Scouting Report: Georgia
Young teams that are building for the following season do need to play their way into form, but there are limits to that line of thinking. Vanderbilt gained a full game on Texas A&M this past Saturday in the race to avoid the first round of the expanded SEC Tournament. The No. 11 seed in the 14-team field will have to play a first-round game on Wednesday, March 13, in advance of the four-game second round on Thursday, March 14. The No. 11 seed will surely play Mississippi State, a team that – as VU found out last Saturday – has nothing left in the tank. There's nothing gained by playing MSU one more time. Vanderbilt should hope to catch the Aggies for the No. 10 seed and a first-round bye.
Let's say Vanderbilt does indeed overtake A&M for the 10 seed. In that scenario, VU would be able to play a 7-10 (seed) game on Thursday. A victory there, against a half-decent team, would enable Vanderbilt to then play the No. 2 seed (either Alabama or Kentucky, most likely), in the quarterfinals on Friday, March 15. Vanderbilt could win that game and make some noise in pursuit of an unlikely but possible automatic bid to the NCAAs. What matters, though, is that this team earns itself a chance to play at least one formidable squad at the SEC Tournament. A hard-fought loss in the SEC quarters would at least give coach Kevin Stallings the assurance that his team improved – on its own merit and relative to the rest of the conference – over the last month of the season. Escaping that first round is a way for this team to have a somewhat satisfying SEC Tournament experience, one it can use as a springboard to 2013-2014, when this squad can be optimistic about its prospects.
This game against Georgia could very well be the tilt that determines whether VU gets out of "First Round Wednesday" or not. The Commodores are one game behind A&M in the standings but own the head-to-head tiebreaker. A&M must go to Ole Miss and Arkansas before this season's done. The Aggies will probably win at home against South Carolina and LSU to finish at 8-10 in the conference. Vanderbilt, at 5-9, will probably lose at Florida but win at Auburn and at home against South Carolina. This game against Georgia – which does rate as toss-up if you're going to be coldly analytical about it – will probably make the difference between an 8-10 mark in the SEC (good enough for the 10 seed) and a 7-11 record (which would bring about the 11 seed). This is a game Vanderbilt could really use.
The Bulldogs were 2-7 in December and 6-10 in early January. They looked horrible in the first half of the season, and it seemed reasonable to view Georgia as a team that would certainly be forced to play on First Round Wednesday at the SEC Tournament. However, coach Mark Fox has turned this team around. Georgia lost forward Marcus Thornton before the SEC portion of its schedule, but that hasn't stopped the Bulldogs from salvaging their season. They're 7-7 in the league and are likely to avoid falling into the first round. Georgia has won six of its last nine games, and two of the Bulldogs' losses were games they could have won (at Arkansas) and should have won (at Ole Miss). Georgia simply couldn't make a few extra plays in Bud Walton Arena. Against Ole Miss, a number of conspicuously bad foul calls and non-calls prevented Georgia from getting a scoreboard victory against the Rebels on a night when the Dawgs outplayed the bubblers from Oxford over the course of 40 regulation minutes. This is a confident team whose youthful players are becoming comfortable in their own skin. In that sense, Georgia's evolution is similar to what Vanderbilt is going through in February.
What stands out about the way Georgia plays is that it is much more decisive at the offensive end of the floor. This is a terrible shooting team, but the Bulldogs now take the ball into the paint and make a concerted effort to get to the rim. Fox has taught his players how to compensate for their deficiencies. Georgia works with – and through – its weaknesses instead of insisting on launching low-percentage perimeter shots. The extent to which Georgia gets into the paint, especially with dribble penetration, will likely tell you how the Bulldogs will fare – against Vanderbilt and in any other SEC game.
GEORGIA STAT PACK – STATISTICAL HIGHLIGHTS AND LOWLIGHTS
Field goal shooting percentage: 41.4. National rank: 266 (out of 345).
Three-point field goal shooting percentage: 34.6. National rank: 134.
Free throw shooting percentage: 67.6. National rank: 226.
Turnovers per game: 14.8. National rank: 285.
Assists per game: 11.6. National rank: 261.
Rebounding percentage: 51.5. National rank: 184.
Field goal percentage defense: 38.7 percent. National rank: 18.
Two-point field goal percentage defense: 42.2 percent. National rank: 18.
