After consecutive SEC home victories, the Wildcats will head out on the road for another conference clash.
In Athens, they’ll be taking on Tom Crean at Stegeman Coliseum for the first time in SEC play.
The former Marquette and Indiana head coach has taken over the underachieving program and it’s clear the Bulldogs are in rebuild mode. After a valiant effort in a loss at Auburn, the Dawgs will look to pull the upset and achieve the first marquee victory of the Crean era.
Nuts and Bolts
After a nine-year run under one of the most respected head coaches in the SEC, Georgia and Mark Fox parted ways last season. The former Nevada head coach owned a .551 winning percentage and had two NCAA Tournament appearances during his time in Athens. Under Fox, it seemed like the Dawgs always found themselves on the bubble. At the end of the day, he was unable to collect enough wins. It was time for UGA to make a move.
Heading into the coaching carousel, this was a program that desperately needed a shot in the arm. Georgia hasn’t won an NCAA Tournament game since 2002 and has only been to the Sweet 16 twice in its entire existence. UGA has only won the SEC regular season title twice and the conference tournament three times. With the rest of the SEC totally investing in hoops, it was time for UGA to join the party.
It didn’t take long for Tom Crean to emerge as the top target and he agreed to a six-year contract that will pay him $3.2 million per year. The brother-in-law of Jim Harbaugh came to Athens with over 300 career wins, two Big Ten titles, and five Sweet 16 appearances. Three more than the entire UGA program. The Dawgs now appear to be serious about winning on the hardwood.
Georgia will enter tonight’s game with a 9-6 overall record and a ranking of 89th in KenPom. The Bulldogs are off to a 1-2 start in SEC play and will be playing in front of a capacity crowd at Stegeman Coliseum tonight. This season, under Crean, UGA wants to pound the ball inside and then attack the offensive glass. The Bulldogs have a nice collection of bigs and they do a great job at drawing fouls and getting points from the free throw line. On defense, UGA is fairly athletic and primarily plays man-to-man. They have some really good rim protectors controlling the paint.
This will be the 153rd meeting between the two programs with UK owning a 126-26 series advantage. The Wildcats have won 11 in a row in this series with John Calipari owning a 16-2 record against UGA. Tom Crean, however, has had some success against the Wildcats. Crean beat Kentucky twice in the NCAA Tournament and of course the Christian Watford shot in December of 2011.
Out in the desert, Kentucky is a 7.5 point favorite with a total of 147.5. That’s a projected final score of 77.5-70. On the season, UK is 6-8 against the spread while Georgia is 10-4. At home, the Bulldogs are 7-1 against the number. Kentucky is 0-3 against the spread in SEC play.
UGA rolls with a three-man platoon in the backcourt, but the most dangerous offensive weapon comes off the bench. Tyree Crump is putting up 10.8 points per game in just 19.7 minutes. He’s one of the best bench scorers in the SEC and he is UGA’s best three-point shooter. The junior from Bainbridge, Georgia is shooting 41 percent from deep on 78 attempts. He’s Georgia’s most efficient offensive player and is a really good free throw shooter. The junior has a high assist rate, but must improve his defense to get more minutes on the floor.
Teshaun Hightower runs the point for the Bulldogs and the sophomore has been very average to this season. The 6-foot-5 sophomore is playing just under 20 minutes per game and hasn’t done anything special for Tom Crean’s squad. The Georgia native is shooting under 30 percent from three and has just 26 assists with 25 turnovers.
William Jackson II has over 60 career starts and is a very important piece for this team in his senior season. Jackson doesn’t do anything very well, but he’s always in the right spot and is a player the coach staff can trust. The off guard is shooting 34.9 percent from three and will not shy away from the moment.
The Dawgs have one of the biggest frontcourts in the country and it starts on the wing. Rayshaun Hammonds was a top-60 prospect in the class of 2017 and he is living up to that billing in his sophomore season.
The lefty is very long and big for a wing (6-foot-8, 235 pounds) and he’s been a matchup nightmare for a ton of opponents. The lengthy forward leads the Bulldogs in scoring and has shooting percentage splits of .514/.421/.842. That’s really, really good.
Hammonds is used heavily on the offensive end and he has been a very effective rebounder on both sides of the court. He’s a really good player and will be a tough matchup for Kentucky.
In the post, Nicolas Claxton is an athletic big who plays the five spot for the Dawgs. The 6-foot-11 sophomore is putting up 12.6 points and 9.5 rebounds per game. He’s been one of the best rim protectors in the country with 50 blocks in just 14 games (3.3 per outing). He leads the team in assists and steals. The super sophomore is a stat sheet stuffer. He will be quite the challenge for UK’s bigs to deal with.
Next to Claxton will be Derek Ogbeide. The senior has been in Athens forever. The Nigeria native does all of the dirty work for the Bulldogs and is having a career year averaging just under 10 points per game. Ogbeide is a solid rebounder and a really good post defender. The Bulldogs have the pieces to matchup with UK’s frontcourt.
Off the bench, E’Torrion Wilridge is an athletic wing who can give UGA a small ball option when UGA wants to slide Rayshaun Hammonds to the four. However, Wilridge is not a threat on offense and plays because of what he brings on the defensive end of the floor.
Keys to Victory
- It’s been a rough couple of games for UK’s bigs. Both Reid Travis and P.J. Washington have hit a bit of a rough patch recently and they must shake out of it right now. Georgia has a legit NBA player in Rayshaun Hammonds, a bruising senior in Derek Ogbeide, and an elite shot blocker and rebounder in Nicolas Claxton. UGA will provide one of the stiffest challenges UK has faced this season down low. If Travis and Washington don’t play well, UK could be in for a long night in Athens.
- The Bulldogs are very limited on the perimeter. The UGA starters bring no offensive punch to the table. Tyree Crump can get buckets quickly off the bench, but he is a liability on defense. Look for Ashton Hagans to draw him on defense. Kentucky must win this advantage in the ballgame. Immanuel Quickley has come alive in recent games, but tonight could be a night where Tyler Herro could make a huge impact.
- Georgia is very limited on offense, but they do two things fairly well. The Bulldogs get to the free throw line and gobble up offensive rebounds. However, these are two things UK has done a great job in limiting this season. Kentucky must continue to guard without fouling and keep the Dawgs off the offensive glass.
- UGA has been a really bad three-point shooting team this season. UK has been really bad at guarding the three-point shot this season. The Dawgs will need to hit some threes to have a chance. After a strong performance against Vanderbilt, Kentucky must continue to challenge the perimeter shooters.