Looking Ahead to Next Year

When the 2011-2012 college basketball season rolls around next year, Mark Fox and the Georgia Bulldogs are going to experience life without Trey Thompkins and Travis Leslie.  In other words, the Dawgs are going to need to replace nearly 31 points and 15 rebounds per game.

The Georgia basketball program will probably take a step back next season, but how far back remains to be seen.  The Bulldogs’ frontcourt is taking a massive hit with the departures of Thompkins, Leslie, Jeremy Price and Chris Barnes.  For the past two seasons, one consistent strength of this team has been their tremendous size (mainly width) inside.

The backcourt, however, has the potential to be one of the best in the Southeastern Conference.  Gerald Robinson, Jr. averaged 12.2 ppg and 4.0 apg in his first season of big-time college basketball.  Robinson established himself as a shut-down defender on opposing point guards, and his offense was brilliant at times – unfortunately, there were lapses (games) where his offensive play was non-existent.  Next year, Coach Fox will look to GR2 to shoulder more of the scoring load (15+ ppg?), and he will have to be more reliable with his decision-making when he has the ball.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (KCP) has the skill set to possibly step right in and lead this team in scoring.  KCP has a silky-smooth outside shot and he can create for himself off the dribble as well.  At 6’6″, Pope gives Georgia some much-needed height on the defensive end.

And of course, the glue guy – Dustin Ware – will return for his senior year to provide both leadership and outside scoring.

Of the three bigs that Fox has signed for next year – Tim Dixon, John Florveus and Nemanja Djurisic – Dixon is the one that has me the most excited.  After watching one of his YouTube videos, it’s clear to see that he likes to run up and down the floor to chase rebounds, and at 6’10” he looks like a pretty skillful shot-blocker.  If I were to guess today, I’d say he finds himself in the starting five to begin the year along with GR2, Ware, KCP and a player to be named later…

…and that player is – Marcus Thornton.

Thornton was fairly underwhelming in his first year as a Bulldog, averaging just 1.5 ppg and 1.9 rpg in 9.4 minutes of play ( to go along some dismal shooting – 35.3% from the floor and 41.7% from the line).  Despite his offensive woes, Marcus did turn into a pretty solid defender, and in the second half of the season he was typically interchanged with Travis Leslie on the other team’s best wing.

Thornton’s inability to finish around the rim this year does leave some room for concern, but let’s not forget about another Georgia freshman – Travis Leslie – who also looked lost on offense in his rookie season.  As a frosh, Leslie netted 6.3 ppg and 3.9 rpg in 14.3 minutes – however, that was on a much worse Georgia team.  In his first season, Travis Leslie looked generally out of control whenever he was in the game.

But then something happened: Mark Fox.  Under Fox’s tutelage, Leslie transitioned into an All-SEC player and is now turning pro.

If Thornton buys into Fox’s system and is ready to work, he could possibly undergo a Leslie-esque transformation.

The final key that I wanted to touch on for next season is Coach Mark Fox himself.  I think that for next year’s team to be successful, Fox is going to have to adapt his system a bit.  The Dawgs may have to alter or even ditch the triangle offense in 2012, and look to a more up-tempo style of play that will center around their strong backcourt.

Season predictions anyone?

34th McDonald’s All-American Game Tonight at 10pm

First off, I’d like to begin with a shout-out to Mazel Dawg, who reminded me that the McDonald’s All-American game would be airing tonight at 10pm on ESPN.

As most of you probably know, Georgia signee Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (this kid needs a nickname bad – KCP?) will be playing in the game.

It’s ironic that I almost forgot to post about the all-star game tonight, because I was literally watching Youtube videos of some of Kentavious’s highlights the last few days.  If you have time, check them out here and here.

To say that I was impressed by Caldwell-Pope would be an understatement – I was gushing.  I knew from what I had read that he was supposedly one of the best shooting prospects in the country, but what those reports failed to mention was that his range is out of this world.  In KCP’s highlights, he hits shots from five to six feet beyond the arc with consistency and relative ease.

