For those of who just caught your breath after the Mississippi State meltdown (although a win is a win), Saturday's contest in Athens has the potential to get your heart rate up again. The 9-11 Bulldogs (1-6) in conference are, as our friends at Anchor of Gold suggest, better than their record might indicate. With that said, there is a reason (or reasons, in this case) why the Mark Fox's Dawgs have the record they do. This is a big game for Vanderbilt for several reasons: 1) A win would get lift their conference record to 7-1; 2) it would be their (CORRECTION) 4th road win of the year; 3) they are better that Georgia, and the better team has to win games they are supposed to win, if they are going to get the respect they deserve. With that preface, let's get into it.
What Dawgs to Watch
The biggest threat the Dawgs have is 6'10, sophomore forward Trey Tompkins. Tompkins enters the game averaging 17.6 points and 7.8 rebounds a game. His production in SEC play has been even greater in terms of points (averaging 20 a game), if slightly diminished on the boards (7.4). Still, he's the conference's third leading scorer and fourth leading rebounder. Given the dearth of their bench, and Georgia's overall lack of offensive weapons, stopping Tompkins will go a long way in reaching 7-1. Vanderbilt should use Georgia's 86-61 loss to Missouri (a team the Commodores beat in Memorial a month prior, to the day). In that game, Tompkins picked up with 2nd foul and headed to the bench 4 minutes into the game leading 7-4. Missouri quickly took the lead and never looked back. Trey only played 16 minutes (a season low) before fouling out with 9 point and 5 rebounds. Thus, Vanderbilt would be well advised to feed the post early and try and get A.J. involved (and hopefully Tompkins out). He showed more aggressiveness in the first half against Mississippi State than in almost any game I remember this season. Still, he's been a better second half player over the course of the year. Even if it's not via A.J., Andre and Jeffrey (who has struggled in conference play), can hopefully to the basketball and force the action in the early going. An quick start early is something that will go a long way if Vanderbilt is able to earn their 3rd road win of the year.
The other primary scoring threat for the Dawgs is sophomore guard Travis Leslie. The 6'4 guard is averaging 14.2 points and 6.5 boards a game on the year, with even better numbers (16.6 and 8.1) in conference play. Given his size, one would think Leslie would be a 3pt threat, but as it turns out, he's only attempted 4 3's through 7 conference games (connecting on 3). In that sense, Georgia's style of play is completely opposed to that of Mississippi State (who attempted as many 3's as 2's). In fact, UGA doesn't even have enough 3 point attempts to qualify for the national rankings in 3pt accuracy. When they do shoot the three, they are second in the league to the Commodores in 3pt percentage, and have connected on 48% of their attempts in their last 4 games.
Former walk-on Ricky McPhee is Georgia's third scoring option, averaging 12.4 points in conference games. The 6'1 senior leads the team in minutes, steals, and 3pt%, hitting 42% of the time in SEC contests. The other senior is center Albert Jackson, who is averaging just under 4 points and 4 boards a game. Jackson only plays about 19minutes a game and doesn't appear to be much of a factor.
Rounding out the Dawgs starting 5 is the point guard, a 5'11 sophomore Dustin Ware, who is averaging 8 points and 3.4 assists in league play. Ware, like all the other starters except for Jackson, averages over 33 minutes in conference games. The other player to mention is junior forward Jeremy Price, who is netting 6 points in 17 minutes during SEC play.
For the Dawgs, that's about it. They only have 7 players averaging double digit minutes a game, and that number drops down to 6 now that they are into the heart of the SEC schedule. The Georgia Games Notes noted that this has been an issue all season for the Dawgs, with all 5 starters playing 30 minutes or more in their loss to South Carolina.
