Georgia at Kentucky Preview: A Test for the Dawgs’ Depth and Energy

Georgia wore out Georgia Tech and Temple with energy and depth.  Can Georgia do it against Kentucky at Rupp Arena?

Georgia will enter Rupp Arena coming off an 8-day Christmas Break while Kentucky will be coming off a quick turnaround after whipping their arch-rival Louisville 90-61 on Friday.  Does this play a role in this SEC opener for both squads?  It’s possible, after all, Mark Fox blamed an 11 day Final Exam Break for the ugly loss at UMass.  Is the preparation, schedule and motivation for this game different than a trip to Amherst?  Absolutely.  Georgia’s players may not face Kentucky until 2019 and will not visit Rupp Arena until 2020.  For much of this roster, this is a last chance to beat Kentucky in Lexington and this is not any ordinary game on the schedule.

John Calipari’s Wildcats are very young, but all of them will be playing professionally and most will on be NBA rosters.  In fact, the team’s composition is 3 Sophomores and 8 Freshmen.  This inexperience would result in disaster for most coaches, but for Hall of Fame Coach John Calipari, this is normalcy.

Kentucky overwhelms opponents with athleticism, aggression, length and a fast pace of play.  However, this same Kentucky team can fall prey to their inexperience, inconsistent shooting and depth limitations.  John Calipari is used to operating with deeper teams and shuffling guys in and out based on match-ups and who is giving him the production he desires.  Calipari does not have such flexibility thus far this season based upon his scheduling of minutes.  This is due to Jarred Vanderbilt’s foot injury and Jemarl Baker’s knee injury that required surgery.  If there’s a time to beat Kentucky, it is now because by the time St. Louis turns blue in March, opponents will be encountering a deeper and more experienced team that will be dangerous in the NCAA Tournament.

Playing only eight deep and getting meaningful production from all active members of this lineup has been critical to Kentucky’s success.  Kentucky’s success is also predicated on these factors.

  1. Scoring in the restricted arc.
  2. Using the dribble drive to set up rhythm three point shots off assists upon penetration.
  3. Not being overly reliant on three point shooting.
  4. Three point defense.
  5. Second chance points.
  6. Full court pressure defense.

Kentucky’s attacking offense leads to Free Throw Attempts and they adept at keeping opponents from getting to the Free Throw Line as opponents are very three point shooting happy against them.

Keys to stopping Kentucky:

  1. Force live ball turnovers.  They are susceptible to turnovers with 14.7 per game (256th in the country) and 17.1% per possession.
  2. Challenge Quade Green on the perimeter.  Quade Green cannot have a good shooting night.  Kansas and UCLA were able to shut him out from three point range.  Treat him like Markus Howard or Andrew Rowsey to reduce the risk of him getting hot from outside.
  3. Sagging on Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.  He’s one of the best pickpockets in the conference, but he is also one of the best at attacking the rim.  Dare him to be a jump shooter.  Treat him the exact opposite as Quade Green.
  4. Try to get Hamidou Diallo into foul trouble early.  Diallo has a mild propensity for fouling and will guard the 2 spot most of the time, which means that screens along the wing and a cross screen between the 2 and 4/5 around the paint may be a good way to get some cheap fouls.
  5. Force Nick Richards and PJ Washington outside of the restricted arc.  A jump hook from 6 feet or any sort of a shot attempt there is better than a shot that gives them a second chance opportunity.
  6. A Modified Pack Line Defense.  This would entail constant pressure on Quade Green to force him move the ball forward into the perimeter, it would pack the defense to discourage posts from getting touches and keep Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Kevin Knox from attacking the basket.
  7. Force Nick Richards to switch on screens in Man-to-Man Defense.  The objective is to chop up the game and disrupt this Kentucky team from going on runs.  Nick Richards is susceptible to fouls too and getting him out of an ideal guarding position will lead to failed attempts at blocked shots, which means one thing – fouls and two shots at the line every time he fails.

What About Georgia?

Georgia was able to force Temple into foul trouble and is 8th in the country at Free Throws Attempted/Field Goals Attempted.  In fact, two members of the UGA roster are among the Top 100 in this metric:  E’Torrion Wilridge (#29) and Nicolas Claxton (#51).

