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Georgia Visits Memphis in an AAC-SEC Clash

Georgia and Memphis have some things in common, which are probably overlooked.

Georgia and Memphis face off at FedEx Forum and lots of attention will be placed on Anthony Edwards, if anything December should have taught the media it is that Georgia has a roster that is much more than Edwards.  Making Georgia and Edwards synonymous is a harmful view of both the team and Edwards’ role on the team.  It supposes that Edwards does not belong at Georgia and there is a desire by the media to invalidate his choice.  However, Edwards knows what he is doing and is very happy with his decision to be on a team and in a program that is better than the desired click-bait narrative insists.  Memphis was never a team that was about one player either, James Wiseman, and they are showing that they can win without him.  Memphis and Georgia have a lot in common, but there are a few key differences.

Where Georgia and Memphis are Similar

Pace of Play

The measurement and evaluation of pace of play depends upon which metrics one wishes to use and how pace is measured in the first place.  Some teams play a slower pace on offense and wish to speed up opponents on defense or the other way around.  Pace can be indicative of weakness or strength, it is just a matter of examining supporting metrics to gauge effectiveness to see where a team’s comfort level is with a particular pace of play.

Some metrics have Georgia as the faster paced team and others have Memphis.

Adjusted Tempo (Possessions) measurements have Memphis as the faster paced team.

  • According to KenPom:  Memphis has an Adjusted Tempo of 76.5 (10th fastest) and Georgia has an Adjusted Tempo of 73.3 (38th fastest).
  • According to Bart Torvik:  Memphis has an Adjusted Tempo of 76.8 (5th fastest) and Georgia has an Adjusted Tempo of 73 (43rd fastest).
  • According to Sports Reference:  Memphis has a Tempo of 76.3 (16th fastest) and Georgia has a Tempo of 75 (27th fastest).

Transition shot percentages point toward Georgia as the team that wants to play faster.

  • Georgia takes 38.6% of their initial shots in transition and 33.2% of all shots attempted in transition.  In both metrics, Georgia is 7th highest in the country.
  • Memphis takes 35.7% of their initial shots in transition and 30.8% of all shots attempted in transition.  In both metrics, Memphis is 22nd highest in the country.

Turnovers play a large role in why Memphis is able to turn a few extra possessions out of a game more than Georgia.  It is not necessarily a good thing for Memphis that they have more possessions per game.

Georgia may have issues with committing turnovers, but most of them are dead-ball turnovers.  These dead-ball turnovers result in the opponent having to face a set half court defense as opposed to an uncomposed group of defenders in a transition situation.  Memphis has a higher turnover rate than Georgia and they commit more live-ball turnovers.  Georgia has an opponent steals rate of 8.3% (97th in the country) while Memphis has an opponent steals rate of 10.4% (290th in the country).

Memphis is also forcing more live-ball turnovers, they have a steals rate of 12.1% (42nd in the country) and Georgia has a steals rate of 10.8% (92nd in the country).

Rebounding plays a role too in possessions per game as offensive rebounds extend possessions and defensive rebounds usher new possessions.  Memphis is a slightly better team when it comes to offensive and defensive rebounding, but the teams are not much different.

Both Georgia and Memphis want to play fast.  This is not a game where one team is going to attempt to slow down the other team.

However, there is one important thing to note about Georgia and Memphis and that is transition defense.  As chronicled, Georgia is a terrible team at curbing opponents from getting quick shots on them in secondary break and off Georgia scoring possessions.  Tom Crean has bemoaned his team’s inability to get back and defend before the ball crosses the timeline and metrics back up his frustrations.

Transition Defense Holes yet to be Fully Exploited

Georgia allows 31.4% of initial shot attempts to be taken in transition (314th lowest in the country) and 26.9% of shot attempts are in transition (307th lowest in the country).  Opponents have a 51.9% effective Field Goal rate against Georgia in transition as opposed to a 47.8% effective Field Goal rate in non-transition attempts.  Georgia’s inability to defend secondary break has not doomed the team, but it could against Memphis.

Georgia does a better job forcing worse quality shots in the half court than in transition, but opponents have not cashed in as efficiently.  Georgia’s defensive efforts in half court result in higher shooting percentages when the opponents do take shots in the restricted arc or are well set up on three point arc.  Opponents have been able to hang around with Georgia because this team is not able to string together stops on the defensive end after scoring on a possession.  Hence, Georgia has typically not been able to go on sustained runs.  Opponents are able to get better quality three point shots in the half court after a Georgia scoring possession, which is not a positive quality.

Can Memphis exploit Georgia’s defensive weaknesses and absentmindedness?

Yes.  Memphis can get to the rim in secondary break and they can use their half court offense to get an above-average three point shot attempt after giving up a score.

Penny Hardaway’s Memphis Tigers have their own related Achilles Heel.

Memphis has been very fortunate defensively to hold opponents to such a low percentage in the restricted arc.  Given the shot opportunities, they have been playing with fire.

Teams that push the ball in secondary break and use backcourt pressure have given Memphis difficulty this season.  Oregon, North Carolina State, Ole Miss, and to a lesser extent this season – Tennessee have played competitively with the Tigers or in the case of Dana Altman’s Oregon Ducks, defeated them.

Georgia pushes the ball in secondary break and does not use as much backcourt pressure as they should.  When it comes to pushing the ball in secondary break hardly any team does it like Georgia and this is going to put a lot of pressure on Memphis to get back and deny shots at the rim.

