Bulldogs earn first SEC win of the season with home blowout of Vanderbilt

Vanderbilt coach Bryce Drew switched his team into a zone defense for the first time all game less than 5 minutes into the second half with the Commodores (9-5) trailing Georgia (9-5) 45-39. Inexplicably, Drew kept his team in this look for nearly the rest of the way, and Bulldog coach Tom Crean could not have been happier. After shooting just 2 of 12 from the perimeter in the game’s first 20 minutes, the Dawgs knocked down 7 of 14 three-point attempts in the second half and cruised to an 82-63 victory.

To be clear: this was just a one-point game at halftime, in Georgia’s favor. Typically, when a team begins to heat up from the outside, as UGA did on Wednesday, the opposing squad switches back into a man look. I’m not sure why Bryce Drew didn’t follow suit.

A huge contributor to UGA’s dominant second-half performance was sophomore Rayshaun Hammonds, who scored all 19 of his team-high points after the break. Rayshaun Hammonds started slow again after getting blanked against Tennessee in the SEC opener. The sophomore missed all four of his first-half field goal attempts as he looked out of sorts offensively to begin this one. Hammonds woke up quickly out of the intermission, however, as he scored 7 points before even 4 minutes had elapsed.

Teshaun Hightower provided a surprisingly productive 21 minutes for coach Crean, particularly in the first half. Hightower asserted himself more on offense as he made repeated concerted efforts to drive the ball at the rim, which resulted in 8 first half points to go along with 4 boards; the sophomore would finish with 11 points in the game. Of all the Georgia guards, Hightower is definitely the strongest candidate to take on the role of a legitimate point guard that can put some pressure on opposing defenses.

Defensively, the Dawgs did a great job of shutting down Vandy’s star point guard Saben Lee in the game’s second half. Lee gave Georgia fits prior to the break as he scored 10 points, with many of them coming near or at the rim. The UGA guards did a much better job of staying in front of him after the break, and they managed to limit Lee to just 2 second-half points.

Georgia definitely started this contest playing faster than it did last weekend in Knoxville against the Vols. The quicker pace created a helter skelter tempo early in the game that resulted in some sloppiness from both teams – Vandy had 7 turnovers in the first half to Georgia’s 8 giveaways; the Dores converted the UGA turnovers into 14 points prior to the intermission. The Dawgs quickly saw a 14-6 advantage turn into a 19-14 Vandy lead with a little over 11 minutes left in the half; Georgia had 4 turnovers during this stretch. Credit Tom Crean for settling his team down in the second half, where UGA committed just 4 more turnovers the rest of the way.

Georgia showed a lot of resilience in it win over Vandy on Wednesday night, especially considering the thrashing that the Dawgs received last weekend against Tennessee. Getting the conference win was absolutely crucial tonight as the Dawgs have a much taller task on Saturday when they travel to the Plains to take on the #11 Auburn Tigers.

Box Score:

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Last place Vandy whips Georgia 81-66

The Georgia Bulldogs (13-10; 4-7) never led once last night against the Vanderbilt Commodores (9-15, 3-8). I could probably just stop the blog post right there because that about covers it. The Dawgs have hit a new low.  UGA just got blown out by the worst team in the SEC. Vanderbilt was 2-8 in league games coming into this contest, and the Dores had an RPI of 122. At this point, Georgia’s NIT hopes are now officially in doubt.

Despite the typical UGA start to a game – not scoring for the first 4 minutes and going 2 for 11 from the floor – the Dawgs managed to get to halftime trailing 39-31, which at the time seemed like a blessing.  Georgia cut the Vandy advantage to as low as 48-47 with 13:20 left in the second half following a jumper by Turtle Jackson, and the Dawgs actually traded baskets with the Dores for a few minutes.

But eventually the UGA offense would go into one of its extended droughts that have become a trademark of Mark Fox coached teams.  Following a bucket by Yante Maten, who finished with a game-high 20 points, that made it 56-53 Vandy with 11:10 remaining, the Dawgs would go nearly 7 minutes before converting another field goal.  With 4:27 left, Derek Ogbeide put one in off the right side of the glass, but by then it was too late as the Dores lead had blossomed to 77-62 during this stretch.  Final score: Vandy 81, UGA 66.  Ouch.

