Georgia visits Auburn in the first SEC game of the season.
Georgia can begin to exorcise the demons of recent past and last season by beating Bruce Pearl’s Auburn Tigers tonight. A rough loss at Oakland and a possibly more embarrassing loss at Auburn last season will need to be overcome by Mark Fox’s Georgia Bulldogs. Georgia comes into this game with a 7-4 record and Auburn comes in with a 10-2 record.
Auburn runs a fast paced offense that is a modified Flex Offense. Defensively, Bruce Pearl mixes it up, but he is known for pressure defense when he has adequate depth.
This Auburn Basketball team has defeated some teams will quality brand names, but they do have that albatross of a loss to a terrible Boston College team. Auburn’s resume is better than Georgia’s, but it may not be good enough for the NCAA Tournament Committee. Their wins over Texas Tech, UAB, Oklahoma and UConn are already showing some tarnish.
- UConn is extremely inexperienced and have been playing without Terry Larrier, Alterique Gilbert and Mamadou Diarra. They sport a 4-6 record this season.
- Oklahoma lost of a lot of talent from last season’s Final Four team. This team is hardly recognizable. They are 6-5 this season. Lost to Auburn without Senior Point Guard Jordan Woodard who averages 17.6 points per game, 5.2 rebounds per game and 3.6 assists per game.
- UAB is 6-6 this season.
- Texas Tech is 11-1, but have played a very soft schedule. Their biggest accomplishment was winning at 6-6 Richmond.
Auburn is winning their games, but to consider them for the NCAA Tournament is not only premature, but it overrates their accomplishments. Auburn is certainly improved over last season and is nearly guaranteed a season that does not include twenty losses.
Auburn’s top four out of five scorers on a per game basis are Freshmen. Pearl has made a concerted effort to play his Freshmen and accept the outcome of it. However, this was not a team with a large, productive nucleus returning anyway. Seven of Auburn’s eleven regulars in every game going forward were not with the program last season.
Auburn can beat opponents inside and outside. Typically, they will beat opponents on offense on the inside by driving off the perimeter and high post. Danjel Purifoy can play anywhere on the floor and be dangerous. Mustapha Heron is more likely to get his work done starting out at the perimeter. Purifoy and Heron are team’s best rebounders.
Horace Spencer is a strong shot blocker, but he commits far too many fouls. LaRon Smith has the same problem. Taking them out of the game is easy, just force them to play through screens and attack the basket in their direction.
Austin Wiley is talented and highly touted. It is his fourth game of College Basketball and for a post like Wiley, he is still get used to the game. Wiley can draw fouls rather well, but he cannot hit Free Throws. Wiley is still figuring things out and his inexperience is still something that can be exploited.
The most efficient members of this team are Purifoy, Harper and McLemore. All Freshmen, but they need T.J. Dunans for his leadership although he is not as efficient. Dunans is more of a driver than a shooter for this team.
What can Auburn do really well? They can draw fouls and get to the Free Throw Line. They are an average team when it comes to Field Goal shooting and Free Throw shooting, but they know how to wear opponents down by working up their foul counts. Does that sound familiar? It should. It is what Georgia did under Mark Fox when Charles Mann helped resurrect the Georgia Offense.
Auburn is a poor rebounding team, but they are strong at forcing turnovers and blocking shots. They foul a bit too much, but they also force opponents into serious foul trouble. Auburn is able to mount comebacks against opponents due to opponents being in foul trouble and having key members fouled out. Auburn’s pace, depth and style of play wears out the opposition.
Auburn is a three point happy team that gets much of their interior scoring from dribble drives. If they make their three point shots and get to the Free Throw Line frequently, they win. If they miss their three point shots and are dominated on the glass, all it takes an average offensive performance to knock them off. This is not an offense that is strong at sharing the basketball.
Defensively, Auburn opponents take a lot of threes against them, but they are able to get into the restricted arc with ease.
Avoid getting shots blocked and Auburn can be had in the restricted arc. It is why it is crucial to get LaRon Smith and Horace Spencer into foul trouble early.
Onto the Georgia Bulldogs
Georgia’s flaws are rather well known and have been pointed out plenty in this publication. As far as the metrics are concerned, they do not necessarily tell the full story, but they hint that this team is in some trouble.