He also appears to be a very good ball-handler, and he is not afraid to attack the rim.

At this point, nobody knows exactly what is going to happen with Trey Thompkins or Travis Leslie as far as whether they stay for their senior seasons or not.

But I am fairly confident that KCP will be a double-digit scorer in his freshman season.

Big East Bias, Travis Leslie and Recruiting

Big East Bias

After getting a record-setting eleven teams into this year’s NCAA tournament, only two remain from the Big East after the first weekend – Connecticut and Marquette.  Jay Bilas of ESPN, who has been a Big East cheerleader the entire season, now says that there wasn’t a “truly great team in the league“.

You know what other conference has two teams in the Sweet 16?  The SEC – and they only got five squads into the dance.  With Pittsburgh falling to Butler on Saturday night, the Florida Gators now have a very legitimate opportunity to reach the Final Four (assuming a win over The Jimmer and then the Butler/Wisconsin winner).

Hopefully next season the selection committee will remember that basketball is played competitively outside of the northeast region of the United States.

Travis Leslie

At this point, I don’t want to hold out hope that Trey Thompkins will return for his senior season.  He seemed so close to leaving after last year, that I can’t imagine that he returns for another one.  NBADraft.net currently has Thompkins listed as the 21st pick overall in their Mock 2011 Draft.  As much as I would love to see #33 back in Stegeman again next season, it seems like his game has developed about as far as it can at this level and he is ready to work in the NBA.

Travis Leslie, on the other hand, is a different story.  Leslie’s numbers this year were nearly identical to last season – 14.4 ppg/7.2 rpg in 2011 compared to 14.8 ppg/6.8 rpg in 2010.  However, there was a notable improvement in his jump shot, and he was not just a “dunker” this year.  Leslie made 13 three-point field goals this season, compared to only 6 the year before, and he shot a stellar 80.1% from the free throw line.

If Leslie could continue to work on his ball-handling in the off-season, I think he could have a serious offensive breakout season next year (and possibly bolster his stock into “lottery” status).

Leslie is not listed in the 2011 Mock Draft (first or second round), and on the website’s 2012 Mock Draft they have him going 31st.

He’ll obviously get tons more information regarding his stock over the next few weeks, but it could definitely be in his best interest to return to UGA for his senior season (and it would be a great lift for Coach Fox heading into the off-season).

Recruiting

Coach Mark Fox just picked up a verbal commitment from Nemanja Djurisic, a 6’8″/220lb power forward from South Kent High School in South Kent, Connecticut (by way of Podgorica, Montenegro).

ESPN’s “Bottom Line” on Djurisic:

Djurisic is solid in all aspects of his game and his biggest strength is his ability to do so many little things to help his team win games without having to score in high volume to make an impact. He projects as a solid role player at the high-major level or an impact player at the mid-major level.

Nothing to drool over, but as everyone knows, next year’s team definitely needs more big men – welcome to the Dawgs Mr. Djurisic!

Fox is targeting a couple other forwards to round out the 2011 class – Chris Bryant and Braeden Anderson.  Anderson, from Calgary, Alberta in Canada, is an intriguing prospect that stands 6’8″ and weighs 222 lbs.  He is apparently very gifted phsycially, but needs to work on his aggressiveness – he is considering Kansas, Arizona and Oklahoma (along with Georgia) so he must be fairly talented to garner such attention.

And who knows…maybe after the firing of Bruce Pearl the Dawgs might pick up a player from the Vols?

Georgia Falls Short Against Washington 68-65

Well, the drive up I-85 into the Queen City on Friday was a lot more fun than the drive home today.

The first half of the game against Washington seemed eerily similar to the first half of the game against Alabama in the second round of the conference tournament.  In both games, Georgia had an opponent struggling to find offense, yet the Bulldogs couldn’t capitalize and create any significant separation on the scoreboard.

Last night, Washington went through a near nine-minute span in which they mustered just one field goal.  Georgia, however, was unable to step on the accelerator, and following a jumper by Scott Suggs the Huskies were only down 23-18 with 3:53 left before the half.