Announcers and NCAA basketball media types will wax eloquently about how great Georgia plays defense.  This is simply a myth. Yes, UGA is allowing the least amount of points in SEC games (65.7).  However, that number is just a byproduct of the molasses-paced tempo at which this teams plays.  Earlier this week, I referenced the Dawgs’ defensive efficiency, which measures the amount of points a team gives up per possession.  This stat is gives a more accurate picture of a team’s defensive performance because it takes tempo (# of possessions) into account.  Georgia’s defensive efficiency is smack dab in the middle of the SEC.  Whether that is good, bad or just ok depends on how we view the overall defensive prowess of the league.

One thing is for sure, though, strong defensive teams don’t allow a team that’s making 8 triples a night to knock down 11 against them.  Surely the Dawgs’ scouting report highlighted Vandy’s proclivity for moving the ball from side to side in order to get open looks from the perimeter, but for whatever reason UGA routinely had defenders closing out with their hands down or not closing out at all.  Juwan Paker and Jackson (Parker in particular) often look like their feet are lodged in mud when attempting to defend on the perimeter.  Vandy guards Riley LaChance and Saben Lee, who averaged a combined 23 points a night, tallied 38 total points against the Dawgs and seemed to be virtually impossible to defend off the dribble.  Good defensive teams do not allow these things to happen.

Back to the offense.  The bottom line is that Georgia has one player that can put the ball in the basket on a consistent basis, and he’s leaving Athens in a little over a month.  Vanderbilt is the worst team in the SEC this year (although they could potentially swap spots with Georgia this weekend), yet I think that Maten is the only player who would start for them.  I’d swap guards with the Dores in a heartbeat if the offer were proffered.  Saben Lee is a freshman who is netting over 10 points a game for Vandy.  He was rated a 4-star recruit by Rivals.  Why don’t Georgia’s 4-stars step in and perform that way?  Rayshaun Hammonds was 0-5 yesterday and couldn’t manage to hit a layup even with the much smaller LaChance guarding him on the block.  Hammonds’s confidence has to be totally shot at this point because he doesn’t resemble anything of the player that he was at the start of the season.  Jordan Harris isn’t with the team right now, but he’s failed to develop into anything more than a role player at this point. Tyree Crump, who started again last night, played only 6 minutes due to a couple of turnovers and failed to score.  None of Georgia’s recent string of 4-stars have come close to performing at Lee’s level.  Why is that?

It doesn’t get any easier from here for Georgia.  Last night’s game was probably the second most winnable one for the remainder of the schedule (LSU at home being the most winnable).  The Dawgs have #8 Auburn in Athens on Saturday, and the Tigers are coming off of a home loss to Texas A&M last night, so they will be pissed off.  Then Georgia has a game at Florida, one at South Carolina, two against the #15 Vols and then one at home against the surging Aggies.  Best case scenario, UGA goes 3-4 over that stretch and finishes the year 16-14.  More than likely, however, the results will be worse as those are some of the best teams in the conference.

Box score:

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Dawgs @ ‘Dores

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The Dawgs' look to flex their road muscles for the Commodore faithful

The Georgia Bulldogs roll into Nashville on Thursday to take on the 16th-ranked Vanderbilt Commodores.

Surprisingly, it’s the ‘Dores that will be the team looking for revenge.

The Dawgs handed the Commodores their second SEC loss back on February 6th in Athens.  In the 72-58 victory, Georgia’s bench out-scored Vanderbilt’s 17-5, and Vandy starters A.J. Ogilvy and Jeffrey Taylor were held to a combined 14 points on 4 of 14 shooting from the field.

Too bad Coach Kevin Stalling’s doesn’t want to play the rematch at Stegeman Coliseum as well.

Georgia is now winless in nine true road games this year, and getting the first one in Nashville is going to be difficult.  Vanderbilt is 13-1 this season playing at home in Memorial Gymnasium, with their one loss coming at the hands of the Kentucky Wildcats last Saturday.

Last season, the Dawgs lost to the Commodores in Nashville 50-40 (Georgia only had 18 points going into the half).

Actually, Georgia hasn’t won at Memorial Gym since February of 2006.  The Dawgs have won only two times in their last 10 games in Nashville.  There’s something about that raised floor that just doesn’t sit right with the Bulldogs.

