Since 1995 - Insightful commentary on the Georgia Bulldogs

Post Tipping off the SEC schedule: men’s hoops

Friday January 7, 2011

Record: 11-2

November and December went about as well as you can expect for Mark Fox’s team. They might have liked to win another game down in Orlando, but getting through the rest of the schedule unscathed was a good accomplishment. There were several close calls against arguably lesser teams giving plenty of cause for concern, but 11-2 is the important thing right now. Georgia survived nailbiters on the road at St. Louis, Georgia Tech, and Mercer, and they can expect to be in plenty more tough road games during conference play.


Trey Thompkins has been as advertised. He’s been slowed in terms of both actual playing time and conditioning by that preseason ankle injury, but he’s still every bit the scorer the team needs him to be. The rest of the frontcourt has had a positive early season. Jeremy Price has become a nice, strong scoring option inside, but he can’t avoid foul trouble. Chris Barnes has been able to step in off the bench, but there’s a slight drop-off in production. Though he won’t have a huge impact this year, I like what I see from freshman Donte Robinson. He’s a very good leaper and shows promise as a shot-blocker and rebounder. He also has a nice touch on short jumpers.

Gerald Robinson and Sherrard Brantley have had their moments as shooters, but with each shooting under 31%, neither has been a consistent scorer from behind the arc. The team overall shoots 31% from outside – not great, but decent enough to be a threat if someone gets hot on a given night (see Ware against Tech). Robinson has made more of an impact in the role we came to love from Sundiata Gaines – that driving, creating guard who can do amazing things going to the basket.

Dustin Ware and Travis Leslie are the veteran guards and have played like it. Ware has a solid 3/1 assist/turnover ratio and can provide occasional help with his outside shot, but it’s a bit unusual that the point guard doesn’t lead the team in assists. That honor goes to Robinson, and it makes sense when you consider the frequency with which Robinson attacks the basket. That aggressive play has a cost: Robinson’s team-high 43 turnovers go with those team-high 61 assists. Leslie has had another solid year with a 13.8 PPG average. But if you’ve been looking for Leslie’s game to take a big step forward this year, it just hasn’t happened. He still does what he does – great leaper, rebounder, and even a solid shotblocker for a guard. The dunks are as good as they ever were. His jumper is still inconsistent though and almost nonexistent from outside. It’s unreasonable to expect him to duplicate the progress he made from his freshman to sophomore seasons, but he’s more or less the same player he was a year ago – only with a lot more attention from opposing defenses.

Despite so much firepower on offense, Georgia has had plenty of frustrating stretches on that end of the court. When Price is in foul trouble or Thompkins is out of the game, points can be tough to come by. The stats tend to smooth out and look fine, but most every position, except for Thompkins, has gone quiet for long stretches. Finding a way to keep the points coming and preventing big runs the other way when the key starters are on the bench will be a big factor in SEC play.

Defense hasn’t been a strength for this team. Opponents are shooting nearly 35% from outside, and relaxed defense has led to the erosion of some early big leads. The Dawgs have an impressive 78 blocks already, but post players are also quick to pick up fouls. Mark Fox has a preference for man defense over zone, but the zone has been more effective at times this year, especially in the comeback at Mercer.

What to expect in the SEC

What we’re really asking of course is “can Georgia get to 9 wins in the league and 20 wins overall?” The conference isn’t terribly strong this year, although the East looks to be healthier than the West. Kentucky stands out, and then there’s a thick layer of inconsistent but potentially dangerous teams. Tennessee and Florida have some standout wins and puzzling losses. South Carolina and Vandy aren’t all that good, but they aren’t putrid.

In the SEC West, it’s a mess. Preseason favorites Mississippi State already have six losses and some alarming internal issues. Ole Miss and Arkansas top the division, but they really haven’t been tested all that much yet. Arkansas’ win over a pedestrian Oklahoma team is about it for decent wins. LSU and Alabama don’t really scare anyone, and Auburn is going to struggle. But even Auburn is on a four-game winning streak that includes a home upset of Florida State, reminding us that life on the road in the SEC is never a sure thing.

Ideally, to get to 9 or 10 wins in the SEC, Georgia would win 4 or 5 games against the West and break even against the East. In a best-case scenario, the Dawgs would do well against the West and sweep the season series against at least two teams from the East. Georgia must travel to Arkansas, Ole Miss, and Alabama from the West – all traditionally tough venues but teams no better than others Georgia has defeated this year.

Georgia’s season could well come down to the final three games of the year: they host South Carolina and LSU and then wrap up at Alabama. All three are winnable, but they will come after a stretch of 3 out of 4 games on the road including back-to-back trips to Florida and Tennessee. If Georgia can come out of that road swing at or close to .500, they’ll be set for a strong three-game push into the postseason.

Comments are closed.