Forward – Donte Williams – Junior, 6-9, 225 2012-13: 5.5 points per game, 5 rebounds per game, 1.2 blocked shots per game
This Williams (there's another one in the starting lineup) is typical of a 2013 Georgia basketball player. He's a worker bee with few shotmaking skills whatsoever. Only one Georgia player averages more than 7.9 points per game. Yes, Fox distributes minutes to 11 different players, but a capable basketball team should generally be able to pose at least one formidable "Plan B" scoring threat to opponents. Donte Williams is a very smart defender. He uses his body well and establishes good position on defense. Vanderbilt will be able to hold Georgia to a low point total, but the Commodores need to make sound decisions on offense, especially against a defender with Williams's acuity.
Forward – John Florveus – Senior, 6-11, 240; 2012-13: 2.4 ppg, 3.2 rpg
Florveus can and does fill space in the middle for Georgia on defense, but his statistical output is so meager that if he's not able to defend well, he doesn't have much of a place on the floor in Fox's extended rotation. Florveus averages only 17.3 minutes per game, while fellow forward Nemanja Djurisic averages 23.6 minutes per game. It is Djurisic who averages 7.9 points per game, giving this team a small measure of scoring punch.
Forward – Brandon Morris – Freshman, 6-7, 205; 2012-13: 4 ppg, 2.3 rpg
Morris has been averaging 16.4 minutes per game in his first year because fellow forward, teammate Marcus Thornton, was knocked out for the season with an injury suffered in December. The fact that Georgia has improved, and not declined, with Morris in the rotation tells you that his energy and effort on defense have lent a bit of ballast to this team. As is the case with every Georgia player save one (we'll get to that one player shortly…), Morris needs to be viewed as a defensive threat more than as an offensive presence. How Vanderbilt attacks Georgia's defense, not its offense, will likely determine the outcome of this game.
Guard – Vincent Williams – Senior, 6-0, 165; 2012-13: 5 ppg, 2.3 apg
This Williams hits 38 percent of his threes, but he takes (on average) fewer than three attempts per contest. Vincent Williams is an active defender on the wings. He's one of the reasons why UGA bottled up Ole Miss's offense on Feb. 16 in Oxford, and similarly contained Arkansas in Fayetteville (where it's hard to keep the Hogs under wraps) on Feb. 21.
Guard – Kentavious Caldwell-Pope – Sophomore, 6-5, 205; 2012-13: 17.6 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 2.1 steals per game
It's easy to look at the scoring average and use it to conclude that Caldwell-Pope is the best player on the Georgia roster. Yes, he is the best player in Fox's rotation, but the scoring is only part of the story. Basketball has seen plenty of players (we're looking at YOU, Marshall Henderson of Ole Miss…) who focus on offense to the detriment of their defense, or – to present an alternative example – like to be hidden on defense. These kinds of players need their coaches to play zone or devise other defenses that will minimize their levels of exposure at the defensive end of the floor. Caldwell-Pope is emphatically NOT that kind of player. He averages just over two steals per game, a sign of considerable defensive prowess. He also attacks the glass and is Georgia's best rebounder at 6-5. This is a complete player. Caldwell-Pope's jump shot needs to improve a little bit, but it should in due time – he's only a sophomore, and he'll be a load next season for everyone in the SEC.
We've mentioned Djurisic. There are five other reserves Fox can and does turn to on most occasions: Center John Cannon; forward Tim Dixon; and a triumvirate of guards, Charles Mann, Kenny Gaines, and Sherrard Brantley. Of these players, Mann leaves the largest statistical footprint, averaging 6.1 points, 3 boards, and 2.7 assists per contest.
Keys to the Game
1) Win the cheap-points and second-chance-points battles (or at least draw even). Georgia can't score – not in its initial offense, at any rate. If you told Kevin Stallings right now that these two teams will break even in terms of fast-break points, free throw makes, second-chance points, and points off turnovers, the VU head coach would probably like his chances. If Georgia doesn't carve out an edge in any "cheap point" category, it's not likely to win. Vanderbilt, of course, has had problems breaking even at the foul line this season.
2) Attack Georgia's freshmen and Djurisic on offense. Georgia's distribution of minutes is fairly balanced. Only Caldwell-Pope plays a lot more minutes (33.8) than anyone else on the squad. (Djurisic and Donte Williams are tied for second at 23.6.) With this point in mind, Vanderbilt needs to realize that Georgia will send at least three freshmen – Morris, Mann and Gaines – onto the floor during the course of a game. VU needs to challenge those three players, plus the less active Djurisic, when the Commodores have the ball. Going away from Caldwell-Pope will be a smart (and necessary) move for Vanderbilt when it settles into its halfcourt sets.
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