The first thing that always comes to my mind when I think of Georgia is tough, in-your-face man-to-man defense. No zone. No BS. Just defense the old-fashioned way. The kind of defense that makes good offensive players look bad, and great offensive players look ordinary. No easy shots, no open looks, no layups, no dunks. Real. Tough. Defense.
Dennis Felton and the Bulldogs have been through the kind of season that makes the Wildcats' injury struggles look like a walk in the park. Georgia has lost no less than 3 of their best players -- Takais Brown, Mike Mercer and Rashaad Singleton to various off-the-court issues and just general malaise. Brown was dominant in the paint last year, and Mercer was one of the Dawgs' best players and expected to have a huge season after recovering from knee injury. But you will find none of those men on Georgia's roster -- they are "gone like yesterday." And If that weren't enough all by itself, leading scorer Billy Humphrey has chronic knee issues which require rest, which he will not be getting this season. Georgia is a rather decrepit team compared even to Kentucky considering the team they expected to field this season. It has been a litany of misery for the Dawgs this year, and to top all that off, they are currently in a bad shooting slump from the perimeter.
These departures and injuries leave the Dawgs in a state of semi-competence. They play hard defense. They work their butts off and they lay down to nobody. But they cannot do the one thing that is necessary for every team that plays basketball to do -- put the ball through the steel ring -- as most of their offensive firepower is no longer with the team.
The top players for the Bulldogs are as follows:
Per Game Averages
The normal starting rotation is highlighted above. This Georgia team does have 10 players who get double-digit minutes per game, but Billy Humphrey and Sundiata Gaines are the iron men for the Dawgs. Humphrey is the leading scorer and 3-point shooter, but Gaines is the guy who makes others around him better, and although he is shooting poorly at the moment, there is no guarantee whatever it will continue. He shot 35% from three last year, and is fully capable of doing all kinds of damage. Other than Humprhey and Gaines, there are very few scoring options available to the Dawgs. Woodbury, Price and Bliss get points, but not enough to carry the team if Gaines and Humphrey are cold.
Matchup wise, the Cats don't come off badly against the Dawgs. Their guards and our guards are pretty even sizewise, and despite the fact that they are much more massive in the post, they surrender a lot of athleticism to Kentucky down low. Like Kentucky, the Dawgs' guards are solid rebounders, but their big people are not the glass-eaters their size might suggest.
Georgia has a somewhat traditional major college alignment utilizing 3 guards and an interior with good size. Sudiata Gaines is the main ballhandler. Billy Humphrey is a good career 3-point shooter, and Sundiata Gaines can also make shots, if you ignore recent history.
On the low block, the Bulldogs offer Dave Bliss and Jeremy Price, two big guys that go 250 and 270 respectively. Both of them are somewhat indifferent scorers, but are both capable rebounders and defenders. Terrance Woodbury will be manning the 3 spot. Like the rest of the Dawgs, Woodbury has been in a shooting slump of late.
Defensively, Georgia is a very good team, as you can see by examining the statistics below. Georgia is 66th in the nation in defensive points/possession, and they are pretty much an exclusive man-to-man team. Georgia, in my opinion, plays the toughest and most physical man-to-man defense in the nation. They bang, push, shove and grab as much as they can get away with, and will absolutely try to intimidate opposing teams with their physical style. Tough defense is Dennis Felton's bread and butter, and most of his teams have reflected that style very effectively.
Kentucky is a no-nonsense, physical defensive team as well, so it will be interesting to see which team can intimidate the other on defense. There are no real mismatches available to either team, so we should expect a rather slow pace with a lot of fouls from both teams. Sundiata Gaines is the SEC's leading thief, so Kentucky will have to be very sure of their passing and confident in their ball handling.
Intangibles and injuries:
Crawford is said to be available for limited play, and I doubt if he is 100%. Meeks and Jasper have both missed some practice, but are said to be well enough to play. Billy Humphrey has had a week of rest for his ailing knees, so it's hard to say how effective he will be. Since the game is in Athens and Kentucky is only partially functional at off guard and small forward, the intangibles should favor the Dawgs.
Kentucky wins if:
- They match or exceed Georgia's defensive intensity
- They keep Gaines out of the paint
- They get the ball to Patterson a lot
- Bradley and Crawford continue to attack the rim, and Stevenson continues to make an impact
- Kentucky continues the hot shooting from the USC game
Georgia wins if:
- They are able to intimidate Kentucky with their physical defense
- Kentucky turns the ball over 18 times or more
- They regain their shooting form
- They are able to frustrate Patterson or deny him the ball
- Kentucky settles for too many three point shots
Even as depleted, wounded and injured as they are, Georgia is always dangerous at home because they are so aggressive and physical on defense. How Kentucky does in this game depends very much on how the game is called -- if the officials let a lot of contact go, Kentucky will be at a significant disadvantage. A physical game also makes it more difficult for Kentucky to get to the line, where they have an advantage over every team in the conference. It is very important that Kentucky's guards find a way to get into the paint and get fouled.
Georgia is in every game because their defense is so tough, and getting on top of them is very difficult in their house. Perhaps no team in America reflects the attitude of their mascot better than the Georgia men's basketball team, and their current shooting slump cannot continue forever -- if they break out of it today, it could be big trouble for Kentucky.
Kentucky needs to win this game. They cannot afford another bad loss, even on the road, and as Georgia is currently seen as slumping, a loss to the Dawgs would pretty much end any remaining hopes of an at-large berth to the NCAA tournament, if any hopes actually do still exist. Kentucky must play every game as if it is the biggest game of the season, because ... they are. All the Cats losses have already been taken in the early part of the season, and only victory will do from here on out.
However, if UK continues with the kind of tenacity and purpose they have exhibited in the last five games, I do like their chances. The Dawgs are out-talented and should be out-gunned. All that's left is desire and determination, and if Kentucky can match or exceed Georgia in that area, they should come away with the "W."