1. The two best players for Georgia through the first half of the season are Rayshaun Hammonds and Nicolas Claxton. These two are the top two producers in points, rebounds, blocks, and steals for the Bulldogs on the year. On top of that Claxton also leads the team in assists, and Hammonds is second on team in three-point shooting. Currently, Claxton is averaging 12.6 points, a tied for the SEC lead 9.5 rebounds, an SEC-leading 3.3 blocks, 2.2 assists, and 1.3 steals per game. Claxton has made an awesome jump from his freshman to sophomore year, and presents a match up nightmare for most teams. Leading the team in assists as the tallest player on the roster is extremely uncommon, but shows how much of the offense runs through Claxton. As for Hammonds, he’s putting up 13.9 points, 6.7 boards, 1.7 assists, and nearly one steal per contest, while hitting 42.1% of his threes and 84.2% of his free throws. Another huge leap for the Bulldogs from freshman to sophomore year, Hammonds has seen big jumps in all of his statistical contributions, despite playing nearly the same minutes as last year. The one downfall for these two sophomore studs is that they are turnover prone, combining for nearly 4 turnovers per game, despite not playing the guard positions.
2. Similar to the lineup that Vanderbilt was throwing at the Cats for extended periods, Georgia starts a group that has a solid size advantage over Kentucky. A starting lineup of 6’4″ William Jackson II , 6’4″ Teshaun Hightower, 6’8″ Rayshaun Hammonds, 6’9″ Derek Ogbeide, and 6’11” Nicolas Claxton doesn’t sound too incredibly large, until you realize that their 6’8″ small forward outweighs Keldon Johnson by 25 pounds, 6’8″ PJ Washington will be defending Claxton, who is longer, quicker, three inches taller, and more versatile than how Washington’s playing at the moment, and that Reid Travis is 15 pounds lighter than Ogbeide. The Bulldogs present both an athletic big and a power big, which means Reid Travis and PJ Washington need to get out of their collective funk and provide some sort of offensive production, while playing with high effort on the defensive end.
3. I’d be remiss if I failed to mention Georgia’s new Head Coach this season. We last saw Tom Crean underperforming on a regular basis leading the Hoosiers at Indiana. Hoosier fans grew impatient with the constant “next year” mentality that had seemingly encompassed the program. In 9 years at Indiana, Crean made the NCAA Tournament just 4 times, the Sweet 16 only three times, and never advanced to an Elite 8. Even the year he had two top-4 picks in the draft, Victor Oladipo and Cody Zeller, Crean lost as a number 1 seed to 4 seeded Syracuse in the Sweet 16. After being let go at Indiana, Crean took a season off, but the hiatus was short as the Georgia job came calling. The Bulldog faithful has been energized by the Tom Crean hire, and he seems to genuinely like working at Georgia. He’s pumped up the fanbase with hope of future success, and that includes tonight’s game against Kentucky. The game is sold out and they let students start to line up prior to noon this morning to get into the game.
4. Georgia’s non-conference schedule was set up to put them in a good position to vie for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. They were slated to take on two ranked teams, along with being the favorite in every other game they played outside of those two games. However, it did not go as planned for the Bulldogs, as they fell to both of their ranked opponents, Clemson and Arizona State. To add insult to injury of those two losses, both of those ranked teams have now fallen out of the rankings in the time since beating Georgia. The Dawgs’ best win is an 11-point win at rival Georgia Tech, but their struggles outweigh the positives. Losses to Temple and Georgia State won’t help come Selection Sunday, and they’ve dropped two of their first three SEC games, to Tennessee and Auburn. Georgia currently sits at 9-6, desperately needing a résumé boosting win. Kentucky can’t have the slow starts that have plagued their start of conference play, as the crowd will be raucous.
5. John Calipari and the Kentucky Wildcats have beaten the Georgia Bulldogs 11 straight times, dating back to 2013. In fact, Kentucky is 16-2 against Georgia since Coach Cal took over in Lexington. The only two wins for the Bulldogs in the Coach Cal era came in Athens. In 2011, Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb combined for 42 points, but Kentucky had three players foul out and Trey Thompkins dominated for Georgia, finishing with 25 points, 7 rebounds, and 2 blocks in a 77-70 victory for the Bulldogs over the 10th ranked Wildcats. Then, in 2013, the Cats were still reeling from the loss of Nerlens Noel for the season, Georgia was able to win by 10 points, behind a strong 24 point and 10 rebound performance from Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.
Go Cats. Beat Dawgs.