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Post Step it up, guards

Thursday January 26, 2006

Following last week’s lackluster loss to Kentucky, a lot of people were justifiably down on the frontcourt. No points, no rebounds, not much of anything but fouls and turnovers.

As poor as the frontcourt was in that game, the guards were worse last night at LSU. Worse? Yep. Oh, they scored – eventually. I say their performance last night was worse than the frontcourt’s 0-fer last week because the guards are supposed to be the strength of this team. Georgia’s forwards and centers are either projects or injured. We know that, and most sane observers have accepted that reality with the hope that in a year or so 1) the projects will get better, 2) the wounded will heal, and 3) help is on the way from recruits. Production from the frontcourt is supposed to be better than it was last season, but it’s still more or less gravy this season.

So we know that as the guards go, so goes the team. And last night, they went nowhere. Georgia went 36 minutes of the game without a three-pointer. Levi Stukes didn’t score in the first half and has been slumping since his game-winner in Columbia. Mike Mercer led the team in shot attempts again and missed all but one. Billy Humphrey showed early in the season that he can be a sharpshooter, but he can’t seem to get open and find a shot in 2006.

Five assists. For many point guards, that’s a decent night. That was Georgia’s team total on Wednesday night. You have to make the shot in order for someone to get credit for an assist, and Georgia shooting 30% for the game didn’t help the assist column. Still, a grand total of five assists indicates a complete offensive logjam and an unholy union of poor shooting, turnovers, and forced shots.

The problems followed to the defensive end of the court. LSU shot over 50% overall and over 60% from beyond the arc. Georgia had no answers for LSU’s hot hand of Darrel Mitchell. The strong frontcourt led by Davis had some success as expected, but LSU’s success on the perimeter made their job much easier.

Usually you prefer to forget about blowout losses. Things aren’t that bad, these things happen, and so on. Georgia should not be so quick to get over this loss though. We saw just how dependent this team is on guard play. On most nights, someone is on (lately it’s been Mercer), and you adjust to find that player. When the frontcourt as a unit has a bad night, the team struggles but can sometimes overcome it against lesser teams. When the backcourt has a bad night, Georgia will beat no one and will usually lose pretty ugly.

The relative inexperience of the guards is understood, but the unit does need to step up its level of play if the postseason – even NIT – remains a goal. Georgia’s greatest concentration of scoring power and athleticism is at the guard position, and the team’s success going forward will depend on this unit to find some consistency.

As an aside, kudos to Dave Bliss for his second-straight game scoring in double-figures. I don’t know if the back is getting better or he’s doing anything differently after being shut out by Kentucky, but that’s a very good contribution from a role player who should be able to find some success inside if the guards can draw some defensive attention.

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