Georgia spoils return of Michael Porter, Jr. in 62-60 win over Missouri

The final stretch of this game lasted a lifetime.  After building up a 55-46 lead with 8:24 left, Georgia (18-14) scored only 3 more field goals the rest of the contest as Missouri’s defense put the clamps on the Dawgs. It felt like things were slipping away.  Mizzou couldn’t finish a layup to take the lead with Georgia up 61-60.  Rayshaun Hammonds snagged the Tiger miss and was immediately fouled, but the freshman only hit 1 of 2 from the line.  Then, Claxton seemingly saved UGA’s season with an offensive board off the Hammonds miss, but unfortunately he couldn’t convert either of his free throws.

I’d seen this movie before. I knew this wouldn’t end well for Georgia. With 7 seconds left, Mizzou in-bounded the ball and got it exactly where they wanted it – in the hands of a wide-open Kassius Robertson, who’s made over 43% of his three-point shots this year.  This was the moment where Georgia was supposed to lose.

Instead, Robertson’s shot went long and the ball was batted around a few times before time expired.  Dawgs win.

Georgia advances in a game that not many people had them pegged winning.  For starters, it was basically a home game for the Tigers.  Also, in case you’ve been living in a cave the past 48 hours, freshman phenom Michael Porter, Jr. returned to take on Georgia this afternoon. He scored 12 points, but it came at the expense of a 5 for 17 shooting performance from the floor.  After not playing a minute since the first game of the year, Porter entered today’s game and took more shots than any other Tiger player.  His presence obviously altered the chemistry of Coach Martin’s team. Mizzou guards Robertson and Jordan Barnett, who combined for 30 points a night this season, scored a total of 10 points between them this afternoon.

The Porter brother that proved to be the biggest thorn in Georgia’s side was Jontay, who scored 20 points (12 of which came from beyond the arc).  I shudder to think how badly their high school team must have throttled the competition in Columbia the past few years.

Just an all around gutty effort by the Bulldogs.  Mizzou jumped on Georgia early as they built a 10-0 lead in a little over 5 minutes of game time.  UGA failed to wither, though. Rather, the Dawgs responded with a 19-2 run of their own and found themselves leading 19-12 with under 7 minutes left in the half following a jumper by Teshaun Hightower.  Georgia would hold Mizzou to just 24% from the floor prior to the break, and the Dawgs headed to the locker room with a 33-24 lead.

Hightower once again provided the Dawgs with a big spark off the bench.  The freshman scored 11 of his 13 points before the intermission; he also hauled in 7 rebounds.  Hightower is unafraid to take the ball to the basket, and it’s been a refreshing sight to see him scoring around the rim as UGA hasn’t gotten much of that kind of production from its backcourt this season.

Despite being hounded with double-teams all game, Yante Maten still logged a double-double as he scored 21 points and grabbed 10 rebounds.  Maten’s ability to draw contact on the inside was a big factor in both of Mizzou’s starting bigs – Kevin Puryear and Jeremiah Tillmon – fouling out.  Yante did struggle offensively over the final 2 minutes as he missed all 3 of his field goal attempts, but the Georgia big man did knock down a huge jumper from the wing on an in-bounds play that gave UGA a 61-57 advantage with 3:29 left.

Up next for Georgia is Kentucky, a team that Mark Fox has never beaten outside of Athens.  Should UGA manage another upset on Friday, they will certainly take a big step closer to the NCAA Tournament bubble.

mizz-ugauga-mizz

 

Dawgs outpace LSU 93-82 in Athens

 

After an abysmal midweek showing in Columbia against the Gamecocks, a rejuvenated group of Georgia Bulldogs – just 8 of them as opposed to 12 – unleashed a level of offense that hasn’t been witnessed this season.  Maybe the Dawgs were inspired by their absence from the FBI investigation that has become the massive scandal that is currently consuming college basketball?  That might be a stretch. Whatever the case, Georgia (16-12, 7-9) scored 93 points, the most they’ve scored all season in a game, and earned a must-win victory over the LSU Tigers.

