Georgia plays its first game at Rupp Arena in nearly two years and tries to notch their first win in Lexington since 2009.
Big Blue Nation is able to easily invade Stegeman Coliseum by contributing a pittance to the Georgia Basketball Enhancement Fund, but it is far tougher for Georgia alumni to invade Rupp Arena. The Georgia supporters are small red or black dots in Rupp Arena, they are few and far between much like finding Republicans in Williamsburg, Brooklyn or San Francisco. Small red dots in a Big Blue Swath ready to be consumed, it is the way it has been throughout the history of the Georgia Basketball program. It was determined with the decision not to integrate to meet John Wooden’s demands (and thus not hire John Wooden) and confirmed with generations of antipathy toward the program. Changes are happening, but change is tough and it takes time. Wins at Rupp Arena do not easily or often for the Georgia Basketball Program and this iteration of Bulldogs struggles outside of Stegeman Coliseum against physically strong and skilled posts.
Georgia has Kentucky’s Full Attention
South Carolina caught Kentucky playing sloppy in the Second Half of their game at Colonial Life Arena in Columbia, South Carolina and was able to pull off a buzzer-beater victory. Arkansas was locked in a battle with Kentucky at Bud Walton Arena and John Calipari received a double technical foul during an Arkansas run where the Hogs were able to make a comeback that brought them back into the lead. However, Kentucky was able to exploit Arkansas’ weaknesses after Calipari’s early exit from the game. Kentucky played bully ball and physically dominated a shorthanded and smaller Arkansas team to win the game.
Kentucky’s return to Rupp Arena will feature a crowd that really hates Tom Crean. Everyone associated with the University of Kentucky outside of John Calipari and his immediate family hate Tom Crean the way corporate media hates Donald Trump. This is not an ordinary game, they want blood. There is a great misunderstanding among the Georgia faithful that Kentucky fans are just passionate and they simply look down upon the Georgia Basketball program, but they hate Tom Crean more than they hate Louisville. This is their new rivalry.
The hatred toward Tom Crean is somewhat similar to the hate that the Georgia base have toward Bruce Pearl, but there are some notable differences. Crean’s success at a rival (Indiana) and the perception of his behavior angered an arrogant base that has stalker-like tendencies and acts creepy outside of Rupp Arena. Bruce Pearl gets the attention of Georgia fans who do not watch the Basketball program or even see Men’s Basketball as a massive waste of time and a drain on resources. Auburn’s terrible teams under Bruce Pearl were able to get the attention of the non-alumni from places that are not as friendly to the Georgia Basketball Program whereas prior to Pearl, the series did not matter as much. Why? Let’s leave it at the State of Georgia has some people who need to just be better people and they are not. The Georgia and Kentucky bases have a lot of growing up to do.
So yes, this game matters to Kentucky. Georgia will never be overlooked as long as Thomas Aaron Crean is pacing up and down the coaches’ box representing the University of Georgia.
Georgia’s Struggles on the Road are Obvious
Was the win at Memphis an aberration? Possibly, but it also points to Tom Crean’s failure to strategically adjust and play to his team’s strengths. When shots are missed, the defensive effort that follows is lacking. The problem is that this is coming from veterans, not freshmen. The lack of communication on defense is a Senior Leadership problem. The shot selection is a selfishness issue as this team does quite well when the there is movement of players and the ball. However, leaders are supposed to step up and say something that has gravitas to push the team forward. The last time Georgia had an on-court leader who spoke just as loud or louder than the coach was Sundiata Gaines. The culture at Georgia did not enable such leadership and the results have spoken for itself since Gaines’ graduation in 2008. A lot changed since 2008.
Georgia’s Road Struggles are Obvious
Georgia either completely melts down on the road or plays well on defense and offensively struggles. This is what happens with a team that is both immature and has no leaders to help steer them. College Basketball has changed greatly since the 2014-15 Season and the media still has not picked up on the trend. It is why the media acts shocked and appalled that Duke is capable of losing a game or that North Carolina is in a tailspin. Pure talent does not win Championships. Teams that have chemistry, leadership, and have players that fit what a particular coach wants to do win Championships. The narratives are wrong and everything needs to be re-examined, but until then the narrative that Anthony Edwards can will this Georgia team to anything positive is simply unfounded.
It gets even uglier. These are the team’s metrics for games outside of Stegeman Coliseum.
Things are different inside Stegeman Coliseum
Against Higher Quality Competition, Georgia has Struggled
- This is not a team that is not as capable of scoring at the rim. They have a 69.4% Field Goal percentage for the entire season, but against higher quality teams (KenPom Top 100), they are 63.6%. In conference play, it is 62%.
- The assist rate is lower, they are 4% lower in Assist Rate against better quality competition. In conference play, they are 6% lower than their season rate.
- Turnovers Forced Rate is lower, it is especially lower in conference play. During the non-conference slate, the team had a 19.9% Turnovers Forced Rate and in conference play, the team has a 16.3% Turnovers Forced Rate.
- Georgia is not as good of an offensive rebounding team. This season, Georgia has an Offensive Rebounding rate of 31.9%, but against better competition has a 28.2% Offensive Rebounding rate. It gets worse in conference play as it is 26.9%.
It easy to overreact, but in Georgia’s six games outside of Stegeman Coliseum, Georgia lost four of them by more than 18 points. Georgia trailed by 20 or more in five of these games. The only time the Dawgs did not trail by 20 or more in a road or neutral site game, the team won.
Georgia has not beat a school from outside the State of Tennessee since December 23, 2019.
Kentucky can hit Georgia where it hurts and Tom Crean may not be able to adjust.
Crean’s Dawgs are a less physically developed team than Kentucky. The major reason why Georgia was able to have a lead at Halftime against Kentucky in Stegeman Coliseum was because Nick Richards was in foul trouble. Georgia came out in the Second Half and Anthony Edwards played a selfish half of basketball while there was no effort to take Nick Richards out of the game. Everything collapsed from there and Kentucky rolled to a 78-69 win. It was a very charitable effort by Georgia to give Kentucky the win like that.
Richards has been dominant in the restricted arc this season and has been quite good from outside the restricted arc as well. He is a defensive menace who is a constant threat to get second chance opportunities.
Georgia let Reggie Perry and Abdul Ado abuse them on the glass to get multiple attempts on most possessions in Starkville.
The adjustment is to play a style that is conducive to a team that has length, speed, and athleticism. The objective should be to press, harass, attack passing lanes, draw fouls on the offensive end, and play unselfish offensive basketball. Is this Georgia team capable of doing this against Kentucky? Absolutely. However, this team is too immature and Crean may not see the light until much later in the season. The issue though with playing the full court pressure is that the style of play has to be instilled from the outset of the season, it cannot just become a point of emphasis later in the season. Georgia’s late game pressing efforts have been terrible due to lack of effort, terrible execution, and not having the pressing play in their team identity. What is this team’s identity?
Richards and E.J. Montgomery will abuse Georgia in the restricted arc. Immanuel Quickley and Nate Sestina will knock down soul crushing three point shots. Ashton Hagans will pick Anthony Edwards’ pockets a few times prompting overrated chants from Big Blue Nation. A Georgia team with no history of leadership or success to lean on will have another crushing road loss. The road will not be as cruel later in the season, especially against Texas A&M and Vanderbilt, but this is going to be a tough pill to swallow.
Prediction: Kentucky 76 Georgia 48