Georgia has a 73.5% Field Goal percentage in transition and is 73.2% overall.  Memphis allows opponents to get to the rim far too easily in transition already and this strangely puts Memphis in the role of the team that may want to slow the game down.  If Memphis lets Georgia get into secondary break, it will result in points for Georgia.

Memphis has not faced a team like Georgia that will push it down their throat like this.  It’s one thing to press and play fast, it is another to face a team that will look for any opportunity to get to the rim as fast as possible.

Depth

Both teams play rather deep and the idea of narrowing the rotation is and should be lost for both teams.  Georgia traps and presses on occasion, Memphis uses the 2-2-1 and 1-2-1-1 Zone Presses.  Playing at the pace both teams do would wear a team down in not only the game, but over the course of a season when playing the Jeff Dantzler suggested rotation of 7.  To play with the necessary intensity at Georgia and Memphis to fight for offensive rebounds, score quickly, and force turnovers, there is the requirement of depth.  In the case of Memphis, they play 10 deep.  Georgia will likely play 10 or 11 deep.

Depth matters, just ask SMU coach Tim Jankovich.  His team ran out of gas in Double Overtime against Georgia.

Young Teams

Memphis and Georgia have practically brand new teams compared to the previous season.  Georgia will play six first-year players, they could play seven if Jaykwon Walton was healthy.

Memphis has seven first-year players as a part of their active rotation.

The Restricted Arc is so Important to Both Teams

Both teams emphasize attacking the rim.  Memphis uses the dribble drive, using Precious Achiuwa in post-ups, and cutting to the basket.  Georgia is a heavy dribble-drive and cutting team, post-ups only happen when there is a defensive mismatch caused by switching on a screen.

Opponents try to keep Georgia out of the restricted arc and it results in kick-outs and fouls on drives.  Georgia is extremely efficient in the restricted arc.  How efficient?  Try 5th in the nation in Field Goal percentage at the rim.  Memphis’ half court defense is extremely good at denying points in the restricted arc, but not attempts.  22.4% of attempts are blocked in the restricted arc.  Memphis is 2nd in the nation in defensive Field Goal percentage at the rim.  However, in transition, they are not as effective.

The Difference Between Georgia and Memphis

Memphis’ interior defense and Georgia’s interior defense have different objectives.  It plays out in the percentages for the shots.  The game becomes a war of wills and even a war of what specific pace the game is played.

  • Memphis will let opponents get to the rim and then effectively deny them at the rim.
  • Georgia does not let opponents get to the rim (29.9% – 46th in the nation), but the trade-off is that the team is not able to defend at the rim very well.

Memphis and Georgia’s Hidden Concern

Fouling. 

If Georgia is able to get Precious Achiuwa out of the game, Penny Hardaway loses a major defensive component.  Lance Thomas and Isaiah Maurice have been strong shot blockers, but they do not play the amount of minutes that Achiuwa is tasked.  Achiuwa has a 5.9% blocks rate, he may be used like Georgia Tech’s James Banks.  Achiuwa is foul prone, he has 3.7 fouls per 40 minutes and against an extremely aggressive Georgia Basketball Team, he is going to be needed to stop the team that has the #2 two-point Field Goal percentage in the country.

D.J. Jeffries is slightly less foul prone than Achiuwa, but he is not as important when it comes to exploiting Georgia’s weaknesses.  Jeffries is not as strong of a rebounder as Achiuwa.  Denying second chance opportunities and getting second chance opportunities are very important for Tom Crean’s squad.  Jeffries also scores in the restricted arc, but does not draw fouls like Achiuwa.

Achiuwa holds the defensive key in a frontcourt that is generally foul prone.

On the Georgia end, Anthony Edwards and Rayshaun Hammonds have shown that they have trouble with committing fouls.  In the case of Hammonds, he commits a lot of offensive fouls due to undisciplined driving.

Hammonds is very efficient in the restricted arc and he has taken a massive step back at the Free Throw Line.  However, Hammonds’ ability to extend possessions and close out possessions is very important.  He needs to be able to stay on the floor.  Hammonds is a barometer for Georgia’s success, if he is in foul trouble early or if he is not productive in the First Half, the Second Half will result in a meltdown.

Rayshaun Hammonds is the Most Important Player on the Court

Georgia is a lot like a Baseball Team’s pitching staff in a game.  Hammonds is like a starting pitcher, Sahvir Wheeler and Toumani Camara are like the middle relievers, and Anthony Edwards and Donnell Gresham Jr. serves as the closers.

Knock out the starting pitcher early and the whole thing falls apart.  If technical measures are to be believed (moving averages), Hammonds does appear to have an opportunity to have a positive breakout even in a road game.  Hammonds has struggled outside of Stegeman Coliseum this season.  It is actually a theme in his time at Georgia.

Hammonds is integral to Georgia’s success.

This game falls on Rayshaun Hammonds, it’s not about Anthony Edwards or anyone on the Memphis roster.  It’s about Hammonds.  How Hammonds plays and how disciplined he plays will dictate whether his team has a chance at victory.  Hammonds playing well does not mean that Georgia will automatically win, but it determines whether Georgia is going to be at the very least competitive.

Trends say that Hammonds is due for a better performance and his NBA Draft hopes hinge on a better performance than the one he put in against Dayton, Michigan State, and Arizona State.  Georgia will be competitive, but Georgia’s inability to defend with discipline will cost them this game.  A breakout game from Christian Brown would push Georgia into the victory circle, but it is just not there yet.

Prediction:  Memphis 84 Georgia 76

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