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Post Nuts and bolts – what to expect against Xavier

Thursday March 20, 2008

Georgia returns today to NCAA Tournament action for the first time since 2002. The excitement has been building all week, but there’s a ballgame to play now. Here’s what to watch for on the court:

1) Xavier will see your Sundiata Gaines and raise you a Drew Lavender. Alphabetical order is about the only stat in which Gaines doesn’t appear first for the Georgia team. That’s not the way it works for Lavender and Xavier. He can definitely score, but he’s also the engine and the creator. He sets a tempo for the rest of the offense, and the other Musketeers seem to play better with him in the game. They are efficient, shooting in the high-40% range with a decent team assist-to-turnover ratio, and they spread the scoring around. Lavender has been injured but is reportedly fine now. Slowing Drew Lavender is probably the single most important job for Georgia in the game, and it might take more than one defender.

2) But Lavender won’t be defending Gaines. Stanley Burrell, the A-10’s defensive player of the year, will draw the assignment of defending Georgia’s playmaker. Burrell has contained a who’s-who of scorers this year including Chris Lofton. With that in mind, the focus shifts to Billy Humphrey. The 6’2" shooting guard will have a size advantage over 5’7" Lavender, but he’ll have to step up his game after a disappointing weekend in the SEC Tournament. Humphrey did hit a couple of key shots down the stretch in the SEC championship game, so hopefully he left his shooting woes there.

3) We’ve seen bursts from Terrence Woodbury before, but he’s put nothing together like his performance last weekend. With Humphrey struggling from the floor and Gaines battling fatigue, Woodbury’s shooting carried the Dawgs for stretches all weekend. Georgia is so much better when it’s Gaines + someone else scoring from outside, and last weekend was Woodbury’s turn to be "someone else". Though Georgia is playing very well right now, the team isn’t very far removed from some ugly nights from the perimeter leading to some bad losses. Woodbury and/or Humphrey need to remain hot from outside for Georgia to have a chance.

4) Xavier shoots 75% from the line as a team, and four of their top six scorers shoot over 84%. That’s unheard of. Georgia’s aggressive defense has a tendency to put opponents on the line early and frequently. That defense can result in a lot of unnecessary fouls away from the basket (right, Sundiata?). Xavier wants to go to the line – don’t help them get there.

5) Can the frontcourt be an advantage? Many fans would just be happy to have the frontcourt be a push and let the game be decided by the guards. But with Jackson, Bliss, and Price forming an increasingly-effective rotation, there’s an opportunity for the frontcourt to be a factor. Even if they don’t score a lot, this group has shown recent ability to affect games through rebounding and blocks. Like Georgia, Xavier’s strength is the backcourt, but their big men are no pushovers.

Eleven years ago against UT-C, Georgia saw first-hand how dangerous a #14 seed can be. Let’s hope that the Dawgs are on the other side of that outcome today.

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