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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The keys to UGA’s win over Vanderbilt

Just a few days removed from a crushing overtime defeat at the hands of the Florida Gators, the Georgia Bulldogs (12-6, 4-2) collected themselves and managed to bounce back at home on Tuesday night against the Vanderbilt Commodores (8-10, 2-4).  Here are the keys that propelled UGA to the 76-68 home win:

Unselfish, efficient offense

Vanderbilt attempted to zone the Dawgs early in this game and UGA ate it up.  Georgia did an excellent job of getting the ball into the short corners and finding gaps in the zone.  When UGA players penetrated and drew extra defenders, the Dawgs opted to pass instead of forcing up highly-contested shots.  Georgia dished out 16 team assists, which marks their highest total yet in SEC play.  UGA shot over 45% from the floor, and the Dawgs had four starters finish in double-figures – Yante Maten and Juwan Parker led the way with 21 and 17, respectively.  The Bulldogs also knocked down 40% from beyond the arc, and the majority of those three-pointers came on kick out passes from the paint.  Lastly, UGA valued the basketball, turning it over just 6 times on Tuesday, which is a drastic improvement for a Georgia team that entered this contest average 16 turnovers per conference game.

Solid first half perimeter defense

Vanderbilt gets 40% of its offense from beyond the arc.  The Dores came into Athens making over 40% of its three-point shots in SEC play.  However, UGA held Vandy to just 1 of 9 from the perimeter in the first half, which enabled Georgia to take a 34-25 advantage into the break.  Coach Mark Fox had his team in a lot of match up zone, and the Dawgs’ defenders closed out and contested nearly every Commodore three-point attempt.  The second half was a different story though, as Vandy found its range and connected on 9 of 22 shots from beyond the arc.  The Dores ended up with 10 three’s, which is just below their 10.8 average in SEC games, but they only made 34% of them.  The Dawgs’ ability to contain Vanderbilt from the perimeter in this contest’s first twenty minutes proved crucial, and it may have been the difference in the game.

Composure

Vanderbilt, who only led for 1:35 of this game, had three opportunities to overtake the Dawgs last night.  However, each time the Dores closed the gap, Georgia found a way to respond.  After building up a 14-5 lead with a little over 13 minutes left in the half, UGA’s offense took a breather and scored just 2 points over the next six minutes.  With 7:33 remaining before the break and Vandy trailing 16-11, Yante Maten buried a big three-pointer from the top of the key to extend the UGA lead.

Vandy opened up the second half with a flurry of three-pointers, and after Jeff Roberson hit one from beyond the arc the UGA advantage had been cut to 42-39 with a little over 15 minutes left in the game.  The Dawgs answered, though, as J.J. Frazier and Juwan Parker hit back to back three’s, and Jordan Harris stole a lazy Vandy pass and took it the length of the floor for an electrifying one-handed dunk, putting Georgia up 50-41.

The Dores last effort to catch the Dawgs came late in the game when Riley Lachance sunk a three to trim the UGA lead to 65-60 with 2:17 remaining.  Once again, Coach Fox’s team responded to the pressure, getting the ball into the hands of Yante Maten, who was fouled and made both free throws.  On the ensuing possession, Parker got a steal and was immediately sent to the line, where he too hit both attempts.  With just 1:25 left, UGA had a 69-60 lead that Vandy would not surmount.

 

 

Georgia travels to Vandy, trying to get above .500 in conference

With only four conference games remaining, the 2013 SEC Basketball Tournament picture is still not yet clear. One thing is very clear, however, and that is that the Georgia Bulldogs (13-14,7-7) definitely want to avoid the 8 or 9 seeds of this year’s tournament because the teams slotted in those positions will most likely be heading towards a Friday matchup with the highly-ranked Florida Gators.

If the tournament started today, the Dawgs would be rematching LSU in the dreaded 8/9 game at 1PM on Thursday.

If UGA wants to avoid Florida, then they must find a way to win several of their last four games, starting on Wednesday night in Nashville where they will take on the Vanderbilt Commodores. The Dawgs have not had a lot of success playing at Vandy over the past decade, registering just one win (2006) in ten attempts. For whatever reason, Georgia historically struggles with either the ‘Dores raised floor, behind the goal benches or a combination of both.

Although, this Vandy team is not the same calibre of squad that Coach Kevin Stallings has had on the floor in year’s past. This season the Commodores are 11-15 overall and 5-9 in conference play, placing them at 11th in the league. Lately though, Vandy has been improving, notching 3 wins in their past 5 games, including a 72-31 road drubbing of Missy State last Saturday.

Similarly to Georgia, Coach Stallings team has trouble scoring in SEC games, averaging only 60.4 points (to UGA’s 58.9). Vanderbilt’s offense lives and dies with the three-ball, tossing up over 22 shots from beyond the arc per game. Unfortunately for Stallings, it’s been a lot more “die” for his team than “live” with that strategy.

Vanderbilt’s dependence on the three may be related to their inability to score closer to the basket. Of all the 347 teams competing in Division I, only three have made fewer two-point field goals than Vandy’s 343 on the year.

To be fair though, UGA has only done slightly better, making 386 two-pointers, which is 325th in the nation in that category.

But in games where the Commodores are stroking it from the perimeter, they have been tough for opponents to handle. Vandy is 4-2 in SEC contests in which they make over 8 three-pointers, including a win over Arkansas – a team that recently knocked off UGA.

Georgia’s perimeter defense, which has been suspect this season, must be stronger if the Dawgs hope to steal one in Nashville. In SEC play, UGA ranks 11th in the league in three-point percentage defense, allowing teams to make over 35% of their attempts.