The UGA offense certainly looked different from what we’ve been accustomed to this season.  The Dawgs pushed the ball up the court and actually got shots up early in the possession.  Teshaun Hightower, who was this week’s new starter, did a particularly good job of keeping Georgia playing at a faster tempo.  Georgia took 61 shots from the floor, which marked just the 2nd time this season that UGA has had more than 60 field goal attempts in an SEC contest.  And Georgia didn’t have one of its hallmark scoring droughts, to the delight of both Mark Fox and the fan base.

The Dawgs were able to get the ball into Yante Maten on the block before the Tigers were completely set on defense, which resulted in a lot of one-on-one opportunities for Maten, who played absolutely fantastic on the afternoon.  Maten finished with 27 points, 11 rebounds and 6 blocks, and he looked like an NBA player as he had LSU’s Duop Reath playing on skates.  Maten got whatever he wanted around the rim, and he had several really nice jumpers from the wing in which he jab-stepped at the defender before pulling up for the shot.  Maten’s aggressiveness got Reath in foul trouble, and the LSU big, who averages nearly 13 points a night, scored only 1 point in this one.

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Of course, it didn’t hurt that the Tigers’ defense was basically nonexistent.  LSU either chose to not double Maten, or the the double was slow to converge.  The Tiger press was incredibly soft, which might have been the result of poor execution, or it could have just been by design.  LSU routinely had 4 defenders below the free throw line on its press, giving Georgia a number of 3-on-2 and 2-on-1 opportunities at the rim once they got the ball across half court.  The Dawgs had 15 fast break points.  I’d wager that’s the most points they’ve gotten off the break in an SEC game this season.  Rayshaun Hammonds, who scored a career-high 21 points, was a benefactor of all that fast-breaking.  The freshman scored the majority of his points around the rim or at the free throw line, and he is finally starting to show some of that aggressiveness on offense that was on display at the start of the season.

It wasn’t all sunshine and roses for the Dawgs, however.  Georgia’s backcourt struggled to stay in front of the Tiger perimeter players as they moved the ball into the paint (where they got 34 points) with relative ease.  UGA also gave the ball away 16 times, and the Tigers converted those turnovers into 20 points. Georgia’s perimeter shooting was atrocious. The Dawgs hit just 2 of 16 from beyond the arc in the first half, and they finished the game 5 of 22 on triples. Luckily, there were lots of other ways to score against LSU’s porous defense that the ineffective shooting from the outside didn’t really hurt UGA that badly.

Although I find it bizarre that Georgia does not have a set starting five with 3 games left in the regular season, hats off to Mark Fox for going with what he feels like are his best 8 players.  At this point in the season, teams should not be playing 10 to 12 guys as Georgia has been unless you are running some fashion of a “40 minutes of hell” up and down type game, which UGA clearly is not.  Despite what Coach Fox said at his press conference following the wins against Florida and Tennessee, it’s not that I don’t like players like Mike Edwards and E’Torrian Wilridge. I just like it better when they are sitting on the bench.  With Jordan Harris apparently done for the year, I’d say the 8 guys that got all the minutes yesterday are the top players on this roster, and hopefully they continue to garner the lion’s share of court time.

Entering yesterday’s contest, Georgia had 6 quadrant 1 (Q1) wins, which tied them with 10 other teams in the country.  There were only 5 other teams in the nation with more Q1 wins.  Despite UGA’s less than stellar record, the Dawgs have a significant number of Q1 wins.  Although, in beating LSU, the Dawgs might have cost themselves one of those Q1 wins as the Tigers’ RPI will likely go below 75, and that would negate Georgia’s Q1 win in Baton Rouge earlier in the year.  Not to worry, the Dawgs have another Q1 opportunity this Wednesday when they host Texas A&M on Senior Night.

