Georgia thrashes Temple 84-66 in Athens

The Georgia Bulldogs (9-2) have just two losses on the season: one to a San Diego State team with an RPI in the low 50s that just knocked off #12 Gonzaga, and the other to a mediocre UMass team.  At the time, the game against the Minutemen seemed to have exposed a host of weaknesses harbored by Georgia on both the offensive and defensive ends.  Now, however, that loss seems more like an anomaly.

Today, the Dawgs played probably their most complete game of the season in UGA’s utter domination of a Temple Owl squad that rolled into Athens sporting a lofty RPI of 11.  This game was Temple’s first regular season game ever inside the state of Georgia, and I’m pretty sure the Owls aren’t eager to come back anytime soon after what transpired inside Stegeman on Friday. Georgia’s defense, which has become the strength of this team, set the tone early with an aggressive man-to-man approach.  The Owls had no answer for the UGA pressure as Temple seemed content to stand around and play isolation basketball for much of the first half.  The Owls’ strategy might have been more effective if they had a few NBA prospects on their roster, but unfortunately for Temple coach Fran Dunphy they do not, and all that happened was his team was forced into a lot of hurried looks.

After jumping out to a 7-2 lead with just under 16 minutes left before the intermission, Temple scored only 2 points in over the next 8 minutes and found themselves down 19-9 with 7:23 remaining.  The Owls shot less than 31% from the floor prior to the break, and they quickly became the victims of a blowout as they entered the half trailing Georgia 43-24.

Temple shot the ball better in the second half, but the Dawgs still limited them to under 40% from the field on the afternoon.  Georgia is now 44th in the nation in team field goal percentage defense, where they are holding opponents to just 39.7% from the floor.  Temple’s Quinton Rose and Shizz Alston, Jr. entered this contest averaging a combined 33 ppg; today they scored only 15 on a combined shooting effort of 6 for 26.  The only Owl that provided Georgia with any trouble was Obi Enechionya, who scored 27 points (21 of them coming from beyond the arc).

Just like in the Tech game, Georgia’s frontcourt dominated the glass, out-rebounding Temple by a tally of 32-18.  UGA is now 38th in the country in rebounding margin as they are snagging over 7 more boards a night than their opposition.

As good as the defense was on Friday, the Georgia offense was not to be outdone.  Coach Fox’s team deliberately pounded the ball inside from the start, and Georgia got 34 of its 80 points in the paint.  Yante Maten was unstoppable as he posted another double-double in which he scored 30 points to go along with 12 rebounds.  Maten also did a phenomenal job of handling the Temple double-teams as he patiently found his teammates when the Owl defenders approached him.  Georgia reversed the ball around the perimeter consistently this afternoon, which resulted in the Dawgs getting several easy dunks on beautiful entry passes from the top of the key.   Georgia shot over 47% on its field goal attempts, and UGA had 14 team assists; they now have 31 in the past two games.

Young Nicolas Claxton played his best game yet in Athens as he just missed a double-double on a 14 point, 9 rebound effort; Claxton had several dunks that were unfairly cruel to the Stegeman rims.  Hopefully Claxton has finally shown Fox that he is ready to take over the majority of Mike Edwards’s minutes.

After building up the large halftime advantage, Georgia coasted unimpeded for most of the afternoon.  Midway through the second half, Temple threatened to close the gap when they cut the UGA advantage to 54-40 with 10:53 left on a tip-in by De’Vondre Perry.  Maten missed a jumper on the next possession, but Rayshaun Hammonds kept it alive on the glass and eventually Claxton came down with the offensive board and was fouled.  After making the first free throw, he missed the second, but Maten snared the offensive board and wound up at the line himself where he promptly buried both free throws.

On the ensuing UGA possession, Turtle Jackson sunk a three-pointer from the wing, and then he canned another jumper from the baseline the next trip down that bolstered the Georgia advantage back up to 62-43 with 9:19 remaining.  This response by Georgia had to be demoralizing for Temple, and it felt like the game was over at this point.

