Georgia Faces Stiff Road Challenge at Xavier

The Georgia Bulldogs (4-1) continue their road trip tonight, making a stop in Ohio to take on the #12 Xavier Musketeers (3-0).  The Musketeers may be the toughest road assignment that the Dawgs have on their schedule (Kentucky included).  Xavier returns its top three scorers from a team that went 15-1 in the Atlantic 10 a year ago, earning them a trip to the NCAA Tournament (where they fell to Marquette in the first round).

The Musketeers’ backcourt is one of the best in the country, featuring senior Tu Holloway and junior Mark Lyons.  Tu Holloway was named to the 2011-12 John R. Wooden Award Preseason Top 50 List, and he’s living up to the hype so far this season averaging 16.5 points, 6.5 assists and 4.5 rebounds per game.  Holloway is an NBA-type guard that can create shots for himself off the dribble, and he’s definitely not afraid to drive the ball into the paint.  Joining Holloway at the guard position is Mark Lyons, a prolific three-point shooter who is currently leading the Musketeers in scoring with 20.3 ppg, while knocking down an uncanny 53.8% of his shots from behind the arc.

On the inside, Xavier is led by mammoth senior center Kenny Freese, who is averaging 9.7 ppg, 5.3 rpg and 3.7 bpg.  For those of you that don’t remember Freese from the game a year ago, he stands at 7′ tall and weighs nearly 270 pounds.  Despite his tremendous size, Freese does move around the court pretty well, and he has a nice touch from about fifteen feet in.  Georgia‘s bigs are going to have their hands full trying to corral the Xavier center.

In the Bulldogs victory over Notre Dame, they rebounded well and knocked down shots from the perimeter.  If the Dawgs hope to stay close tonight in Cincinnati, they better plan on doing more of the same.

Georgia’s Gerald Robinson, Jr. and Vincent Williams will be given the daunting task of trying to slow down “Mr. All-Everything” Tu Holloway.  Actually, GR2 did an amazing job defending Holloway last year in Athens, holding him without a field goal until there were less than 14 minutes remaining in the game.  Holloway ended up with 18 points, but most of them came on free throws towards the end of the game when the Bulldogs were forced to foul.

Coach Mark Fox’s team took a nice step forward on Tuesday night, beating a decent Notre Dame squad after being handled the previous night by Cal.  This young group of Bulldogs is being forced to grow up quickly, and tonight they will face an extremely difficult test against an experienced, polished Musketeer team.

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Resume Game: Xavier at Georgia

When the Georgia Bulldogs (16-6; 5-4) square off against the Xavier Musketeers (16-6; 8-1) in Athens on Tuesday night, both teams will be sharing a common motivation:  to bolster their respective NCAA tournament resumes.

Ultimately, that is what this game is all about (hence why it was added right in the midst of each team’s respective conference schedules).

Xavier boasts an RPI rating of 24, while the Dawgs are currently carrying a rating of 36.  The Musketeers are 2-3 in games this season played against the RPI Top 50, while Georgia is just 2-6.  It would be sufficient to say that both of these teams need this win to impress the NCAA Selection Committee (with Georgia needing it more).

Xavier coach Chris Mack doesn’t have a lot of depth in his lineup, but he does have a veteran starting five (two seniors, two juniors and a sophomore) that has been able to handle playing big minutes this season.  The Musketeers are one of the more complete teams that Georgia will play all year, with the ability to score the basketball both inside and out – they have four starters scoring in double-figures regularly.  If I were to liken the X-Men to an SEC team, I would probably choose the Florida Gators, who the Musketeers lost a 71-67 nail-biter to back in December of 2010.

Gerald Robinson, Jr. will have quite a challenge on Tuesday night, as he will most likely draw the undesirable task of defending Xavier’s Tu Holloway.  Holloway, a preseason Atlantic 10 First-Team Selection, is leading the X-Men in scoring (20.8 ppg) and assists (5.0 apg).  Matter of fact, he is one of just four Division I players in the country that is averaging both 20 points and 5 assists on the year.  Tu Holloway is difficult to guard because he can score it in so many different ways: off the drive, on a pull-up jumper or by just setting up from beyond the arc (where he is connecting on nearly 35% of his attempts).

Joining Holloway in the backcourt is sophomore shooting guard Mark Lyons.  Lyons is netting 13.8 ppg while knocking down nearly 39% of his three-point attempts, making him the perfect outside compliment to Holloway’s dribble penetration.

The Xavier frontcourt features 6’8″ senior Jamel McLean and 7’0″ junior Kenny Frease.  McLean, the team’s leading rebounder at 8.8 rpg, is exceptionally athletic for his size.  His athleticism allows him to be tenacious on the offensive glass (nearly 4 o-rebs per game), and he has already posted seven double-doubles this season.

Kenny Frease has a very soft touch around the rim, and he is contributing 11.9 ppg and 6.8 rpg for this Musketeer team.  Georgia’s Jeremy Price and Chris Barnes will have a tough time matching up with Frease on the block, as both players will be yielding at least four inches in height.  Price and Barnes have struggled this year when playing against bigger centers, surrendering 18 points to Vanderbilt’s Festus Ezili and 23 to Florida’s Vernon Macklin.  Coach Mark Fox must get a better defensive effort from his two senior bigs on Tuesday.

Interestingly enough, Price and Barnes are the only players on the Dawgs’ roster that played in their team’s 73-61 loss to Xavier back in the first round of the 2008 NCAA Tournament (following Georgia’s miraculous “Tornado”-induced SEC Tournament Championship).  In that game, Jeremy Price contributed 10 points and 5 rebounds – a similar effort on Tuesday night would be nice.

As aforementioned, Coach Mark Fox will require a solid defensive effort from Gerald Robinson in this game.  I’m sure that Coach Fox would like to see some of Robinson’s offense return as well.  In the first five SEC games of the season, Gerald averaged 18.0 ppg and looked much more assertive on offense, regularly attacking the basket off the dribble.  Over the past four games, Robinson has appeared timid to strike, scoring just 10.0 ppg.  He has also become noticeably more careless with the basketball, averaging 4 turnovers per contest during that same stretch.

The X-Men are 3-4 in true road games this season, while Georgia is 10-2 in games played at Stegeman Coliseum.

The Bulldogs are coming off of consecutive wins last week over Arkansas and Auburn.  Both games may have been more competitive than the Dawgs would have liked, but they got the wins none-the-less.

Georgia currently has four wins on their schedule that the NCAA Selection Committee would deem “quality wins” – Colorado, UAB, Kentucky and at Ole Miss (who now sports an RPI of 57 following their upset of Kentucky last week).  Quality wins can carry a team to an NCAA at-large berth, and the Dawgs could use at least two more before the regular season draws to a close.

On Tuesday night, both Xavier and Georgia will be fighting to add another “quality win” to their respective tournament resumes.  Both teams moved up in ESPN’s latest Bracketology, and the winner of tomorrow night’s game should see an improvement in their projected seeding.

As the college basketball season progresses, the stakes continue to get higher each week.  Wins and losses start to become even more critical, as a team’s “body of work” starts to really take shape.

Tuesday nights in Athens have been unkind to Georgia so far in 2011, with devastating losses to both Tennessee and Florida.

Will the Dawgs be able to snap their “Tuesday losing streak” tomorrow night?