developmental League.  He appeared in only 8 of the Clippers first 33 games, averaging 1.5 points and 1 rebound per game.

Travis Leslie’s latest tweet revealed some frustrations the young man obviously has with his team’s decision:

“How can u prove something when u don’t get a chance”

Leslie’s decision to forgo his senior season at Georgia raised a few eyebrows as many observers and fans thought that he might benefit from one more year of college basketball so that he could enhance his shooting and dribbling skills.

I do not know Travis Leslie’s family situation and what role that played in his choosing to leave early, but I am almost positive that some hot-shot agent filled his head with a lot of lofty promises that most likely nudged him towards turning pro.

I hope that Leslie makes the most of his opportunity in Bakersfield so that he will enjoy a speedy return to the NBA.

Georgia opens up SEC play with Alabama on Saturday night

The Georgia Bulldogs (9-5) begin their 2012 Southeastern Conference schedule on Saturday in Athens against the Alabama Crimson Tide (11-3).  This Alabama team is going to look nothing like the slew of small-conference foes that meandered through Stegeman Coliseum (and almost won – see Winthrop game) over the December holiday break.

Rather, the Tide are an athletic, physical bunch that should contend for the conference title.  This Bama team is almost identical to the one that beat Georgia twice last season, when the Dawgs frontcourt featured Trey Thompkins, Travis Leslie and Jeremy Price.

Alabama coach Anthony Grant has always been known for preaching defense, and his team this year has bought in hook, line and sinker.  The Tide play a smothering man defense that has them peppering the national team defensive rankings in nearly every category that counts – yielding just 55.6 points per game (9th) and holding opponents to 36.4% (6th) from the floor and 25.9% on three-point attempts (5th).

The Tide have already held four opponents this season under 50 total points, with two of those victims being Maryland and Georgia Tech (a team the Dawgs lost to earlier in the year).

Alabama’s star power resides in its frontcourt where they feature senior JaMychal Green and junior Tony Mitchell.  Green, a preseason All-SEC First Team member, has been slowly working his way back into the Tide’s rotation after suffering a shoulder injury that kept him out of the team’s wins over Oklahoma State and Jacksonville.  He did play 22 minutes in Bama’s win over Georgia Tech earlier this week, and he should be ready for even more minutes against the Dawgs on Saturday.  Green is a load to handle in the paint, and he leads this team in scoring with 15.3 points per game.

The high-flying Tony Mitchell (All-SEC Second Team selection) plays alongside Green on the block where is netting 15.1 points and bringing down a team-leading 7.4 boards per contest.  He’s generally regarded primarily for his athleticism, but Mitchell can actually be quite effective from the perimeter where he’s knocking down nearly 35% of his three-point attempts.

Sophomore point guard Trevor Releford has done an excellent job of running Coach Grant’s offense this season, contributing 12.4 points to go along with 3.4 assists.  Georgia’s Gerald Robinson, Jr. has been in a bit of a defensive funk lately, and he’ll need to snap out of it by tomorrow in order to slow Releford and this Alabama offense down.

The Dawgs are riding a five-game win streak into Saturday’s conference match-up, albeit it came against fairly weak competition.  However, Georgia’s offense has improved dramatically since the start of the season when 8-minute scoring droughts were regular occurrences.  Over the past three games, the Bulldogs are shooting 47.4% from the floor and nearly 39% from beyond the arc.

Freshman Kentavious-Caldwell Pope has had a pretty successful first half of the season, leading the team with 14.1 points to go along with 5.3 rebounds per game.  The real season starts now though, and Georgia desperately needs KCP to continue to play at a high level as the Dawgs navigate their way through what should be a challenging SEC schedule.  I am interested to see how Pope handles the intense defensive pressure of a conference game, especially on Saturday where he will be facing maybe the best defense in the SEC.

On paper Georgia does not stack up well against the Tide, who are loaded with talent and firepower.  However, this Alabama team does like to press and push the tempo after missed field goal attempts, which could in effect serve to help the Dawgs stay competitive in this game.  Georgia’s lack of an inside presence has made their halfcourt offense unproductive, and the Dawgs are clearly at their best when the guards are running the court and scoring in transition.