SEC play begins on New Year’s Eve in Lexington as the Dawgs have the daunting task of taking on perennial league powerhouse, Kentucky.  However, Georgia should be riding a nice wave of momentum into that contest after back-to-back impressive performances against Georgia Tech and Temple.  This is also the earliest in the season that the Dawgs have played Kentucky in a while, and that’s definitely a positive for Georgia.  Coach John Calipari’s teams at Kentucky typically don’t play their best basketball until around the time the SEC Tournament approaches as it takes the young squads time to learn how to play with one another.

If UGA ever had a chance to steal a win inside Rupp Arena, this is it.  Wouldn’t that be a nice way to end 2017?

Advertisements

3 biggest surprises for UGA basketball

Everyone – UGA coaches and fans – knew that this year’s basketball team would feature a strong frontcourt led by preseason SEC Player of the Year selection Yante Maten.  Complementing Maten on the block would be junior big Derek Ogbeide and highly-touted incoming freshman Rayshaun Hammonds.  Even though Hammonds is just a freshman, he was such a big recruit that it was expected that he would start and contribute immediately, and so far he’s pretty much lived up to the billing: 9 ppg and 5.8 rpg.

The big unknown for this team heading into this season was how it would replace the seemingly irreplaceable J.J. Frazier, who led the Dawgs in scoring last year with nearly 19 points a night and served as the on-court leader of Georgia basketball for the past several seasons.  While Frazier’s presence on the floor is certainly missed, Fox has had several players step up and assume key roles on this team, and those individuals’ play has enabled UGA to get out to a 7-1 start.

So without further ado, here are the three biggest surprises thus far for the UGA basketball team:

Turtle Jackson

Anyone who tells you that they expected Turtle to play at the level he’s playing at this season is lying to your face.  I’ll be the first to admit that I had my reservations as to whether Jackson would be capable enough to run this team, and I’ll also admit that I was completely wrong.  The offense has a different feel to it when Turtle is on the court compared to when he is not; the Dawgs have more purpose when he is at the helm.  Turtle’s numbers have been eye-popping when you look at what he’d done in Athens prior to this season.  Through 8 games, Jackson is averaging 12.5 points and 4 assists (to just 2 turnovers); compare that to his first two years as a Dawg where he netted 1.6ppg and 4.1 ppg, respectively.  Not only is Turtle this team’s floor general, but he’s also established himself as the most consistent outside weapon as he is hitting over 40% of his three-point attempts.  With the amount of attention that Maten garners in the paint, he needs teammates to stretch the court from beyond the arc to open things up on the inside, and so far, Turtle is playing that role.

Nicolas Claxton

The 6’11” Claxton has seen his role on this team increase as the season has progressed, and now it’s to the point that he has become the first big off the bench for Coach Fox.  Claxton is incredibly active defensively, where he consistently alters shots, as well as on the offensive glass.  In only 12 minutes a game, the freshman has been extremely productive, netting nearly 4 points and 4 boards a night to go along with 1.5 blocks (he leads the team with 12 total).  To say that Claxton is a step up from Houston Kessler off the bench is the understatement of the year.

Teshaun Hightower

Like Claxton, Hightower’s playing time has been mixed this year.  He only played 3 minutes against Corpus Christi and did not leave the bench when the Dawgs played Cal State-Fullerton, but ever since the win over Saint Mary’s Hightower has logged double-digit minutes.  Like Claxton, Teshaun has made the most of his time on the court where he’s getting 4 ppg, 1.7 rebounds and 1.7 assists in under 12 minutes a contest.  His main strength seems to be his willingness and ability to attack the rim, something that Georgia desperately needs as that was definitely J.J.’s role last year.  Hightower is also an aggressive defender, and if he maintains that mentality Fox will certainly find more minutes for him down the road.

“Don’t Sleep on the Dawgs”

ESPN college basketball analyst Andy Katz listed Mark Fox‘s Georgia Bulldogs at #25 in his “revised top 25 for the 2010-2011 season“.

There is also a link on this page for the ESPNU podcast in which Katz and fellow college basketball analyst Doug Gottlieb talk more about Katz’s rankings.  If you fast forward in to about 35 minutes into the podcast, you will here both analysts praise the Dawgs – Gottlieb refers to Travis Leslie in admiration as the “Human Highlight Film” – and Katz’s goes on to project Fox’s team to make a run in next year’s NCAA Tournament!

