Basketball Scouting Report: Georgia
It's so much like last season, isn't it? Vanderbilt needs to play grinders to win, given a lack of resources and overall firepower. The uglier the game, the better the chance the VU crew can win SEC games and finish in the middle third of the conference, removed from the bottom tier. That's the ceiling for this team right now, and if it can replicate the defensive masterpiece it unfurled against Texas A&M last Saturday, it can notch another SEC road win.
One thing has to be said about a defensive masterpiece, though: It requires work. With the weather that's been affecting the state of Georgia and much of the South the past few days, Vanderbilt could be distracted, mentally fatigued, or mindful of nothing more than the need to get back to Nashville and a warm bed… or all of the above. Those inclinations – while part of human nature – need to be conquered. The Dores have to relish this game. They must relish the chance to string together SEC road wins over teams with offenses that are ripe for the plucking.
They need to work. Hard. Very hard. This is a lunch-pail game for a team that has plenty of reasons to just go through the motions and get out of town. VU can't let weather – and Georgia – win the night in Athens.
The Bulldogs won't make the NCAA tournament, but they've been better than expected in the SEC so far, going 4-2 through six games and pulling the upset of the SEC season by winning at Missouri a few weeks ago. Coach Mark Fox regularly gets his team to play hard throughout every SEC season, but he has not been able to develop teams that have good inside-outside balance. More specifically, Georgia doesn't have imposing, back-to-the-basket scorers in its frontcourt. Opposing teams can devote attention to the Bulldogs' guards and not pay a price for extending their defensive pressure. This has to change for Georgia, as you'll see in the overview of the starting five.
Forward – Marcus Thornton – Junior, 6-8, 235; 2013-14: 7.7 points per game, 5.8 rebounds per game
Georgia did make the NCAA tournament a few years ago, losing to Washington in the round of 64 in the 2011 edition of the Big Dance in Charlotte. Why have the Bulldogs not made it back to Bracketville? Their low-post players, quite simply. Georgia enjoyed the playmaking skill and artistry of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope for many years but wasn't able to parlay that virtuosity into a steady stream of Big Dance appearances. Why? The Dawgs lack bite in the paint. The used to have the low-post horses who could complement their dynamite guards, but that is no longer the case. This team is undersized and insufficiently equipped near the rim. Georgia remains a team with solid guard play, but the frontcourt remains a liability. It's not a question of effort, though – Thornton works hard and is certainly involved on the boards. He just can't offer enough overall production.
Forward – Donte' Williams – Senior, 6-9, 225; 2013-14: 5.8 ppg, 5.3 rpg
Everything that was said above about Thornton very much applies to Williams. Notice that at 225 pounds, he's going to be outweighed and overpowered by many of the players he faces over the course of a college basketball season. Fox simply needs to land better frontcourt players in his future recruiting classes. It's not going to be easy, but that's how this program will get better, and there's no use pretending otherwise.
Forward – Brandon Morris – Sophomore, 6-7, 215; 2013-14: 9.4 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 1.5 assists per game
Only a sophomore, Morris can still grow into a much better and more polished performer before his days in Athens are done. He's not going to be the central presence in the paint for this team, but anyone on the Georgia roster who can operate effectively within 10 feet of the basket and do something useful with the ball – thereby relieving pressure on the guards to initiate everything at the offensive end of the floor – will improve this team's prospects.
Guard – Kenny Gaines – Sophomore, 6-3, 195; 2013-14: 12 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 1.2 apg
Gaines is expected to be back in the starting lineup for Georgia tonight after missing the team's loss to Kentucky this past Saturday due to an injury. One doesn't know how fluid or effective Gaines will be tonight, but since Georgia relies on its backcourt for scoring production, Vanderbilt needs to throw its best defense at Gaines and make him work very hard for every bucket while not giving him foul shots.
Guard – Charles Mann – Sophomore, 6-5, 210; 2013-14: 12.9 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 3 apg, 1.3 steals per game
Here's Georgia's best player, a youthful guard who – in tandem with Gaines – is trying to continue the Bulldogs' tradition of developing terrific guards who light up SEC arenas. One magnification of Georgia's lack of offensive firepower can be found in the fact that Mann is the only player on the UGA roster who averages more than 1.5 assists per game. The fact that Mann isn't averaging 5 or 6 assists per game shows you just how few assists this team generates, which also tells you that this team lacks knockdown perimeter shooters. Indeed, Mann – for all of his other strengths – hits just 31.2 percent of his threes. Gaines hits just 28.6 percent of his triples. Frontcourt players on this team have better percentages, but at the expense of far fewer attempts.
Fox generally uses a nine-player rotation. This includes forwards Nemanja Djurisic and Cameron Forte plus guards Juwan Parker and J.J. Frazier. Djurisic averages 10.3 points and 4.3 boards per game. Forte chips in with 4.4 points and 2.7 points per game. Parker and Frazier have not been able to make much of an impact in their time on the court this season.
Keys to the Game
1) Energy. With this game being played in front of a student section and no one else – given the traffic problems caused by icy conditions in much of the state of Georgia – the vibe inside Stegeman Coliseum will be different. It's worth noting that LSU played Kentucky in front of a student crowd under similar conditions last night. The Bayou Bengals rode the student crowd, while Kentucky never matched LSU's energy. Vanderbilt needs to look at that dynamic and make a point of manufacturing its own excitement tonight. This is not a chore to get through. This is not something to "get over with." This is a game to be won, a road game to be conquered. Being enthusiastic about this game and blocking out the weather distractions are necessities for the Dores. Slogging through the motions will translate into an instant loss, perhaps a decisive one.
2) Mann-To-Mann Defense. With Gaines being injured, Mann becomes VU's obvious defensive priority. Locking him up gives Vanderbilt a much better chance of winning.
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