Washington started to figure out the Dawgs‘ zone defense near the end of the first half, and after a 12-5 Huskie run the teams went into intermission knotted-up at 28 apiece.

Coming out of the break, the Huskies looked like a completely different team than the one that played the first 20 minutes.  Washington’s pressure on their man defense was ferocious, forcing Georgia to start its offense from well beyond the perimeter – the Huskies nearly pressed the Dawgs into consecutive shot clock violations.  I honestly don’t recall the Dawgs facing a more intense half court defense all season.

Unfortunately for Georgia, Washington’s improved second-half defense was matched by some improved offense as well.  The Huskies knocked down 7 of their first 10 field goal attempts in the opening nine minutes after the break.  After shooting just 35.3% from the field in the first half, Washington connected on nearly 54% of their shots from the floor after intermission.

The Huskies star guard, Isiah Thomas, scored 17 of his 19 points in the game’s second half – he seemed unguardable at times.

This nine minute stretch that extended the Washington lead to 49-39 with only 11:15 left nearly closed the door on Georgia.

I say nearly because as many of you already know, this team has not quit when they have been down this season, and last night was no different.

The Bulldogs fought and clawed and were down by just 2 points with 7 seconds left following a Trey Thompkins three-pointer – Trey played great by the way, leading his team with 26 points and 11 rebounds.

After a missed free throw by Washington’s C.J. Wilcox, the Dawgs’ Travis Leslie launched a last-second three that would have sent the game into overtime – but fate had other plans as the shot came up short.

It’s funny, but I think my favorite moment of this entire season came just minutes after it ended.

Time Warner Arena was not nearly close to capacity for the Georgia-Washington game last night, but there were a good number of very-spirited Bulldog fans in attendance.

After the final horn had sounded and the teams began exiting the court, the entire UGA fan base, in an act of pure class, rose from their seats and gave this Georgia basketball team a standing ovation.  The Bulldog fans recognized that these 18-, 19- and 20-year-old kids had poured everything they had into this season and into getting to this NCAA tournament game, and they rewarded them with applause.

Mark Fox and this group of players have transformed Georgia basketball from a perennial loser into a relevant SEC program – and in just two years!

The Bulldogs earned an at-large bid to the this year’s NCAA tournament, and proved last night that they belonged.

Georgia beat the SEC Tournament Champion Kentucky Wildcats earlier this year – a team that just advanced to the Sweet 16 of this tournament following their win over West Virginia earlier this afternoon.  The Dawgs took both the Big East regular season runner-up (Notre Dame) and the SEC regular season champion (Florida) to double-overtime.

Even though the Bulldogs came up just a little short last night against the Huskies, it was still extremely cool to see them participating in the NCAA’s, and I think we should all be proud of what these guys accomplished this season.

Georgia Sends Auburn Packing, Looks Ahead to Alabama

The Georgia Bulldogs (21-10; 10-7) did not allow the Auburn Tigers any grand delusions of a second overtime game between the two teams.

Instead, the Dawgs used the Tigers as a first-round tune-up and ended their season by 3:00PM (Eastern Standard Time), winning 69-51.

Auburn came into the game averaging nearly 13 offensive rebounds per SEC game this season, yet the Bulldogs gave them a taste of their own medicine this afternoon.  Georgia hit the offensive glass like a team possessed, pulling down 16 o-rebs and winning the battle of the boards by a tally of 36-22.

Georgia’s two-headed monster of Trey Thompkins and Travis Leslie both finished with double-doubles, combining for 34 points and 10 rebounds.  Leslie also did a phenomenal job of limiting Auburn’s leading scorer Ernest Ross, holding him to just 4 points on 1 of 10 shooting from the floor.  In the first game between these two teams, Ross lit the Dawgs up for 30 points – Leslie was having none of that today, though.

The Dawgs jumped out to a 5-0 lead and never looked back (or relinquished the lead).  My favorite part of this game came right after the halftime break, with Georgia holding a 34-23 advantage.  Anyone who has watched this Georgia team over the past year or so knows that one of their Achilles heals has been the first five minutes after intermission.