I have never been this excited for an upcoming UGA basketball season.

The Crimson Tide Roll Into Athens

fan
Swimmer Boy will attempt to distract and frighten Alabama players at the free-throw line

I think most UGA basketball fans would agree that Mark Fox’s first season has been a pleasant surprise.  This year we have seen Trey Thompkins develop into one of the best post players in the SEC.  Travis Leslie’s improvement and play has been exceptional, and he has shown up on ESPN’s “Top Plays” nearly as often as Kentucky’s John Wall.

This team has won a slew of games that on paper it probably shouldn’t have – Georgia Tech, Illinois, Tennessee and Vanderbilt – and has lost some very close games to some very good teams – Kentucky, Ole Miss, Miss St, Tennessee.

Overall, we want to think that this year’s team has improved from the dismal 2008-2009 campaign in which the Dawgs finished 3-13 in the SEC and had their coach fired before season’s end.

But sometimes the proof is in the pudding, and it sure would be nice to justify this improvement with a win over Alabama (4-7 SEC; 14-11 overall) on Saturday.  A victory against the Crimson Tide would give Georgia (3-8 SEC; 11-13 overall) its 4th SEC win (one more than last year), a wonderful piece of supporting evidence that this program is in fact moving in the right direction.

Alabama is led by first year coach Anthony Grant, who like Mark Fox, is transitioning from a mid-major schedule to the rigors of the SEC.  Grant was extremely successful at his last job with Virginia Commonwealth, leading the Rams to the NCAA tournament 2 out of the last 3 years.

And also like Fox, Grant’s Crimson Tide squad has beaten several big name teams this year – Baylor, Michigan, Mississippi State and Arkansas.  The Tide have suffered three one-point losses this season in SEC games, making them a mere 3 points away from possibly being 7-5 in the conference.

The strength of this Alabama team is its intense, pressure defense.  The Tide are first in the SEC in scoring defense, surrendering only 61.4 points a game (they rank 55th nationally in this statistical category).  They are holding SEC opponents to only 40.8% shooting from the field, and 26.8% from beyond the arc.  The Tide have held opposing squads under 60 points seven times this season.

On the offensive side of things, the picture is not as pretty for Alabama.  The Tide rank 11th in the conference in scoring offense at 61.1 per game, and have struggled in the half court set due to inconsistent outside shooting.

Alabama returns four starters from last year’s team that beat the Dawgs in Tuscaloosa 75-70.

Senior point guard Mikhail Torrance and sophomore forward JaMychal Green are leading the Tide in scoring in conference games at 14.8 each.  At 6’5″, Torrance is a tough match-up for most point guards in the league.  He likes to push the ball up the court and get his team into transition quickly (remember that they don’t score as efficiently in the half court).  He is also a pretty good outside shooter, knocking down 35% of his three-point attempts.  Torrance compliments his scoring with a team-leading 5.4 assists per game.

JaMychal Green is the scoring , rebounding (7.1 in SEC play) and shot-blocking leader (1.88 per game) in the Tide’s rather large frontcourt.  He is a very skilled athlete at 6’9″/220 lbs, and rumor has it he turned down Kentucky to come to Tuscaloosa.  Green is has posted 5 double-doubles already this season.

Junior Chris Hines starts at the other forward position, however, fellow junior Justin Knox rotates into the game quickly as these two guys share a lot of minutes.  Hines is 6’8″ and 220 lbs, while Knox stands at 6’9″ and tips the scales at 240 lbs.  Neither of these players scores many points (Hines – 3.3; Knox 5.7), but both provide some serious beef inside defensively.

The other two starters for the Tide are both natives of the state of Georgia, freshman forward Tony Mitchell (6’6″) and junior guard Senario Hillman.  Mitchell has had a very solid freshman campaign, averaging 9.3 points, 5.4 rebounds and making 34% of his three’s in SEC Play.  Hillman is another one of the Tide’s three-point threats, connecting on 34% of his three’s and averaging 7.8 points in conference games (he also scored 19 on Georgia in last year’s game).

