Tonight, the Kentucky Wildcats travel down to Athens, Georgia for an SEC East division tilt with the Georgia Bulldogs. The Dawgs have been playing some really good basketball of late, and this promises to be a very difficult game in front of a hostile, sell-out crowd.
Let's take a quick look at the comparison between the Bulldogs and the Wildcats, courtesy of Statsheet.com:
|Rank and Records||UK||UGA|
|Strength of Schedule||#46||#7|
|RPI Top 50||8-1||3-5|
Looking at Georgia's Kenpom.com top 50 wins and losses, we have the Virginia Tech Hokies, the Missouri Tigers, the Kentucky Wildcats, the Mississippi Rebels, the Mississippi St. Bulldogs, the Florida Gators, the Tennessee Volunteers and the Vanderbilt Commodores for the losses. On the win side, Georgia has defeated the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, the Tennessee Volunteers, the Vanderbilt Commodores and the Florida Gators, all in the comfortable confines of Stegeman Coliseum. Bad losses include a home loss to the Wofford Terriers and the Arkansas Razorbacks.
More after the jump. For more on the Georgia Bulldogs, be sure to check out the SB Georgia blog, Dawg Sports.
We will begin the analysis by the usual look at the dashboard. Don't forget, this thing is interactive.
Four Factors Analysis
We'll begin, as usual, by looking at efficiencies.
As you'll note by the top chart above, Kentucky is on a definite downward trend in offensive efficiency of late, and Georgia is on a notable upward trend. Zooming in on the last 14 games of the season by moving the left slider to the right until it shows games 16-29, you'll see that right now, Georgia is as efficient offensively as the Wildcats are. In fact, Georgia has been significantly more efficient in the last two games they have played compared to Kentucky: 111.8 and 123.7 compared to UK's 118 and 92.9. The bottom line here is that Kentucky must either produce some points tonight, or play great defense against a Georgia club that has gotten quite hot offensively.
Defensively, Georgia is significantly worse than the Wildcats and has been virtually all year. This Georgia club is big and strong, but they turn the ball over prodigiously (significantly more than even Kentucky) and they are managing only 12% steals, by far the worst in the SEC and 11th worst in the entire nation.
Turning to the Four Factors, the Dawgs are shooting better than the Wildcats. Let me say that again -- Georgia has a higher eFG% than Kentucky does, and is nearly as good on the offensive glass. Fortunately for UK, Georgia does not get to the free throw line well. As I mentioned earlier, the Dawgs like to give the ball away a lot.
Defensively, Kentucky is much better. They hold teams to a lower percentage, force more turnovers, allow fewer offensive rebounds and send people to the line less.
In the final analysis, Kentucky has to really worry about defending the Dawgs, because they have suddenly found their offense, especially at home. If you look at how well their offense plays at home versus away, there is almost no comparison -- at home, Georgia is a giant-killer, and on the road they are, well, road-kill. Tonight, unfortunately, Kentucky gets to face the giant-killer.
Georgia Bulldogs Basketball Roster
|Ebuka Anyaorah||5||G||Reserve, role player||194||6-4||freshman|
|Chris Barnes||4||F||Starter, role player||240||6-8||junior|
|Albert Jackson||34||F||Reserve, limited role||265||6-11||senior|
|Travis Leslie||1||G||Starter, major contributor||202||6-4||sophomore|
|DeMario Mayfield||2||G||Reserve, limited role||190||6-4||freshman|
|Ricky McPhee||10||G||Starter, limited role||184||6-1||senior|
|Jeremy Price||50||F||Reserve, significant contributor||264||6-8||junior|
|Howard "Trey" Thompkins||33||F||Starter, go-to guy||247||6-10||sophomore|
|Dustin Ware||3||G||Starter, limited role||182||5-11||sophomore|
|Vincent Williams||11||G||Reserve, role player||160||6-0||freshman|
|Drazen Zlovaric||41||F||Reserve, limited role||210||6-9||sophomore|
|Howard "Trey" Thompkins||27||30.7||6.7||13.4||50.4||0.8||1.9||42.0||3.6||4.7||76.4||1.9||6.2||8.1||1.6||3.1||1.0||1.1||2.5||17.9|
Position Analysis: Point Guard
Dustin Ware is the point guard for the Bulldogs, and at 5'11", he is another one of those short, quick players who tend to give Kentucky's guards a bit of trouble. Ware's points and assists have been up over the last three contests for the Dawgs, and he had a great game against Vanderbilt with 16 points, 4-7 from three, and 8 assists. He played a bit less effectively in the Bulldogs most recent upset over Florida, but he has proven himself to be capable of good scoring and excellent passing, having been over 5 assists/game in three of the last four games. Against UK in the first game, Ware had 13p/3a/2stl in 35 minutes of play. Dustin Ware has the highest A/T ratio in the SEC.
Eric Bledsoe will probably see the most time guarding Ware, and Bledsoe's stats have been fairly consistent during the SEC season with the exception of his 3-point shooting, which has really been down since mid-February against Tennessee. His last four games, he has been a combined 2-14 from the arc, and has managed 3 or more assists only once.
Position Analysis: Two-Guard
Ricky McPhee, the 6'1" off-guard transfer from Gardener-Webb, has also been on a significant upward trend of late, with the exception of the game against Florida. Against Tennessee, Alabama and Vanderbilt, McPhee was in or close to double-digits in scoring and getting 3 or more rebounds per game. McPhee has been shooting it well from three when he takes them, going 2-2 against both Vandy and Alabama. McPhee can get hot from time to time, and has had two games this year where he scored 20+ points.