Georgia wants the offense to chop the game up with lots of stoppages for fouls on opponents and Free Throw Attempts.  It’s a throwback to the way things were when Charles Mann was at the helm as Point Guard.  Drawing fouls results in reduced opponent depth and rhythm.  Taking important scorers off the floor with foul trouble has been a key element of Georgia’s success this season.

If Georgia falls in love with the three point shots like Kentucky’s opponents have, this will not be a close game at all.  However, if Georgia can get to the Free Throw Line and attempt more than 25 Free Throws, it will horrify the Big Blue crowd just like Senior Night of 2009.

The key commonality in Georgia’s biggest wins this season was the lack of three point shots attempted.  This team was getting points on second chance opportunities and scoring inside the perimeter.  The three point shot was attempted to keep opponents honest.

Sometimes, the stats lie.  Yante Maten is not doing this all by himself and the team has shown the ability to play without him on the floor.  The team has a much more by-committee approach and in the last two games were able to avoid getting into a rut by running extremely familiar sets.  Temple and Georgia Tech’s defensive approaches may have certainly helped the cause, but this is a team very capable of playing 11 Deep and getting production from almost all involved.

The energy level and defensive aggression was taken up a notch against Temple and Georgia Tech.  It was a level of energy on both ends that has not been seen during the Fox era and the depth has a lot to do with it.  The trust in the talent was evident and opponents were worn down either by fouls or fatigue.

Turnovers have been a bugaboo for Georgia, but this has not been as much of an issue in the past three games.  Georgia Tech forced 15 turnovers with a gambling 1-3-1 Zone Defense that was burned more often than it was able to force a live ball turnover.  Georgia Tech’s 1-3-1 Zone Defense wore down due to fatigue as the game went on and Georgia really overwhelmed them on the glass.

The ability to rebound and get second chance points is critical for Georgia.  When sets fail, the second chance opportunities get Georgia out of the funk.  Points and fouls are drawn due to Georgia’s ability to crash the glass.

Georgia’s defensive engagement early in a possession is often troublesome as the perimeter defense allows dribble drivers to get to the basket in the early stages of a possession.  It is actually critical that defenders are engaged as early as possible after a change in possession.  Why?

Georgia scores, retreats, fails to get set and then has a three point shot popped on them or a drive to the basket within 10 seconds of scoring a basket.  The objective should be to remove that offensive response by opponents so that the team can string together stops.

What to Expect?

Will there be suspect officiating?  Will the team have trouble with the press?  Can the team keep their composure during a chant of “Go Big Blue”?

The clearest signs of composure will be three things:

  1. None of the sets.
  2. The team remains on pace to shoot 16 or less three point attempts.
  3. Winning the second chance points battle.

Kentucky has not faced a team as deep as Georgia this season and may not do so until they face West Virginia.  In fact, most teams played 7-8 deep against Kentucky.  It did not necessarily work.

It would seem like this is the type of game where Georgia takes a step backward in terms of the way the team plays, but Mark Fox is embracing the style of the last two games and that is encouraging.  The next small step is to let Mike Edwards attack off the dribble against an extreme sag when on the perimeter looking to feed Yante Maten.

This game will be about Derek Ogbeide, Jordan Harris and Turtle Jackson.  Ogbeide having a big night on the boards, Jordan Harris closing off the driving lanes and Turtle Jackson trying to earn his time on the floor against Quade Green.  Turtle Jackson’s composed three point shooting as a change of pace will be very useful for the Georgia Offensive attack.  Will Teshaun Hightower be the better match-up for Green?  Nick Richards should face foul trouble and it will help Georgia on both ends of the floor.  Kentucky will play a more immature game than Georgia and it will show itself through turnovers, bad shot attempts and unfocused defense.

Kentucky is extremely talented, but after smashing an undisciplined Louisville team that was flirting with fire in the non-conference segment of the schedule, it is a bit of Fool’s Gold.  Kentucky on New Year’s Eve is not the same as Kentucky during Lent, especially this season.  Kentucky will eventually be a Final Four quality team season, but they are not that right now.

Mark Fox gets the second biggest win of his career at Rupp Arena.  John Calipari gives a post-game press conference about how his team is young and did not listen to his warnings.

“I have seen nothing about them,” Kentucky freshman point guard Quade Green said Friday.

Prediction:  Georgia 83 Kentucky 78