Georgia is a poor perimeter shooting team that is not getting enough contributions from anyone not named J.J. Frazier or Yante Maten, by design. This team was thought to have no identity, but it is abundantly clear that there is an identity – it just isn’t good.
Offensively: This team is about forcing the ball into Yante Maten whether it is appropriate to do so or not. J.J. Frazier has the green light no matter what he does. The rest of the team is just there because they need to have three other members of the team on the floor, by rule.
Defensively: This is a passive defense that is not very good at forcing turnovers and allows good shots to be taken by opponents. This defense is about wishing and hoping that opponents miss as the only two defensive things this team is capable of doing right is blocking shots and rebounding.
Georgia’s actual strength is in the frontcourt duo of Maten and Ogbeide. Jordan Harris and Turtle Jackson are the team’s best perimeter shooters while J.J. Frazier continues his slump.
Georgia needs ball movement to score. This is not a dribble drive oriented team, it actually is a team that relies on feeding big men and taking jump shots. Opponents that can shoot threes and score off the dribble drive have been problematic for this team.
54.1% of their made shots in the restricted arc came off an assist, which is in the top decile of the country. Georgia is in the top 15% of the country in Field Goal percentage in the restricted arc. Georgia only takes approximately 1/3 of all shots in the restricted arc, which is quite low for a team that is so efficient on the inside.
Georgia likes to take 2 point jump shots and the 36.1% distribution of shots outside of the money zone is rather awful. Georgia is toward the bottom of the country in this metric. This team only shoots 34.8% in this zone, but yet take the majority of their shots here. That’s Georgia Basketball over the past two seasons.
Opponents like to shoot threes against Georgia and if they hit their threes, they are more likely to win. Remember, Georgia counts on opponents to miss shots, but does not do an adequate job containing dribble drivers and leaves three point shooters wide open.
Georgia is a strong rebounding team, but was poor on the boards against Oakland. Georgia usually does a good job of not fouling on defense, but was poor against Oakland. Oakland is not exactly the strongest team at forcing fouls and getting to the line. Against Auburn, Georgia is going to face a severe test in quickness and ability to get to the Free Throw Line. Auburn can be a bit like Marquette as many of their guys can shoot the three point shot and they will stretch out Georgia’s defense. Pace of play is also similar.
Offensively, this Georgia team has a lot in common with the 2012-13 Georgia Basketball Team. Shooting distributions are similar and the dribble drive was de-emphasized until the second half of the season. That 2012-13 Georgia Basketball Team was rebuilding and figuring itself out much like this one. There are even some similarities to the 2011-12 Georgia Basketball Team as far as three point shooting issues are concerned.
Georgia Basketball teams under Mark Fox live and die with the stars while the rest of the team is completely powerless to pick up the slack. Georgia’s most successful teams of the Mark Fox era enjoyed some form of a balance in contributions and were not focused 100% on one or two particular student-athletes doing everything. Fox’s best teams played like teams and were not concerned with force-feeding a star.
History has to be the guide in this game and Mark Fox has put in nearly seven and a half seasons worth of work to know what to expect in this game. The last time Georgia came into a conference opener after losing a non-conference game on the road was in 2013-14. Georgia won a very emotional game in Columbia, Missouri over a Missouri team that was considered a Top 25 team at the time, but they fell apart during the conference season and went to the NIT. This would mark the beginning of hard times for Missouri and springboard a three year run of success for Georgia Basketball.
Georgia is 2-5 in conference openers under Mark Fox. Against fast paced teams that like to press, they have yet to win one. Mark Fox is .500 in his career against Bruce Pearl and his teams typically show up in one of the games and fail to show up in the other. There is no reason to expect Georgia to win this game, Auburn holds serve as they rain down threes on Georgia and play to Georgia’s weaknesses rather well. Georgia will get another shot at the Auburn Tigers in Athens and if history is a guide, that particular game should see this team fare MUCH differently. Right now, Georgia has not evolved yet and the longer this goes on, the uglier this will all turn.
This game is not about Bruce Pearl and Auburn’s team, it’s about Mark Fox’s hubris.
Prediction: Auburn 82 Georgia 66