Over the Christmas break Georgia basketball fans witnessed their Bulldogs upset Illinois, take down two lesser opponents and then get completely smashed, 89-61, on the road by Missouri.
And that’s OK. For now.
Missouri is by far the best team Georgia has played to date, since the Tigers advanced to the Elite Eight last year and returned most of their key pieces. Georgia is a young team, and will take time to adjust to the rigors of playing on the road.
But the loss did offer some insight into a disastrous method to combat Georgia with.
Tigers coach Mike Anderson (you know, the coach Georgia targeted last spring before Fox was hired) is famed for his “Fastest 40 Minutes in College Basketball.” The Tigers have a deep bench, and press obsessively from start to finish. The goal isn’t always to force turnovers, but instead to force the tempo. Missouri wants to get steals, but if the press is broken, the Tigers entice quick, low percentage shots. This increases the possessions in the game, and wears opponents down. The results against Georgia?
-- Starting point guard Dustin Ware had six turnovers.
-- Shooting guard Ricky McPhee gave the ball away five times.
-- Travis Leslie added another four.
-- The team as a whole had 23 turnovers.
-- Missouri scored 35 points from those turnovers.
Sounds simple, but Georgia gave away 23 opportunities to score, meaning Missouri had 23 more chances to score. That stat alone is why Georgia was defeated, and lost the game so decisively.
But another key to the loss: Leading scorer Trey Thompkins picked up two fouls in the first five minutes of the game.
Trey played only eight minutes in the first half, scoring just three points as the Tigers jumped out to a 46-28 lead. For all intents and purposes, the game was over. This may seem like a small storyline in a random out-of-conference game in early 2010. But think about this? If Thompkins gets in foul trouble in future contests, who is going to carry the scoring load? Get crucial rebounds? Provide the feeling that as long as this guy is on the floor Georgia still has a shot to win? Leslie can score, but is still working to become more consistent. And if and when Trey hits the bench, there is no way his replacement can provide the same production.
This team depends on Thompkins more than teenagers do Facebook. It’s that simple. I hate to put too much pressure on a sophomore, but he is the key. He’s the reason Georgia wins games, and in turn, will be the reason the Bulldogs will lose some. And that’s the way Thompkins wants it.
“My teammates need me to do that, they let me know everyday that I need to be more of a leader, and a vocal leader,” he told me after a recent victory. “If that’s what I need to do I’ll do it.”
And I’ve seen Thompkins talking more during games, telling, teaching, showing, directing. This is his team now, no doubt about it.
“It’s something that individually you notice, but at the same time you need other people to help you know it is OK to do that,” Thompkins said of his vocal leadership. “My teammates take criticism very well, and I thank them because at the same time they criticize my game as well. I’m not perfect at all and they let me know that every day. It’s a punch them, punch back type of thing.”
Anyway, enough harping for one loss. Here’s a few thoughts to get ready for Georgia Tech on Tuesday.
As a team, first the good:
-- Georgia is second in the SEC in defensive rebounding. The Bulldogs have put forth immense effort to control the glass, in order to stop second chance points.
-- The Bulldogs are leading the conference at the free-throw-line, shooting 70 percent thus far.
Middle of the pack:
-- Defensively, Georgia is ranked fifth in the SEC, holding opponents to 64 points a game.
-- The Bulldogs are sixth in blocked shots, with over five-and-a-half per contest.
And, the bad:
-- Georgia, once again, is last in the SEC in scoring offense, averaging 65 a game. Needless to say, the Triangle Offense, as expected, is still a work in progress. An offensive side note, Georgia is 10th in assists, evidencing the lack of distribution.
-- Georgia is shooting 42 percent from the field, 32 percent from the three-point line, both ranked ninth in the SEC.
-- The Bulldogs are 11th in the conference in turnover margin (-2.17) and 11th in assist-to-turnover ratio (.83 a game).
A few observations:
-- I’ve rehashed a few points numerous times so I won’t linger. Trey Thompkins is really good. Travis Leslie is coming along nicely, scoring 18 against Missouri.
-- I’ve been slightly disappointed thus far with Dustin Ware. He’s fresh off a six turnover game, and is shooting a mere 34 percent from the field. I get that he’s under immense pressure, being the only tested point guard on the team, but I expected more offensive efficiency from him. That being said, even with the turnovers, Ware is still the only player on the perimeter I trust with the ball and I respect his decision-making. He’s still learning. I see him turning his shooting woes around.
-- Every time Ricky McPhee shoots a three, I expect it to go in. The former walk-on is shooting 39 percent from beyond the arc, yet when he pulls the trigger, I know it’s going to fall. For a good time, watch him shoot in warm-ups.
-- Sophomore Drazen Zlovoric isn’t gun shy. He’s taken 30 shots, only making eight of them. But he keeps on shooting. The old saying goes, “You can’t score if you don’t shoot.” What if you can’t score when you do shoot? Same tag applies, he’s still learning. Expect the percentage to go up. Surely.
-- Coach Mark Fox says Albert Jackson is the best defensive player on the team. I tend to agree.
-- I had high hopes for junior Chris Barnes coming into this season. He started five games in place of the injured Jackson early, but hasn’t seen much run since. With Thompkins on the floor for his all-around awesomeness and Jackson out there to provide defensive relief, Barnes has blended into the outskirts of the rotation.
-- And here is my take on the freshmen, Demario Mayfield and Ebuka Anyaorah. Actually, here is Ware’s take on the two...
“They are known as very good defensive players. Ebuka has really come in and played good defense, but is also starting to make some plays on offense for us. They’ve been really coming around the last few weeks and they are really great athletes. We’re definitely going to use them.”
I believe the scoring will come for both Mayfield and Anyaorah. Maybe not this year, but down the road, as they both mature, I see some offensive production. For what it’s worth, I want to point out that Anyaorah has been on the floor down the stretch of several close games this year for his defensive versatility. Fox uses the redshirt freshman to play multiple positions, and Anyaorah can defend guards and posts, play on the perimeter or in the frontcourt in zone looks. Those types of contributions may go unnoticed by some, but not me.
With all that said…Georgia Tech is very talented club, but like Georgia, the Yellow Jackets are young. Expect anything from the Bulldogs, as they continue to learn and grow within Fox’ system. See you in Stegeman.