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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.

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