Box score:

uga lsulsu georgia

 

 

 

UGA bounces back with a 61-60 road win at LSU

The boxscore

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The ending

Georgia seniors Juwan Parker and Yante Maten both made incredibly important baskets for their team down the stretch of this game.  Parker, who finished with 9 points, calmly buried a three-pointer from the top of the key to put the Dawgs on top 59-58 with only 57 seconds remaining. However, LSU pushed the ball down the court and quickly found Duop Reath on the baseline, where he connected on a jumper that reclaimed the lead for the Tigers to make it 60-59 with just 41 seconds on the clock.  The ensuing possession for UGA resulted in a three-pointer from the corner by Teshaun Hightower (which we will get to later) that missed, but fortunately for Georgia, Parker was able to corral the offensive rebound and get a timeout. Coming out of the timeout, Coach Mark Fox had his team go to its bread and butter, Maten, and he delivered with a nice one-handed shot in the middle of the lane amongst multiple LSU defenders.  With Georgia up 61-60, LSU’s Tremont Waters had only a little over 5 seconds to get the ball down the court to hoist up a long three that missed the mark, and the Dawgs snuck out of Baton Rouge with a critical SEC road win.

Let’s talk a little bit more about that final 3:16

Coming out of the final media timeout, the Bulldogs led briefly – 56-55 – before Brandon Sampson hit a triple to make it 58-56 Tigers with 2:59 remaining.  For much of the second half, Georgia had made a concerted effort to get the ball inside to Maten, who delivered as he scored 17 of his game-high 21 points after the break.  Logic would lead one to think that Maten would see multiple touches over Georgia’s final series of possessions, yet that was not the case.  Over the next 6 trips down the court, the only time the ball wound up in Maten’s hands was the last UGA possession in which he made the game-winner.  As mentioned above, Parker took one as well (and connected).  The other 4 Georgia shots were attempted by none other than freshman Teshaun Hightower, who was clearly enjoying his first start of the season.  During this stretch of game, Hightower attempted 3 three-pointers, and he missed all three; though, that’s not terribly surprising considering he’s now 4 for 22 on the year from beyond the arc.  He did have a nice steal and wound up at the free throw line, but he couldn’t convert those shots either (Hightower was 1 for 6 from the charity stripe on the night and is now shooting only 40% from the line on the season).  Hightower did have several strong drives earlier in the game. He also did an excellent job of making life difficult on LSU’s leading scorer, Tremont Waters, who finished with just 6 points (0 in the second half), which is more than 10 points lower than his scoring average.  But the freshman has to realize that this team needs him to do three things: defend well, push the ball and find ways to get it inside to Maten and Derek Ogbeide.  For now, that’s about it.

Offensive adjustments

Georgia’s first half of offense looked a lot like a continuation from the South Carolina and Missouri games.  LSU pressed out of made baskets, which forced UGA into taking a lot of shots late in the possession.  In the half court, the Tigers pushed up hard on their man defense, which caused the Georgia guards to struggle to get the offensive sets started.  It’s kind of scary how easy it is to defend UGA sometimes; Georgia’s guards can really struggle to create separation and perform as catalysts for the offense when faced with just a bit of pressure.  The Dawgs shot under 41% from the floor prior to the break, and they hit only 1 of 9 from beyond the arc.  Georgia trailed 34-24 at the half; they weren’t even on pace to match their SEC average of 62 points, which is the lowest output in the league.

Georgia made 5 of its first 8 field goals of the second half during the first 15 seconds of the possession.

Coming out of halftime, however, UGA briefly reinvented itself and actually pushed the ball down the court on consecutive possessions.  Georgia made 5 of its first 8 field goals of the second half during the first 15 seconds of the possession.  The result: UGA took a 44-41 lead with 12:19 left in the game following a three-pointer by Jordan Harris.  After scoring just 24 points the entire first half, the Dawgs had already tallied 20 in less than 8 minutes.  Considering that Georgia has been the worst offense in the league through 5 SEC games, maybe it’s time for Fox to consider employing this strategy (playing more up tempo) more often?

Second chances

LSU has been the worst rebounding team in the SEC during league play so far this season.  The Tigers have a rebounding margin of -5.4, which means they are basically being out-rebounded every single night.  Last night was no different, as the Dawgs won the battle of the boards by a tally of 25-21.  While UGA only registered 4 more rebounds than the Tigers, probably the most important place where the Dawgs won the glass was on the offensive end, where Georgia pulled down 13 rebounds.  Those boards led to 17 second-chance points for Coach Mark Fox’s team; LSU had just 5.  After yielding 18 offensive rebounds to South Carolina last Saturday, it was refreshing to see UGA give an opponent a similar treatment.

