Georgia’s mens and womens programs emerged from the first games after exams headed in opposite directions. There are just a couple of weeks until conference play begins, but we’ve already learned quite a bit about the squads so far.
The men missed a golden opportunity for a decent win over an Iona team that made the NCAA Tournament field a year ago. Georgia overcame a slow start and took several second half leads, but the Dawgs surrendered 12 three-pointers to the visiting Gaels and had a team-wide collapse at the free throw line. The overtime loss was Georgia’s third in a row and the seventh in the last eight games. Yes, it’s to the point of starting to ask some unpleasant questions.
The Iona loss masked some positive developments. The offense was more productive as the team was able to work the ball inside and find guys like Donte Williams (16 points). The Dawgs shot 44% which is still an improvement over the season average of just under 40%. Even more promising was the continued development of a decent freshmen class. Morris continues to earn playing time, and Mann had his best game yet.
Unfortunately, leaning on the freshmen so much implies something about the upperclassmen. Georgia was able to lean on a pair of veteran guards (and the freshman Caldwell-Pope) to somewhat compensate for an absent frontcourt last season. While the frontcourt has made marginal strides this year, the drop-off in the backcourt has been precipitous. You’re just not getting production from senior guards Brantley and Williams. The freshmen are fine, but they’re not going to have an impact like Caldwell-Pope had a year ago. Even with KCP you take the good with the bad – he’s a gifted scorer, but you want your best player to make better decisions than the rushed, off-balance shot he attempted with no shot clock and 20 seconds left at the end of regulation on Saturday.
The backcourt isn’t the only spot where there’s a vacuum in production from veteran players. Marcus Thornton is banged up again, but he hadn’t posted more than 8 points in any of the first eight games. More importantly, the fall in production of Djurisic has been significant. Nemi’s big enough to bang around the basket, but he’s only getting to the line just over two times per game. We know he prefers to face the basket, but his three-point percentage has been cut in half from 36.4% a year ago to 18.5% this season. He continues to be in love with the outside shot though and has already attempted half as many three-pointers as he did as a freshman.
In short, it’s a mess. The good news? Have you seen the rest of the SEC?
In a more pleasant development, the women built on their unblemished record over the weekend with a 93-42 thrashing of Lipscomb. Georgia’s defense was relentless, and 23 steals led to numerous transition chances that helped Georgia shoot over 50%. The Lady Dogs are now 11-0 and sit just outside the top 5. Andy Landers has a luxury he hasn’t had much of in the past ten years: quality depth. There’s a strong core of upperclassmen and a very talented group of freshmen and sophomores. Landers has been able to work the newcomers in quite a bit, and they’ve responded. After several seasons of running players like Houts and James for 35-40 minutes per game out of necessity, Georgia can now run in waves of players in roughly 5-minute intervals. They’re able to play much more of the pressure defense Landers prefers, and the results have been promising so far. The team will still rely on its seniors – especially James, Armstrong, and Hassell – but the depth will help make sure that the team can finish the season with lots in the tank.
If there’s any uncertainty, it’s that Landers’ squad hasn’t been tested with top-quality competition yet. Rutgers and Georgia Tech were good opponents, and New Mexico’s Pit is traditionally a tough place in which to win. Though Georgia’s next two opponents aren’t ranked, TCU and Illinois still represent a step up in quality from the Mercers and Lipscombs of the world. They’ll give Georgia a chance to test their road chops before league play begins in January. Georgia’s last trip to TCU two years ago was a near-disaster, and Anne Marie Armstrong had to sink an ultra-long range three pointer at the buzzer for the team to escape with a win. This Georgia team is in a much better place and should arrive at the January 3rd SEC home opener against Missouri with their perfect record intact.