The question going into Georgia at Alabama: Will the Dawgs suffer from a Kentucky hangover?
Georgia plays on the road tonight against Alabama in Tuscaloosa. It’s a huge game for both teams but for very different reasons. Alabama is currently tied with Arkansas for fourth place in the conference. At 16-10 (9-5 in the SEC), Alabama is squarely on the NCAA tourney bubble. CBS Sports’ latest projection of the NCAA field has Alabama as one of the last teams in. They have forecasted the Crimson Tide as a No. 11 seed playing in the Dayton First Four round. The ESPN version, however, doesn’t even have Alabama among the last eight who don’t make the field. With just four games left until the conference tournament and an RPI of 74, this game is the Tide’s best chance to improve that RPI standing, since UGA has a current RPI of 54 and its three other remaining opponents are higher. Alabama is running out of games to impress the selection committee.
On the other hand, this game is important to UGA (15-12 with 1 game that doesn’t count and 6-8 in the SEC), not for an NCAA postseason berth, as that ship has probably sailed, but perhaps to help save Coach Mark Fox’s job. A week or two ago, the consensus was that Fox was not in much danger and would be back next season. But rumblings are being heard, and articles have begun popping up in the local press that may mark a change in the conventional wisdom. The Dawgs’ task is not made easier by the fact that All SEC post player Yante Maten suffered a regular season ending knee injury in the tight UK loss. This Georgia at Alabama game marks the first game the team will play from start to finish without the junior stalwart.
Coach Avery Johnson sounds unconvinced. “Obviously we’ve heard that Maten is out. I’ll believe it when I see it,” he said. “I’ve always tried to prepare for a guy — unless he’s had surgery, which I haven’t heard anything about that recently — as if he’s going to play. There’s still going to be parts of our game plan just in case there’s a 10 percent or 20 percent chance he’ll play. We just want to be ready for it.” Of course, there is no indication that Yante will dress, much less play.
UGA suffered a 20 point home defeat at the hands of Alabama earlier in the year, when Fox was tossed out of the game in the first half for arguing over a palming violation call. That would seem to be an example of letting the collapse at Texas A&M linger and may be an indication that Fox is feeling some pressure. The question now is whether the tight loss to UK over the weekend will also cause another hangover for the team. Will JJ Frazier be able to duplicate his indescribable 36 point performance against Kentucky? Will the Dawgs get performances from Derek Ogbeide, Michael Edwards, Pape Diatta, E’Torrion Wilridge and others to offset the loss of Maten’s production? Will Tyree Crump and Jordan Harris get to participate more than a minute or two in the first half? Can UGA avoid the turnovers and long stretches of not scoring that have plagued them all year? What adjustments will Fox make to the team’s offense to try to score without Maten? We will know by 9:00 p.m. tonight.