John Wall has been a bit up and down over the last few games. His scoring had been off up until the most recent Tennessee game where he had to take over late to give the 'Cats a chance, but overall, Wall has been consistent in every way except for his 3-point shot, which has deserted him of late. Wall is 3-23 in the second half of the SEC season from the arc, and that, combined with the coolness of Eric Bledsoe, has really put a crimp in the style of the Wildcats lately. But John Wall is such a superior talent to McPhee, there is no doubt, at least on paper, who gets the better of this matchup.
Advantage: Strong Kentucky
Position Analysis: Swing
For Georgia, the 3-spot is occupied by Travis Leslie, the super-athlete who threw down a spectacular jam over DeMarcus Cousins in the last meeting between the Dawgs and 'Cats. Leslie's play of late has been up and down, from a foul-plagued low of 4 points and 2 versus the Volunteers to a 22 point, 10 rebound performance against the Commodores, which he then reprised with a pedestrian 12/2 effort against Florida. Bottom line -- this guy can go off for 20 like he did against the 'Cats last time, or disappear into the background.
UK will probably start Darius Miller at the 3, but who knows which of the 3-headed wing, Miller, Darnell Dodson or DeAndre Liggins (and possibly a bit of John Hood tonight) will get the most minutes. This is the spot the 'Cats are deepest at, and the Bulldogs are thinnest.
The biggest challenge for Miller & Co. tonight will not be scoring points, but forcing Leslie to take shots he doesn't want to take and keeping the high flier off the backboard. If Kentucky can hold Leslie under 15 points and 5 rebounds, it will be tough for the depth-challenged Dawgs to make that up. Plus, UK can keep running fresh players at Leslie and wear him down. But UK must respect Leslie's speed and athleticism in transition, where he really hurt Kentucky in the first meeting.
Position Analysis: Center
Chris Barnes has replaced Albert Jackson at the five spot for the Dawgs. Barnes' minutes started picking up in the Alabama game, and he had been playing really well up until the Florida game, where he was largely ineffective and didn't get a single rebound. Barnes is 6'8" and 250#, but he is very ponderous afoot right now and not much of an offensive threat except on putbacks. But he can rebound, and had 8 against Vanderbilt. Last time against Kentucky, Barnes managed 2 points and 2 rebounds in 10 minutes.
No big man in America matches up well against DeMarcus Cousins right now, largely because he is so incredibly mobile and quick for a man of his enormous size. Cousins has been great in SEC play, averaging a double-double, and just doesn't seem to be affected by whatever teams throw at him. Cousins has two kinds of games -- great, and greater, and it is doubtful that Georgia will fare any better than anyone else against him. Cousins is second in the SEC in points/40 minutes, first in rebounds/game, offensive rebounds/game and OR%.
Advantage: Strong Kentucky
Position analysis: Forward
Now we come to the stud horse of the Georgia team -- Howard "Trey" Thompkins, 6'10", 247#. Thompkins is one of the most remarkably consistent players in the SEC. For the entirety of the SEC season, Thompkins has averaged between 17 and 21 points per game except for 2 games -- the Auburn game in which he fouled out and scored only six, and the Tennessee game in which he went off for 25 points and 10 rebounds. Against Alabama, Thompkins had 17 rebounds, and you can count on him for right at 20/10 every single game. Thompkins is second in the SEC in points/game and third in points/40 minutes.
But UK is not #3 in the country for nothing, and they also have a stud horse to put opposite Thompson -- Patrick Patterson. Unlike Thompkins, Patterson has been a bit up and down during the SEC part of the season, but has really come on lately for double-doubles in two of his last four games, has not been out of double figures in scoring since the Alabama game, and is averaging 16 points and 9 rebounds over his last 4 games.
Kentucky and Georgia both play their starters the majority of the minutes. Georgia plays 8 people 10 minutes or more per game, and Kentucky plays nine. Kentucky's bench is far more skilled and much deeper than Georgia's. Daniel Orton, Darnell Dodson, DeAndre Liggins, and Ramon Harris have all seen significant minutes of late.
Georgia counters with Jeremy Price, Albert Jackson, Ebuka Anyaorah, and Vincent Willaims. Price averages over 7 points per game from the power forward spot, and is the third leading rebounder. He is the energy guy off the bench. Anyaorah is the designated 3-point shooter, banging in 50% of his threes.
The Wildcats are clearly superior on paper to the Bulldogs, but the truth of the matter is, the Dawgs are playing better than the 'Cats right now, at least in recent games. Georgia has been taking on superior teams in their home arena and has come out on top every single time this year. That says something about how well the defend home court, and their most recent victory over Florida just demonstrates how tough it has been in Stegeman Coliseum all year for opponents of the Dawgs.
Kentucky, however, has now had some time to internalize their most recent defeat at the hands of the Tennessee Volunteers, and I have no doubt that they are ready to get themselves back on track. I always hate to play teams on the road that are coming off a loss, but I also hate to play highly ranked teams at home coming off a loss. It seems that a loss has a tendency to motivate players in ways that shouting and stomping, and even benching do not.
I expect Kentucky to come out tonight with a chip on their shoulder and challenge the Bulldogs immediately. It will take a strong effort to defeat the Bulldogs tonight and hand them a Senior Night loss, but I believe the 'Cats are up to the task.
Projected Score: Kentucky 72 Georgia 67