The fact that Georgia was able to hold the ‘Dores to only 58 points in the first meeting is a testament to how well the Dawgs can play defense.  Vandy is second in the conference scoring, averaging 77.2 per game.  They are also second in the conference in both team field goal (46%) and three-point percentage (34.8%).

The Vanderbilt offensive attack starts with senior point guard Jermaine Beal.  Beal is averaging 16.3 points in SEC play this season, and he shoots a robust 45.5% from the field and 41.1% from beyond the arc in nearly 35 minutes of play.

He is a very difficult match-up for opposing team’s because he can create his own shot off the dribble, and he is deadly from three-point range.  He scored 21 points in the first game against Georgia, knocking down 4 three-balls.

Swedish native Jeffrey Taylor has been enjoying a very successful sophomore campaign.  The 6’7″ Taylor is averaging 14.4 points in conference games, and lately he has been the leader inside.  Over his past four games, he is scoring 19.3 points and snagging 5.5 rebounds.

Vandy’s other big threat on the inside is 6’11” junior center A.J. Ogilvy.  In SEC games, Ogilvy is netting 15.1 points and bringing down 6.6 rebounds.  The Dawgs (namely Albert Jackson) held A.J. in check last game, so I look for him to come out and play with a strong sense of purpose on Thursday.

The rest of the starting five is rounded out by a pair of sophomores – guard Brad Tinsley and 6’7″ forward Andre Walker.  Tinsley has struggled with his shooting this year (only 28.6% from three-point range), but he is still averaging 8.3 points and 3.2 assists per contest.  Walker isn’t much of a scorer, but in SEC games he is grabbing 6.4 boards a night.

Freshman reserve sharp-shooter John Jenkins is scoring 8.9 points a game in the SEC, and hitting nearly 44% of his three’s on the season.  Jenkins is (in my opinion) somewhat of an “X factor” for this team.  When he comes off the bench in SEC games and gets 10 points or more, Vandy is 5-1.  However, when Jenkins is held under 10 points the ‘Dores are only 2-2 (against the Dawgs earlier this month he scored merely 1 point on 0 for 9 shooting).  His scoring off the bench can be critical in giving Vandy the offensive punch they need to power past teams.

Some things to look for:

The Tale of Two Halves:

In the Dawgs’ six SEC road games this year, Mark Fox’s team has gone into the halftime break with the lead in four of them.  “Losing the halftime lead” has sort of been one of the mantra’s of this team.  These second-half collapses can largely be attributed to defensive lapses and costly turnovers in the game’s final four minutes.

In the first meeting between these teams, Georgia went into the half down 26-23 to Vanderbilt.  The Dawgs then came out in the second half and blew the ‘Dores out.

How will the Dawgs start out and finish in Thursday night’s game?

40 Minutes

Coach Fox has been preaching lately how much his staff is stressing to the team the importance of playing defense for 40 minutes.  He has repeatedly mentioned time and time again how poor second half defense has “crushed” (his words not mine) the Dawgs on numerous occasions.

The good news is that Vandy is not exactly lighting up the nets lately (please don’t let this be the jinx that gets them going again).  In the ‘Dores last two games, they have made only 6 of 33 attempts from beyond the arc.

It will be difficult for Vandy’s perimeter shooters to get comfortable from the outside if the Dawgs can consistently contest shots.

Can Georgia commit to this for 40 minutes?

Georgia’s “X Factor”?

Earlier I mentioned freshman John Jenkins’ bench scoring, and how it has made an impact on Vanderbilt’s success.

In the first meeting, reserve Vincent Williams scored 7 points and dished out 4 assists (arguably the freshman’s best game of the season).  Jeremy Price came off the bench to contribute 8 points and 7 rebounds.

Who steps up for Coach Fox and gives him big minutes on Thursday?  Chris Barnes (coming off his best game), EA, Williams, Price, Ajax?

The game tips off at 7:00PM EST and will be televised on ESPNU.

Is anyone making the trip?

Does anyone have any answers to the questions I raised above?

Up Next: Vanderbilt

The #18 Vanderbilt Commodores (17-4) come into Athens sporting the reciprocal of Georgia’s 1-6 SEC record (their only loss was at Kentucky).

Vandy has played well on the road this year, winning 5 out of 7 games away from their home court in Nashville, TN.

