We got what we expected last night from Xavier. In many respects, it was a dress-rehearsal for a tournament game. From the sense of what was at stake for both teams to the quality of competition to the close, competitive game – it had the feel of a game in March. That’s good and bad. The good is that it showed Georgia just what will be expected of them as they face several more tournament-quality teams down the stretch. The bad of course i that they lost. It was a hard-fought game, to be sure, but it was also the third time that the team had come up short at home with similar chances to get a significant win.
A lot of credit has to go to Xavier. They played outstanding defense, especially on the perimeter. Dustin Ware got very few good looks at the basket. Georgia’s outside opportunities were generally limited to contested shots or open looks for Thompkins which he missed. Georgia struggled from outside and hurt themselves with a few key turnovers, and that was enough to overcome a pretty decent defensive effort by the Bulldogs. The visitors finally figured out how to attack the Georgia defense, and the Bulldogs couldn’t get key stops down the stretch to keep themselves close.
At this point in the year, the scouting report is rock solid on every team out there. If Georgia looks as if they’ve run into a wall over the past couple of games, that’s mainly because the book on Georgia is out. You probably know most of the main points. Trap Thompkins. Force Robinson into a decision. Turn Leslie into a jumpshooter. Georgia’s big men struggle and can accumulate fouls in man defense. The team as a whole struggles against the screen and roll.
There’s a tendency to be overly harsh on bubble teams. We dwell on the warts and shortcomings of our team, but that’s why they’re on the bubble. Most teams in this group are dealing with their own weaknesses, and a lot of them would like to be in Georgia’s position. The Dawgs have taken a step forward this year, but it’s possible that the step has left them frustratingly close to their goals. Are postseason hopes a long shot? Not really. It’s reasonable to expect the team to be competitive in all of its remaining games, and a few going the right way could dramatically change Georgia’s outlook.
So what’s it going to take for Georgia to end up on the right side of things? Xavier was Georgia’s last chance for a significant nonconference win. They’ll have to be content with wins over UAB and Georgia Tech and point out that they really didn’t have any ugly losses. That’s fine, but it’s not a point on which you can build much of a case for postseason play. The Dawgs have seven regular season games left: four on the road, and three at home. Two of those road games are against Tennessee and Florida – teams that beat Georgia in Athens. Another is the regular season finale against SEC West-leading Alabama. You’re going to see the 10-6 benchmark thrown around a lot, and that would help, but things look positive even with a 9-7 mark and a strong showing in the conference tournament. The most important thing is to take care of the home games and then see what happens on the road. Taking one (or, while we’re dreaming, both) at Florida or Tennessee would really help.
That all seems reasonable, but remember the point about the scouting report. Everyone knows what to expect from Georgia, and opponents have adjusted to it. The difficulty is that the team hasn’t shown much in the way of evolving or counterattacking the scout. Thompkins still struggles passing out of the double-team. Robinson still gets out of control. This is still pretty much the same team that we saw in Orlando. Let me be clear – that’s not a criticism. Georgia’s good enough in certain areas that they’ll still be successful even if the opponent has scouted and prepared for those things. It just helps us anticipate what the team will see as they try to finish strong.