Vanderbilt needs a handful of wins over top 50 teams to make their case for an NCAA Tournament bid. Georgia, coincidentally, just happens to be a top 50 team.
That makes tonight's game in Nashville a big one for Kevin Stallings's young team. The Commodores can earn their biggest victory of the season by dropping the Bulldogs at Memorial Gym. UGA has a solid inside-out game thanks to big man Marcus Thornton and guards like Charles Mann and Kenny Gaines. However, that talent wasn't enough to carry them over Minnesota back in December.
Let's break down what the Golden Gophers did right and what the 'Dores can learn from their Big Ten peer. For the formal preview of Vanderbilt/Georgia, click here. Otherwise, sit back and read through another edition of The SEC's Worst Losses.
Georgia (9-5, 0-2 SEC, unranked in the Coaches' Poll, #31 in the Pomeroy Rankings)
Other Losses: at Georgia Tech, vs. Gonzaga, vs. Arkansas, at LSU
The Bulldogs have a solid record in 2014-15, but they'd certainly like to have a Madison Square Garden loss to the Gophers back. An early 16-2 run put Minnesota in control and they extended that lead to 28-12 and 42-26 before the 'Dawgs battled back to cut that lead to single digits. UGA had a chance to pull off the improbable comeback when J.J. Frazier's three-pointer cut the UM lead to 65-62 and the Gophers followed by missing three of their next four free throws. However, Georgia couldn't take advantage of that opportunity and fell to 0-2 in the NIT Season Tip-Off.
Key to Destruction: Blowing UGA's doors off. Minnesota sucked the wind from Georgia's sails by scoring in bunches early. The Bulldogs turned the ball over nine times in a 10 minute stretch that allowed UM to fire away and build a massive lead. The Gophers put up 31 shots to Georgia's 16 and built up an advantage that carried them through a lackluster second half.
Keys to the Game:
- Pressure defense. Those nine aforementioned Georgia turnovers led to 12 Gopher points and a 28-12 UM lead. After playing behind for 39 minutes against Arkansas, Vandy could use a break like that.
- Force the 'Dawgs to shoot from the outside. Georgia made just three of 14 three-pointers against Minnesota. That's lower than their seasonal average, but the Bulldogs only have two players who shoot threes regularly and make more than a third of those attempts. Kenny Gaines in particular can shoot his team in or out of a game. Against UM he made just one shot - and went 0-3 from long distance.
- Protect the ball. Minnesota won this game behind a classic Kevin Stallings-style gameplan - efficient three point shooting (10-22) and conservative ballhandling. The Gophers turned the ball over only 13 times and had zero giveaways in the final 5:30. That solid play turned away a strong Georgia comeback effort.