March 4, 2014
About the Game
Georgia and Mississippi State complete the 2014 series between the two schools in a Wednesday evening contest in Athens. They met in Starkville exactly three weeks ago, with Georgia coming back from a 14-point first-half deficit to win 75-55. It was the program's biggest road win in the past three years.
Georgia arrives at this game with a 16-12 overall record, 10-6 in SEC games. The Bulldogs began this week still alone in third place in the league standings. Their lead over teams following them, however, has been halved to a single game by both Arkansas and Tennessee. Georgia needs to win both its games this week, or have either of the aforementioned teams lose at least once, in order to keep its hold on a bye to the quarterfinals of the SEC Tournament next week.
Most recently, the Bulldogs dropped an 87-75 decision last Saturday to a surging Arkansas team that has won its past five games. Georgia was led in scoring by Kenny Gaines, who made six of nine 3-point shots (both career highs) and finished with 25 points.
Wednesday's game is the 107th all-time meeting between Georgia and Mississippi State in basketball. The series is now tied at 53 games apiece. Georgia evened the series with a 75-55 win in Starkville three weeks ago. It was a game, and road trip, that coincided with a winter storm that struck Georgia. The storm forced the Bulldogs to improvise in their travel to and from Starkville, leaving Athens earlier than planned and returning later.
Tonight's contest marks the final home game of the season. A victory would give Georgia its best home record since 2003. The game is also the final home game for Georgia's lone senior, forward Donte' Williams. The Ellenwood, Ga., native will be recognized in a pre-game ceremony.
Georgia wraps up the regular season with a Saturday game at LSU, which Georgia defeated 71-58 in Athens on Feb. 6. It is the final game on the SEC slate for Saturday. Therefore, the Bulldogs should have a much clearer idea of their finish before the 5:00 p.m. (ET) tipoff.
|F||2||Marcus Thornton**||6-8||235||RJr.||Atlanta, Ga.||8.2||6.0|
|F||15||Donte' Williams***||6-9||225||Sr.||Ellenwood, Ga.||5.2||5.3|
|F||31||Brandon Morris||6-7||215||So.||Lithonia, Ga.||9.2||3.6|
|G||4||Charles Mann*||6-5||210||So.||Alpharetta, Ga.||13.2||3.0#|
|G||12||Kenny Gaines*||6-3||195||So.||Atlanta, Ga.||13.1||2.4|
#Assists Per Game
|MISSISSIPPI STATE BULLDOGS|
|G||4||Trivante Bloodman||6-0||186||Jr.||Bronx, N.Y.||6.8||2.1|
|G||15||I.J. Ready||5-11||165||Fr.||Little Rock, Ark.||6.0||1.7|
|G||32||Craig Sword||6-3||193||So.||Montgomery, Ala.||13.3||3.6|
|F||25||Roquez Johnson||6-7||207||Jr.||Montgomery, Ala.||9.6||4.7|
|F||20||Gavin Ware||6-9||262||So.||Starkville, Miss.||10.3||7.2|
#Assists Per GameHead Coach: Rick Ray
Record at Miss. State / Years: 23-38 / 2nd season
Overall Record / Years: Same
Assistant Coaches: George Brooks, Wes Flanigan, Chris Hollender
Georgia vs. Mississippi State
Wednesday's game is the 107th all-time meeting between Georgia and Mississippi State in basketball. Thanks to Georgia's win in Starkville three weeks ago, the series is now tied at 53 games apiece.
These two programs seem to be frequent opponents in SEC Tournament play. In fact, they've met there three times in the past six seasons, most recently in 2012, when Georgia defeated State 71-61 in the first round in New Orleans.
A geographical breakdown of the series follows:
Games in Athens: Georgia leads 26-19
Games in Starkville: State leads 31-17
Neutral-Court Games: Georgia leads 10-3
Here's some historical perspective to Georgia's performance in the SEC season thus far. This is the 81st year of competition in the SEC. The 2014 season marks just the 10th time that Georgia has managed to win at least 10 conference games. All 10 of those years follow: 1968 (11-7); 1970 (11-7); 1982 (10-8); 1985 (12-6); 1987 (10-8); 1990 (13-5); 1997 (10-6); 2002 (10-6); 2003 (11-5); 2014 (10-6, thus far). For what it's worth, Georgia's 1983 team won the SEC Tournament and reached the NCAA Final Four, yet managed only a 9-9 record in conference play.
Road wins in conference play are prized possessions, for sure, but road wins by double digits are rarer still. Georgia now has two of them -- by 20 at Miss. State and by 17 at South Carolina -- for the first time in 17 seasons, going back to the 1997 campaign, Tubby Smith's second in Athens.