Bama does not shoot the ball well from the outside – just 27.2% on threes – so don’t be surprised if Coach Mark Fox mixes in some zone defense to entice the Tide into putting it up from beyond the arc.

The atmosphere should be a little more raucous inside Stegeman on Saturday night compared to December since football season is over and the students should be back from winter break.

Honestly, I’m not sure what to expect from Coach Mark Fox’s team in their first conference game.  Earlier in the season the Dawgs struggled to score to start the second half, though recently they have been sluggish out of the gates.  At times Georgia has pushed the ball up the court relentlessly, while at others they have fumbled through halfcourt offensive sets for minutes on end.

The season starts in Athens on Saturday – what does everyone think?

Yellow Jackets Use Big Second Half to Topple Dawgs 68-56

“We’re not tough enough or good enough in any area”, said Georgia Bulldog (4-5) Coach Mark Fox following his teams’ 68-56 loss to the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets on Wednesday night.  The Dawgs dropped their fourth straight game last night, and they did it in similar fashion to their other four losses this season.

Georgia took a 29-25 advantage into the intermission after a first half that featured some pretty stifling UGA defense and an offensive explosion for Gerald Robinson, Jr.  GR2 came off the bench to score 16 of his team-high 20 points before the break, repeatedly beating Tech defenders down the court on self-made fast breaks.

Unfortunately for the Bulldogs though, every basketball game includes a second half, which is where Georgia has been particularly awful in games that they have lost this season.  Guess what?  Wednesday night was no different…

Georgia Tech opened the first 10 minutes of the game’s second half with a 21-7 run.  During this same time span, the Dawgs made just 2 of 12 field goals and committed 6 turnovers.  As a fan, it is becoming almost unbearable to watch this team open up the second half – I’m seriously considering watching only the first 20 minutes of every SEC game this season and then imagining the rest.

Another game-changer from last night’s debacle was that Coach Mark Fox once again opted to move his team into its extended 3-2 zone after the intermission.  Similarly to the Cincinnati game, the Georgia zone failed to cover the perimeter, allowing Georgia Tech guard Jason Morris to roam free and score all 15 of his points (a team high) in the second half.  Morris knocked down a pair of threes after the break, the second of which put the Jackets up 51-39 with just 8:13 left, all but sealing the Tech victory.

Someone might want to remind Coach Fox that an extended 3-2 zone is not very effective when two of the guards defending the perimeter are merely 6′ tall.  In my opinion, this UGA team is much better off in a man defense from here on out.

Georgia was once again unbelievably inefficient on offense, shooting under 35% from the floor as a team and committing 5 more turnovers than assists.

The Dawgs bigs were utterly overwhelmed by the Jackets, losing the rebounding battle 34-30 and getting outscored in the paint 34-14 (with most of UGA’s inside scoring coming off of GR2 drives).  Georgia’s forwards combined for just 8 points on 3-13 shooting, and that number is including a three-pointer by senior Connor Nolte, who could be considered a wing by outside observers.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, touted as a prolific outside shooter, continues to miss from the outside.  On Wednesday, KCP made just 3 of his 12 attempts, bring his field goal percentage to a lackluster 38.6% on the young season.

At this point, I have seen more than enough of this Georgia basketball team to see that this is going to be a VERY LONG season.  This Dawgs’ team can’t shoot the ball, and they are almost nonexistent in the paint.

The problem, however, is that the team you are watching stumble through these second-half meltdowns is the product of two Mark Fox recruiting classes.  Remember folks, Trey Thompkins, Travis Leslie and Jeremy Price were all brought in by Dennis Felton.

For the record, I want Coach Mark Fox to be the guy that turns Georgia basketball into a successful program.  But right now things aren’t looking so good this year, or in the immediate future.  Next season’s lineup should feature KCP, Vincent Williams and the same cast of unproductive forwards, who I don’t envision improving that much during their stints in Athens.