They are second in the SEC in scoring at 80.4 a game, and they lead the conference in both FG% (50.1%) and 3PT% (42.4%).  Their offense is…efficient.

The ‘Dores attack teams with a well-oiled inside/out game.  Senior point guard Jermaine Beal is a very tough match-up because he can create off the dribble and shoot it well from the outside.  Beal is leading Vandy in scoring, pouring in 14.1 a night and burying 37.1% of his 3PT attempts.

Sophomore shooting guard Brad Tinsley is a nice complement to Beal, giving him someone to kick it to on penetration.  Tinsley averages 7.3 points a game, and though he is only hitting 31.3% of his three’s this year you must be aware of where he in on the court because he is a career 38% shooter from beyond the arc.

The key to Vandy’s inside/out game is junior center A.J. Ogilvy, who at 6’11” and 250lbs can create some mismatches down low.  Ogilvy is averaging 13.9 points and 6.0 rebounds, and he is the glue that holds it all together.  If Ogilvy is able to establish himself and score in the paint, Vandy wins…it’s that simple.  In their 4 losses this year, A.J. was held to 13, 8, 8 and 12, respectively.  Once he gets going, it frees up everybody else on the perimeter and wing positions.

The rest of Vandy’s scoring comes from forwards Jeffrey Taylor,  Andre Walker and guard John Jenkins.  Taylor is a native of Sweden, and like the Swedes, he prefers to take it to the rim.  He is a good athlete that is giving the ‘Dores 13.6 points and 5.2 rebounds a game.

Andre Walker rounds out the starting five, and he is a versatile player that can line up at both forward positions.  He handles the ball well, making Vandy difficult to pressure on the perimeter.  Walker is chipping in 6.2 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.7 assists.

Off the bench, the main guy to know on this team is freshman John Jenkins.  Jenkins is the most highly decorated recruit to ever sign at Vandy.  Jenkins can flat-out shoot it – hitting 49% of his three-point attempts and averaging 10.8 points (he averaged 42.3 points a game his senior year of high school!).  He will definitely be one of the premier players in the SEC in the years to come.

Keys to the Game

There are two sides to every story

If the Georgia Bulldogs could have somehow convinced their first 7 SEC opponents into playing only one half, they would be 6-1 in the conference.  Unfortunately for the Dawgs, they do not play in a  bizzarro-world SEC, and they did have to go out and play those second halves…how unfortunate, indeed.  Georgia is out-scoring SEC teams in the first half 38.4 to 33.7.  In the second half, the Dawgs are getting outscored by an average of 34.0 to 41.7.

I don’t know if this is because of a lack of depth, focus, experience or all the above.  Whatever it is, it has to stop.  Georgia is nearly half-way through their SEC schedule, meaning that freshman are now considered sophomores and sophomores are viewed as upperclassmen.  Ajax, McPhee, Thompkins, Ware, Leslie, Price, Barnes, etc…some of these guys need to step up and make it clear to everyone on the team that the game doesn’t end at the break.  When the opponent comes out of the half and cranks up their defensive intensity, the Dawgs need to match that intensity on both sides of the ball.

Play Loose, Play Loose, Kick Off Your Sunday Shoes

I don’t even like that movie (Footloose), but I couldn’t think  of any other good puns.  The point is that Georgia is 1-6 in the conference and has lost a handful of close games.  They can’t dwell on it though…Vanderbilt is the team with the national ranking and 6-1 SEC record.  They are coming into Athens with a bullseye on their back, and the pressure that comes from the fear of losing to the “worst” team in the league.  Hopefully Coach Fox has the guys nice and loose and ready to have some fun on Saturday night.

Side notes

Since I started talking about the Dawgs’ impressive rebounding margin (which is still +4.4 and second in the conference), they have lost three straight games and got out-rebounded in two of them.  So this is me “not mentioning” that I think that Georgia could have a rebounding advantage over Vandy.  You did not hear it from me.

The game tips-off at 8:00PM, and it will be televised on Fox Sports Network if you can’t make the trip up to Athens, GA.

How is everyone feeling about this game?  Hopefully interest has not dropped too much in the midst of this three-game losing streak…The Dawgs have finished with a winning record only once in the past five years, so this isn’t anything new to a Georgia Bulldogs basketball fan…