Up next

Georgia heads to The Plains this Saturday night to take on #17 Auburn, a team that is currently on a 14-game win streak.  The Tigers are 4-0 in SEC play, and their RPI is sitting at 7.

UGA basketball by the numbers

Below is a collection of defensive and offensive statistics that Georgia has accumulated so far this season.  They may or may not paint a picture of this team.  Without further adieu, here they are:

DEFENSE

65.6

The number of points that UGA is allowing on defense a night.  The Dawgs are 38th in the nation in this statistical category.

6.7

Georgia’s rebounding margin over its opponents so far this year.  UGA is 33rd in the the country in this category.

38.4%

The field goal percentage that the Dawgs are limiting their opponents to this season, which is 13th best in the nation.

10.4

The number of turnovers that UGA is causing its opposition to make a night.  There are 348 teams that are currently doing this better than the Dawgs.

OFFENSE

6.2

The number of three-pointers that Georgia is making per game; there are 301 teams making more per night than UGA.  However, this number isn’t terribly surprising since Coach Mark Fox seems to have an unwritten rule that no team of his shall have more than two legitimate three-point threats.

347

The total number of free throw attempts that the Dawgs have hoisted up this season. They aren’t getting to the charity stripe at the rate that UGA was when Charles Mann was playing, but Georgia is in the top third nationally in this category.

23.1%

The percentage of points that Georgia is getting from the free throw line; the Dawgs rank 21st in this category nationally.

43.8%

UGA’s field goal percentage, which is 223rd best in the country.

 

4.9

The average margin that UGA goes into the half up by each game.  The Dawgs are only +1.2 points in 2nd half margin.  I suppose they’re a first-half team (see recent Missouri game).

55.9

The number of FG attempts that Georgia gets up per game.  It’s quite a low volume (273rd in country), though not that shocking considering the pace that UGA plays at.

-1.3

The number of extra scoring chances that the Dawgs are getting per game. This stat is calculated by: Offensive Rebounds + Opponent Turnovers – Opponent Offensive Rebounds – Turnovers.  Teams typically get the same number of possessions, but through rebounding, ball handling, and pressure defense, one team can gain more true scoring chances than the other.

7

The number of double-doubles that Yante Maten has already logged this season.

 

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?

UGA improves to 8-2 overall with 80-59 win over Georgia Tech

It was over when…

Georgia had a poor stretch of play with a little over 10 minutes remaining in the game in which they turned the ball over on 4 consecutive possessions.  Prior to this run of sloppiness, UGA held a 59-45 advantage over the Jackets.  Despite the Dawgs’ willingness to give the ball away, Tech failed to capitalize; they got it down to 59-50, but then Georgia started attacking the rim again and getting to the free throw line.  With 4:50 left, Yante Maten capped off an 11-3 run with a pair of free throws to make it 70-53 in Georgia’s favor.

Welcome back offense

After taking the day off last Saturday in Amherst, Georgia’s offense came back to life on Tuesday night in Athens.  Other than the aforementioned stretch of turnovers, the only other real moment of struggle for the Dawgs offensively came right at the start of the game when the Jackets showed a little junk press in which their guards trapped the ball-handler.  Georgia seemed a bit caught off guard by the full-court Tech pressure, and after a few hurried shots, the Jackets had built up a 7-3 lead.  But that didn’t last long as UGA took a 20-17 advantage on a Juwan Parker three-pointer less than 9 minutes into the contest, and the Dawgs would hold onto that lead for the remainder of the game.

Honestly, it was hard to believe that this UGA team was the same one that I watched play just a few day ago against UMass, in a game in which Georgia failed to establish any sort of offensive rhythm.  Against Tech, Georgia’s offense was  firing on all cylinders.  Jackets’ Coach Josh Pastner started his team off in a 1-3-1 zone in the half court set, and UGA did an excellent job of attacking the soft spots in the zone.  Both Turtle Jackson and Juwan Parker had nice drives in which they attracted multiple defenders and then found Derek Ogbeide underneath for several easy baskets.  Maten made a beautiful pass from the elbow to a cutting Rayshaun Hammonds, who finished with an uncontested dunk.  I loved seeing Hammonds, who ended up with 11 points, slide into the lane when Yante received the ball on the high post – hopefully the Dawgs will run more of this action going forward as it is a great use of Hammonds’ size.

