Dawgs At Home Against Arkansas State

Former Arkansas State player and movie star, Arthur Agee

The Georgia Bulldogs (6-2) take on the Arkansas State Red Wolves (3-6) this Saturday in Athens at 12:00PM.

Arkansas State…Arkansas State…where have I heard that name before?  Arthur Agee, one of the two stars from the 1994 documentary “Hoop Dreams“, played his final two years of college basketball for the Red Wolves.  If you have never  seen the movie, check it out – it’s a great sports flick.

Despite returning four starters from last year’s team and being predicted to finish 2nd in the Sun Belt’s West Division by Rivals.com, the Red Wolves have not gotten out to the best start.  Actually, their start to this season was terrible, losing their first five games of the season to Ole Miss, Missouri State, Belmont, Pacific and Pepperdine – not exactly Murder’s Row.

However, they have won three out of their last four games, with their lone loss coming in overtime to then-ranked #15 Memphis.  Arkansas State coach, John Brady (former coach of the LSU Tigers), credited his team’s zone defense for keeping the came close by taking Memphis out of its offensive rhythm.

Any chance that Brady may put his team in some zone sets to force Georgia to shoot it from outside?

The leaders of this Arkansas State team are 6th-year senior guard Donald “Don’t Call Me Daniel” Boone and junior power forward Martavius Adams.

Besides providing this ASU team with leadership and the wisdom that comes from being in college for six years, Boone is  also chipping in 10.2 ppg – 46.6% from the field and 34.1% from downtown – from the shooting guard position.  He’s probably their most consistent outside threat, and the Georgia guards will need to be aware of where he is at on the court.

Martavius Adams, a native of Irwinton, Georgia, was selected to the Sun Belt preseason All-League Second Team coming into the 2010-2011 season.  Adams has a Jeremy Price-like frame – 6’8″, 255lbs – and leads the Red Wolves in both scoring (12.7 ppg) and rebounding (6.8 ppg).  He originally signed and played his freshman season with the Oklahoma State Cowboys before transferring to Arkansas State (reserve forward Malcoln Kirkland also came from Oklahoma State).

When previewing his team for this season, Coach Brady had this to say about his star player, “”I thought the last 12-14 games of the year that Martavius was as good, if not the best, post player in the league.  It took him a while to get going, but the last 12 or 14 games I thought he was as good as anybody in the Sun Belt. I anticipate him picking up where he left off, and then those other guys are going to make him better because of what they bring to practice.”

As a team, Arkansas State doesn’t shoot the ball particularly well – 40.6% FG and 29.7% 3PT.  Their main strengths seem to be their team defense and rebounding, hauling down 37 boards per game.

On paper, this looks like it should be a cake-walk for Mark Fox’s Bulldogs.  However, there are several abnormal circumstances at play that could make this an interesting game:

1. This is the first game that the Dawgs have played since their December 7th win in Atlanta over in-state rival Georgia Tech.  How rusty will their legs and jump-shots be after such a long lay-off?

2. School is officially out for the holidays, meaning that the crowd on Saturday could be somewhat sparse due to a lack of students in Athens, GA.  There are still tickets available for the game for just $5 (promo code is “HOLIDAYS”), and something tells me that a lot them will remain “available”.  The Red Wolves will not be entering a very “hostile” environment.

3. The game tips-off at an unusually early time – high noon (which will feel like 11am for the ASU players).  Can Coach Fox can get his guys ready to start fast despite the lunch-time tip?

Hopefully Dustin Ware and Sherrard Brantley can be zonebusters again on Saturday and hit some shots from beyond the arc.  The two combined for 10 three-pointers against Georgia Tech, which not only bolstered Georgia‘s scoring but also opened things up on the inside for Trey Thompkins to work.

Jeremy Price, who mustered just 2 points against the Yellow Jackets, has played phenomenal at home this season, averaging 17 points in games against Mississippi Valley State, Colorado and UAB.  Look for him to get back on track against the Red Wolves after being a no-show in the game at Georgia Tech.

And finally, it’s time for junior forward Travis Leslie to snap out of his current funk.  In the Dawgs‘ wins over UAB and Georgia Tech, Leslie scored a total of 8 points on just 3 of 13 shooting in 50 minutes of play.  He has to find a way to stay involved in the offense when the game is running at a slower tempo, especially against zone defenses.

As far as Gerald Robinson, Jr. is concerned, well, you can see how he prepares for games here.

On a personal note, I am stoked to be heading up to Athens for this game.  I can’t think of a better way to spend a cold and rainy winter day than watching Georgia play some hoops.

If you can’t make the trek to Athens, the game will be televised on CSS and available online at ESPN3.

And I know it’s early, but I noticed that Georgia is currently ranked #36 in CBS Sportsline’s RPI Ranking – this has to be the Dawgs highest RPI in years.

