After the win over Vanderbilt Tuesday night, Alabama heads to Athens to take on the Georgia Bulldogs (7-6, 1-0 in SEC). Georgia has not been good at all this season. They went 6-6 in non-conference play, and they didn't have the excuse of having played a top ten schedule. The Bulldogs have the worst RPI in the SEC. However, Georgia was able to go on the road and beat #21 Missouri on Wednesday night. They are coming off of their best performance of the season, and they will surely have a lot more confidence. Just in time for us to play them at their place, right? Mark Fox is in a make-or-break season, and he showed a lot of emotion after the big win the other night. He will have this team ready to go.
Needless to say, the loss of last season's SEC Player of the Year, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, had a major impact on this team. They don't really have a guy who commands the ball and takes over the game. However, they do play a lot of people. The Dawgs are led by a pair of sophomore guards in the backcourt. G Charles Mann (13.4 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 2.9 APG, 1.5 SPG) is a solid, all-around player. He runs the offense from the point, and is the best player on the team at distributing the basketball. Unfortunately for Georgia fans, he also turns the ball over 3.1 times a game, which is really bad. A negative assist-to-turnover ratio is not what you want from your point guard. His 6'5 frame makes him a tough matchup; he is very similar to what Mikhail Torrance brought for us his senior year (minus the turnovers). Joining him is G Kenny Gaines (11.5 PPG, 2.2 RPG, 1.2 APG, 0.9 SPG, 0.8 BPG). Gaines is a slashing guard; he doesn't shoot the ball well from long range. He does shoot 56.5% from two point range, so Alabama will have to prevent him from getting dribble-penetration or letting him get open on underneath screens. Gaines is good at forcing turnovers, but he doesn't play fantastic defense. He also is their best free throw shooter at 81.4%. Freshman G Juwan Parker (4.7 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 1.1 APG, 0.4 SPG) has added a nice boost off of the bench this year for Georgia. He is an athletic player with good potential. Finally, another Freshman G J.J. Frazier (2.1 PPG, 0.8 RPG, 0.7 APG) is an undersized player (5'10), but he is very quick.
Georgia is very deep in the frontcourt, as they distribute playing time pretty liberally. Junior F Nemanja Djurisic (11.2PPG, 4.4 RPG, 1.1 APG, 0.4 BPG) is another one of those guys who combines both size (6'8) and shooting ability (54.1% FG, 55.9% 3FG, 71.4% FT). If you watched the Bama game the other night, you saw that Vanderbilt's Rod Odum killed us with this combo. Let's not let that happen again. Junior F Marcus Thornton (6.5 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 0.5 SPG, 1.0 BPG) has been a source of frustration for Georgia fans. Thornton was heavily recruited out of high school, and is a guy that has a lot of talent and athleticism. However, his career in a Bulldog uniform hasn't panned out very well. He shows flashes of great ability, but he has had trouble living up to the hype. He is also a terrible free throw shooter (48.6%). You can't let him get going, because as I said, he has plenty of talent. A pair of 6'7 Sophomore Forwards, Brandon Morris (9.6 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 1.2 APG, 0.7 BPG) and Cameron Forte (5.4 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 1.2 APG, 0.4 BPG) are like twins on the court. Forte actually leads the Dawgs in field goal percentage, shooting 67.3% from the field. But he is terrible from the free throw line (25.0%) and is vulnerable to turning the ball over, so Morris plays about twice as much as Forte. The lone Senior F, Donte' Williams (6.5 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 1.5 BPG), is Georgia's best low post player. Luckily, he is really the only true low post player outside of little-used Junior C Tim Dixon (0.8 PPG, 1.4 RPG), so Alabama should be able to hold their own down low.
What To Watch For
1. Georgia's "Depth". Georgia plays a lot of guys. I detailed 10 guys above, but Georgia has played as many as 16 this season. However, when one thinks of depth, they usually think that the team has a large number of quality players. I wouldn't exactly consider Georgia as qualifying for that definition. Georgia plays a lot of guys, which helps keep the energy level up, but they aren't "deep" in the conventional meaning of the word.
2. Trevor Releford's Streak. Relly has been on fire lately. In the last three games, Releford is averaging 22.7 PPG and 4.7 SPG while also shooting 57.1% from the floor and 47.6% from beyond the arc. If he continues to play at this level, Alabama will be in position to win a lot of basketball games.
3. Road Troubles. Alabama is 0-5 this season away from home. It's time to correct that.
4. Shannon Hale's Emergence. Hale has really started to contribute big time for the Tide, especially on the offensive end. Hale is averaging 11.3 PPG and 4.3 RPG over the last four games. During that time he is shooting 63% from the floor and 45.5% from three. He also had a career night against Vandy. We need to get him more and more involved in the offense as the season progresses.
3 Keys to Victory
1. Assist-to-Turnover Ratio. Alabama and Georgia have both had their own issues this year. One major deficiency that both teams suffer from is a terrible assist-to-turnover ratio. Neither team is very good at passing, as Alabama is 285th in the country in assists, and Georgia is 331st. The Tide has 157 assists to 175 turnovers, and the Dawgs have a measly 136 assists to 162 turnovers. Whoever passes and takes care of the ball better in this game will more than likely come away with the win.
2. Fouls and Free Throws. Another issue for both of these teams this year is how much both teams foul. Georgia is 291st in player fouls, and Alabama is 251st. The difference between the two is that Alabama is pretty good at hitting their free shots, and Georgia is ghastly at it. The Bulldogs are shooting 64% from the line, 318th in the country. Of course, this probably won't mean anything, as they will probably shoot 15/18 from the line on Saturday. We must have really angered the sports gods over Thanksgiving or something.
3. Forcing Outside Shots. I'm not sure if Mark Fox's bunch even know that three pointers are a real thing. Georgia is 344th in three point attempts this season. 344TH! Not only that, but they shoot only 32.9% from three, 213th in the country. But, Georgia is surprisingly good from two point range. The Dawgs shoot 52.4% from two point range, 74th in the country. If Georgia is going to pull off a second upset in a row to start off SEC play, they will have to get plenty of good looks inside. So on the flip side of that, Alabama needs to teach the Bulldogs to reacquaint themselves with the three point line. Don't let them get open looks in the interior.
Listen, Georgia is not a very good basketball team. Regardless of their upset win at Missouri, the Dawgs will more than likely still finish at the bottom of the conference and outside of the top 200 in RPI. But they are playing with more confidence than they have had in a while, so Alabama needs to temper that a little bit. This could end up being an ugly game with a lot of free throw attempts. Tip off is set for 3:00 pm CST and the game will be televised by whatever channel carries your local SEC TV package.