Since 1995 - Insightful commentary on the Georgia Bulldogs

Post The go-to guy

Thursday December 22, 2005

Georgia’s basketball team was very close to knocking off a Top 20 team three time zones away last night. Repeat that a few times and let it sink in.

I’m so happy, and it’s such progress, to be talking about nuances instead of just hoping we find a way to break 40. I could dwell on foul shots or freshmen mistakes, but they all add up to something bigger.

Georgia lacks a go-to guy, and it’s going to continue to hurt them in close games.

Marginal players get points every now and then. Good players get their points more consistently and don’t talk halves off. But the real difference-makers get their points when their team needs them most – on those half-dozen possessions or so in each game where you either must answer a score on the other end or take advantage of a mistake and go for the jugular.

I’ve thought about Georgia football’s running game in this context for most of the season. It’s nice if you can run for 200 yards a game, but what does that really mean if you can’t be counted on to convert the 3rd and 2 to sustain the key drive?

Last night, there wasn’t a single person you’d want to have the ball at the end. Stukes and Toney were non-factors all night. Mercer was erratic. Gaines isn’t a consistent enough shooter. Humphrey had cooled down considerably. The posts were worn down and ineffective. Idrissi was the closest thing Georgia had to a go-to guy, and he’s not ready for that role yet. And none of them could hit a free throw.

Contrast that with Nevada’s Nick Fazekas. Fazekas finished with a double-double, but it’s four critical points that made the difference in the game. With the game still very much in question and around four minutes to play, Fazekas twice got separation inside and got two significant consecutive baskets. It had been eons since either team had a two-possession lead, but Nevada’s go-to guy gave them just enough separation to get the upper-hand in the game and force Georgia to make plays on the offensive end, and Georgia wasn’t up to it. “He had two big-time plays that deflated us,” said Coach Felton, and that’s exactly what this kind of player brings to the table: the huge basket or defensive play that takes a mental toll on the opponent.

The good news is that Georgia has too much talent for a more dependable option not to emerge. It’s just a matter of who and when. In the shorter term, it could be a guard such as Humphrey. He’s not there yet. It’s great to get a slew of three-pointers in the first half, but that shot needs to be there with two minutes left and down a possession or two. Improvement on his game inside the arc can help prevent him from becoming a streaky one-trick pony like so many long-range specialists. He is big and quick enough, and his outside shot is enough of a threat, that he should be able to penetrate to the elbow and either knock down the midrange jumper or pass. I think that’s what we had hoped to see from Levi Stukes at this point in his career, but he continues to play hot and cold from game to game.

Jarvis Hayes of course was the consummate go-to guy at Georgia, and players like him haven’t come along too often in Athens. Some guys like Rashad Wright develop in that role as their careers progress. Given this much talent getting this much playing time and doing relatively well already with solid coaching, I have to believe that Georgia will find their Robert Horry who is clutch and money and often unstoppable during the crucial final four minutes of a game.

We know now that Georgia is good enough to expect to play in a lot of close and competitive games as this season wears on. The difference between winning and losing those close games will be just this kind of player. Nevada had one…at least one. Most postseason-quality SEC teams will have one. Georgia doesn’t have that guy yet, and that might make for a very frustrating season as a team that shows a lot of promise comes up just short in several games. But if someone – or a small group of regulars – can become that consistent second-half option, look out.

Post Lady Dogs struggling

Tuesday December 20, 2005

Temple had lost two straight to Florida and Stony Brook. The only way I’m familiar with Stony Brook is that it’s on the Long Island RailRoad right after the Port Jeff station, so we’d go by it all the time on our way into NYC.

Anyway, Temple got it together after some time off and beat Georgia in Philly on a buzzer-beating three-pointer in overtime.

Usually talk turns to Georgia’s frontcourt, but this was an all-around loss. On offense, the guards were ineffective, especially from outside. On the boards, Georgia was outrebounded. We know that teams are going to pack in on Humphrey. Despite that, Tasha had another incredible game. But that strategy also creates chances outside for the guards, and they did a poor job Monday shooting in the 20s from outside.

On defense, Georgia’s 2-3 zone was supposed to force the game outside, where Temple is weak. The result was a game to Temple’s liking – low-scoring and played in the halfcourt. Georgia was deadly when they could force turnovers (points off turnovers was about 10-0 in favor of Georgia), but the passive nature of the zone kept those transition chances down. Besides that, Temple’s top two scorers were post players, so the zone wasn’t as effective as hoped. Temple had decent success penetrating the zone and passing.

Where to begin? It was certainly not the best night for the guards. It’s said that Humphrey’s play controls the fortunes of the team, but it remains more accurate that the team will play as its senior guards do. The Lady Dogs have survived slow nights from Humphrey, but they have not overcome outages from the guards. Kendrick, battling an ankle injury, was ineffective and did not score from the floor. Baker, with a sprained knuckle, was 6-18 from the floor. The two combined for four assists and seven turnovers, and they were a non-factor from the perimeter.

Georgia’s last offensive series was telling. Georgia had the ball in a tie game with about 4 seconds separating the shot and game clock. Humphrey had been dominant in the second half, and Temple’s top two post players had fouled out. So of course Humphrey doesn’t touch the ball. Instead, Kendrick, who had not made a field goal from the floor all night, tries to drive the baseline and is denied with well over ten seconds remaining for Temple to set up the winning shot.