Another landmark related to Smith's brief tenure at Georgia: the current team now owns six wins by double digits in SEC play. That's the most by a team at UGA since Smith's first team did it in 1996.
Charles Mann's knack for frequent trips to the free-throw line is no secret. As a freshman last season, he had the fifth most free-throw attempts of any SEC player (170). He surpassed that mark this season in the 22nd game, and this year he's second in the SEC in that category behind Auburn's Chris Denson. He currently averages 8.4 free tosses per game, up from 5.3 tries last year. In SEC games, he averages 9.4 free throw attempts.
Mann's free-throw frequency leads an impressive showing by the entire Georgia team, which ranks 28th nationally in total FT attempts. Only Kentucky and Missouri among SEC teams rank higher.
Through the 16-game SEC schedule, Georgia leads the league by a wide margin in free-throw attempts, having tried 482 foul shots (30.1/game). The Bulldogs are 10-2 in games in which they attempt more foul shots than their opponents. They've lost all three in which their opponents attempted more.
Amidst their up-and-down performance on offense and defense, the Bulldogs' one virtual constant in SEC play has been their rebounding. Georgia has outrebounded 13 of its 16 league opponents thus far. The three exceptions? Florida, which it tied with 34 boards apiece, Tennessee on Feb. 18, which outrebounded Georgia 37-30, and Missouri last week. The Mizzou game, in fact, marked the first time all season Georgia won a game in which it was outrebounded. The Bulldogs lead the SEC in rebounding through 16 conference games at 38.9 per game. Highlights in the league schedule thus far have been a +15 ledger vs. Ole Miss, +9 in a win at Missouri, +8 vs. Miss. State, +7 in a win over LSU, as well as a +22 margin in beating Arkansas.
Georgia's win over Missouri on Feb. 25 was its sixth this season over an RPI Top 100 opponent. Those wins also include: Missouri, Ole Miss, Arkansas, LSU and Alabama, although Alabama's current rating has fallen beyond the 100 mark. Georgia's current RPI rating of 84 is a considerable improvement after reaching as high as the mid-260s in late December.
Now that senior Donte' Williams was replaced in the starting lineup Feb. 1 at Auburn, Georgia has no single player that has started all 28 games. The Bulldogs have just three players that have played in all 28 (Williams, Thornton and Djurisic). Kenny Gaines is the team's only player to have started every game for which he's been available (26 for 26).
Georgia has shot over 60 percent in the second half on five occasions this season, including three of their last six SEC wins. The Bulldogs shot 73.9 percent in the second half Feb. 12 at Mississippi State, the program's best-shooting half since 2001. Overall, Georgia shot 54.3 percent at State, even after missing its first eight shots.
Kenny Gaines averaged just 3.7 points in 10.3 minutes as a freshman last year, playing primarily behind the SEC's MVP, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. This season he has scored in double figures 18 times already, including a game-high 25 last Saturday at Arkansas. Most prominently, Gaines has found his range from the 3-point arc. Over the Bulldogs' past five games, he has made 21 of 39 shots from 3-point range (54 percent). Gaines' stat line over those past five games follows:
Min./Game: 28.0 FGs: 31-54 (57.4%) 3FGs: 21-39 (53.8%) FTs: 13-16 (81.3%) 19.2 ppg, 1.6 rpg
Five Bulldogs this season have made their first starts at the Division 1 collegiate level: Kenny Gaines, Cameron Forte, Juwan Parker, Taylor Echols and Houston Kessler.
One effect of not having Kentavious Caldwell-Pope on this year's team: last year, 30 percent of Georgia's total field goals were scored from 3-point range. This year, just 20 percent thus far have come from beyond the arc. Perhaps another way to view this difference: last season's Georgia team averaged scoring 22 points in the paint area. This season, that number thus far has risen to 32 points in the paint.
Most discussion involving KCP's absence has revolved around its effect on the Georgia offense. Little discussion has pertained to its effect on the Georgia defense, which this year has allowed its opponents a .398 overall field-goal percentage, .330 from 3-point range, compared to .388 and .329, respectively, with KCP in the lineup last season.
On Dec. 28, when Colorado sank all 26 of its free-throw attempts, it marked the first time in almost 19 years a Bulldog opponent had shot 100 percent. Tennessee went 10x10 against Georgia on Feb. 11, 1995. That was 584 games ago. For Georgia, it's been 772 games since its last 100 percent shooting night...back to Jan. 14, 1989 vs. Vanderbilt (12x12).
Georgia has now shot at least 50 percent from the field 11 times this season. That's more than the number of 50 percent shooting games over the previous two seasons combined.
Offense on the Uptick
One thing is apparent through the season thus far: Georgia's offense appears to be measurably more effective than last season, even without its best scorer from 2013. In 19 of 28 games thus far, the Bulldogs have scored over their seasonal average (60.8) of last season. The team's overall shooting percentage has also risen from 40.8 of last season to its current mark of 44.7.