The Dawgs have nearly 10 days off to take final exams and attempt to find some semblance of an offense before playing on the road at Southern Cal on December 17th.

Let’s hope that these guys test better than they shoot.

Home Opener this Friday for Hoop Dawgs

(My apologies to anyone who happened to read my post from earlier today – it contained some errors about the Wofford Terriers that I have since corrected)

The Georgia Bulldogs open up the 2011-2012 regular season this Friday, playing host to the Wofford Terriers of the Southern Conference.   The Terriers are coming off of back-to-back SoCon Championships, however, they will begin this year attempting to replace four starters, including leading-scorer Noah Dahlman, and Tim Johnson, the team’s leading rebounder.  Despite Wofford’s recent successes, expectations have been tempered this season; picked the Terriers to finish third in their half of the conference.

Wofford won’t be the only team in Athens looking to find new scorers and rebounders, though.  The Dawgs, after making a rare at-large trip to the NCAA Tournament last season, will need to find a way to exist without Trey Thompkins and Travis Leslie, both of whom left school early to be a part of the “NBA Lockout Party”.  Senior guards Gerald Robinson, Jr. and Dustin Ware are the Bulldogs’ lone returning starters, and Robinson, who averaged 12.0 ppg last season, will most likely shoulder a bigger part of the team’s scoring load.

Rivals projected the Dawgs to place 8th in the Southeastern conference, and with all of the question marks surrounding the frontcourt it’s hard to blame them.

In the team’s exhibition win over Morehouse last Friday, the much-heralded recruit, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (KCP for brevity’s sake), started the game in an unfamiliar place – the bench.  Coach Fox opted to give Sherrard Brantely the nod at guard, and KCP responded by going 2 of 9 from the floor (although his two makes were both from beyond the arc).  On Friday night, however, I predict that the McDonald’s All-American is in the lineup when the game tips off.

The expectations for the Georgia Bulldogs basketball team might be significantly lower than they were a year ago, but I have confidence that Fox will get the most out this team and that they will in fact improve throughout the season.

A win on Friday at Stegeman would be a nice step in the right direction.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope’s Eligibility

I realize that we are still in the initial stages of football season, and that the Dawgs have another “must win” kickoff against the other Bulldogs in four hours.  However, the basketball Dawgs received some great news last week when incoming freshman Kentavious Caldwell-Pope was cleared by the NCAA to play this season.

If you are a Dawgs‘ basketball fan, insert your sigh of relief here _______.

With the departures of Trey Thompkins and Travis Leslie, who are now both circling somewhere in “NBA Limbo Land”, the biggest uncertainty about the 2011-2012 team has always been in regards to the paint.  In other words, it’s hard to envision which players – Marcus Thornton, Donte Williams or one of the frosh -are going to step up and fill those inside roles.

The strength of this year’s basketball team is going to be in the backcourt, with returning seniors Gerald Robinson, Jr. and Dustin Ware being joined by freshman sensation Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (KCP).  If KCP is every bit as good as advertised – legitimate three-point shooter and smooth ball-handler – then Georgia undoubtedly posses one of the better backcourts in the Southeastern conference.

While it may still seem a bit early to be thinking about basketball, believe me, everyone’s November through March is going to be a whole lot better with KCP inside Stegeman, donning the Red and Black., the official blog of the Los Angeles Clippers, offered its perspective on the team’s second round selections of Trey Thompkins and Travis Leslie.

The author had some nice things to say about Thompkins’ upside (not so much about Leslie), however, he does hint that there is “not a high probability that both will make the opening day roster”.

ESPN’s Andy Katz, who was a big promoter of the Georgia Bulldogs last off-season, mentioned both of the former Dawgs in his recent article “Draft decision not looking good for some”.  He too eludes to the fact that Thompkins and Leslie will have to “earn roster spots”.

In grading the Los Angeles Clippers’ draft, Sam Amick of Sports Illustrated gave them a “B-“, while CBS Sportsline’s Jeff Goodman could only afford the Clips a “C”.