Pastner’s most confounding coaching move of the game though had to be his decision to play Maten one-on-one.  I only remember one UGA possession in which Yante was doubled on the block.  Pastner has to regret how he attempted to defend Maten because the SEC POY torched the Jackets for 24 points on a 9 for 13 shooting effort.  Yante hit an uncontested three-pointer and then a jumper from just inside the arc on the subsequent possession that made it 36-32 UGA with under a minute before the break.  It almost felt like Tech had done zero prep on Maten, because anyone who’s watched the senior play this season knows that Yante needs to be doubled in the paint, and he should not be left alone at the top of the key, where his jumper is quite lethal.

Georgia’s offensive numbers were downright gaudy: 58% from the floor, 47% from 3PT and 17 team assists.  Following the intermission, UGA shot a scorching 71% from the floor.

No second chance points for Jackets

To be fair, Georgia only got 6 second chance points themselves, but that was because the Dawgs just weren’t missing shots.  Tech, however, finished with only 5 second chance points, and that was due to Georgia’s bigs successfully limiting the Jackets to just one opportunity per trip down the court.

The Dawgs definitely appeared more alert defensively last night than they were against UMass on Saturday.  Georgia contested nearly all of the Jackets’ three-point attempts and held them to just 2 of 13 from that range.  Leading scorer Josh Okogie scored 21 points, but he had a hard time getting there as he made only 5 of his 16 shots.

The only player that UGA couldn’t hold down was senior point guard Tadric Jackson, who did most of his damage in the first half, where he scored 13 of his 17 points.  Similarly to other opposing point guards this season, Jackson faced little resistance from Georgia’s backcourt and got the ball into the lane with relative ease.  At this point, the Dawgs really don’t have a guard that can lock down a strong ball-handler, and I’m not sure who on this UGA roster can fill that role.

Concluding thoughts

This win had to be a huge relief for Coach Fox, his team and the UGA fan base.  After last weekend’s debacle, I’m sure everyone was a little on edge coming into this rivalry game.  Considering that Tech had an RPI of 235 as of Tuesday, Georgia had little room for error as a loss to the Jackets might have pulverized any NCAA Tournament hopes that the Dawgs were harboring.  But credit UGA – they cleaned up both sides of the ball and won easily for the second year in a row against their in-state rival.

Georgia returns to action this Friday with a great RPI opportunity when they host the Temple Owls (RPI 10).

Georgia squeaks by USC Upstate

The USC Upstate Spartans’ scheme on Tuesday was rather simple: (1) get up as many three-pointers on offense has humanly possible and (2) sit in a packed in zone defense and force the opposition to beat them from the outside.

On Tuesday night, the Spartans, a team that had shot over 30 three’s in its first two games, hoisted up 36 attempts from beyond the arc.  To be fair, Upstate started and played with four guards for pretty much the whole game, which is probably also why the undersized Spartans were content to play zone against the Dawgs to try to minimize Georgia’s size advantage in the paint.

Unfortunately, UGA played an undisciplined game offensively, and it almost resulted in a horrific home loss.  I suppose the Dawgs got jealous of the outside shots that Upstate was taking, and they just couldn’t resist shooting a few themselves as Mark Fox’s team put up 22 three-pointers in this contest (making  only 5 of them).  Shooting three’s was exactly what Upstate wanted Georgia to do; it’s why they played zone for most of the night.  For whatever reason, UGA seemed reluctant to pound the ball into the paint and punish the smaller Atlantic Sun team, and rather, the Dawgs obliged the Upstate game plan.

Georgia’s futility on the offensive side of the ball almost cost them dearly as the Spartans took their first lead of the game with 13:02 left on a three by Deion Holmes.  Upstate would lead for nearly the next 8 minutes until Rayshaun Hammonds seized momentum back for the Dawgs when he knocked down a corner three to put his team on top 60-59.  The freshman scored on a fast break on the ensuing possession, which gave UGA a 62-59 advantage with 3:39 remaining.  Georgia managed to slowly pull away from that point, and they would end up with the 74-65 home win.