When Georgia defeated LSU 91-78 on Feb. 6, it marked the first time since 1995 in which Georgia had cracked the 90-point mark twice during the SEC schedule.
About the Schedule
Conference expansion manifests itself in many strange ways, not the least of which occurs in scheduling. Georgia fans noticed this oddity most recently as their football team has traveled to Auburn in consecutive seasons.
This season their basketball team will experience one of the oddest quirks to its schedule in years. Kentucky will not travel to Athens for a game this season for the first time since the 1962-63 season. Same for Tennessee. For Florida, which also won't play a game in Athens this season, the last time it didn't play in Athens was in 1961-62. The Gators are the most frequent opponent in UGA hoops history.
It took a World War to keep all three schools out of Athens together in the same season the last time. Not since the 1943-44 season -- when Georgia dotted its schedule with random groups like Lawson General Hospital and Robins Airfield -- has this phenomenon occurred.
Georgia and the SEC
Following are a few tidbits about Georgia's history in the SEC:
- Georgia's all-time record in SEC games, covering 80 years, is 507-738 (.410). That ranks 10th of 12 SEC members (excluding Missouri and Texas A&M).
- Georgia can claim one SEC regular-season championship (1990), one regular-season divisional title (2002) and two SEC Tournament crowns (1983, 2008).
- Georgia has had just two AP SEC Player of the Year: Dominique Wilkins in 1981 and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope last season. Other superlative post-season awards include Coaches' SEC Defensive Player of the Year (Rashad Wright in 2004), AP SEC Newcomer of the Year (Jarvis Hayes in 2002), and Scholar-Athlete of the Year (Dave Bliss in 2008).
- Wilkins was the first of four Georgia players to lead the SEC in scoring at season's end. He averaged a league-best 23.6 points per game in 1981. Others to follow him have been Vern Fleming (19.8 ppg in 1984), Jumaine Jones (18.8 ppg in 1999) and Jarvis Hayes (18.6 ppg in 2002).
- Georgia has an all-time SEC Tournament record of 40-51. The 2008 tourney marked the first time since 1997 that Georgia has reached the finals.
Staff Changes for 2014
For the first time of his 4+ seasons in Athens, head coach Mark Fox made changes to his immediate coaching staff. Three-year UGA letterman (2002-04) Jonas Hayes was promoted from Operations Coordinator to Assistant Coach. A native Atlantan, Hayes returned to UGA in 2012 after serving as an Assistant Coach at Belmont Abbey in North Carolina for five seasons. He had also assisted the programs at South Carolina State, Morehouse and his alma mater, Douglass High School, after graduating from UGA in 2004.
Hayes, whose twin brother Jarvis continues to play professionally overseas, became the first Georgia basketball alumnus to hold a full-time assistant's position on the staff at his alma mater since Mark Slonaker assisted Hugh Durham from 1989-95.
To replace Hayes in the Coordinator's position, Fox hired Byron Samuels in May of 2013. The Winston-Salem, N.C., native, is a veteran of the collegiate ranks whose career includes head coaching stops at Hampton, Radford and, most lastly, at Hillsborough Community College, where he coached recent UGA alum John Florveus. Samuels is a veteran of SEC basketball, having assisted four Tennessee teams that earned NCAA Tournament berths.
Fox Best at Molding Talent
Blogger and hoops junkie Dan Hanner of RealGM.com penned an article in February of 2012 that anointed Georgia head coach Mark Fox as the top coach in college basketball at player development. Hanner used a complex formula to rate college coaches. Among Hanner's many observations he writes, "Mark Fox has truly been fantastic at getting the most out of his players."
The top five in the Player Development category include Fox; Bo Ryan (Wisconsin); Craig Robinson (Oregon State); Lorenzo Romar (Washington); and Mike Montgomery (Cal).
Perhaps the most tangible proof of Fox's talent development is the number of NBA draftees and current pros that have played for him. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope became the 11th player under his tutelage to get drafted by an NBA club. He was the fourth 1st-rounder.
Fox Also Tops at Producing Grads
Head Coach Mark Fox must also receive some degree of credit for developing high-performing students in the classroom. Since his arrival in April of 2009, no fewer than 14 Georgia basketball players have earned their undergraduate degrees. Every player that has exhausted his eligibility at UGA under Fox has completed his degree.
Prominent among this group of 14 includes Damien Wilkins - nephew of UGA great Dominique Wilkins - whose last year of eligibility came in 2004 and who has played professionally in the NBA ever since.
Last summer the Georgia program was recognized by the NCAA for its Academic Progress Rate (APR) scored of 990, which ranked among the top 10 percent of all men's basketball programs.