And on a positive note, with the addition of Thompkins and Leslie to the NBA, Georgia’s representation in the league has now doubled (the other two being Sundiata Gaines and Damien Wilkins)!

From Bulldogs to Clippers

After Georgia was eliminated from the NCAA tournament by Washington last March, it appeared that Trey Thompkins and Travis Leslie had played their last game together as teammates.

Apparently the Los Angeles Clippers couldn’t bear the thought of these two young men being separated, as they used both of their second round draft picks to reunite the former pair of Bulldogs (Thompkins at #37 and Leslie at #47).

A congratulations is in order for both Thompkins and Leslie on being drafted, but in what several experts deemed a “weak draft”  (maybe because four foreign players went in the lottery round?), you have to wonder how excited they were about going in the second round (Travis Leslie’s twitter account, which is usually very active, has not tweeted anything in 11 hours).

I believe that both players chose to forgo their senior seasons at Georgia because they anticipated that they would be selected in the first round.  If not, why leave?  The NBA gives players selected in the first round a guaranteed two-year contract.  Players that are taken in the second round either get a roster spot, or a second-class ticket to the NBADL (or Europe).

In researching the last two NBA drafts (2009 and 2010), I learned that just 18 (60%) of the 30 players selected in round two of the 2010 NBA Draft are still in the league.  For the 2009 second-round draft class, only 15 guys are still on NBA rosters.

ESPN’s Jay Bilas commented that both Thompkins and Leslie could have benefited from an extra year of college basketball.  Bilas raised some questions about Trey’s toughness and conditioning, saying that Thompkins’ body fat percentage “was pretty good if you’re a sea lion”.

Hopefully Trey Thompkins and Travis Leslie both have lucrative NBA careers, but you have to think that a small part of them will always wonder if they could have been better-served by staying for another year in Athens.

ESPN on Thompkins’ and Leslie’s NBA Decisions

ESPN college basketball blogger, Eamonn Brennan, released an article in which he graded the decisions by this year’s underclassmen that chose to forgo their remaining college eligibility and move on to bigger and better things (the NBA).  He separates the players into five different groups, ranging from those who made no-brainer decisions to those that made decisions that left us wondering if they have brains.

Anywho, Trey Thompkins and Travis Leslie fell under his “Brave Juniors (Who Probably Attended Georgia)” Group.

Brennan’s knock on Thompkins is that he could really benefit from playing a full year without injuries so that he can show NBA scouts what he can do when he is at his best.

His comments about Leslie are less flattering, and you definitely get the vibe that Brennan feels as though Travis made a mistake by entering the draft at this point in time.

Either way, what’s done is done and here’s to hoping that both guys get selected in the first round of the draft so that they can get the ever-so-coveted automatic two-year contract.

For what it’s worth, ESPN’s Chad Ford doesn’t have either former Bulldog going in the lottery section of the first round in his most recent “Mock Draft“.  However, has both players going in the first round, with Thompkins being taken 15th and Leslie going 30th.

2011-2012 Out-of-Conference Opponents

The Georgia Bulldogs schedule for the 2011-2012 season does not appear to be very forgiving, considering this team is losing nearly 45% of its offense to the NBA.

The Dawgs will open up the season with the CBE Classic, a preseason tournament in which Georgia will actually host regional round games between November 13 to 17.  The other three hosts in this tournament are Missouri, Notre Dame and California.  All four hosts automatically advance to the Championship Rounds (regardless of the outcomes at the regionals), so there is a very good chance that the Dawgs will get a game against a team from this year’s NCAA Tournament (either Missouri or the Irish).

On December 17th, Georgia is tentatively set to travel to Southern Cal to take on the Trojans (another 2011 tourney team).

The Dawgs should also have road games at both Colorado and Xavier (another 2011 tourney team).

Georgia now has two scholarships available with the departures of Trey Thompkins and Travis Leslie.  Hopefully Coach Mark Fox can find a JUCO talent to add to next year’s roster before the summer.

At the very least, he could work on getting some rematches set up with Arkansas State, High Point, Charleston Southern and Eastern Kentucky…