SEC Tourney Preview – Dawgs v. Vols
Let’s turn the clock back to February 11, 2017, in Knoxville, Tennessee. UGA overcame a 14 pt deficit with 15:13 to play to take a slim 76-75 win over the Vols. UGA’s JJ Frazier was tremendous with 29 pts and 6 assists. Perhaps forgotten in that game was that freshman guard Tyree Crump made the first start of his UGA career and went for 13 pts in 16 minutes (including 5 in 17 seconds) with 3 3 point baskets. Also forgotten might be that Yante Maten, hampered by serious foul trouble (playing only 17 total minutes), could only muster 7 pts and 4 rebounds for the game. The Vols were led by 6’5″ freshman PF Grant Williams, who scored a game high 30 pts. Williams was terrific in the paint on 10-16 shooting, and he was able to repeatedly draw fouls and get to the line where he finished 10-14.
Crump was not the only surprise starter in the game in Knoxville; Mike Edwards received a start as well, as UGA went with all 3 of its best post players in the starting line-up – Edwards, Yante Maten and Derek Ogbeide – to counter Tennessee’s powerful inside game. The move seemingly backfired though, with Maten getting in foul trouble and ultimately fouling out with 5:18 left in the game. (Personally, I am not a fan of this line-up; it makes it difficult to defend on the perimeter, as none of the 3 posts are great defending smaller, quicker players who stray from the paint, and it detracts from the Dawgs’ perimeter offense.) But this was one of those games that JJ Frazier just took over and would not let the Dawgs lose.
Apparently, Mark Fox is a chess player, as he said after the game, “I really felt like we wanted to begin the chess match and make the first move. We made it at the jump ball. That lineup got us off to a solid start. It really did. We never went back to it but it gave us a good start to the game. That was important to us.” I’m not sure UT coach Rick Barnes was that impressed with Fox’s strategy, as he countered after the game, “They just gave the ball to J.J. Frazier. They just gave it to him. They let him dribble it. One of the hardest things to defend, now, is a guy who can dribble it….”
As the SEC #8 seed, the Bulldogs finished the regular season at 18-13 (9-9 in the SEC) – winners of five of their last seven, while the Vols 16-15 record (8-10 in the SEC) earned the #9 seed in the tournament. UGA was No. 53 in Monday’s edition of the NCAA RPI, with the No. 14 strength of schedule nationally. The teams face off again Thursday, March 9, 2017, at 1:00 p.m. for the right to advance and play Kentucky in the next round. (Oh boy!) Someone’s streak is bound to come to an end. UGA has reached the semifinals of the last three SEC Tournaments, and the Dawgs and Wildcats are the only two league schools to do so. No other team has reached the semifinals more than once over the past three seasons. The Bulldogs won the 1983 and 2008 SEC Tournaments and finished as runners-up in 1940, 1981, 1988 and 1997.
Word came down today that Yante Maten will be ready to play in UGA’s first SEC tourney game. Given Tennessee’s inside strength, the Dawgs will need their star big man, who’s 18.7 ppg average will come in handy in Nashville. Of course, how effective Maten can be after his MCL injury cannot be known. J.J. Frazier has averaged 27.7 ppg over UGA’s last seven outings, increasing his average from 16.0 ppg to 18.7 ppg, and Derek Ogbeide is averaging 9.6 rpg over UGA’s last 12 contests, with seven double-digit efforts during that span. Both JJ and Yante were named first team All-SEC by the coaches and the writers. Also, Maten is one of 10 players on the final watch list for the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Award as the nation’s premier center. Georgia was the only SEC school to play the three league teams ranked in the national polls for the majority of the season – Kentucky, Florida and South Carolina – which accounted for 6 of UGA’s SEC losses.