That effort probably won’t get it done for Coach Mark Fox’s team on Wednesday night.

Vanderbilt KO’s Georgia 78-66

Vanderbilt freshman John Jenkins (yes, only a freshman) did not want Mark Fox’s Georgia Bulldogs to advance to the next round of this year’s SEC tournament.

Jenkins took over the second half of this game, hitting 4 three-pointers and scoring 22 of his 25 points.  It didn’t matter what defense the Dawgs were in throughout the second half, the Vanderbilt freshman got plenty of nice looks from beyond the arc (and he certainly capitalized).

For most of the night, Georgia’s defense looked a bit sloppy.  The Dawgs allowed the ‘Dores to connect on 9 of 18 three-point attempts, which essentially was the difference in the game.

It didn’t help that Georgia got out-rebounded 37 to 29, a statistic that the Dawgs have typically dominated in many games this season.

On offense, the Dawgs leading scorer and All-SEC performer, Trey Thompkins, did not convert a basket until one minute into the second half.  Thompkins struggled most of the night on the block, shooting only 6 of 15 from the floor and finishing with 13 points.  Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings had his bigs doubling on Thompkins in the paint at the beginning of the game, and this seemed to take Trey out of his rhythm.  Unfortunately for Georgia, he never really found it either.

Vanderbilt had two key runs in this game that seemed to seal Georgia’s fate.  The first came with 5:03 remaining before the break, when the Commodores went on a 12-2 run to go into halftime up 35-27.  During this five-minute span, the Dawgs went 0 for 9 from the field and looked pretty disorganized on offense.

The second big run for Vandy came in the second half with 11:12 left to play and Georgia trailing 50-44.  Using a barrage of Jenkins’ three’s, the Commodores were able to go on a 19-7 run that put them up 69-51 with only 5:31 left in the game (but for all intensive purposes, the game was already over).

Georgia’s Travis Leslie had the best game of his young career, scoring 34 points on 12 of 23 shooting from the floor.  He also brought down 6 rebounds (5 offensive) and tallied up 4 steals.  He almost single-handedly kept the Dawgs in the game for the first 30 minutes.

The Dawgs best opportunity to overtake Vanderbilt came in the second half with 15:24 remaining in the game.  Vanderbilt’s A.J. Ogilvy and Jeffrey Taylor were both on the bench with 3 fouls apiece.  The Dawgs were only down 42-38, yet they were not able to capitalize with the Vandy bigs on the bench in foul trouble.  The lead would never be as low as four points again in the game.

Honestly, the Dawgs looked pretty tired in the second half.  Most of the Georgia starters have played 30+ minutes a game for a majority of the season, and considering that this was their second game in as many days it might have taken a toll on their legs (except for Leslie’s) and their team defense.

Mark Fox’s first Georgia basketball team finishes the season at 14-17 overall.

Dawgs Lose in Overtime 96-94

Ricky McPhee knocked down a pair of free throws with 53 seconds left to put his Georgia Bulldogs up 74-68.  The Dawgs were less than a minute away from earning their first road win of the season, and against a Top 25 team at that.

But Vanderbilt’s senior point guard Jermaine Beal had other plans in mind.  Beal was able to get to the rim and finish on two lay-ups in merely 11 seconds, and following an Andre Walker three-pointer the Commodores were down only 77-75 with 24 ticks left.

The ‘Dores then fouled Dustin Ware, sending him to the line for two shots.

Ware missed them both.

A.J. Ogilvy tipped in a missed Beal shot on the other end, Leslie missed an out of control jumper and the game was going to overtime.

In overtime, Vandy built up a 92-86 lead with 28 seconds left, but Ware knocked down back-to-back three’s and the Dawgs actually ended up with Chris Barnes at the line shooting a free throw with the score 96-94.  Barnes intentionally missed the shot, and Ware was able to track down the offensive board…but with only 0.9 seconds left he had to toss up a near impossible shot that fell short (Leslie grabbed it out of the air and put it in but the buzzer had already sounded).

Had the Dawgs not suffered a defensive let-down in the game’s final 53 seconds, one could go so far as to say that they played a near perfect game.

Georgia shot 46.5% from the field and 47.6% from beyond the arc.  The Dawgs out-rebounded Vandy 35-32, and they only committed 10 turnovers.

The fact that Georgia was able to go into the half down only 5 was an accomplishment within itself.  Trey Thompkins picked up his second foul with 8:15 left in the half, and he didn’t see the floor again until after the break.

The Dawgs had five players score in double-figures, with Travis Leslie leading the way with 22 points, 10 rebounds and 5 assists (he also showed up on Sportscenter’s “Top Plays” once again).

The Dawgs are now 4-9 in the SEC, and 12-14 overall.

Mark Fox can add the Vandy game to his team’s collection of heartbreaking SEC losses that they have suffered this season – Ole Miss, Miss St, South Carolina and Arkansas.

It’s mind-boggling to think that Georgia has now lost 5 conference games this year by a total of 14 points.

Georgia has three games remaining on its schedule: Florida and Kentucky at home, and LSU at their place.

If the SEC Tournament were to start today, I’d have to say that I like the Dawgs seed.  Georgia would get Ole Miss in round one (a team that UGA had beat in Athens), and the winner of that game would play Vandy in round two.  Another bonus of having the East sixth seed  is that it keeps Georgia on the opposite side of the bracket from Kentucky.

Ok, that was my attempt to cheer everybody (including myself) up following last night’s nail-biter.

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?