Big guards, big problems

The Georgia team Tennessee hosts tonight at Thompson-Boling Arena starts three guards who weigh at least 200 pounds each. The last time the Vols faced such a physically imposing backcourt, they lost.

That would be Dec. 22, when Oklahoma State's Byron Eaton (5-11, 215) and JamesOn Curry (6-3, 195) limited Tennessee guards C.J. Watson and Chris Lofton to two first-half points en route to a 42-26 lead the Cowboys eventually parlayed into an 89-73 triumph.

Georgia's backcourt trio of Channing Toney (6-4, 205), Levi Stukes (6-2, 200) and Sundiata Gaines (6-1, 200) may not be as good as Eaton and Curry but the three Bulldogs are just as big and bulky.

"That's a good comparison," Vol coach Bruce Pearl said earlier this week. "Georgia's guards are physical, too. Their leading rebounder is their point guard (Gaines at 4.7 per game)."

And, like Oklahoma State's guards, Georgia's guards like to attack the basket.

"They get to the rim," Pearl noted. "They really are terrific penetrators."

Georgia could be a very difficult match-up for Tennessee simply because the Dawgs' three-guard lineup should help neutralize the Vols' full-court pressure. Georgia's backcourt men are versatile enough to dribble left or right with equal skill.

"The better players can go both ways, and that's the thing I'm seeing with Georgia's guards," Pearl said. "That makes them harder to press."

Amazingly enough, Georgia is even more backcourt oriented than Tennessee. The Bulldogs' top five scorers are guards. Stukes leads at 12.4 points per game, followed by a pair of freshman reserves – Mike Mercer (10.8) and Billy Humphrey (10.6). Starters Gaines (10.4) and Toney (9.9) round out the top five.

"They have very physical, penetrating guards that make a lot of plays," Vol junior Dane Bradshaw noted. "We've tried to take them out of the game the past couple of years but haven't been able to do that."

Tennessee brings a 10-1 overall record and a 1-0 SEC mark into tonight's game. Georgia is 10-4 and 0-1 after losing 90-72 to unbeaten Florida (14-0) last Saturday in Athens.

"The margin of the loss to Florida was not an indicator," Pearl said. "Florida played great basketball. Florida is really good; they do really good stuff. Florida's going to beat a lot of people. They look to be the cream of the crop in our league."

Tennessee swept Georgia last season, winning 72-65 in Athens and 78-68 in Knoxville. Pearl cautions that the Dawgs have much more bite this season.

"Look at what Georgia's done already," he said. "They beat Georgia Tech, beat Clemson and won at Western Kentucky. They're much, much better than they were a year ago.

"Their talent is totally different. Their roster has been completely revamped. They, along with LSU, probably have the best young talent in our league."

Especially at guard.


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