Basketball Scouting Report: Georgia

The Vanderbilt men's basketball team couldn't contain Bobby Portis of Arkansas -- there's no shame in that. Lots of other SEC teams are going to encounter the same scenario this season. What has to change for the VU crew tonight against Georgia: ball security, or more precisely, a lack thereof. Giveaways are meant to happen near a Christmas tree, but the holiday season is supposed to be over.


The Vanderbilt Commodores battled admirably this past Saturday against a good team in a tough environment. They showed a considerable degree of skill, creating genuine hope for the remainder of the season. Yet, the shortcomings from an 82-70 defeat at the hands of Arkansas point the way forward for VU. This team knows exactly what it has to do to take care of Georgia tonight in Memorial Gym. On a broader level, Vanderbilt probably increased expectations for the SEC season – not dramatically, mind you – with its performance against Arkansas. Instead of getting run off the court, the Dores showed they could stand in the ring for more than 30 of the 40 minutes in that tussle. If VU can hang with Arkansas in Fayetteville, it should not be seen as unrealistic to snag the fourth seed in the SEC Tournament, and with it, a double-bye into the quarterfinals, which would give VU a chance to play its way into the semifinals and see if it can steal an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.

Stranger things have happened.

Let’s see if Vanderbilt can indeed get a top-four finish in the SEC (the third seed being an even better prize than the two seed, since it would put Kentucky, the almost-certain top seed, on the other side of Vanderbilt’s bracket). The road to that goal begins tonight against the folks from Athens, who – interestingly enough – got the third seed in the SEC Tournament last year.

GEORGIA AT-A-GLANCE

Georgia did indeed get the number three seed for the 2014 SEC Tournament. The Bulldogs were terrible out of conference, but they rallied to become the best of the rest during the regular season in a league that was Florida and 13 others. (Kentucky and Tennessee, of course, decided to show up once the NCAA tournament’s bright lights came on, but in the regular season, those two teams underachieved to a considerable extent.)

This season, however, owns a different feel for the Bulldogs. They whipped Seton Hall by 18, and they won at Kansas State. Those are two wins over possible NCAA tournament teams, giving UGA a decent resume boost which Vanderbilt lacks. However, whereas Georgia’s non-conference resume is much better this season than it was last season, the Bulldogs are not putting together the SEC results they fashioned a year ago. Georgia has stumbled out of the gate, losing at home to Arkansas (a team that couldn’t tie its shoelaces on the road in previous seasons) and then falling at LSU in double overtime.

The main problem for Georgia so far this season has been defense. Coach Mark Fox has to find answers at that end of the floor. The Bulldogs allowed Arkansas to shoot 51.7 percent from the field in Athens. The Hogs scored 42 points in the second half to come from behind and top the Dawgs, 79-75. Last Saturday, LSU hit 45.5 percent of its field goals over the course of 50 minutes. Keep in mind that LSU scored 64 points by the seven-minute mark of the second half, before the game devolved into a foul-fest and a battle of attrition. The Tigers ripped through Georgia’s defense in the first half for 42 points, yet another 40-point half surrendered by Fox’s forces in SEC play. That’s just not acceptable.

What’s also not acceptable for Georgia is that it blew a 79-71 lead with 1:16 left in the first overtime period, later an 80-74 lead with 45 seconds to go. The Bulldogs surrendered a three-pointer with 39 ticks left on the clock: 80-77, Georgia. The Bulldogs then missed two foul shots. LSU got the ball back, and Georgia fouled LSU’s Tim Quarterman on a drive to the basket, creating an old-fashioned three-point play the Tigers used to tie the game at 80 and send it into double overtime. LSU made only one field goal in the second overtime period, but five free-throw makes were enough to top Georgia, which did not hit a single field goal in the period.

If you had to look at another point of concern for Georgia, it’s turnovers. The Bulldogs committed 17 in regulation against Arkansas and 15 in regulation against LSU. Georgia committed two turnovers in the final minute of double overtime in Baton Rouge as well, with Charles Mann being the culprit. More on turnovers will be said in this preview, for reasons Vanderbilt fans are well aware of.

Starting Lineup

Forward – Nemanja Djurisic –
Senior, 6-8, 230; 2014-15: 11.6 points per game, 5.4 rebounds per game

Djurisic is just not imposing enough to become a major factor on the court for Georgia. He takes a few threes per game, but that’s not enough to make him a huge perimeter threat. He hits just under 33 percent of his shots, so he doesn’t trust his shot enough to become a guy who can change the way a defense must position itself against Georgia’s halfcourt offense. Djurisic barely gets to the foul line as well, creating another limitation which enables defenses to not have to devote added resources to stopping him. Unless or until Djurisic develops more of an outside shot and becomes a more potent scorer, Georgia will be handcuffed to an extent on offense.

