Information and analysis of Georgia includes contributions from college basketball freelance researcher and writer Nathan Giese.
The Vanderbilt men's basketball team didn't have what one could call a "fun" night in Auburn this past Saturday, but at a time when Tennessee is blowing teams out left and right, and Auburn has been smoking opponents in second halves, Vanderbilt produced a highly respectable showing against the clear-cut best team in the SEC, on the road.
This is the strength of the SEC in 2018: Vanderbilt might have the league's worst record -- which lends credence to the claim that VU is having a bad SEASON -- but it's hard to look at the Commodores and call them a bad TEAM. There's a difference between a bad season and a bad team. Everything that could go wrong has gone wrong for a group which has played Tennessee twice on relatively even terms for 40 minutes, and has done the same in two games against Kentucky. That VU played Florida close on the road, defeated Alabama, and stood in the ring against Auburn all reinforce the claim that while the record looks awful, this is not a bad team. It outplayed TCU in the Big 12-SEC Challenge and has continued to fight hard in spite of a series of gut punches which would take the starch out of lesser athletes.
This tells me something about Bryce Drew: He continues to coax considerable effort out of his players in the face of discouraging plot twists and stagnating fortunes. This resilience was needed at this time last year, when a lot went poorly in January but the roster did not give up on the season. Its reward was an NCAA berth despite an eye-catching number of losses. There is no NCAA berth within reach this season, so the players' continued resolve is even more admirable. If the players on the roster who are returning next fall can maintain a strong work ethic until the last second ticks off the clock in VU's final SEC Tournament game, the Dores will have established an important building block -- a cultural one -- heading into next season.
Hopefully, that season won't be as bad as this one. Just as hopefully, next season's team will be better than this one... but that doesn't mean this year's team is bad, only its series of outcomes.
The Cleveland Browns were a bad team in the midst of a bad season. The Sacramento Kings are a bad team having a bad season.
2017-2018 Vanderbilt is a not-great, not-terrible team -- generally mediocre and capable of producing noticeable quality -- which has consistently failed to make high-impact plays in high-impact moments.
It is also a team which has not given up.
As another game approaches, by all means lament the string of losses and the "almost but not quite" sensations VU basketball contests have produced this season. Critique the granular flaws and situational missteps which have represented the difference between victory and defeat -- you should.
Just don't label this team "bad." That word belongs to the season, not the players themselves. Their effort -- not always elegant but enduringly robust -- deserves that modicum of respect.
Here is a closer look at Georgia:
Overall: Georgia is a mess this season, especially on the road, where the Bulldogs are just 3-6. Their offensive output is extremely one-dimensional. Yante Maten averages 19.3 points per game. The next highest scoring average is William Jackson II at just 9.3 per contest. Scoring numbers progressively go down from there. Essentially, it’s the Maten show, but not in a way which is conducive to strong team performances for the Bulldogs.
Maten has 11 20-plus-point scoring outings this season. He and Jackson have accounted for 32 percent of Georgia’s total shot attempts.
The 3-point line isn’t usually a big factor in Georgia games. Only one Bulldog has shot over 35 percent from distance this season and that’s Nicolas Claxton, who has taken 14 threes and made seven, not a large batch. As a team, Georgia shoots 32 percent from three, but also holds opponents to just 31 percent. Not much outside shooting goes on in their games, but the instructive point to be found here is that the Bulldogs need a more consistent perimeter shooter to space the floor so that Maten has a lot more room to operate. A knockdown shooter would also offer the simple reality of a second major scoring threat, which this team has not cultivated to this point. It must find one soon if it wants to make a push to the NCAA Tournament.
Bench production is a strength for the Bulldogs, which plays into the lack of top-heavy production. Maten does the heavy lifting, but a number of pieces can, and have, contributed -- just not consistently enough to meet this team's needs and help it perform to the standard it expects. The most frequent starting lineup features Maten, Jackson II, Derek Ogbeide and Rayshaun Hammonds with Juwan Parker and E’Torrion Wilridge splitting the fifth spot. Wilridge, however, has seen his minutes diminish significantly of late.
Mark Fox is scrambling to find good roster combinations, because the starting five outside Maten has simply not been able to give Georgia sustained production, especially in important moments of swing games which -- had they gone in different directions -- would have UGA a few games above, not below, .500 in the SEC, which would likely mean a spot within the bubble cut line instead of a few notches below it. Georgia desperately needs to make the NCAA Tournament this year -- partly to take advantage of a player with Yante Maten's skills before he leaves, but mostly to take pressure off Fox, whose teams have far too often been a No. 2 seed... in the NIT. Georgia needs to get past the threshold for Fox to feel safe in his position. The upgrades in SEC coaching in recent years -- at places such as Auburn, Alabama and Tennessee -- will impress upon Georgia administrators the fact that the Bulldogs (unless or until they show otherwise) are stagnating, which puts them further behind the competition. Not being able to get an NCAA berth this year will offer powerful incentives to athletic department decision makers to consider a change in direction in March or early April.
Taking care of the ball isn’t something Georgia is great at. The Bulldogs have a minus-75 turnover margin. One positive area is overall defense. Georgia ranks ninth nationally in field goal defense, holding opponents to 39.1 percent shooting. Maten has 31 blocks and Claxton 26.
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