I like that Kendrick wants the ball. Against Santa Clara earlier in the season, she had another rough night but sunk a dead-on runner at the buzzer for her only field goal of the night to win the game. You want your senior point guard to have that confidence. But you also expect the senior to recognize the situation and, given time and a chance to set up an offensive play, find the hot hand instead of freelancing and rushing the shot. You also expect her coach to emphasize that point.

Cori Chambers and Megan Darrah are in tough spots. Both were planning on doing damage from the wing this year, and they find themselves defacto post players. Darrah especially is challenged. She has been placed in the power forward position, and she is having a tough time getting rebounds and defending the post. But there are no other options – Bostice can only give a few minutes, and the light hasn’t come on for freshman Danielle Taylor yet.

With all that was deficient last night, we were still in overtime with a Top 25 team on their court. That tiny moral consolation isn’t much, especially when contrasted with the hopes for this season. Still, we know this team can do some nice things. It reminds me of the 2004 men’s team – there was a solid starting lineup good enough to beat a Final Four Tech team and UK twice but which also lost several games it should have won because the margin of error was so slight. The Lady Dogs have more relative talent in the lineup than that men’s team, so they should win more games and make the tournament, but there are going to be some more nights like the Temple loss ahead, especially with the tough SEC this season.

Post And the beat(down) goes on

Thursday December 8, 2005

When asked whether Georgia’s nationally-ranked football team, nationally-ranked women’s basketball team, or the young men’s basketball team which lost by nearly 40 in Atlanta last year would stand the best chance of delivering a sound beating to Georgia Tech, not many people would have picked Dennis Felton’s squad.

But while the football and women’s hoops teams survived nailbiters against their North Avenue counterparts, the men’s basketball team decided to give us a nice, solid rout to keep us warm until the spring sports. The Dawgs took control of a back-and-forth game, built a double-digit lead in the first half, and maintained it against against a few second-half Tech pushes.

Even though the Steg wasn’t sold out, the crowd was vocal and into the game as you’d expect when Tech is in town. Kudos to the students in the nerd outfits. Beyond the outfits (wait ’til Florida comes to town), this group has more importantly been behind the program since Felton got on campus, and they are a fixture now.

Georgia maintains an important advantage over Tech with the win. The Dawgs are now 7-4 against Tech since the series went home-and-home for the 1995-1996 season. Georgia has won all six meetings in Athens. Given that the glory years of Tech hoops were roughly from 1985 into the early 1990s, they had been dominant while the series was in “neutral” Atlanta. No longer. Hewitt will continue to recruit well, and Tech will improve, but Felton is now 2-1 over the Jackets, and his program is also on the rise. Tech’s recent trips to the NCAA Tournament and Final Four make it seem strange for Georgia to claim that it is the premiere program in the state, but the head-to-head results over a decade tell another story.

After last season, there’s so much to be excited about, but let’s start with the obvious: Georgia can score. So long as they’re not attempting a free throw, the Dawgs can put the ball in the basket. Georgia’s offensive output last year frequently resembled totals from the era of the “Four Corners” offense. Dennis Felton preached intense defense, and he had to with a team struggling to put more points on the board than your typical PAC 10 football team.

So with an infusion of freshmen, Georgia suddenly has something that resembles a frontcourt and depth. Talented shooting guards no longer have to do everything from bring the ball up the court to parking the team bus. A cold hand no longer means a 12-minute scoring drought; someone else just starts scoring. Role players can be role players and do not need double-doubles every night in order for the team to be competitive. It was enjoyable to see Felton turn to his bench without having to hope the guy just didn’t screw anything up.

What am I saying? The foundation for a complete team is here. There are guards who can handle the ball and distribute. There are guards who can shoot from Winterville. There are posts who can bang, posts who can leap, and posts who can defend. We saw all of this promise last night.

With that promise, and with the hunger all of us have to see the Dawgs back on top, I can’t help but think immediately of the top areas where improvement will really turn this bunch into something dangerous.

  • Posts: It’s as simple and as complex as hands. Georgia’s big men surely made their presence known, esepcially on the defensive end. They shut down Ra’Sean Dickey, who had a huge game at Michigan State. They made it so that the vast majority of Tech’s offense came from the wing (Morrow’s and Smith’s performances do create a bit of concern for the Georgia defense). Yet for all they did well, Georgia was soundly outrebounded. Loose balls and blocked shots ended up in the hands of more assertive Tech players. It wasn’t until late and Dave Bliss came up with elbows swinging that Georgia showed some determination on the glass. They’re already doing a good job of blocking shots and altering shots with defensive position – now just get two hands on the ball.
  • Guards: Patience. This is one of those things that comes with experience and maturity. Georgia frequently put up quick or difficult shots when a pass would have been the better option. Sure, some of the quick shots went in, and everyone is talking about Humphrey’s impossible shot this morning. Still, those are decisions that will cost Georgia in SEC play. Particularly when protecting a lead, you want aggression but also good decisions. I think specifically about a time with around 9:30 remaining where a few rushed shots fueled a Tech run that put them in a position to bring the lead under ten points. Fortunately, Georgia was able to hold off the run and build the lead back up, but other teams will take better advantage of that situation. Georgia’s guards will learn that there are four other guys on the court, and the offense will become even more efficient when these emerging weapons get better shots under control.

Let’s not mistake Tech for a good team. This isn’t the team that came into the previous two meetings ranked in the top 5. They impressed themselves by beating Virigina last weekend; Virginia just lost to Fordham. Still, it’s Tech – a rivalry game, an ACC name, and a much more visible opponent than better teams Georgia might face before the SEC season. If anything, Georgia should now after seven games have the confidence it lacked last season of being able to challenge any team on its schedule, and that’s remarkable progress.