Coach Grant’s team does not have a lot of depth, as they only play roughly eight guys night in, night out.  Junior guard Charvez Davis and senior point guard Anthony Brock are the only other reserves (other than Knox) that typically see the floor.  Both of these guards are hitting nearly 37% of their three-point attempts in SEC play, so you have to be aware of where they are on the court.

A Couple of Keys

Going Green

A phrase that is used and manipulated by corporations everywhere nowadays in an attempt to attract consumers.  In regards to the basketball game being played on Saturday, I am referring to Alabama’s JaMychal Green.  Green has struggled with foul trouble all season.  He has fouled out of three games, and he has committed four fouls in eight other contests.  He is such a big part of Bama’s offense and defense that it would be very beneficial to the Dawgs if they could get him on the bench (or better yet, out of the game).

Jeremy Price needs to do a better job of making strong post moves, and getting Green up in the air.  In the Tennessee game, Price’s offensive attempts against Wayne Chism were too slow and deliberate.  He was unable to get Chism to commit fouls, and rather, Wayne usually just blocked Price’s shots.

Hopefully Thompkins and Price can attack the Alabama defense and get Green to pick up some early fouls.

Potentially Dangerous Situation

As we know by now, Georgia’s guard play has been somewhat of an Achilles heel for this team all season.  The match-up that Ware, McPhee, Leslie, EA and Vince Williams have against the Crimson Tide on Saturday does not look favorable for the Dawgs.  Alabama’s pressure-style of man defense coupled with their long bodies (Torrance at 6’5″ and Mitchell at 6’6″) could make it very difficult on Georgia’s undersized guards.  UGA is last in the SEC in turnovers at 16.5 a game!

How will the cookie crumble on Saturday?

Something’s Gotta Give

As mentioned earlier, Bama is locking down SEC opponents on defense, holding teams to 40.8% from the field and 26.3% from three-point range.

Georgia is currently second in the conference in both field goal and three-point percentage, at 47% and 38.2% respectively.  The Dawgs are shooting slightly better at home in SEC games, hitting 47.8% from the field and 40.6% from beyond the arc.

The game tips off at 4:00PM EST.

If you aren’t heading to Athens, the game can be seen on Comcast’s Peachtree TV (channel 7; HD channel 802).

Dawgs Head to Florida

jarvis hayes
On January 19, 2002, Jarvis Hayes scored 23 points and the Dawgs won at Florida 84-79...this was the last time Georgia won at the O'Connell Center

The Georgia Bulldogs basketball team (9-8) rolls into Gainesville on Wednesday night to take on a hot Florida Gators team that is coming off a thrilling buzzer-beater win over South Carolina last Saturday.

The Gators have been somewhat of an anomaly this year.  Florida has recorded wins over Michigan State, NC State and Florida State, yet they lost at home to South Alabama and Richmond.

Billy Donovan’s squad started out conference play with back-to-back losses to Vanderbilt and Kentucky, but have since won three straight games to put them at 3-2 in the SEC.

On Wednesday, Mark Fox’s Dawgs will be trying to do something that hasn’t been done since the 2001-2002 season…win in Gainesville.  Last year in the game at Florida, the Gators lit up the Bulldogs with eleven 3-pointers in an 83-57 rout (and basically put the nail in Dennis Felton’s coaching coffin).

The SEC road has not been kind to the Dawgs over the years, as they have tallied up just 4 wins in the past 3 seasons coming into the 2009-2010 campaign (they are 0-2 this year away from The Steg in SEC play).

And to top it all off, the Florida Gators have now won 35 of their last 43 SEC home games.

This Gator squad’s strength is its backcourt, which may be one of the best in the country.  Freshman Kenny Boynton and sophomore Erving Walker account for 38% of Florida’s offense, combining for 27.4 points per game.  The Gators as a team hoist up twenty 3-pointers a game, and their starting guards are a big reason for that.  These two players have taken a total of 465 field goal attempts this year, and 256 of them were from 3-point range (that’s 55%!).  Walker is the better shooter of this tandem(38.2% 3PT), and he is also very good at creating his own shot off the dribble.

