Georgia is currently fourth in the SEC. Let's talk about that for a minute.
The Bulldogs finished non-conference play at 6-6 with losses to bad teams like Temple and Davidson. Their two conference losses have come against the SEC's only ranked teams, and have come by a combined total of 47 points. Outside of winning the conference tournament in March, UGA has no realistic shot to make it to the NCAA Tournament.
And they stand alone in fourth place in a major conference.
That's more of a dig at the SEC than the resurgent Bulldogs, who have shot into conference play with confidence. UGA rode a wave of emotion following coach Mark Fox's father's death to record a big win over then-#21 Missouri. They followed that up with victories over Alabama, South Carolina, and Arkansas to put themselves on the top of the league's second tier. Their only losses have come to the SEC's two elite teams, Florida and Kentucky.
The Bulldogs can bolster that resume by defeating Vanderbilt at home on Wednesday. The Commodores are trying to build off of a 66-55 win over Texas A&M, but Kevin Stallings's team hasn't won back to back games in over a month. However, history will be on Vandy's side - they haven't lost to UGA in their last eight tries.
The key to victory on Wednesday could be following the path laid out by Davidson back in November. So how did an undersized, undermanned team run Georgia off the court in non-conference play? Let's take a closer look.
Georgia (10-8, 4-2 SEC, unranked in the Coaches' Poll, #116 in the Pomeroy Rankings)
Worst Loss: vs. Davidson (10-11, #176 KenPom,#161 CBS RPI), 82-94 Other Losses: vs. Georgia Tech, vs. Temple, vs. Nebraska, at Colorado, at George Washington, at Florida, at Kentucky
Davidson is 10-11 right now, but that's not due to a lack of offense. The Wildcats are scoring nearly 77 points per game thanks to an up-tempo style of play that caught Georgia off balance in a 94-82 win. The Bulldogs struggled to contain Davidson's rambunctious style of play, turning the ball over 16 times and committing 27 fouls in the loss.
That speed and aggression was a big part of the Wildcat win. UGA's two biggest forwards combined for just 31 minutes before fouling out, putting a big strain on a Georgia team that doesn't have much depth around the basket. The Bulldogs may have had the more talented roster, but they couldn't keep up with the 'Cats' attack in a disappointing loss that put head coach Mark Fox on the hot seat.
The next day, Davidson went out and lost to Clemson by 31 points.
Key to Destruction: Creating turnovers. Georgia shot 11% better from the field than Davidson, and were only out-rebounded by a single board. How did that turn into a 12-point loss? Sloppy ballhandling. Eight different Bulldogs committed at least one turnover in Charleston due to Davidson's aggressive defense. The worst offender was sophomore guard Charles Mann, who had four turnovers - something he's done in eight other games so far this season. If Dai-Jon Parker and Kyle Fuller can get after Mann in the backcourt and force him to retreat into his bad habits, they can create more possessions for the Commodores.
Keys to the Game:
Attack the basket. Davidson made 34 of 41 free throws to overcome a big gap in scoring efficiency from the field. That could create a big opportunity for Vanderbilt's James Siakam, who got to the line 13 times in Vandy's win over Texas A&M. UGA's forwards top out at 6'9", and Mark Fox's team may not have the size to shut down the 6'6" Siakam like other teams have this season. If "Bamba" can continue his aggressive play in the paint, he could be suited for another big performance.
Create friction up front. A follow up to the first point. Georgia floundered with their big men in foul trouble, as Marcus Thornton and Donte' Williams both fouled out early. While Nemanja Djurisic can play, the Bulldogs don't have much going on behind him. That's good news for Damian Jones, who should get plenty of passes in the interior against a big man rotation that struggles to play defense without making too much contact. If Jones and Siakam can keep UGA's big men on the bench or make them afraid to get physical inside, then the Vandy offense will have a chance to score big on the Bulldogs in Athens.
Push the pace. This will be a tougher point to take advantage of with only seven scholarship players on the roster, but could be used in a pinch if the Commodores trail early. Davidson attempted 76 total shots (58 FGA, 18 shooting fouls, three and-1s) against the 'Dawgs, rarely using the full 35 seconds on the shot clock. That pace flustered UGA and kept the Bulldogs on their heels all game. Davidson took a comfortable lead into the second half and held off Georgia's comeback attempt to cruise to a big non-conference win.
Georgia is a better team than their 10-8 record suggests, and infinitely more balanced now that Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is playing in the NBA. However, the Bulldogs can be exploited up front by aggressive drives and high-tempo play. If Vanderbilt can summon the cardio this seven-man team needs to push UGA up and down the court, they'll be able to leave Athens with a win - but it could take another big day from James Siakam first.
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