ESPN’s Andy Katz is plugging Georgia again with his recent article discussing how “Opportunity Knocks” for Mark Fox’s Bulldogs.

Georgia Opens Up December With UAB

The good news for the Georgia Bulldogs (4-2) is that they have only two games in December that will require their undivided attention – UAB (6-1) and Georgia Tech.  Their other five non-conference opponents – Arkansas State, High Point, Mercer, Charleston Southern, Eastern Kentucky – should basically serve as glorified tune-ups before the Dawgs get into their 2011 SEC schedule.

The bad news is that Georgia plays UAB and Georgia Tech one after the other, leaving little room for error.

On Friday, Georgia will play host to a UAB team that was predicted to finish 8th in the Conference USA coming into the 2010-2011 season after losing their top scorers from last year – Elijah Millsap (16.1 ppg) and Howard Crawford (11.8 ppg).

Despite the modest expectations, Coach Mike Davis’s UAB Blazers have gotten out to a hot start, winning 6 of their first 7 games – including a 70-65 overtime win against the Arkansas Razorbacks.  The Blazers only loss was a 69-66 heart-breaker on the road at Arizona State – the Sun Devils hit a three-pointer with 2.2 seconds left to win the game.

And in case you missed it, UAB whipped Georgia last year in Birmingham 72-56 (the same day the football team lost to Kentucky in Athens – not a good day for UGA sports).

The reason for UAB’s strong start this season has a lot to do with their veteran backcourt, led by seniors Aaron Johnson and Jamarr Sanders.  Point guard Aaron Johnson currently leads the nation with 9.0 assists per game (he is 4th all-time on UAB’s career assist leaders list), and he sports an impressive 2.74 assist-to-turnover ratio.  Johnson is lightening-quick, and he can definitely get into the lane to create his own shot (9.6 ppg).

Coach Mike Davis is a fan of his point guard as well, praising him after the Blazers 59-53 win over Jacksonville State on Wednesday – “”Aaron (Johnson) is playing so hard, with so much energy right now, it’s unbelievable. If there’s a point guard out there who is better, I want to see him. I’m talking about an overall player, the way he can score, pass the ball, play defense, the way he takes charges. If we can get everyone playing that way, we can be a good team.”

The match-up between the Dawgs‘ Gerald Robinson, Jr. and UAB’s Aaron Johnson should be fun to watch – don’t blink though, or you might miss something.  Both of these players like to attack the teeth of the defense and put defenders on their heels.

Jamarr Sanders is more of a catch-and-shoot guy, netting 15.3 ppg while shooting 34% from three-point range.

The UAB frontcourt is very athletic, featuring a pair of 6’8″ bigs – junior Cameron Moore and sophomore Ovie Soko.  Moore not only leads the Blazers in both scoring (18.4 ppg) and rebounding (9.3 rpg), but the big fella can stroke it from the outside, knocking down 59.3% from the field and 64.7% from beyond the arc.  Soko, who hails from London, England, is contributing 12.4 points and 7.1 boards per contest – not bad for a Brit.  Both of these guys are more effective on offense when facing the basket (vs playing with their back to it).

One of the keys to this game will be the Dawgs‘ perimeter defense, which has not been impressive through the team’s first 6 games.  Georgia currently ranks last in the SEC in three-point percentage defense, allowing opponents to shoot over 42% from beyond the arc – shooters are loving the view over the Dawgs‘ defenders.

Georgia must do a better job of contesting outside shots, and that needs to start with UAB because this team can (and will) put it up.  As a team, the Blazers are hoisting up nearly 22 three-point attempts a game, connecting on almost 37% of them.  If Georgia isn’t prepared to get a hand in the face of these UAB shooters, the Dawgs could be in for a LONG night (see the Mississippi Valley State game).

Offensively, the story behind the three-point line has also not been very pretty for the DawgsGeorgia is shooting just 28.6% as a team from beyond the arc, which ranks dead-last in the SEC.  The Dawgs are making an SEC-low FOUR three-pointers a game, which is a big reason why they currently rank 10th in the conference in scoring at just 69.7 ppg.  If Mark Fox could just get 2 or 3 more three-pointers a game (from say, Dustin Ware, Sherrard Brantley or Trey Thompkins) it would do wonders for the Dawgs‘ scoring average – not to mention it would force opponents out of their zone sets.

I watched the Blazers beat Middle Tennessee State 76-71 in November, and UAB played man defense nearly the entire game.  Mike Davis only plays six or seven guys (four starters average over 31 minutes per game), but they are physical and athletic and really get after teams.

It will be interesting to see if Davis keeps his team in a man defense against the Dawgs, who looked mystified against the 2-3 and 1-3-1 zone looks that they saw last week at the Old Spice Classic.