Hammonds had another solid outing as he netted 13 points and nabbed 7 boards.  William “Turtle” Jackson also finished in double-figures as he scored a career high 13 points to go along with 4 assists.  Turtle has now hit 4 three-pointers through two games, and he’s looking like the team’s most consistent outside threat in the early going.

Georgia’s defense wasn’t the problem in this one as the Dawgs held Upstate to 65 points, which marked its lowest output of the season.  UGA limited the Spartans to under 37% from the floor and just 27% from beyond the arc.  The Dawgs played primarily man defense with Coach Fox mixing in some 2-3 and matchup zones.  For the most part, though, Georgia followed the scouting report and contested the perimeter to make it more difficult for USC Upstate to get clean looks.

UGA jumped on Upstate early as they started the game with a 13-2 run that was capped off by a three-pointer from Yante Maten, who notched his second double-double in as many games as he scored 22 points and grabbed 14 boards.  Coach Fox’s offense went moderately stagnant over the next 16 minutes as they settled for too many outside shots, which enabled the Spartans to go into the intermission trailing by a scored of 34-30.

The Dawgs came out of the break and took their first five shots from inside the paint; UGA made 4 of those attempts and found themselves up 42-33 after a Mike Edwards layup with over 17 minutes left in the game.  Georgia didn’t stick with this strategy of going inside, though, and Fox’s team made only 1 of their 9 second half three-point attempts.

The Spartans had four players end up in double-figures with Mike Cunningham and Malik Moore leading the way with 16 points apiece.

The Dawgs return to action on Sunday to continue this early season stretch down Murder’s Row as they play host to Texas A&M – Corpus Christi inside The Steg at 1pm.

 

Dawgs coast to 79-54 win over hapless Bryant

For nearly 12 minutes, the Bryant Bulldogs had the look of a team that did not fly all the way from Rhode Island just to lay down for Mark Fox’s team.  With 8:25 left before the break, Bryant trailed 22-13 after leading scorer Adam Grant (24 points) connected on a three.  That was the closest the other Bulldogs would get for the remainder of the evening, though, as Georgia went on an 18-4 run to finish out the first twenty minutes of play that enabled them to take a 40-17 lead at the half.

This run was fueled by 8 points from junior guard William “Turtle” Jackson, who poked his head out and notched all 11 of his points before the intermission (9 of which came from beyond the arc).

Georgia’s man defense suffocated Bryant on Friday as they held the Bulldogs to just 17% from the field for the first half (they finished the night slightly above 25%).   UGA used its superior length to make Bryant uncomfortable, which led to a lot of hurried shots form the outside by the Bulldogs.  Bryant attempted an astounding 31 shots from the three-point line, yet they connected on just 8 of them. However, it was hard to blame the smaller Bulldogs for looking for points from the perimeter as the Dawgs swatted 10 of their shots on the night, with Yante Maten and Nicolas Claxton leading the way with 4 and 3 blocks, respectively (one of Claxton’s rejections was so forceful it shot up into the 4th row of the lower level).

While the Dawgs primarily played half court defense for the majority of the night, Fox did provide a glimpse of a full-court press that could (and should) be employed more down the road: Mike Edwards defended the ball and then trapped on the side where the ball was inbounded.  The result: one steal and a deflected pass. With Edwards’s size and athleticism, this spot on the press could be a nice little defensive niche for him.

Offensively, I loved the sets where Maten received the ball at the high post.  He would give it to the guard on his side of the court, screen on the ball and then work into a little two man game as he rolled off the pick.  Maten had a solid first outing as he notched a double-double and scored a team-high 21 points to go along with 12 rebounds.  Georgia consistently pounded the ball inside to Maten where he took advantage of the helpless Bryant defenders.

Probably the biggest bright spot of the night for Coach Fox was the play of freshman Rayshaun Hammonds, who netted 17 points and snagged 7 boards.  He looked good doing it, too.  Hammonds scored effortlessly close to the basket, and he had several nice buckets from the wing in which he took his defender off the dribble; and he made a three-pointer.  Hammonds could potentially be a key contributor to replacing J.J. Frazier’s points from a year ago.

