Think Georgia Tech has a little brother syndrome with UGA, try Georgia Southern.
Georgia Southern makes the trek from Statesboro to Athens to take on Georgia in a pre-Christmas clash within the University System of Georgia. This is a game that may not mean much to the Georgia Bulldogs, but it means a lot to Georgia Southern. Typically, the dream of being a student-athlete at the University of Georgia was never achieved for a team that typically has a majority in-state contingent like the Georgia Southern University Eagles. This is a game that is a massive trap game for Tom Crean’s Dawgs, even though it is far less personal for the Eagles this season.
Georgia Southern’s Little Brother Dynamic goes deeper than Sports
Outside of the Atlanta Metropolitan area, the pride and tradition that UGA represents in smaller cities and small towns is extremely high despite not being represented as well in the UGA student body as past generations. Outside of the Metro Atlanta area, it is a tale of old money and very little money. Old money families typically find a direct path to Athens, Atlanta or to private colleges/universities. The very little money families either do not have the college experience or they stay in-state and attend Valdosta State University, Georgia Southern University or other public institutions in the State of Georgia. The dream of attending the UGA did not die for all of them and the hope for these students is to be able to transfer to UGA and become a Bulldog.
The more affluent Atlanta area suburbs provide opportunities for students and student-athletes to attend out-of-state public universities that are more well known like the University of Mississippi, Auburn University, University of Tennessee-Knoxville, Clemson University, and others. Students in this area who do not end up attending UGA or Georgia Tech from Atlanta area are more likely to explore out-of-state options. Georgia State University is a popular choice for those who wish to have the Atlanta college experience, but being able to follow a legacy at an SEC/ACC school or enjoy an experience at an SEC/ACC school is more appealing than going to Statesboro or Valdosta.
Many Georgia Southern University alumni are UGA fans. Some even earned their graduate degrees from UGA. The odd dynamic of dual support can result in awkwardness. Peak awkwardness took place on the night of November 21, 2015. After a 23-17 Georgia win over Georgia Southern in Overtime at Sanford Stadium, some of the Georgia Southern contingent did not leave the premises like everyone else in the stadium did. They strangely chose to stick around and not leave, it got to the point where the UGA groundskeepers turned on the sprinklers to get them to leave. Security did not do an effective job throwing them out of the vacant stadium.
It’s easy to understand why something like that incident would happen with the understanding of economic, geographical, and cultural circumstances.
Those who follow Georgia Basketball closely tend to be alumni and the vast majority of those who support UGA are Football fans who are non-alumni. Many of these fans have never been to Sanford Stadium, let alone Athens. Visiting Sanford Stadium for these people is the equivalent of a Muslim visiting Mecca on a pilgrimage. The bloc of Georgia Southern supporters were going to linger because they may not ever have the opportunity to return.
Let’s Meet Mark Byington and the Georgia Southern Eagles
Mark Byington and Tom Crean promise a fast-paced game in Athens. Byington’s Georgia Southern Eagles are the 16th fastest team in College Basketball with an Adjusted Tempo of 75.8 possessions per game. His teams play man-to-man defense with switching on screens. Offensively, they are not as eager to get into transition as Georgia, they are actually 101st in the country in percentage of shots in transition at 26.8%. They let opponents take 23.8% of their shots in transition, which is 176th in the country.
What explains for Georgia Southern’s extreme pace?
They force opponents to have a 23% turnover rate. This is why the games are so fast-paced.
What other tendencies does Georgia Southern have?
When they force a live-ball turnover, they generally avoid shooting three point shots. This is a team that only took 18.8% of their shots off live-ball turnovers from three point range. They will take three point shots in secondary break, half of the shots they take in secondary break are three point attempts.
The best way to defend the three point shot against Georgia Southern is to keep them from taking three point shots in transition. Force them to take their three point shots within a half court offense.
Georgia Southern’s defense is leaky if they cannot force a turnover. Opponents have a 53.2% effective Field Goal rate against the Eagles and they are particularly susceptible to giving up points inside the restricted arc. 40.3% of shots against Georgia Southern are inside the restricted arc, which means that Georgia can cut, drive, and even post up Georgia Southern at-will.