They Can't Hold a Lead
It's likely that the only time most of you have seen UGA play is when they were being the crap out of the Vols (I know that's the case for me). Don't let that game fool you. Georgia was able to do then, what they haven't been able to do in any other game in conference play: hold a lead. The Dawgs have led at halftime in 6 of their 7 SEC games, yet their SEC record is 1-7. They've squandered 2 double-digit halftime advantages, including a 15 point lead at home to Arkansas Wednesday before losing 72-68. What happened on Wednesday was not pretty if you're a Dawgs fan. They hit just 2 field goals in the first 10 minutes of the half, allowed Arkansas to shoot 64.5% from the field and 60% from downtown, were out-rebounded 19-9, and had 11 turnovers that led to 21 Razorback points. In squandering an 11 point lead at Mississippi State, the Dawgs shot just 14% from 3, including going 0-6 in the second half. This is all to say, that while it's not ideal for Vanderbilt to get down early, no lead appears insurmountable against Georgia. Anticipating criticism from VSLNation, don't ask me "what about Tennessee or Georgia Tech?" Those are rivalry games that UGA gets up for. Vanderbilt is not. Georgia's inability to focus and finish has been a consistent problem, even if there were a few aberrations. I'd also note that Georgia has not outscored an SEC opponent in the second half. The closest they came way tying UT with 36 points.
More Stats That Make Me Smile
Georgia is 12th in the conference in turnovers per game and the margin between their turnovers and their opponents turnovers. They are 11th in opponents field goal percentage as well. The fact that Vanderbilt is shooting close to 50% from the field headed into this game, makes me believe the team has an opportunity to have a great shooting night. Consider this: the Dawgs are 0-3 overall and 0-2 in SEC play when their opponents shot 50% or better. The team is 0-9 when their opponents reach 70 points. On the year, the Commodores are averaging 78.3 points a contest.
One more note, in SEC games, Georgia's opponents are averaging 6 more free throw attempts than they are.
Pause for Concern
Georgia has shown, at times, an ability to score inside the paint. Looking at 2 games in particular, the Mississippi State and Illinois games, the Dawgs dominated their opponents scoring 56 and 38 points compared to their opponents' 28 and 22 points in those contests. The Dawgs were also able to score 20 second-chance points against MSU compared to their 7 (a staggering number given why State did to the Commodores in Memorial on that front).
What I'd Like to See From the Commodores
Reemergence of JT. Jeffrey Taylor has struggled as of late. While he's still doing a good job of getting to the line, he's too often settling for bad outside shots that he might hit in practice but that he doesn't hit in games. In particular JT's body language when headed off the floor is troubling. He's a great player and this is the kind of game where he can thrive. He will likely be matched up with either an undersized defender in Leslie, or the Dawgs best player, Thompkins. If it's Leslie, Taylor should be able to take the ball to the rack and finish. If it's Thompkins, than JT has the potential to either tire out their best scorer and be guarded by a guy uninterested in playing defense.
Play Up Tempo. I will again use the Missouri game as a frame of reference. While clearly anarchy isn't our preferred style the way it is for the Tigers, this style clearly worked against the Dawgs, who were handed their worst loss of the season at Mizzou. This style of game benefits the Commodores because of the relative depth of each team. UGA isn't deep at all. They are playing 6 guys for all intents and purposes in conference play. Vanderbilt, on the other hand, goes legitimately 9 deep with a very serviceable player in Darshawn able to lift that number to 10. Vanderbilt's 3/4 court press has the potential to be very effect both in terms of Georgia's demonstrated penchant for turning it over, as well as tiring out the Dawgs.
AJ Playing Two Complete Halves. It hasn't really happened yet this season. AJ has absolutely been a second half player, which, while having it's virtues, is getting a little played out. This is a game where, if, A.J. can take over early, he might not have to play much in the second half.
Don't Look Ahead. Vanderbilt has a chance to solidly themselves as, at worst, the second best team in the SEC East (and by extension, the conference) next Tuesday against Tennessee in Memorial. This is a game that the Commodores will have circled on their calendars as one they really want. The cliche, "one game at a time," certainly comes to mind. A loss to UGA is not what the Commodores need heading into that match-up.
You never know which Georgia team is going to show up. Are they better than 9-11? From a talent prospective, absolutely. Can they beat better opponents at home? Certainly, they've already done it to Georgia Tech and Tennessee. But as I said, there is a reason they are 9-11 and if Vanderbilt can exploit those weaknesses, then this team will be 7-1 with more games at Memorial than on the road down the stretch run.