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Bama Basketball Breakdown: Georgia

The Tide travels to Athens for a tricky road trip

NCAA Basketball: Georgia at Florida Matt Pendleton-USA TODAY Sports

Following a weekend of big home wins over a pair of rival Tigers, your 24th-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide (14-6, 6-1 SEC; NET: 7; Kenpom: 8) has returned to the AP Poll and now finds itself in fantastic position for the NCAA Tournament. And after a Tennessee home loss to South Carolina last night, the Tide is now all alone at the top of the SEC standings once again. Things are coming up Crimson for Alabama right now, which means that tonight’s meeting with a suddenly competent Georgia Bulldogs (14-6, 4-3 SEC; NET: 78; Kenpom: 69) team is not only that much more important, but also a dangerous trap spot.

Mike White - or as I’ve dubbed him, White Anthony Grant - has brought stability and a strong foundation to a Georgia basketball program that has spent the majority of its existence at the cellar of the SEC. With Auburn’s recent success on the hardwood and Ole Miss and South Carolina having breakout seasons with newly hired head coaches, Georgia is the last remaining historic cellar-dweller to tap into the basketball market. However, there are signs that is changing, as the Bulldogs have suddenly become quite competitive with top recruits - it seems the big money boosters are starting to send some of that NIL money over to the hoops program.

Either way, this year’s Bulldogs have made significant strides from where they were during the disastrous Tom Crean era. Mike White’s teams have always been really sound defensively, and his reclamation project of the Georgia defense has been quite the turnaround - UGA has gone from 318th in the country in Defensive Efficiency in Crean’s last year in 2022 to 55th this season. The offense has lagged behind a bit, but that’s to be expected with White. Still, this is a significantly improved team from what Alabama has experienced in year’s past - and the Tide hasn’t exactly dominated the Dawgs in Athens. The Tide lost their last meeting in Stegemen Coliseum to that same garbage Georgia team in 2022, which was the Bulldogs only win in conference play that year. In Alabama’s breakout 2021 season, Georgia gave the Tide hell on the final day of the regular season, before the SEC Champs pulled away late for an 89-79 win. The year before that, Nate Oats and company needed overtime to put down the Dawgs at their place.

All of this is to say that Alabama can’t overlook these guys. The Tide has done that against much worse Georgia teams in recent years, and with some really ugly results to show for it.

The Roster

Starting Five

Silas Demary Jr.: G, 6-5, 9.9 PPG, 2.6 APG, 4.3 RPG

Noah Thomasson: G, 6-3, 11.9 PPG, 1.7 APG, 3.0 RPG

Jabri Abdur-Rahim: G, 6-7, 13.4 PPG, 0.4 APG, 3.9 RPG

RJ Sunahara: F, 6-8, 1.9 PPG, 0.5 APG, 1.6 RPG

Russel Tchewa: C, 7-0, 7.2 PPG, 1.1 APG, 6.9 RPG

Off the Bench

Justin Hill: G, 6-0, 9.2 PPG, 3.7 APG, 1.9 RPG

Blue Cain: G, 6-5, 7.0 PPG, 1.0 APG, 1.9 RPG

RJ Melendez: G, 6-7, 11.1 PPG, 1.1 APG, 4.4 RPG

Jalen Deloach: F, 6-9, 3.5 PPG, 0.5 APG, 3.6 RPG

Georgia has some really good size across the board on this team, which probably has a lot to do with the defensive improvement. It’s a team made up of veteran transfers, with the exception of a pair of former blue-chip true freshmen that represent the future of the program - Silas Demary Jr and Blue Cain. Demary has taken on the starting point guard role, a tall task that he’s been decent at thus far (44.3%/34.3%/72.2%; 18.0% AST%). Cain is more of an off-ball scorer (43.5%/35.6%/54.5%).

But back to the vets. Noah Thomasson transferred in from Niagra and was expected to be a high-volume, spot-up shooter. He’s been a bit of a disappointment in that regard (42.2%/34.7%/56.8%), but he’s definitely capable of getting hot. Jabri Abdur-Rahim joined the program from Virginia last year, and he has been the kind of shooter that Georgia was hoping for (38.2%/40.0%/87.1%). He doesn't utilize his length enough on the offensive end, but that 6’7 frame has definitely made it tough for opposing wings to get past him. Russel Tchewa arrived at Georgia by way of South Florida, and he’s exactly what you would expect from a mid-major big man - he can rebound pretty well (15.4% REB%), but he's mostly only a factor in other areas of the game because of his 7’0, 260-pound frame.

Some of Georgia’s best players come off of the bench though, for whatever reason. Justin Hill was the starting point guard last season and honestly runs the offense better than Demary does (37.7%/33.9%/57.7%; 29.9% AST%). Jalen Deloach is the best rebounder (15.7% REB%) and defender (98.1 DRtg) in the frontcourt. And RJ Melendez is the most effective player on the team at getting into the paint and scoring (43.8%/27.8%/85.2%).

Three Keys to Victory

  1. Turnovers. I feel like I type this a few times every year, but the #1 key will remain the same until turnovers improve. Even in the win over LSU, Alabama once again turned the ball over a dozen times. The Tide remains dead last in conference play in TO%, and Georgia is third in the SEC in forcing turnovers since the calendar flipped to 2024. Turnovers were a major theme of each of Alabama’s previous struggles in Athens as well.
  2. Attack the Glass. The Bulldogs’ worst area on the court is on the boards. Georgia is 238th in the country in OREB% and 259th in OREB% allowed. Even for all of their size, the Dawgs don’t seem to be able to corral rebounds at a very high rate. A lot of that has to do with Mike White’s defensive schemes of course - when you commit to a lot of a zone and quick rotations, it does leave you vulnerable to offensive rebounds and second chance points.
  3. Threes and Frees. We all know how good Alabama has been from beyond the arc (38.9% - 11th in the country) and at both getting to the line (38.2% FTR - 53rd) and making those trips count (79.1% - 5th), but Georgia is strong in these areas also. Well, they aren’t very consistent from deep (35.1%), but there are multiple guys on the team that can get hot and make you pay. And while they don’t shoot free throws all that well (71.6%), they are elite at getting to the charity stripe (42.0% FTR - 17th best in the country). So, Alabama needs to keep doing what they do on offense while preventing Georgia from spending all night at either line themselves.

Alabama absolutely should win this game, but it is screaming TRAP

As mentioned, the Tide has fallen victim to much worse Georgia teams in Athens than the one Alabama will play tonight. Nate Oats’ bunch is a 6-point favorite on the road tonight, and I don’t think I’d touch that with a ten-foot pole. Can the fellas maintain their focus and stay atop of the SEC standings?

The game will tip-off at 5:30 PM CST and will be televised on the SEC Network.