Wednesday, January 6, 2010

UGA vs. Kentucky: Could Winner Take All?

Not to put too much pressure on the Dawgs, but this Saturday's game at Rupp could be huge.

At the beginning of the season, everyone was picking the Dawgs to end up last in the SEC East. Georgia was understandably seen as being much weaker than the 5 other teams in the division.

But not even the best prognosticators could have foreseen the variety of on-court and off-court issues that have affected the opposition. As the SEC kicks off the first conference games this weekend, I think the pundits would agree that Georgia's prospects are much brighter, based on the following:

1. Volunteer Orange Sing Memphis Blues

UT is still figuring out what to do about the problems that have ensnared a few of their key players. Just a few hours after the team played Memphis, a car with Tyler Smith, Cameron Tatum, Melvin Goins, and Brian Williams, was pulled over. The smell of marijuana and the presence of two revolvers under the seat meant trouble for the group.

Law enforcement is still working its way through the investigation, but in the meantime, the four players involved have been suspended indefinitely. Even if Coach Pearl were tempted to give his guys a slap on the wrist, he can hardly do so, now that the police and UT's athletic director are closely involved. Given the bad press that UT's football players have generated, I expect that the four hoops players will not see the court this year.

Make no mistake about it, the 6 scholarship players that Pearl still has at his disposal can all play. And he has some walk-ons to help him fill out his bench. But Pearl's margin for error is now extremely thin. He certainly cannot afford much in the way of injuries, foul trouble, or off shooting nights from the members of his squad. And his style of play will definitely be affected. Can UT commit to run a full-court press all game long, all season long? I don't think so. Without the press, UT struggles to put points on the board.

2. Downey, Dominique and Dismissal in Columbia

As good as South Carolina looked last year, the Gamecocks could end up as lunch this season for the other teams in the SEC. Devan Downey seems to be in a bit of a slump. He's still averaging 18 points per game, but he is shooting right at 40 percent from the floor, and has just as many turnovers as assists.

Dominique Archie, an inside player who had been averaging 14 points per game, was injured last month and has had to have season-ending surgery. Now, just this week, Coach Horn has dismissed Mike Holmes from the team. As the attached article states, Holmes was averaging 11 points and 5 boards per game. South Carolina will still be a team to be reckoned with, but their record as they enter conference play is a rather pedestrian 9 and 5, and without Archie and Holmes, other SEC teams should be able to wear them down in the post.

3. Vandy Plays Beneath Potential

Vanderbilt will be good, and they have defeated Missouri and Depaul in Nashville. However, Vandy will always have a pretty decent record at home, based on the unusual sight lines in their gym.

The Commodores have an up and coming team, but they have lost already this season to Western Kentucky and to Illinois, a team that Georgia beat.

4. Can Florida's Guards Shoot?

Florida is still out there. They hit a lucky three-quarter court shot to beat N.C. State and go to 11 and 3 on the year. However, they have looked less than impressive. UF is last in the league in 3-point shooting, and 10th in the league in field goal percentage.

5. Georgia has the Mojo

Has anyone else noticed? We haven't won every game, and our record is about where it was last year. But, knock on wood, we haven't had a single key injury, suspension, or legal issue this season.

Ebuka Anyaorah was out all last year to allow him to recover from surgery on his shins. His legs are holding up, and he even has some explosiveness going to the rim.

Albert Jackson's broken hand healed up just in time to start the season. Chris Barnes seems to have suffered no ill effects from his wrist surgery last year. Jeremy Price recovered well from the ankle surgery he had before last year. Howard Thompkins, who had a stress fracture in his foot and a sprained knee just before last year's season started, has recovered completely and due to his playing time with FIBA over the summer and his ability to participate in fall workouts, he's in the best shape of his life.

Everyone else in the division seems to be breaking down, just when our players are finally all healthy at the same time.

Could it be that the perennial "UGA basketball snake-bite" has finally latched onto someone else?

6. UK

So that leaves Kentucky. UK is undefeated. They're as good or better as everyone expected.

Are they be primed for an upset? John Wall has had some cramping problems. Perhaps the Dawgs will GATA (Get After That Asp), and Calipari's squad will feel the fangs of defeat on Saturday.

How could it happen?

I would use the same strategy against them that we used against Tech. Pack the lane and make their guards prove they can shoot from outside.

Unlike the Georgia Tech game, the Dawgs will have to rebound like crazy and limit their second shots. If McPhee and Ware get hot from the outside, and our big men play their post guys even, UGA might escape with the W.

Not to get too far ahead of ourselves here, but win against UK and the Dawgs might then have the momentum to go on a streak against the other teams in the SEC East.

I know all of this sounds unlikely, but we just beat the #17 team in the country, and I'm greedy. We have the mojo. Let's take it one game at a time, leave it all out on the court on Saturday, and see what happens.

I'm ready for more basketball. Go Dawgs! Shock the world and win at Kentucky!

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