On Thursday however, the Dawgs entered the second half with the same intensity as the first.  A healthy Thompkins hit two three’s before the first TV timeout, and Georgia was up 45-27 with 15:42 remaining in the half.  It was so refreshing to see the Bulldogs come out of the break and put their foot on the accelerator (and to keep it on it).

The Dawgs now advance to a highly anticipated second-round match-up with the SEC West regular season champion Alabama Crimson Tide.  A lot of analysts around the country are labeling this as an NCAA Tournament “Bubble Game”, with the winner earning an at-large berth and the loser – eh, who knows?  Left wondering come Sunday?

Tomorrow’s game will mark the second game between these two teams in a week, with Alabama winning the first one in Tuscaloosa last Saturday 65-57.  In that game, Bama out-rebounded and out-hustled the Dawgs, as well as forcing them into 16 turnovers.

In Georgia’s win today over Auburn, the Bulldogs were ferocious on the glass, and they turned the ball over just 7 times.

That’s Auburn though.

Alabama plays a different brand of defense, pressuring teams in the open court and limiting opponents to one shot – probably why they lead the SEC in team defense, holding teams to merely 60.9 points per contest.

Georgia did not handle the Tide’s pressure well in Tuscaloosa, and they must protect the ball better in the Georgia Dome if they want to advance to Saturday’s third-round game.

All-SEC First-Team selection Trey Thompkins carried his team through the first round of the conference tournament, scoring 22 points and hauling in 10 rebounds.  He’ll match-up with a fellow First-Team’er on Friday in JaMychal Green, in what should be a battle in the paint.

Personally, I am beyond tired of hearing about all of the different “bubble scenarios”, “bracketology’s” and “play-in scenarios” on ESPN.  Don’t get me wrong, I am thrilled that Georgia is at a point as a basketball program where they are being mentioned in such conversations.

But I am ready to see this game played.

I think at this point, Georgia could survive a loss tomorrow and still get into the NCAA’s, yet probably as one of the teams that would play on either Tuesday or Wednesday in the new “first round”.

Coach Mark Fox’s team could take a lot of the guesswork out of the “Bubble” picture with a win on Friday.

Dawgs Fall Short in Tuscaloosa

The Alabama Crimson Tide came into Saturday’s game against the Georgia Bulldogs (20-10; 9-7) averaging an SEC-worst 5.1 three-pointers per game.  Senior Charvez Davis hit five three’s himself though, two of which came during a critical stretch that put his team up 50-40 with only 9:37 remaining.  Bama had its biggest lead of the game with its star player, JaMychal Green, on the bench with four fouls.

Georgia was unable to capitalize in Green’s absence, and the Dawgs sputtered to a 65-57 loss in Tuscaloosa.

The Tide’s SEC-leading defense lived up to its billing on Saturday, forcing Georgia into 16 turnovers and holding the Dawgs to just 41.3% from the floor.  Alabama’s full-court press kept the Bulldogs off-balance, and Georgia managed to get off just 46 field goal attempts – usually the Dawgs are hoisting up at least 60 FG shots per game.

Coach Mark Fox sounded more displeased on the post-game locker room radio show yesterday than I can remember following a loss this year.  After the Dawgs’ heart-breaking losses to both Florida and Tennessee, Fox was obviously upset, but he also seemed to feel bad for his team for having to endure those tough defeats.

After the Bama game, however, Fox sounded pissed.  He did not like the Bulldogs effort in the game yesterday, especially on the boards, where Georgia yielded 14 offensive rebounds to the Tide – the Dawgs lost the battle of the boards by a tally of 30-28.

JaMychal Green, who dealt with foul trouble for a majority of the second half, finished the game with 19 points and 9 rebounds, leading all scorers.

Georgia’s scoring came from Trey Thompkins and Travis Leslie, who ended the game with 15 points apiece.  Trey was ultra-productive on Saturday, as he also grabbed 10 rebounds in just 27 minutes of play – his fifth double-double of the season.

