Losing to your hated in-state rival is never fun, but it’s especially frustrating when the good guys totally collapse towards the end of the game. Bouncing-back from that kind of loss will be tough, but that’s exactly what Alabama (11-7, 4-2 SEC) will have to do Wednesday night against the Georgia Bulldogs (12-7, 4-3 SEC). To make things more difficult, Georgia will also be looking to get up off the mat after a collapse of their own on Saturday, when they lost in controversial fashion to Texas A&M in College Station.
The Bulldogs have been a bit of a disappointment thus far this season, as they have arguably the best guard/post pair in the SEC and a lot of experience in their rotation, yet they have the resume of a 4-seed in the NIT, which is about where this young Alabama team sits. Regression analysis would suggest that the Dawgs are due to go on a run here soon, but they’ve been knocking on that door for a while now, to no avail.
- PG 5’10 J.J. Frazier (16.2 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 4.4 APG, 2.1 SPG)
- SG 6’4 Jordan Harris (5.8 PPG, 1.7 RPG, 2.1 APG, 0.9 SPG)
- OG 6’4 Juwan Parker (9.7 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 2.1 APG)
- PF 6’8 Yante Maten (19.6 PPG, 7.9 RPG, 1.5 APG, 1.4 BPG)
- PF 6’8 Derek Ogbeide (7.1 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 0.8 APG, 1.4 BPG)
Again, the Dawgs are a very talented, experienced team. Everybody in the starting five played significant minutes last season, with the exception of the true freshman, Harris. Frazier has been playing at an all-conference level all season. The diminutive, yet explosive, point guard is shooting 39.7% from the field and 30.0% from beyond the arc, which has been a bit of a disappointment, relative to his ability. But he’s also 5th in the conference in APG, 2nd in SPG, and is one of the country’s best free throw shooters at 88.8%. He has a commanding presence on the pace of the game.
Joining him in the back-court are Parker and Harris. Parker is a straight slasher, as he is scoring at a 38.4% clip, but shooting only 18.2% from beyond the arc. His defense is solid (97.1 DRtg) and he rebounds exceptionally well for a 6’4 guard (12.3% RB%). Harris is the young buck in the line-up, grabbing a starting spot due to his shooting abilities (45.8% FG%, 45.5% 3P%, 70.6% FT%), which have been invaluable for a group that struggled to get much going away from the basket earlier in the season.
Maten is a legitimate candidate for SEC Player of the Year, and is a surefire lock for 1st-team All-SEC. He is easily the most skilled post player in the conference (well, along with Arkansas’ Moses Kingsley), capable of protecting the rim (95.3 DRtg, 1.4 BPG), controlling the glass (3rd in the SEC at 7.9 RPG, 14.5% RB%), scoring from all over the court (55.2% 2P%, 47.1% 3P%, 71.6% FT%), and even dishing out good passes. His size is the only thing holding him back from being a lottery pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, as his game doesn’t translate well to the pro level. Ogbeide joins him down low as a more-than-solid, very efficient, complement (60.6% FG%, 92.0 DRtg, 16.9% RB%).
- G 6’2 Willie Jackson Jr. (3.7 PPG, 1.1 RPG, 1.1 APG)
- G 6’1 Tyree Crump (2.0 PPG, 0.5 RPG)
- F 6’6 Kenny Paul Geno (2.2 PPG, 1.9 RPG, 0.7 APG)
- F 6’7 Paul Diatta (2.7 PPG, 1.9 RPG, 0.7 APG)
- F 6’6 E’Torrian Wilridge (1.4 PPG, 0.9 RPG, 0.9 APG)
- F 6’8 Houston Kessler (0.6 PPG, 1.1 RPG)
- F 6’9 Mike Edwards (4.1 PPG, 4.2 RPG)
Here is where Georgia has really had problems: they play six different guys off of the bench, but they don’t really get much from most of them. Jackson was benched earlier in the year due to his issues scoring the ball, but he’s still their first substitution in the back-court. Paul Geno has been around forever and can shoot (46.7% FG%, 41.2% 3P%), but struggles from the line (57.1% FT%). Edwards gets most of the reserve playing time in the front-court, as his 96.0 DRtg and 12.7% RB% have earned him high praise from coach Mark Fox.
Player to Watch
Whoever is Defending Maten. In theory, Shannon Hale, a stretch forward, would be the ideal defender for a guy of Maten’s versatility. However, it’s become painfully obvious that Avery Johnson has given up on Hale contributing in any meaningful way for this team. Because of this, there will probably be some combination of Braxton Key, Riley Norris, and Bola Olaniyan tasked with limiting this dynamic player. Olaniyan will present the stiffest resistance in the post and on the glass, but Maten could take advantage of him by playing out more on the wing. Key is the most athletic and talented of the three, but as a freshman, Maten could take him to school in the post. Norris is a smart, risk averse defender, but he simply isn’t big enough to withstand Maten’s plethora of post moves.
Three Keys to Victory
- Limit Maten’s Offense. As alluded to in the above section, containing Maten will be a massive undertaking from someone. It may require a group effort, such as a 2-3 zone or a double-down from the perimeter. However Alabama decides to approach it, it is essential that the Tide contain Maten, as Georgia really does go as he goes. He can hurt opponents in so may different ways, and his inside-out ability opens up shots on the perimeter and lanes in the paint. Heck, Georgia lost to Florida a few weeks ago almost exclusively because Maten fouled out late in the game. Which brings me to Key #2...
- Put Georgia in the Doghouse. Pardon the pun, but Alabama needs to get the Dawgs into foul trouble if they want to steal a big road win in Athens. Georgia relies heavily on their main guys, as Frazier and Maten both log over 30 MPG, and Parker is just shy of that at 27.6 MPG. Frazier and Maten must have some of the highest +/- ratings (the difference in points scored while the player is on the court) in the SEC. Alabama needs to apply pressure offensively and try to draw some fouls.
- Don’t Get Destroyed at the Line. If Alabama can successfully get the Dawgs in foul trouble, that implies that they will spend some time at the free throw line. As anyone who follows ‘Bama hoops knows, the Tide are absolutely atrocious at the charity stripe (62.3%, 341st in the country). It’s pretty embarrassing really. Meanwhile, Georgia is shooting 74.3% from the line. If Alabama gets outscored from the line by 15+ points again like they did in Auburn on Saturday, they will lose this game handily.
Georgia really should be more in the NCAA Tournament discussion than they currently are, but it’s important to note that two of their three losses in conference play were to #25 Florida and #23 South Carolina, who are a combined 11-3 in SEC play. The Dawgs have one of the most talented starting line-ups in the conference and a legitimate SEC POY contender in the post. Even their 19th-ranked Adjusted Defensive Efficiency trumps ‘Bama’s 25th-ranked defense, which has been the Tide’s calling card this season.
With that being said, they are currently staring the NIT in the face for a reason. There is definitely a path to victory for the Crimson Tide, but they will need to play demonstrably better than they did against Auburn.
The game will tip-off at 8:00 PM CST and will be televised on ESPNU.