Forward – Marcus Thornton – Senior, 6-8, 235; 2014-15: 13.6 ppg, 7.9 rpg

The Georgia starting five, as you can see, has names that are very familiar to Vanderbilt and other SEC basketball fan bases. Thornton, like Djurisic, is a senior, someone VU won’t have a problem scouting. He doesn’t take a high volume of shots. He’s a muscular frontcourt player who is a formidable rebounder and will therefore get some putback chances, which is what contributes to his 50.7 field-goal percentage. Vanderbilt knows it must keep Thornton contained on the glass in order to win tonight.

Guard – Kenny Gaines – Junior, 6-3, 200; 2014-15: 11.8 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 2.1 assists per game

Gaines fits in with Georgia – not in the sense of being exactly what this team needs, but in terms of matching the pattern set by other players on the roster, especially the starting five. Georgia’s players generally don’t shoot copious quantities of shots. There’s no one player who dominates the ball or demands the rock in close games. There’s no one in this starting five who shoots particularly well from three-point range (with a high number of shots, that is). Gaines is, like his teammates in the starting five, good enough to crack double figures as a scorer, but there’s little that’s truly dynamic about his game. This absence of an imposing scorer throughout the starting five certainly contributes to Georgia’s limitations as a team. It is unable to truly stagger opponents with one or two components in its offense.

Guard – Charles Mann – Junior, 6-5, 215; 2014-15: 12.1 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 3.6 apg

Thornton is UGA’s best interior player, and Mann is the team’s best perimeter player. That said, Mann endured a brutal finish to the LSU game on Saturday, missing two foul shots late in the first overtime after committing a turnover a few possessions earlier. Mann’s collection of mistakes enabled LSU to rally and force a second overtime. Mann, as mentioned earlier, committed two turnovers in the final 30 seconds of the second overtime to seal Georgia’s unhappy fate. He is the team’s best passer, which makes his turnovers that much harder to take. Mann is also the team’s second-best rebounder, even better than Djurisic. He does a lot for this team, but he’s just not that exceptionally skilled, offering a window into this program’s problems.

Guard – Juwan Parker – Sophomore, 6-4, 200; 2014-15: 5.9 ppg, 4.2 rpg

Like Mann, Parker is a bigger guard. Like Mann, Parker rebounds well from the perimeter. This forms one of Vanderbilt’s central challenges tonight: rebound at all five positions on the floor, especially from the backcourt, to neutralize Georgia’s ability on the glass.

Bench

Three players received at least 24 minutes in Saturday’s extended game against LSU, so they should be considered the core of an eight-player rotation for Fox: forwards Yante Maten and Cameron Forte plus guard J.J. Frazier. Maten averages 4.9 points and 3.6 rebounds per game, while Forte averages 2.2 points per game. Frazier is the best of the bunch on the bench for the Bulldogs, averaging 8.7 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 3.4 assists. VU will want to be sure to limit his influence when Frazier steps on the floor.

Keys to the Game

1) Turnovers – at both ends of the floor.
VU fans know that the Dores coughed up 22 giveaways against Arkansas, with three different players committing five turnovers apiece. Arkansas’ pressure defense got to Vanderbilt, a good learning experience but one that needs to translate into much better results the rest of the season. Georgia, of course, has been hounded by the turnover bug early in the SEC season, so the Commodores need to make sure that pattern continues tonight.

The other reason turnovers represent the foremost game key tonight is that Vanderbilt hit 52 percent of its shots against Arkansas. Georgia, as we’ve noted, has struggled on defense. If Vanderbilt doesn’t give the ball away and is able to run its offense cleanly, there’s a good chance the Dores can approach 50 percent from the field in this game. If they do that, they stand to win, probably by a comfortable margin… as long as they put up enough shots to matter. Another 52-percent shooting performance with 22 turnovers might not be good enough. On the other hand, 52-percent shooting with 12 turnovers should definitely be sufficient for VU.

2) Gang rebounding. We mention this from time to time as a game key, but it certainly applies here. Georgia’s bigger guards – including Frazier off the bench – demand attention. Georgia does not shoot the three very well, so being attentive on the glass – when the Dawgs miss a three, and on a general level as well – is a must for the Commodores.

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