VETTEL: Georgia Creates Issues For #5 Gators

With 13 wins in the bank the Florida basketball team opens SEC play Saturday determined to keep the momentum going. Florida has faced better teams than the 10-3 Bulldogs but Georgia does create some issues for Billy Donovan's squad.

Like the Gators, Georgia has five players averaging in double figures, two of whom (Mike Mercer 11.5, Billy Humphrey 11.1) don't even start. Also like Florida, the Bulldogs are a young team without a senior starter. One major difference between the teams is in the ability level of the front court. Georgia's top two big men, Dave Bliss and Steve Newman combine for 9.5 points and 6.4 rebounds. Florida's tandem of Al Horford and Joakim Noah, on the other hand generate 24.4/12.6 in those categories.

Last year Georgia managed just eight wins and the biggest problem was an inability to score points. Georgia averaged 60.1 points a game for the season, which was worst in the SEC. In two games with the Gators, they were even worse, scoring just 85 points in those contests. This year the scoring average is up to 76.3 and the Bulldogs are a much better shooting team.

One concern Florida has to have coming in is Georgia's backcourt depth. Dennis Felton's team plays very aggressively on the perimeter and in a tightly called game that could lead to Taurean Green getting into foul difficulty. The one major issue Florida has yet to deal with is playing a tough game with Green on the bench for significant portions of the contest. Georgia is reasonably well positioned to create that situation.

Lastly, Georgia is a perfect 6-and-0 at home this season including wins over Georgia Tech and Clemson. A win over Florida would be the kind of victory that could take this squad from a curiosity to a legit post-season contender. Thus you can count on Stegeman Coliseum being rather raucous, even for a noon tip. I spoke with Coach Donovan for his thoughts on Georgia. As did other media guys (MG).

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LV: Billy, what have you learned about this Georgia team?

BD: Well, they're a basketball team that is undefeated at home. They have all five starters back from last year and they've added a group of freshman that have come in and really, really helped them. Their backcourt is scoring a lot of points. One of their weaknesses last year was their ability to score, to shoot the basketball. That's probably the biggest, most drastic difference this year is they certainly have a lot of perimeter scoring. When you look at their front court, they have three guys back with the two starters (Bliss, Newman) and (Younes) Idrissi they are a very good basketball team. They are a basketball team that came into this season with a lot of expectations to be better. I felt like last year although their record was indicative they were very competitive against just about everybody they played against. We realize the first SEC game, going on the road, that this will certainly be an incredible test for our team.

LV: Georgia plays very aggressively on the perimeter. How much of a concern is that as you view this matchup?

BD: They're a very physical team and they play really hard. Going up there (last year) our team was down by nine points (32-23) with about 15 minutes left in the game. Then they went a bit of a drought (six points the rest of the way) and we started making shots. Roberson got extremely hot in the second half (four three-pointers). But there's no question a big strength of their team is their physicality, the way they try to get after you defensively and the things they try to do. Hopefully going in there on Saturday we can match their intensity and match how hard they're going to play.

MG: You've talked about how going into the SEC schedule there's a level of familiarity. Do you think that might apply less to your team with all the changes from last year?

BD: Yeah, we're a different team because last year we were somewhat predictable because you knew where the shots were coming from and three guys were going to get 90 percent of the touches. Our team and our personnel is a lot different because we've got guys playing as lot more minutes now than they did a year ago. We are a different team, maybe more different than anybody else in the league because of what we lost.

MG: How do you think your guys will respond to having the target on their back now?

BD: I don't think our guys are a target at all. I think it's just the opposite. You can't start the season unranked and everyone wondering how good you're going to be and whether it's going to be a down year and then all of a sudden you turn out to be a target. Our guys' mentality going into Georgia is we're a huge underdog right now because they're undefeated at home and have five starters back and they have some huge pieces to their puzzle.

MD: Are other teams going to look at you that way?

BD: It really doesn't make a difference how other teams look at you; it's how you look at yourself. I think our guys view themselves as people viewed them at the start of the year. They way they view themselves as they have something to prove. Our team doesn't look at themselves as a bad team but they look at every day being a new opportunity and a new challenge to try and prove something.

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