The Florida frontcourt is tall (yet thin) and features juniors Alex Tyus 6’8″, Chandler Parsons 6’9″, Vernon Macklin 6’10” and senior Dan Werner at 6’8″.  Tyus can score inside with his back to the rim, yet he also has a surprisingly soft touch from 15′-18′.  He is averaging 11.9 points a game, and is the Gators leading rebounder at 7.1 per contest.

Chandler Parsons (he hit the 3pt shot that beat SC) is averaging 10.7 points/6.6 boards, and he often looks to pop out for 3’s (shooting 35%).  Reserve Dan Werner is another guy that will shoot it from beyond the arc, yet so far this season he connecting only 30.2% of the time.

You may be noticing trend in Florida’s shot selection on offense – they like to jack it up from downtown.

The Gators are second in the conference in team defense, surrendering only 62.8 points per game.  However, they are second to last in blocks per game with only 2.95 per outing.  They do a good job of guarding the perimeter, but their bigs do not give them much support on the inside (Tyus and Parsons are awfully thin and struggle against wider opponents).

Keys to the Game

Handle the Pressure – Coach Fox’s team should expect to see a lot of full-court pressure from the Gators on Wednesday.  In last Saturday’s win over Tennessee, Georgia only saw token pressure from the Vols when bringing it up the court.  I expect Billy Donovan’s team to run a more aggressive full-court trap press, trying to force Georgia into turnovers.  The Gators prefer to play up-tempo, and will want to make this game somewhat chaotic and fast-paced.  Dustin Ware, Ricky McPhee, Vincent Williams and EA (Ebuka Anyaorah) need to play strong with the ball.  Trey Thompkins, Jeremy Price and Albert Jackson must be careful with their ball-reversal passes when taking on the press (can’t have a repeat of what happened at the end of the Mississippi State game).

Get in the (1-2-2) Zone! – Against Mississippi State and Tennessee, the Dawgs played in a 1-2-2 zone defense for the majority of both games (with Travis Leslie out on top).  This defensive set limits the number of quality looks for opponents from 3-point range.  Georgia held MSU and UT to 25.8% and 18.8% from beyond the arc, respectively.  Hopefully Fox will have his team in the same defense on Wednesday, ready to challenge and contest all Gator 3-point field goal attempts.  With Georgia’s size inside I don’t see the Gators getting too many second chances.

OutFox Them – Last Saturday was a good day for both of these programs.  Georgia ended a 10-game losing streak with their upset of the #8 Vols, and Florida won their 3rd straight SEC game on a thrilling last-second shot by Chandler Parsons.  How will these teams handle their recent successes?  Luckily for Coach Donovan, his Gator team is playing at home and will have a rowdy crowd backing them up.  Mark Fox has a greater challenge ahead of him – not only does he have to get his players focused on THIS game (and put the UT game in the past), but he also has to get them ready for another SEC road trip.  Hopefully Fox can keep his guys level-headed, and ready to dictate a slower tempo in this game.

The game tips off at 7PM EST and will be televised on CSS.  On the radio, you can listen to the first half on 750AM, and the second half on 97.1FM.

Side notes:

-Pat Forde of ESPN gave Mark Fox his “Coach who earned his comp car this week” award in his this week’s “Forde Minutes”.  He also proceeded to mention what none of us Georgia fans dare say at this point for fear that it won’t come true…the Dawgs have an outside shot at finishing .500 in the SEC.

-Congratulations again to Travis Leslie for nabbing the SEC Player of the Week award.  His dunks are becoming a regular part of ESPN’s Sportscenter highlights.

-During the Kentucky-South Carolina game on Tuesday night, ESPN analyst Jimmy Dykes (who was calling the game for ESPN) mentioned that he was looking forward to the Georgia-Florida matchup on Wednesday night.  Dykes went on to proclaim the Dawgs as the best team in the country to be ranked last in a conference, citing wins over Georgia Tech, Illinois and Tennessee.

Bonus side note from Hoop Dawg:

This is my first year with this blog, and I just wanted to say that I am loving all the comments!  Keep them coming…

It’s great to know that there are so many other fans of UGA basketball out there, and I love having a place like this where we can discuss the team, coaches, players, opponents, etc.

Anybody smell a Gator upset?