Winthrop Visits Georgia in Possible Pre-Finals Trap Game

Winthrop faces Georgia in the last game before Final Exams.

Georgia will face Winthrop at Stegeman Coliseum in a game that is only scary in terms of timing.  Winthrop Head Coach Pat Kelsey could have been coaching UMass this season against Georgia during UMass’ Finals Week, but he reneged and chose to return to Rock Hill, South Carolina.  Kelsey’s Winthrop squad made the NCAA Tournament last season, but this season have a team that is far less likely to spring upsets.  Without Keon Johnson and Duby Okeke, Winthrop is a bit depleted defensively and are still finding an offensive identity.  Possibly the most concerning thing for Winthrop is that outside of the undersized Xavier Cooks there is no interior presence on this team.  What could go right and wrong here?

Winthrop in the post-Keon Johnson Era

Pat Kelsey has needed a more balanced approach since the do-it-all Point Guard graduated.  So far, the Eagles do not need a heroic approach.  They are getting more balance and the team has shot the ball very well from the perimeter, but they have yet to step up against a major opponent and take them down.

It is hard to gauge how truly tough this Winthrop team is based on a schedule that features wins over three non-Division I opponents.  Against Division I opposition, the team is 2-3.  If facing Division I opposition is the proper way to evaluate this team and it actually is, this is not as impressive of a team.

As mentioned before, this is a team that will sport a 3 Guard, Small Forward and Combo Forward lineup.  They do lack size and even though Pat Kelsey is a Skip Prosser protege, his commitment to the Prosser style of pressing is not always there.  If it is there, it’s a challenge because there could be some pressing on rebounds, even if it is a man-to-man press to make things uncomfortable for Yante Maten, Derek Ogbeide, Mike Edwards or any other frontcourt players.

Against Division I competition, Winthrop loses quite a bit of luster.  They do force quite a bit of turnovers, but these turnovers per game are amplified by the number of possessions they have in a game.  However, the rebounding percentages are atrocious, which is to be expected.

Winthrop is not quite as deadly from three point range as their season figures would indicate.  Games against non-Division I opposition inflated this metric.

Winthrop takes a lot of three point shots, but they are not necessarily making them at the rate that is advertised.  They are not a team that gets to the Free Throw Line much either, which should be a familiar sight for Georgia.

Winthrop’s Defense is rather interesting as they effectively keep opponents out of the restricted arc on shot attempts, but yet promote the shot distribution that Georgia has had this season.

Rather than keeping an eye on Xavier Cooks, keep an eye on Austin Awad and the Broman Brothers (Anders and Bjorn).  Anders is a slightly better shooter who is a bit more aggressive on defense, Bjorn is the team’s distributor.  Austin Awad is shooting a freakish 52.5% from three point range.  Awad’s shots will almost all come from the perimeter and this means that the objective is clear against him, play tight on him and dare him to go inside the perimeter.

Georgia Needs to Avoid a Trap Game

Before getting into Georgia’s role in this game, examining the pre-Finals Game in recent Georgia Basketball History can be helpful to know.

  • December 4, 2016:  Marquette 89-79 Loss
  • December 8, 2015:  Winthrop 74-64 Win
  • December 7, 2014:  Colorado 64-57 Win
  • December 2, 2013:  Chattanooga 87-56 Win
  • December 4, 2012:  at Georgia Tech 62-54 Loss
  • December 7, 2011:  Georgia Tech 68-56 Loss
  • December 7, 2010:  at Georgia Tech 73-72 Win
  • December 9, 2009:  at St. John’s (MSG) 66-56 Loss

This was a scarier game in the early years under Mark Fox, but Georgia is 4-4 in the pre-Finals Week Game under Mark Fox.  The last time Winthrop defeated Georgia, it was a loss on Reading Day in 2003.  Times are different in 2017.

However, coming off back-to-back “revenge wins” over Saint Mary’s and Marquette, it is a possible letdown game.  Getting through this game is a mental hurdle.

Georgia is Living Inside the Perimeter

Georgia is taking longer shots inside the perimeter and knocking them down.  After four games away from Stegeman Coliseum, Georgia returns to a venue that the team may still have a lack of a familiarity when it comes to the sight lines.  Stegeman Coliseum has not been kind to Georgia’s shooting efforts anywhere on the floor.

Georgia opponents have struggled from basically everywhere on the floor and the best path to beating Georgia on the offensive end is to force the ball into the restricted arc and get to the Free Throw Line.  This is unless Georgia traps at the top of the key and leaves shooters wide open on the perimeter.

What is to explain for this success thus far?  

The length of the shots may be due to the fact that Georgia shooters are frequently knocking down open shots from what they think is three point range, but they have their foot on the line.  This is something happens a bit too commonly.

On defense, the success against these opponents should not be too shocking.  The first five opponents came into the season with clear issues when it came to perimeter shooting and they lived up to those expectations.  Saint Mary’s was an expert team at getting points in the restricted arc with their movement and they made a concerted effort to score there rather than out on the perimeter.  Marquette was one-dimensional and Georgia defended them accordingly absolutely not respecting their ability to attack the basket in the second half.

Production is starting to become more balanced for Georgia and the adjustments to Yante Maten being double teamed or at least shaded are starting to be countered by simply breaking the set.  There may be greater ball rotation and testing of defenders’ discipline against Maten.  Moving the action away from Maten, moving Maten around and using Maten as a screener to force defenses to make tough decisions is likely to come.

Teams will pack the lane and even feel tempted to throw junk defenses at Georgia to disrupt the team’s ability to score in the paint.  The objective is to turn Georgia into a three point shooting happy team, which is not the team’s strength.  The first opponent that will likely try this in earnest is Georgia Tech.

However, this is an opportunity to enhance the bench with more experience and adjusting offensively to the way defenses will likely treat Maten.  Maten going one-on-one against Xavier Cooks is asking for trouble and Pat Kelsey knows it.

Will Fox force everyone to stick to his offense or will there be more opportunities to break sets?  The ability to break sets was a big part of Charles Mann’s emergence at UGA.  Fox is clearly not adding more options, the sets are being denied.

Winthrop cannot really match-up with Georgia and the length of Georgia will make things very difficult.  However, the shooting woes at Stegeman Coliseum probably continue.  This is going to likely be similar to the first three games in Athens and if Georgia is a MUCH better road shooting team as the season progresses, Mark Fox may look to find some sort of a solution to the issue to help his guys.  However, there are no excuses on the glass.  Georgia must be a dominant team on the glass and they are not.

Prediction:  Georgia 74  Winthrop 66