Second-Time Scouting Report: Georgia
For some, this is a big baseball weekend in the Vanderbilt community, and rightly so, given the prominence of the Dores on the diamond. For those who love their football, this upcoming Sunday will be a lazy one. However, the VU men's basketball team has to put its game face on after Thursday's ridiculously easy win over a rudderless Ole Miss outfit. Fans love easy wins, but Kevin Stallings has to be concerned with the lead-up to this tilt with Georgia. Everything is simply not going to flow as easily for the Dores in this game. First, it's hard to imagine a team playing as poorly as Ole Miss did on Thursday. Second, it's also human nature to let up just a bit (and not hit an insane percentage of outside shots) after a virtually flawless performance at the offensive end of the floor. Vandy has to wipe the slate clean as it works through a patch of games it must lock down in order to stabilize its seeding situation for the Big Dance. Ole Miss has been tucked away, and South Carolina this upcoming Wednesday offers the promise of more prosperity. However, if this roadie in the Peach State can't be filed into the win column, worries about ending up in an "8-9 game" come March 15 or 16 will resurface.
This team needs an "eyes on the prize" mentality in Athens. Only the utmost effort will be accepted – and sufficient – on a Sunday afternoon that must become anything but leisurely for the young men in black (road jerseys).
The Bulldogs are still part of the bottom tier of the SEC, but they've made some memorabl moments in recent weeks. Georgia has severely wounded the NCAA Tournament candidacies of both Mississippi State and Arkansas, dealing major setbacks to the (other) Bulldogs and Hogs in the month of February. Coach Mark Fox is getting an honest effort from his players, a testament to the respect he owns in the UGA locker room. A lot of players would quit on their season given Georgia's body of (non-)achievement, but this team fights onward. It's exactly why Vanderbilt has to be so markedly vigilant heading into Athens.
Because this is the second go-round with an SEC team in 2012, let's offer some extra statistics to flesh out more details about this Georgia team. After all, Vanderbilt has finished its SEC West portion of the conference slate; the next first-time opponent VU faces will come in the NCAA Tournament's round of 64.
BONUS SECTION: STATISTICAL PROFILE
-- Georgia ranks in the bottom 25 percent in the nation in points per game (61.6), assists per game (11.3), and field goal shooting percentage (39.3). The 39.3 percent field goal shooting rate places Georgia 326th out of 348 Division I-A teams.
-- Georgia allows only 62.9 points per game, well below the national average of 67.1.
-- Georgia commits only 9.9 turnovers, well below the national average of 13.5. This puts the Bulldogs first in the SEC in fewest turnovers allowed, and fifth-best in the nation.
-- Points scored per possession: 0.97
-- Points allowed per possession: 0.99
-- Effective field goal percentage (shooting percentage weighted to include three-point shots): 45.4, which is next to last in the SEC and 304th in the United States.
Georgia Starting Lineup
Forward – Donte Williams – Sophomore, 6-9, 210 2011-12: 7.6 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 1.3 blocks per game
In the time between these two matchups, nothing about Williams's game has fundamentally changed. On January 13, the day before the first VU-UGA throwdown, Williams averaged 7.3 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 1.4 blocks per outing. You can see that very little has changed. The lack of diversity in the sophomore's arsenal shows why Georgia has remained in the bottom third of the SEC all season long. The lack of regression, though, speaks to the Bulldogs' competitiveness in the month of February.
Forward– Marcus Thornton – Sophomore, 6-7, 225; 2011-12: 2.9 ppg, 5.1 rpg
In previous meeting between these two teams, Nemanja Djurisic was occupying this spot in Georgia's starting lineup, but Fox clearly wants Thornton's rebounding and defense on the floor instead of Djurisic's scoring ability, primarily because Djurisic wasn't scoring as consistently as he needed to. Scorers maintain their place on the floor by scoring, and Djurisic – a freshman – was averaging just 7.4 points in his last five SEC games, none of which came against Kentucky, Florida or Vanderbilt. Djurisic was not holding up well under the rigors of the SEC season, so he got moved to the pine for a smaller number of minutes. Thornton's blue-collar approach is now part of the Bulldogs' modus operandi. This team's identity is built on its defense, and that's why Fox had to make this move in midstream.