This is a team that will not test Georgia on the defensive glass. Georgia has difficulties closing out defensive possessions with a rebound, Georgia Southern is a poor offensive rebounding team. Also, Georgia Southern is a slightly above-average defensive rebounding team, but they will face an upper decile offensive rebounding team in the Georgia Bulldogs.
Georgia Southern is not really 8-4, just the way Georgia is not really 7-3. Georgia Southern has wins over Reinhardt and Carver Bible College, which means that they are really 6-4 and Georgia is actually 6-3 since the Chaminade game does not count.
Who to Watch for the Georgia Southern Eagles
Georgia Southern has a largely out-of-state team this season. All of the major contributors are mostly from neighboring states, which takes the edge off to an extent.
Ike Smith – Combo Guard
Smith is the team’s leading scorer and rebounder on a per game basis. He is the team’s best defensive rebounder with a 21.3% defensive rebounding rate. Smith gets his work done in the restricted arc attacking the basket, he is not a strong three point shooter sporting a 30.8% three point rate. Strangely, Smith has attempted the most three point shots on the team despite his inefficiency. He’s a bit of a ball hog for better or worse.
Elijah McCadden – Shooting Guard
McCadden is the team’s best three point shooter at 47.5% from three point range. He is their Rob Edwards. He is not just a shooter, he can score just about everywhere on the floor. However, he does his most damage from three point range and getting him to dribble and take a spot-up mid-range jump shot is the best approach. He is most dangerous off the catch-and-shoot, getting to him quick and not leaving him space on the perimeter is a good idea.
Isaiah Crawley – Power Forward
Crawley does have stretch four capabilities, but he gets his work done in the low post and high post. Crawley looks to score at the rim, but he can score in the paint generally. He is not going to get his points off post-ups, he’ll score on second chance opportunities and attacking off the dribble. Crawley is an undersized grinder in the post.
Defensively, Crawley should not be much of a concern. He’s not a strong defensive rebounder and he’s not a shot blocker. Crawley also is susceptible to foul trouble.
Calvin Wishart – Point Guard
Wishart is the team’s best distributor and this is not a team that thrives on ball movement. Wishart’s ability to distribute is not a major threat in this game. He is as good as Ike Smith from three point range, but he is a better distributor and on-ball defender. Wishart can be pesky out there, but he is not as pesky as his teammates Quan Jackson.
Quan Jackson – Three Guard
Quan Jackson is an offensive liability who plays as many minutes as he does because he is the team’s best defender. He forces turnovers (3.5% steals rate), gets defensive rebounds, and is a strong on-ball defender. Jackson is the defensive ace and is treated as such.
However, Jackson is absolutely horrific on offense. He’s a 23.5% three point shooter, he takes the most mid-range shots on the team and has a 16.7% Field Goal rate in the mid-range, and he is no threat to get second chance opportunities.
What to Expect from Georgia
This game screams “hangover game” for Georgia after an emotional and draining win over SMU. However, the SMU win could spur this Georgia team to have a strong performance against Georgia Southern. A lot of players grew confidence without having Anthony Edwards on the floor. Georgia Southern is not a particularly strong three point shooting team and the only way Georgia Southern would seem to be able to exploit Georgia’s weaknesses is if the following things happen.
- Georgia gets three point shooting happy and Tom Crean does not yank Tyree Crump for setting up easy three point shots on the other end.
- Georgia Southern is able to force Georgia to commit turnovers at the percentage that Georgia Southern can force. Georgia needs to be able to keep their turnover rate at 18% or below. Immaturity and Georgia Southern’s style of play can result in opportunities for the Eagles to make things happen.
Georgia Southern’s ability to force turnovers would be more impactful if the pace of the game was slower and thus there would be fewer possessions. However, if Georgia has more possessions, it would result in more opportunities for Georgia to score second chance points and exploit a defense that is not particularly good at keeping opponents out of the restricted arc.
Georgia’s ability to get to the restricted arc, score second chance points, and play disruptive themselves will take Georgia Southern down. Georgia Southern’s roster does not have enough emotionally invested into this compared to their alumni. Past Georgia Southern teams would have marked this game on the calendar and made a huge deal of it, but this roster is not as motivated – especially the high minute earners of this roster.
It is an opportunity for Rayshaun Hammonds to have a big game and Toumani Camara to show improvement on the offensive end. If Camara shows improvement on offense, this team is much tougher to face.
Prediction: Georgia 95 Georgia Southern 78