While UGA fans and players obviously shouldn’t read too much into a win over an opponent that ESPN ranked 298th in the country before the season, it was nice to see Georgia throttle a team that was clearly less talented. I’ve definitely taken in more than a few early season games in which it took nearly 30 minutes for the Dawgs to put away an inferior mid-major team.  Tonight, that was not the case.  Georgia shut this team down early and walked away with a 79-54 victory, which makes the Dawgs a perfect 1-0 on the year.

UGA basketball preview

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Maten made over 48% of his 3PT attempts a year ago.

While UGA’s football team is currently in the midst of its best start since 2005, college basketball is just around the corner, so a bye week for the football Dawgs felt like the perfect opportunity to start talking some Georgia basketball.

Last season served as a breakthrough for the SEC in regards to its basketball prestige as the conference sent 5 teams to the NCAA Tournament, with 3 of those teams reaching the Elite 8.  Had Kentucky not lost at the buzzer to UNC, half of the Final Four would have been represented by SEC teams (with South Carolina being the other).  College basketball analysts are no longer discrediting the league as merely a “football conference”; CBS Sports posited over the summer that the SEC could get as many as 7 teams in this season’s  Big Dance.

Which brings me to Georgia.  The 2017-2018 campaign will mark year 9 of head coach Mark Fox’s 10-year plan.  In my humble opinion, UGA basketball has reached the point where it must reach the NCAA Tournament for this season to be considered a success, or the Dawgs might need to look elsewhere for leadership.  Last year’s team returned to the NIT only to be torched at home by the Belmont Bruins.  A similar conclusion to this year’s season is simply unacceptable.

Here are some reasons to be optimistic about Georgia’s chances of dancing in March:

Yante Maten. Yante Maten. Yante Maten.

Maten was named Co-SEC Player of the Year in the league’s preseason awards, and he was recently added to the watch list for the Karl Malone Award, which is given annually to the nation’s top power forward.  There’s a reason for this: Yante Maten should be hard to guard this year.  ESPN projects Maten will average 19.6 ppg, or the 4th highest scoring average in the nation.  Last season, Maten was virtually unstoppable when he received the ball in one-on-one situations in the paint, and I expect this season to be no different.  He also developed a three-point shot from the top of the key that connected over 48% of the time, and rumor has it that Maten can now make it from other parts of the perimeter as well.

Most likely, teams are going to use zone and help defense to double Maten as much as possible when he gets the ball on the block.  The benefactors of such an approach will be Derek Ogbeide and Rayshaun Hammonds, both of whom should serve as viable outlets for Maten when defenses collapse on him.  Ogbeide’s numbers have trended up since his freshman season, going from 4 points a game to over 7; this year Derek could easily average close to 10 a game, and he should be able to put up a number of double-doubles considering his rebounding prowess.  Hammonds, a 4-star recruit from Gwinnett County, should be able to contribute immediately on offense, especially since opposing teams will be forced to dedicate so much attention to Maten.

Another reason that the Dawgs could land an at-large bid is that their SEC schedule is quite favorable.  While UGA does start the conference slate with a New Year’s Eve road game in Lexington, they fortunately only have to play Kentucky once.  Georgia plays Texas A&M, Arkansas, Alabama, Vanderbilt and Missouri just once apiece as well; all of these teams were projected to finish ahead of UGA in the conference standings.  The Dawgs get two games each with both Tennessee and LSU, both of whom are expected to be SEC bottom dwellers this year.  Georgia also plays both South Carolina and Auburn twice, and while the Gamecocks and the Tigers will certainly be tough outs, it could be worse: Florida has to play Kentucky, Vanderbilt and Alabama both home and away.

Speaking of Florida, the Gators should be strong again this season as they return three starters from last year’s team, which was just a few possessions away from reaching the Final Four.  The Dawgs do play the Gators in both Athens and Gainesville this season, but that is Georgia’s only home-and-away matchup where UGA could be underdogs in both games.