Gerald Robinson, Jr. struggled mightily against the Tide, finishing the game with 8 points on just 2 of 12 shooting from the floor.  Robinson dished out 4 assists, yet he matched that total with 4 turnovers.

The Bulldogs turned the ball over too many times to expect to win on the road against a team that hadn’t lost at home yet this season.  Travis Leslie was the main culprit on Saturday, leading his squad with 6 turnovers in the contest.

Jeremy Price was ineffective against Alabama, posting only 6 points and making just one field goal.  I don’t want to go on record as saying that the Dawgs go as Jeremy Price goes, but Georgia is 13-1 this season in games where Jeremy scores in double-digits.

The Dawgs wrap up their 2010-2011 SEC slate with a 9-7 record, which is a great accomplishment for this team and for Coach Mark Fox.  At the moment, Georgia is sitting at fourth place in the SEC East, with their final position in the standings dependent upon the outcome of the game today between Kentucky and Tennessee.

If Kentucky wins, Georgia stays in fourth.  If the Vols come out on top, then the Bulldogs will wind up in fifth place due to a slew of unfavorable tie-breakers.

FYI – the Bulldog Nation wants Kentucky to take care of business in Knoxville so Georgia can get the East fourth-seed in next week’s conference tournament.  If that were to happen, the Dawgs would take on Auburn in the first round and the winner would go on to play Alabama.

The East five-seed plays Arkansas in round one, with the winner facing an unfavorable second-round match-up with the Florida Gators.

Go Cats.

Georgia Hopes to Hand Alabama First Home Loss

The Alabama Crimson Tide are 15-0 when playing in Tuscaloosa this season – not bad, not bad at all.

They are 11-4 in the conference and could possibly split the regular season title with Florida (if the Gators were to stumble at Vanderbilt on Saturday), yet they are on the NCAA Bubble due to a lack of love from the people at RPI, Inc.  The Tide sport a less-than-stellar RPI of 86, largely due in part to their soft out-of-conference schedule – they have the 129th hardest schedule in the nation (eeehhh).

Bama has gone 3-2 against teams from the SEC East, however, and they need this game over an RPI Top 50 team like the Georgia Bulldogs (20-9; 9-6) to bolster their tourney resume.  The Tide should be plenty motivated come Saturday afternoon, and there’s a chance that they might play a Dawgs team that could be without its star player – Trey Thompkins.

Thompkins has been nursing a toe injury all week, and at the moment he is listed as questionable for the game.

It would be a shame if Trey couldn’t go for Georgia, because I was very excited to see the match-up between him and Bama’s version of Trey Thompkins – JaMychal Green.  Green has put together an excellent junior season for Coach Anthony Grant, leading his team with 16.7 ppg and 7.7 rpg in conference play.  Similarly to Thompkins, Green is a versatile big that can score the ball both inside and out.

Green is joined in the frontcourt by sophomore wing Tony Mitchell, who is scoring 16.6 ppg and grabbing 6.3 rpg in SEC contests.

The Tide get scoring on the perimeter from freshman point guard Trever Releford – he is netting 11.7 ppg and dishing out 3.2 apg in league games.

Alabama Coach Anthony Grant wanted his team to be strong defensively coming into this season, and it’s safe to say his kids bought in.  The Tide are holding opponents to merely 61.1 points per game, tops in the SEC.  Bama leads the conference in field goal percentage defense, limiting opponents to just 39.6% from the field.  They are also leading the SEC in steals with 9.2 per game, and they are fourth in the league in blocked shots at 5.1 per contest.  This team gets it done on the defensive side of the ball, and that is why they have won 11 conference games this season.

Offensively, much like Georgia, the Tide prefer to get their points from inside the arc.  Bama is shooting just 26.3% from three-point range, and they are hitting only 3.1 three-point field goals a game – both of which rank them last in the SEC.  Conversely though, they are knocking down nearly 50% of their 2-point field goal attempts in conference games this year.

