The Georgia Bulldogs are Kentucky’s penultimate SEC opponent this year, and in a departure from recent meetings, this one means something. It has been years since Georgia and Kentucky played an important SEC game, and this game is pregnant with significance for the Wildcats.
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What makes this game so notable is that if the Wildcats defeat the ‘Dawgs, they are guaranteed a double-bye into the SEC Tournament. Believe me, with the Florida Gators coming up as Kentucky's final SEC contest, winning this game is critical not just to an easier conference tournament, but also to Kentucky’s hopes of even being invited to the NCAA Tournament. A three-game losing streak at year's end in conference, which could happen very easily if the Wildcats drop this one, is not going to impress anyone on the NCAA Selection Committee.
Season so far
|Rank and Records||UK||UGA|
|Strength of Schedule||#71||#55|
|RPI Top 50||1-4||0-6|
Kentucky and Georgia have played 140 games in history, and Kentucky has won 115, with Georgia managing only 25 victories. Georgia is typical of Kentucky’s SEC opponents with a low winning percentage historically against the Wildcats.
To find a period where the ’Dawgs can claim a 3-game winning streak against Kentucky, you have to go all the way back to February 1923-February 1925. In the 88-year interregnum between then and now, there have been no 3-game winning streaks for Georgia. But from 2002 to 2004 the ’Dawgs did go 4-3 against the Wildcats.
The most points scored by a Bulldog against the Wildcats was 38 by Litterial Green in January of 1991. The most points scored by a Wildcats player against Georgia was 42 by "Dinner Bell" Melvin Turpin in March of 1984.
|24||Houston Kessler||R-RS||F||6-8||215||FR||Likely Redshirt|
Georgia is a team with good size everywhere. The only real undersized player on the roster is point guard Vincent Williams at 6’0". Sherrard Brantley is a bit small for a shooting guard at 6’2", but he is mainly on the floor for his aggressive defense and solid 3-point shooting. Brandon Morris (4 ppg, 2.2 rpg) could also start instead of Brantley, making the ’Dawgs bigger at 6’7".
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (18 ppg, 7 rpg) is the true shooting guard and star of this team, and he is a very good one, averaging almost 38% from the arc, and spending 83% of the available minutes on the floor. Caldwell-Pope does not have an extremely high usage rate, as you might expect from the star of the team, but he, reserves Nemanja Djurisic (7.7 ppg, 4 rpg) and Charles Mann (6.6 ppg, 3 rpg) all get about an equal number of touches.
The center, John Florveus (2.6 ppg, 3.2 rpg) doesn’t get a lot of time, but at 6’11" 240#, he brings plenty of extra size to the linupe. Donte Williams is a shot-blocking threat at 1.2 blocks/game.
Georgia: Marcus Thornton is out indefinitely with a knee injury and will likely undergo surgery.
Kentucky: Nerlens Noel is out for the year with a torn ACL.
Four Factors and Ken Pomeroy Tables
Also, via Kenpom.com, a comparison of some major factors:
|Kentucky with ball||Georgia with ball|
|Efficiency||106.2 4||99.8 6||96.4 10||101.9 10|
|Tempo||65.8 6||61.6 12|
|Effective FG%:||53.1 3||45.3 3||47.7 8||44.4 2|
|Turnover %:||21.0 10||17.3 11||23.5 13||14.7 14|
|Off. Reb. %:||34.3 4||29.6 5||31.3 8||33.5 12|
|FTA/FGA:||45.9 2||39.4 10||47.7 1||30.4 4|
|3P%:||35.2 3||35.1 12||37.7 2||31.1 4|
|2P%:||53.2 3||40.7 1||43.3 13||43.6 3|
|FT%:||65.1 12||70.0 10||70.6 5||71.5 11|
|Block%:||10.0 6||12.6 4||10.2 7||15.2 1|
|Steal%:||9.7 8||8.1 11||12.4 13||6.5 13|
|Conference only. Numbers to right are conference ranking|
The Four Factors tilt toward Kentucky, and Georgia’s big weaknesses are the same as Kentucky’s – turnovers and offensive rebounding. Georgia turns the ball over more, and rebounds worse on paper than UK, but the Wildcats aren’t likely to put any real pressure on their guards in this game.
Georgia is almost exclusively a man-to-man defensive team, although they are not known for a tremendous amount of pressure like the Arkansas Razorbacks. That may change tonight in view of what happened to the Wildcats in Fayetteville, and I would not be surprised to see some traps and even some full-court pressure to try to dislodge the ball from the shaky UK ballhandlers.
The Georgia offense is a hybrid version of Phil Jackson’s version of the Triangle offense, the famous Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Laker offense innovated originally by Maurice "Tex" Winter. Describing the Triangle offense is beyond the scope of this article, but you can read more about it here.
This offense will present a lot of problems for Kentucky for one big reason – movement. UK, and Alex Poythress in particular, has a tendency to move very straight-up, and that makes them vulnerable to the bumps and screens the triangle puts up. Archie Goodwin is going to have to deal with Caldwell-Pope bouncing him off screens on fill cuts, and Goodwin has struggled to guard players like that all year. Caldwell-Pope doesn’t need an open shot, he can make his own, and he is just as tall and long as Goodwin.
The good news for Kentucky is that outside of Caldwell-Pope, the Bulldogs are not a particularly talented or extraordinarily athletic group. Unfortunately, teams of that description have been able to beat Kentucky all year by simply out-executing them, or alternatively, just plain playing harder.
Georgia has little to play for other than pride, and Kentucky probably understands that a loss in this game is almost a sure ticket to the ignominity of the NIT. Whether that will be enough to motivate Kentucky to get to the 50/50 balls first is anybody’s guess – it sure wasn’t against the Razorbacks.
This game will come down to one of two things – execution and hustle. The Wildcats have been executing well on offense – that is, when they don’t turn the ball over, which is an unnervingly frequent outcome – and to do so tonight would put them in a position to win.
However, as we have seen time and time again, the Wildcats’ hustle is a sometime thing, not an every-game thing. If this happens to be like Arkansas or Tennessee where they come into Athens timid, the Bulldogs will win this game. Kentucky is favored by a small number, but this team has demonstrated that it doesn’t have the kind of intensity it takes to win tough games. If the going gets tough in this one, it could be bad news for Kentucky fans.
On the other hand, if Georgia fails to show up like they did against South Carolina the other day, this game will be an easy one.