Georgia basketball fans (myself included) were pretty down in the dumps following the Dawgs‘ performance in the tournament in Orlando last week – blowing a 12-point halftime lead against Notre Dame, and then back-to-back lackadaisical efforts against both Temple and Manhattan.  This Georgia team, according to several ESPN analysts, was supposed to be the best in years and primed for a breakout season – last weekend they didn’t look like a team worthy of such high praise.

However, I am a firm believer in Coach Mark Fox and I expect to see a much better effort this Friday against UAB.  Something tells me that Fox has not been happy with the team defense thus far either, and I think we will see a big improvement tomorrow night (especially in the paint).  With Trey back on the practice court this week,  the offense should start to run more smoothly and not look quite as forced (as it did in the Old Spice Classic).

The Dawgs have a chance to go on a nice little run here in December, and there is the possibility of getting to 11-2 before opening up SEC play in January.

It starts tomorrow night with the UAB Blazers.

Katz and Scheduling

Mark Fox might need to take ESPN College Basketball Analyst Andy Katz out to lunch.

Remember back in May when Katz listed Fox’s Georgia Bulldogs in his “revised Top 25 for the 2010-2011 season“?

In a more recent publication, Katz highlighted Georgia’s Trey Thompkins and Travis Leslie in a piece he did on potential 2011 NBA Draft Prospects.

This guy is big on the Dawgs!

But for Georgia to live up to Katz’s lofty “Top 25” expectations, they are going to have to work their way through another tough out-of-conference schedule.  On July 1st, Xavier coach Chris Mack tweeted “Get your plane tickets to Athens, GA for February X fans…“.  Cincinnati.com confirmed the tweet on July 2nd – Georgia will play Xavier at home in February 2011.  ESPN’s Andy Katz has Xavier listed just outside his preseason Top 25 list, but don’t be surprised to see the Musketeers nationally ranked when February rolls around.

The Dawgs also play host to UAB – a team that whipped Georgia last year in Birmingham, AL and finished the season 25-9 and just missed getting an at-large bid into the NCAA Tournament.

Saint Louis is on Georgia’s schedule again next season as well.  Last year the Billikens gave the Dawgs a game in Athens in a 64-56 loss.  The Billikens ended up 23-13 and 11-5 in the Atlantic 10 during their 2009-2010 campaign.  ESPN’s Pat Forde is high on Saint Louis next year, especially since they return every player along with colossal coach Rick Majerus.

Of course the Dawgs have their annual showdown with Georgia Tech…However, next season’s match-up is back in Atlanta where Georgia hasn’t won since the 2000-2001 season (thanks to 28 points from D.A. Layne).

Probably the most intriguing part of the Dawgs 2010-2011 schedule is the Old Spice Classic tournament, which will be held in Orlando, Florida over Thanksgiving weekend.  Georgia will join a field that includes Boston College, California, Manhattan, Notre Dame, Temple, Texas A&M and Wisconsin.  Five of the eight teams in this season’s group (Cal, ND, Temple, Texas A&M & Wisconsin) all reached the NCAA Tournament last year.  Temple and Wisconsin are already on CBS’s Top 25 for the preseason.

The Georgia Bulldogs compete in the SEC East, which has to be one of the toughest halves of any conference in the country.  The Dawgs will play national powerhouses like Kentucky, Florida and Tennessee twice.  Throw in the remaining SEC schedule along with next season’s out-of-conference warm-up and its starting to look like Mark Fox’s Dawgs are going to have their work cut out for them.

Moral Victories?

I hope that everyone got what they wanted for Christmas today (my present came early back in November at Historic Grant Field).

Ten games into the 2009-2010 basketball season and the Hoop Dawgs are sitting at an unassuming 6-4.  Their biggest win so far has to be the one over orange people from Illinois.  Hopefully Coach Fox has a few more big wins stored up his sleeve before they get into the SEC schedule…

I was looking at the 4 losses (Wofford, UAB, Virginia Tech, St. John’s) the other day, and I started taking comfort in the successes these teams have had thus far:

UAB (11-1) – The Blazers are riding a 10-game win streak that includes victories over Butler and Cincinnati

Virginia Tech (10-1) – The Hokies are winners of 7 straight games, and in the process have knocked off Iowa and Penn State.

St. John’s (10-2) – The Red Storm has beaten Siena and Temple (both teams that will most likely make the tourney), and they lost a close one at Duke.

Wofford (7-6) – The Terriers have the worst record of this bunch, but that’s only because they have played a brutal out-of-conference schedule with losses to Pitt, Illinois and Michigan State.  They upset South Carolina last week to make themselves 2-0 against the SEC.

This puts the combined record of Georgia’s opponents that they have lost to this season at a stunning 38-10.  I am (as I am sure all of you are as well) aware of the old adage “There’s no such thing as moral victories”.  I remember hearing it when I played, as I am sure many others have heard it as well.  In some regards it does hold true…but for a Georgia team that finished last season 12-19 (3-13 in SEC play) I think it’s ok to take a little pride in these four losses.