If Trey can’t go on Saturday, Georgia is going to face a very stiff challenge in Tuscaloosa.  Coach Mark Fox’s triangle offense will not run as smoothly with either Jeremy Price or Chris Barnes at the high post position, as neither player is a significant scoring threat from more than eight feet from the basket (that’s being very generous to Barnes).

The Dawgs are going to have to find other ways to score, and hopefully Gerald Robinson and Travis Leslie can create offense from the wing positions.

Dustin Ware is coming off his best three-point shooting performance since the Georgia Tech game, knocking down 5 of 7 from beyond the arc in the win over LSU on Thursday.  Ware is connecting on an SEC-leading 47.7% of his three-point attempts this season.  Coach Fox is going to need Dustin to step up and make some outside shots on Saturday.

In my (humble) opinion, this game is far more significant for Alabama than it is for Georgia – dare I say “must win” for the Tide?  With the Dawgs’ win over LSU on Thursday, Georgia put themselves in a very good position to earn an at-large berth to this year’s NCAA tournament – that’s what  a strong RPI of 37 will do for you.  Bama however, could be left out of the dance if they were to lay an egg and drop one to the Dawgs on Saturday.

That being said, if the Bulldogs were to go into Bear Bryant Territory and knock off the Tide, Georgia would head into next week’s SEC Tournament looking to improve their NCAA tourney seed (vs wondering if they are in or not).

Hopefully Trey’s toenail is getting the best medical attention that UGA can provide.

If he can’t play though, can the Dawgs win an SEC road game without him?

Dawgs Hammer Tigers

Seldom-used Georgia (20-9; 9-6) guard Matt Bucklin took his man off the dribble, hung in the air and buried an 18-foot jump shot (while getting fouled I might add), sending the UGA student section into a frenzy.  This was Bucklin’s first field goal of the season, and with 26 seconds left in the game Stegeman was as loud as it had been all night.

It should be noted however, that Georgia was leading by twenty at this point and the game was well in hand.

The game wasn’t entirely peachy for the Dawgs though, as they got out to a terribly slow start against LSU.  Georgia Coach Mark Fox had his team start out in a zone against the Tigers – not a bad strategy considering LSU came into this game shooting just 40.0% from the field as a team.

But LSU was surprisingly hot to start the game, and they jumped out to a 13-4 lead with 13:41 to go before the intermission – Georgia’s cold shooting aided the Tigers in building this lead as well.

The Dawgs offense woke up however, especially junior guard Dustin Ware, who canned 3 three-pointers during a 22-6 Georgia run that left the Bulldogs up 26-19 with 2:47 left in the half.  Fox also switched his team into a man defense, and LSU started being LSU, turning the ball over 11 times in the first half (the Tigers finished with 18 turnovers).  Georgia made the most of the Tigers’ sloppiness on Wednesday, scoring 23 points off of turnovers.

The Dawgs took a 30-25 lead into the half, and they came out of the break with a lot of focus.  Georgia scored the first 6 points of half number two, and the Dawgs proceeded to go on a 17-7 run that put them up 47-32 with 12:42 left.  This was the run that put the Tigers to bed, and Georgia coasted to a 73-53 victory – their 20th of the season.

According to the AJC’s Tim Tucker, Trey Thompkins was dealing with a toe injury on Tuesday and that is why he only played 22 minutes against LSU (scoring 8 points and grabbing 5 rebounds) – his status for Saturday’s game in Tuscaloosa is questionable.

Luckily for Thompkins, his teammates were more than capable of picking up the slack.  Four Georgia players – Gerald Robinson, Dustin Ware, Travis Leslie, Jeremy Price – finished the game in double-figures, with Robinson’s 16 points leading the way.

Robinson attacked the basket relentlessly and put a lot of pressure on the LSU defense by pushing the ball all night.  His 16 points was his highest scoring total since the Missy State game back on January 22nd.

Dustin Ware, who lit the Tigers up from the beyond the arc in the first half, ended up with 15 points on 5 of 7 shooting from three-point range.

