From the mid-90s through 2010, Georgia basketball went through five head coaches and plenty of ups and downs. One thing remained constant: an unblemished home record against Georgia Tech since the series returned to home-and-home in 1995. In fact, thanks to two wins on Tech’s home court, the Dawgs posted a 10-6 record in the series.
That changed in 2011 with the arrival of Brian Gregory at Tech. Gregory hasn’t done much to return Tech to glory, but after four games he remains undefeated against Georgia. Gregory’s teams have won four in a row in the series and the past two in Athens despite some lean years at Tech and a couple of postseason trips for Georgia. The series is back level at 10-10 since returning to campus twenty years ago.
The two teams meet in Athens on Saturday, and it’s the latest date for this game since three straight January games from 2008-2010. Could that be an edge for Georgia? Mark Fox’s teams have sometimes needed a few games to settle in, and November hasn’t been the best time for a big rivalry game. One additional bit of good news: freshman forward Derek Ogbeide is cleared to play and seems to be in line for more minutes as he works back from a shoulder injury. Georgia needs all the frontcourt depth they can manage against a physical Tech front line.
Though the relatively late date might benefit the Dawgs, it’s not an ideal point on the schedule. Georgia hasn’t played since December 8th due to exams. They’ve rested and practiced during the exam break, but they’ll have a bit of rust to shake off too. The end of exams also means that students have left town, and the early (noon) start without much of a student section could hurt the home crowd.
This is a better Tech team than some of Gregory’s recent offerings. They have a close loss to ETSU and a respectable loss to Villanova and quality wins over Arkansas and VCU. They feature four seniors – two guards and two forwards – and all four average over 10 PPG. Though guard Marcus Georges-Hunt is the leading scorer, the biggest concern for Georgia might be the frontcourt. Charles Mitchell is a force inside, easily averaging a double-double, and Alabama transfer Nick Jacobs has had a quick impact. This is a fairly deep team too – 10 players average over 13 minutes per game. Only four Georgia players are scoring over 4 points per game; Tech has nine.
Rivalry aside, Georgia can’t afford to lose many more nonconference games. With three losses already, you’re starting to put pressure on the conference portion of the schedule. Clemson and Baylor are still ahead. As it stands, the Dawgs must go 12-6 in conference to avoid heading into postseason with 10 or more losses. A loss to a bad Tech team two years ago did Georgia no favors in the RPI; a loss this year to a better Tech team would be bad just in terms of a team looking to build a postseason resume.
For a program and a coach looking to build on its NCAA Tournament trip a year ago, games like these matter. Fox needs both the success on the court and the support of the fan base to make that happen. The Tech game is one that even casual hoops fans pay attention to.