Guard– Kentavious Caldwell-Pope – Freshman, 6-4, 190; 2011-12: 14.2 ppg, 5.3 rpg
Caldwell-Pope is definitely the future of this program. In his first season, he's been relentlessly consistent. He hasn't hit that first-year wall… not if "hitting a wall" means maintaining 14-point and 5-rebound averages through the teeth of the SEC schedule. Caldwell-Pope can also boast some credentials as a clutch shotmaker. His three-pointer late in overtime enabled Georgia to snare its biggest win of the season, a 70-68 upset at Mississippi State. Georgia has obviously lacked thoroughbreds in its stable this year, but Caldwell-Pope will make the Bulldogs a more formidable team come next November. If Vanderbilt can shut him down, it's hard to see Georgia coming close on Sunday afternoon.
Guard – Gerald Robinson – Senior, 6-1, 180; 2011-12: 13.9 ppg, 4 rpg, 3.8 apg
Robinson – after losing to Vanderbilt on Jan. 14 – has cemented himself as Georgia's second-best player. The senior went off for 27 points on 10-of-13 shooting in a Feb. 8 romp over Arkansas. Moreover, Robinson has earned at least five foul shots in four of his last five contests. Players who consistently get to the foul line might have their stats inflated a little bit by late-game foul shots, but when one realizes that Georgia beat Arkansas by 22 points (outside the margin that creates endgame fouling) and has trailed late in its other recent games, the notion of "foul shot inflation" falls flat. We're left with the conclusion that Robinson is getting to the charity stripe by dint of his own merits. He therefore becomes a top defensive priority for Vanderbilt.
Guard – Dustin Ware – Senior, 5-11, 182; 2011-12: 8.1 ppg, 2.3 apg
When Vanderbilt last faced Georgia, Ware came off the bench. Now, he's found a spot in the Dawgs' starting five. His best quality is that he doesn't turn the ball over very often; Ware has committed just two turnovers in his last five games, averaging over 33 minutes per contest. He's not a scorer or a particularly accurate shooter, but one thing to keep an eye on is that in three of his last five games, a majority of Ware's points have come from the three-point shot. Ware is therefore a player the Commodores want to shoot the ball… just not in comfortable, wide-open spots with a free shooting hand.
We talked a month ago about the need for Georgia to find abundant production from its bench, given that the starting five wasn't packing the scoring punch this team needed. Clearly, the quartet of Vincent Williams, John Florveus, Djurisic and Connor Nolte has failed to answer the call. None of those four players is anywhere close to being a 10-points-per-game scorer; Djurisic averages just under seven per game, and that's only because he was a starter earlier in the season and gained the court time to match. Fox knows that if his roster doesn't ripen into form next season, he's going to have a hard time hanging onto his job. It's not what the former Nevada coach hoped for when he made a move up the ladder to one of the power conferences.
Keys to the Game
1) Shape the shot Georgia takes. That mysterious-sounding phrase is not really mysterious at all. It boils down to this: Allow Georgia to take ample three-pointers. Just be sure to close down the shooting hand if the shot is within 24 or 25 feet. (If the Bulldogs want to hoist from 27, let them – Austin Rivers and Seth Curry don't play for the University of Georgia.) If the Bulldogs want to take bad shots from long distances, let them… as long as the shot is contested and appreciably uncomfortable.
2) Expect a war. The Commodores are coming off a game against Ole Miss in which everything came so easily and naturally to them. When athletes experience a leisurely day at the office the way the Dores did on Thursday in Oxford, Mississippi, it is easy to become complacent and develop bad habits. Moreover, even if bad habits don't emerge, improved play from an opponent can create a profound amount of discomfort. Think of a tennis player who cruises to a 6-1 first set in which his opponent fails to keep the ball in the court. The match might seem to be headed for an easy conclusion, but then the opponent digs in and finds his range early in the second set. The player who had been steamrolling suddenly struggles just because he didn't have to work hard to win points in the first set. The lack of rhythm provided by a shaky opponent ironically creates extra tension and pressure in the second set when that shaky opponent solidifies his game. This is very much akin to what could happen on Sunday if Georgia brings its best brand of ball to Stegeman Coliseum. If the Bulldogs punch Vanderbilt in the mouth, will the VU crew be ready to elevate its game? Fans have the luxury of being able to prognosticate without cost to their personal reputations; athletes, though, need to be conditioned to expect a war even if a Las Vegas sports book says otherwise. The Commodores have to prepare for Georgia's best punch… even if it doesn't come.
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