Last season’s 96-50 embarrassment on Rocky Top will never be forgotten.
Georgia hosts Tennessee in the only game between the two schools during the regular season and it will be an opportunity for the few remaining players of the Georgia roster to avenge the disheartening and unexpected 46 point loss at Thompson-Boling Arena on January 5, 2019. Tennessee’s roster is considerably different from last season’s and so is Georgia’s, but the memories that Jordan Harris, Tyree Crump, Rayshaun Hammonds, and Tye Fagan have are still there. Tennessee has been without Lamonte Turner for the past three weeks as his playing tenure at Tennessee is over due to Thoracic Outlet Syndrome in his left shoulder. Tennessee has experienced difficulties in non-conference games, but found a way to turn it around in conference play starting out 2-1 with wins at Missouri and home against South Carolina. Georgia finished non-conference play in a strong fashion, but the last 60 minutes of Georgia Basketball can be deemed as unacceptable. Tennessee wants to keep the momentum going and Georgia wants to build momentum to be able to get adequate seeding for the SEC Tournament.
A Look at the Tennessee Volunteers
Rick Barnes’ Tennessee Volunteers are a very different team this season than in seasons’ past. This is a more athletic, but less skilled team and it is evident by the way the team plays and the metrics bear it out as well. Tennessee was a scarier team before the season started and it made the Georgia schedule look like an impossible gauntlet, but Tennessee, Ole Miss, and Mississippi State have made significant drops this season. Tennessee’s drop is due to offensive struggles. Tennessee relies on pressure defense and this has carried the team.
In some ways, this Tennessee team is a throwback to Barnes’ teams at Clemson. The pace of play and low scoring games were hallmarks of those teams and this Tennessee team has those elements.
Without Lamonte Turner, newcomer Santiago Vescovi has filled the void at Point Guard, but he has not been the distributor that Turner was. However, Vescovi is facing tougher competition. LSU’s full court press, South Carolina’s pressure defense with pack line elements, and Missouri’s tough man-to-man defense are enough to cause the assist rate to be considerably lower than a player who faced mostly cupcakes.
Uros Plavsic, a freshman transfer from Arizona State, will be eligible to play his first game against Georgia. This will help Tennessee’s interior, but how significant it will be is an unknown.
Tennessee has no players on their roster from the State of Georgia. Unlike previous Tennessee coaches, Rick Barnes has not emphasized the State of Georgia in his recruiting during his time at Tennessee. Barnes won a conference championship in the 2017-18 Season and reached the Sweet 16 in 2018-19 Season. Avery Johnson became the Head Coach at Alabama in 2015 just like Barnes and emphasized recruiting Atlanta, he was fired in 2019. The only coach in the Southeastern Conference to experience success while emphasizing the recruitment of talent in the State of Georgia is Bruce Pearl. Pearl’s current rotation at Auburn is actually very light on players from Georgia.
Key Players to Watch for Tennessee
Santiago Vescovi – Point Guard
Vescovi is a Point Guard from Montevideo, Uruguay. Vescovi has only played three games and the opponents he has faced have been some of the more challenging defensive approaches that he will face in the SEC.
Vescovi is a willing three point shooter, he made quite a splash against LSU hitting 6 three point shots against the Tigers in his debut. Vescovi did not handle the various defenses very well as a ball handler, sporting a 3:7 assists-to-turnover ratio for the season and an obscene turnover rate of 46.5%.
Vescovi was able to get to the Free Throw Line against Missouri and South Carolina, but he has not showed himself to be a threat to attack the rim much. He is just drawing fouls that will get him to the Free Throw Line. Fouls have been an issue for Vescovi thus far as he averages 5.3 fouls per 40 minutes, which means that he is a candidate to get himself into foul trouble.
Defensively, Vescovi’s biggest strength is his defensive rebounding capabilities. He has a 16% defensive rebounding rate thus far and that is very good for a Point Guard.
John Fulkerson – Power Forward
Fulkerson is a former Georgia recruit from the Mark Fox era. Fulkerson chose Tennessee over Georgia in his recruitment, but many programs were chosen over Georgia in recruitment during this era due to a host of internal issues at UGA.
Fulkerson is a redshirt Junior and while he was recruited as a player with both an inside and outside game, he has not taken a single three point shot during his tenure at Tennessee.
Fulkerson is a disruptor in the passing lanes on defense and in the past has been a better shot blocker. He is an average defensive rebounder and offensive rebounder. His foul count has reduced this season, but he is less aggressive defensively without Admiral Schofield, Grant Williams, and Derrick Walker Jr. on the roster.
Fulkerson is largely a back-to-the-basket post who gets his work done on post-entries, slips, rolls, and putbacks. He does a strong job of taking advantage of switches on rolls, but he is very susceptible to turnovers when he puts the ball down. Fulkerson’s lack of strength compared to other posts and even against stronger guards is a liability, he can be stripped of the ball.
Yves Pons – Small Forward
Yves Pons is similar to Christian Brown, but it does seem like Brown is further along in his progression as a freshman than Pons.
Offensively, Pons is an average catch-and-shoot three point shooter. He can score off an assist or off a dribble, which means that it is tough to figure Pons out on the offensive end. He is far more efficient inside the perimeter than outside. Daring Pons to shoot threes is the best approach and ideally the best place for Pons to possess the ball is on the three point arc. Pons is not much of a passer so he is just a threat to score.
Defensively, Pons’ contributions are rather average on the glass, but he makes his impact as a shot blocker. He has an 8.3% blocked shot rate, which is extremely good for a Small Forward. Pons is incredibly athletic and he has a high vertical jump.
Josiah Jordan-James – Swingman
This Freshman from Charleston, South Carolina is the team’s best three point shooter over the course of the season. He has rendered himself more of a jump shooter taking unassisted jump shots inside the perimeter and catch-and-shoot three point shots from three point range. Georgia wants Jordan-James to dribble drive because he is not strong at drawing fouls and he is inefficient in the mid-range off the dribble, which is his tendency.
Jordan-James is a strong defensive rebounder for his size and while he has a good Assists Rate for his position, he commits a lot of turnovers.
What to Expect
This is a game that Georgia should win, but it is a matter of whether the team plays maturely enough. A lot of the problems are self-inflicted and ego-driven.
- Missed shots lead to bad defense.
- Bad shot selection because players are trying to impress scouts.
- Hero Ball.
- Poor movement without the ball.
This is not going to be a Georgia team that will become a good Free Throw shooting team. This is going to be a poor Free Throw shooting team throughout this season and it will plague the team regardless of venue.
This is a game where Sahvir Wheeler exploits Santiago Vescovi’s weaknesses on both ends and becomes more of a pest. Wheeler and Jordan Harris should disrupt Tennessee’s offense and force Tennessee to commit more turnovers than they would want. Georgia will win this game on the basis of their ability to score more points off turnovers. Tennessee should not control the pace as much as thought, but it will be around a 70 possession game.
Anthony Edwards’ shot selection, unselfishness, and Free Throw shooting will be under scrutiny. Edwards operating separately from his teammates has been a major problem, he needs to integrate himself on offense and defense the entire time he is on the floor.
Prediction: Georgia 69 Tennessee 64