The 18-12 Dawgs end their regular season with a road trip to Fayetteville, Arkansas, to face the 22-8 Razorbacks, who are coming off a disappointing 13 point loss at Florida. It will be Arkansas’s Senior Day, much as Wednesday was for our 4 seniors, and their emotions and determination to win will be high. It appears UGA’s big man Yante Maten will make the trip with the team, but he is not expected to play. So, as they have the last 3 games, the Dawgs will climb aboard the slim shoulders of JJ Frazier and hope that he has enough in the tank to get them a win.
J.J. Frazier is the reigning SEC and National (nbcsports.com) Player of the Week. He averaged 28.5 ppg in wins over Alabama and LSU last week. Each game moves him up in the record books. J.J. Frazier joined Georgia’s top-10 career scoring leaders during his 36-point outburst against Kentucky on Feb. 18. He joined the top-10s for assists and steals at South Carolina on Feb. 4. Frazier is now one of just three Bulldogs – along with Vern Fleming and Sundiata Gaines – who is listed on Georgia Basketball’s top-10 career leaders ledgers for points, assists and steals. Frazier’s point production against UK was his third 35-point performance at UGA, along with 37 points at Mississippi State in 2014-15 and 35 versus Georgia Tech a year ago. Frazier and UGA’s all time leading scorer, Litterial Green, are the only two Bulldogs to score 35 points on three occasions for UGA.
The AJC has another interesting article that shows that JJ has only produced 41.6% of UGA’s points in the last 3 games, making a case that others are stepping up. Derek Ogbeide is averaging nearly 9 rebounds per game, and Juwan Parker’s production has gone way up in recent games, for example. Fox makes the point that, if Maten were not injured, teams would have to pick their poison, i.e. choose whether to guard Maten inside or the 3 point shooters outside. My only question is – why hasn’t this been the case all year? We essentially wasted Crump for much of the year, and Harris, after starting for much of the season, has been on super secret probation for about 4 games, with the team claiming an unspecified injury (though he dressed out and warmed up every game). So yes, it would have been great all year if we had forced teams to guard the perimeter. I bet Maten and Ogbeide would have appreciated the extra space in which to operate.
Coach Mike Anderson had to have been scratching his head for much of the season. In the middle of the SEC season, Arky fans were starting to wonder whether Anderson would be keeping his job after this season. Anderson spent much of the preseason talking about how the expectations were to make the NCAA Tournament. Despite the recent loss to Florida, the Hogs still look to complete a turnaround from some early season disappointment. (Sound familiar?)
One of the reasons for the turnaround has been the improved play of Trey Thompson (well, at least up until the Florida game). Anderson has talked about Thompson’s skill and high basketball IQ for a while now, but that praise looked to be misplaced until recently. In the past month, Thompson seems to have figured things out, not necessarily with scoring, but by being that “glue” guy for the Hogs – the guy who does the little things that often don’t show up in box scores. His improved passing and defense have been a big part of the team’s improvement.
I read an interesting discussion on an Arkansas blog about whether the SEC can become a top 3 basketball conference if the Hogs don’t return to the national prominence they had when they joined the SEC. Not surprisingly, they concluded it could not. I tend to agree. Arkansas under Nolan Richardson was a great program that played with a chip on its shoulder. “Forty minutes of Hell” wore out most teams. While I think Anderson would love to play that way, he hasn’t been able to pull together the talent necessary to do so. When a player the caliber of Malik Monk leaves your state (even for UK), you can bet there will be grumbling and underachievement in his wake.
This is an important game for both teams, but probably more important for the Dawgs. If they could somehow pull off a victory in Fayetteville, a win in the SEC tourney might only be gravy. They might already be in the NCAAs. I do find this a bit strange, given the Dawgs’ failure to get any big wins, but the RPI is still pretty strong at 51. The Dawgs are 0-6 against the top 3 SEC teams – UK, UF and USC – though, to be fair, there have been some extremely close games. A win over the Hogs and the return of Yante Maten for the SEC tourney would be just what the doctor ordered.