The SEC's Worst Losses: Georgia (Part I)

John Jenkins is so sick of hearing Peyton Siva's "how's your girlfriend" joke.

Vanderbilt will look to keep their hot streak going as they roll into their third SEC game of the season, a home contest versus 9-7 Georgia on Saturday afternoon. The Commodores have won their last six games after an ugly upset at the hands of Indiana State. Conversely, the Bulldogs are in the midst of a two-game losing streak, dropping games to upper tier conference opponents Alabama and Florida.

Georgia has yet to notch a signature win this season. They are 2-6 against teams from BCS conferences and the CBS RPI rates their best win of the season as a 72-61 home victory against South Dakota State. Their two losses in conference play have been by 15 and 22 points.

The 'Dawgs are reeling from the loss of last year's stars Trey Thompkins and Travis Leslie. That duo fueled UGA to the NCAA Tournament in 2011 and were both later drafted by the Clippers in the second round of the NBA Draft. Without them, solid scorers Gerald Robinson and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope have stepped up to lead the team offensively, but Bulldogs' inefficient play and lack of a cohesive defense have dropped them to the lower level of the SEC. Georgia has allowed conference opponents to shoot 52.6 percent from the field against them, while shooting just 38.3 percent on their own.

Before they struggled in conference play, they notched some losses against other major conference foes. Let's examine how Georgia Tech beat the Bulldogs and see if there's a blueprint there that the Commodores can exploit on Saturday.

Georgia (9-7, unranked, #135 in the Pomeroy Rankings)

Worst Loss: vs. Georgia Tech (8-8, #105 KenPom, #131 CBS RPI), 56-68
Other Losses: vs. California, at Xavier, at Colorado, vs. Cincinnati, vs. Alabama, at Florida

The Bulldogs' schedule is littered with BCS-level opponents, but few wins. Coach Mark Fox should be commended for his ambition, but a Georgia team without Thompkins and Leslie was bound to disappoint against a slate of talented teams in the out-of-conference schedule. The team suffered double-digit losses to Cal, Xavier, Colorado, and worst of all, Georgia Tech.

December's rivalry game brought UGA's most disappointing loss of the season. The Yellow Jackets have losses to schools like Mercer and Fordham in 2011-2012, but left Athens with a big win early in their season. Tech shot over 52 percent from the field and turned a four-point Georgia lead into a 12-point win at Stegeman Coliseum.

Key to Destruction: Letting Georgia's shooters bury themselves. Tech played into the Bulldogs' slow pace with stout defense that shut down Georgia's drives and dared them to score from the perimeter. The Yellow Jackets sunk their coverage towards the paint in the second half and watched UGA jack up 13 three-pointers, making just three. This inefficiency was the key in a 16-point swing between the two periods.

This wasn't necessarily an outlier for the Bulldogs. Caldwell-Pope leads the team in attempted three-pointers with 6.7 per game, but he's connecting on just 32.7 percent of those shots. As a team, the 'Dawgs have averaged 20 three-point shots per game, but have scored on only approximately a third of those. They aren't afraid to take long shots, but only Dustin Ware has proven that he can be a consistent threat from the perimeter.

Keys to the Game:

  • Ride out Georgia's hot streaks by mixing defensive looks. Georgia came out hot from behind the arc, getting open looks and hitting three of their first four three-pointers to open up an early lead. However, Tech adjusted quickly to take away UGA's momentum and force some bad shots. After this hot start, the Bulldogs went 3-22 from long range, and Georgia Tech was happy to let the 'Dawgs shoot themselves out of the game. UGA relies heavily on the three-pointer without a consistent threat in the paint - they went 21-39 from behind the arc in wins over USC and Notre Dame - but if they can't score efficiently from the perimeter, then they'll struggle to put up enough points to beat Vanderbilt.
  • Roll with the slow pace. Georgia has shown that they can lure almost anyone in the country into their slow-paced brand of basketball. However, they haven't shown that they can efficiently defend opponents in the half-court set. Vanderbilt's ball movement in two SEC games so far has been solid - they proved that they can outpass the press against South Carolina and find open looks against Auburn. If they can continue to play patiently and pick their shots, Georgia will give them plenty of opportunities to find easy baskets.
  • Make your free throws. Georgia lost their composure in the final eight minutes of the Tech game. Over this span, Georgia Tech shot 18 free throws, effectively sealing the win in Athens. The Yellow Jackets scored 13 of their final 17 points from the line. Vanderbilt's always had solid free throw shooting, but there have been hiccups along the way this season. UGA doesn't have the size to deal with Vandy's front line in the paint, and there should be plenty of opportunities for Festus Ezeli, Steve Tchiengang, and Lance Goulbourne to make them pay from the line.

Georgia is another SEC opponent that won't wow anyone on the NCAA Tournament selection committee, but they'll present a legitimate challenge under Mark Fox, a coach that has always found ways to pester the Commodores. If Caldwell-Pope and Robinson get hot, which is entirely possible given Vanderbilt's past troubles with fast, volume-shooting wings, then the 'Dores could be in trouble at home. However, Georgia doesn't have the turnover-producing type of defense that gives this team fits, or the rebounders that can create extra possessions. These two factors should be enough for Vandy to cruise to a win, but anything can happen in a season that has seen Cleveland State and Indiana State walk out of Memorial Gym with wins.

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