Travis Leslie, the only player to post a double-double, was the game’s MVP (in my humble opinion).  After a sluggish start (just 3 points in the first half), Leslie got his offensive going after the break and finished the game with 14 points.  He also led the Dawgs with 10 rebounds, 4 assists and 4 steals – Leslie was definitely peppering the stat sheet on Wednesday.

And Georgia reached the coveted 20-win mark, the first time in nearly a decade.  By bolstering their conference record to 9-6, the Dawgs have now assured themselves of a winning SEC record for the season.

It’s a bit disconcerting to think that Georgia may have to play Alabama without the services of their star player (as well as Marcus Thornton who was on the bench with his arm heavily wrapped), but the Dawgs might be better-served to allow Trey to heal up before the conference tournament next week.

If Georgia were to upend Bama on Saturday, there is a scenario in which the Dawgs finish second in the SEC East – Vandy loses at home to Florida and Kentucky loses at Tennessee (both are definitely possibilities).

No matter where Georgia ends up in the final conference standings though, I’m very proud of what they accomplished this year on the court (20+ wins and 9+ SEC wins).  I am also equally excited to see this team do some damage in the postseason.

Dawgs Coast at Home

On Thursday night, the Georgia Bulldogs (19-9; 8-6) used a zone defense for nearly the entire game in their loss to the Florida Gators.  In Athens on Saturday, the South Carolina Gamecocks deployed the same strategy, showing the Dawgs zone for the full forty minutes.

Georgia picked it apart.

The Bulldogs attacked the zone with precision-like efficiency – knocking down open shots from the wing, getting the ball to Trey Thompkins in the high post (who in turn either scored or found the cutters along the baseline).  Georgia shot 46.0% from the field and nearly 37.0% from beyond the arc.

Thompkins buried a three-pointer with 10:53 left in the first half to put his team up 15-6, and the Gamecocks never recovered.  The Dawgs took a 39-22 lead into the break, and then proceeded to play even-basketball with the Cocks for the remainder of the game – coasting to a 64-48 win.

I was surprised to see Coach Darren Horn keep his team in a zone, especially coming out of the intermission with the Cocks trailing by 17 points.  One would think that he might want to switch to a man-to-man to pick up the tempo, but that wasn’t the case.

Trey Thompkins led the Dawgs with 20 points and 8 rebounds, his first 20-point performance since the Florida game on January 25th.  Trey also turned in another great defensive effort, recording 3 shot blocks and 7 defensive boards – he now has 18 blocked shots over the past 8 games.

Gerald Robinson, Jr. struggled again on offense, going 3 for 10 from the floor and finishing with just 8 points and 6 turnovers.  He did however, shut down Carolina’s Bruce Ellington once again, limiting him to 7 points and only 3 field goals (on 12 attempts).  As good as a freshman campaign as Ellington has had, you can be sure he does not want to see Robinson on the court again this season.

Jeremy Price played a very productive 24 minutes for Coach Mark Fox, scoring 14 points on a barrage of dunks and snagging 6 boards.  Price had an emphatic dunk-back on an offensive rebound in the first half, and then proceeded to dazzle the Stegeman crowd with his rendition of Aaron Rodgers’ “Championship Belt”.  As entertaining as this spectacle was to see live, let’s hope it never happens again (Price was lucky not to get a technical foul).

Travis Leslie had the most complete game of any Bulldog though, finishing with 15 points, 7 rebounds and 6 assists.  Leslie’s point totals can sometimes sneak up on you, but he has now gone for 15+ points in nine conference games this season.

It was reassuring to see the Bulldogs take a lesser opponent (South Carolina) and beat them soundly as opposed to letting them hang around (Auburn) – especially on their home floor.  The Dawgs are now tied with the Kentucky Wildcats for third place in the SEC East (Tennessee was upset at home by Mississippi State).

If the Dawgs can take care of business on Wednesday night against LSU, they will get to the 20-win plateau as well as put themselves in a great position to earn an at-large bid into this year’s NCAA tournament.