Here are a few reasons as to why Georgia may go back to the NIT:

Losing J.J. Frazier is going to hurt.  Badly.  Frazier averaged over 18 points a game last season, or 26% of Georgia’s offense. He was the catalyst that got everything going. Frazier had the ability to completely take over a game on offense as he could score from both the perimeter and around the bucket.

Tyree Crump and Jordan Harris played sporadically as freshmen; they are going to be relied upon heavily as sophomores.  I expect both of these youngsters to show improvement on the offensive side of the ball, but I’m not so sure that either of them is ready to start scoring in double-figures.  Juwan Parker developed a midrange game last season that saw him average over 9 points a game. Parker could put up similar numbers this year, but it seems unlikely that he will score too much more since his offensive game is somewhat limited.  My biggest fear regarding the UGA guards situation is that Crump and Harris will yield too many minutes to Turtle Jackson, whom Fox may play more since he tends to be loyal to his upperclassmen.

If Georgia’s backcourt can’t find a way to make up for the departure of Frazier, the Dawgs may struggle to score over 70 points per contest as they did a year ago.  While Maten was predicted to get 19.5 a night by ESPN this year, it should be noted that that is just one point more than he netted last season.  Maten was great last season, and he should be great again this year, but when you start getting more than 18 points and nearly 7 boards a game, there’s not a lot of room for improvement on those already impressive numbers.

Fox will need either Crump, Harris or both to score in double-digits if this team doesn’t want to experience a drop-off on offense.

My prediction: Georgia goes 22-11 and earns an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.

 

Yante Maten returns for senior season and in the process saves Mark Fox’s job

If Yante Maten had decided to forgo his senior year of basketball at the University of Georgia, the Dawgs would be heading into next season looking to replace 39 points per game, or over 54% of its offense.  Without Yante manning the paint, the over/under on conference wins for UGA would probably be somewhere in the neighborhood of 6.

Even with Maten in the lineup, this year’s team was 6-7 in SEC games prior to his knee injury at the start of the Kentucky contest in Athens; the Dawgs finished 9-9 overall in league games.

At this point, Mark Fox would have a tough time surviving a losing season in the SEC.  While I wasn’t privy to the conversation between Fox and AD Greg McGarrity when they discussed the coach’s 10-year plan for the UGA basketball program, I cannot imagine that “losing more SEC games than you win” in year 9 was on the original agenda.  Maten’s decision to come back to Athens for one last go around should be enough of a boost to keep the Dawgs in the middle the pack in the conference, which is probably good enough to keep Fox’s position safe.

While UGA fans should breath a sense of relief over Maten’s commitment to the G, Georgia is going to have to make up for the 18+ points that J.J. Frazier scored per game.  Frazier and Maten were both named First Team All-SEC players at the end of this season, and the team failed to reach the NCAA tournament due to a lack of quality wins.  Both of these players have been working out for several NBA teams over the past two weeks, yet the Dawgs were ousted from the first round of the postseason NIT by the Belmont Bruins.  Georgia couldn’t earn an NCAA berth with Frazier.  How will they get into the tournament without him?

Before you tell me that Juwan Parker, Derek Ogbeide, Turtle Jackson, Tyree Crump, Jordan Harris and E’Torrian Wilridge are all returning and that 4-star recruit Rayshaun Hammonds will soon be on campus, I want to remind everyone about the team from two years ago that also did not make the NCAA Tournament:  J.J. Frazier (Jr.), Kenny Gaines (Sr.), Charles Mann (Sr.), Yante Maten (Soph) and Derek Ogbeide (Fr).  The 2015-2016 team was even more talented than last year’s squad, and yet they too failed to make the NCAA’s.  The 2017-2018 Dawgs will feature the same frontcourt as the team from two years ago, but how will this season’s backcourt compare to Frazier, Gaines and Mann?

Maten’s return to the team certainly makes the Dawgs a far more competitive SEC team than they were a week ago.  But does Georgia have enough firepower in its arsenal to improve upon last year’s 9-9 showing?  Personally, I don’t think that they do.  However, given Mark Fox’s track record of playing upperclassmen early and often, fans may not get the chance to find out what the young guys can actually do.