Georgia Bulldogs v. South Carolina Gamecocks: The Haphazard Ill-Informed Roundball Preview

I have to tell you, I’m feeling pretty good about this weekend’s game---well, as good as someone with my disposition is capable of feeling, at any rate. The stars appear to be aligning in a favorable way for the Classic City Canines. First, and most obviously, the Georgia Bulldogs are playing at home against the South Carolina Gamecocks, whom they handled in Columbia earlier this month.

Secondly, I will be attending the game with my seven-year-old son, so I’m looking forward to an evening in Stegeman Coliseum. (Expect my postgame wrapup to be delayed until Sunday, and don’t be surprised if it has certain NCT-like elements to it.) Finally, the game is being played on February 26, 2011, which, in addition to being my father’s 68th birthday, also happens to be the fifth anniversary of the day I wrote this about then-head coach Dennis Felton:

[T]hese sorts of "human interest" articles should only appear during the offseason. While recruiting is going on, reporters write about recruiting. While preseason practice is going on, reporters write about preseason practice. The coach's wardrobe should only come up in the dead time in which nothing concerned with the sport itself is taking place.

There's only one reason why the Journal-Constitution would write about the Georgia basketball coach's attire in late February and we all know what that reason is.

It's because there isn't an upcoming N.C.A.A. tournament bid about which to write. If the Bulldogs were contenders, Chip Towers would be writing about conference tournament prospects and regions and seeding and suchlike.

Because there is no cause to write about such matters, Chip Towers has nothing better to write about than the fact that Dennis Felton "prefers a Giorgio Armani cut in earth tones" with "working buttons on the sleeves."

Secondly, the whole color scheme thing bothers me. Coach Felton doesn't think red and black are good colors for him. He seldom wears ties featuring the school colors and he had his office redone in neutral colors.

Color schemes are a big thing in intercollegiate athletics. Nowhere is that more true than at the University of Georgia.

Historically, our team has been referred to by its color scheme ("Red and Black") longer than by its mascot ("Bulldogs"). The school newspaper is named for the sports teams' color scheme. The band is named after the color of its coats. Georgia fans' cars sport bumper stickers declaring that we bleed red and black. Our second most famous football cheer (behind only "How 'bout them 'Dawgs!") makes reference to the color of our student-athletes' pants. . . .

Being a head coach at Georgia and eschewing red and black is like being president of the United States and shying away from red, white, and blue.

The world has turned more than once since then. Dennis Felton was given time enough to prove himself, and what he proved about his coaching acumen was inadequate to justify his retention in the position. He has been succeeded in that post by Mark Fox, who wears our school colors and puts his basketball team in silver uniforms to honor a successful signing day by our football team. More significantly, though, Coach Fox has given us something more to talk about in late February than his wardrobe.

That being the case, lets talk it about it, shall we? (The something more, that is, not the wardrobe.)

The Palmetto State Poultry halted a five-game losing streak with Tuesday night’s win over the Mississippi Rebels in Columbia, but South Carolina still has lost seven of its last nine outings. The Gamecocks’ 79-point outburst against Ole Miss marked the first occasion in that nine-contest stretch that the Garnet and Black topped the 67-point mark, and the South Carolinians have allowed at least 73 points in five of their last six games. Unfortunately, the lone exception was their showdown with Georgia in Columbia, in which the Bulldogs were limited to 60 points.

Despite holding the Athenians nearly ten points below their scoring average for the season, South Carolina languishes at the bottom of the league in scoring defense, giving up an SEC-worst 69.5 points per contest as of Wednesday afternoon. Through the campaign’s first 26 outings, the Gamecocks ranked tenth in the conference in field goal percentage (40.4%), eleventh in free throw percentage (65.1%), and last in rebounds allowed (37.9 per game) and in assists (11.3 per game). (Through Wednesday afternoon, Georgia led the league in the latter category with 15.6 assists per contest.) Where the Palmetto State Poultry are proficient are in the areas of blocked shots (6.3 per game) and offensive rebounds (14.5 per game), in both of which they ranked first in the SEC following Tuesday night’s contest.

The Garnet and Black have dropped three straight road outings to fall to 3-7 in away games, and the Gamecocks have not followed up a home win with a road win in their next contest since November. The Red and Black are looking for their first season sweep in the South Carolina series since the 2006-2007 campaign after Coach Fox split his first two meetings with the Palmetto State Poultry, notching a 66-61 victory at home after falling by one in Columbia.

The Gamecocks are coached by Darrin Horn, whose first seven seasons as a Division I head coach (with the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers from 2003 to 2008 and with South Carolina since then) produced a trio of bids to the NIT and an NCAA Sweet 16. Prior to his stint with WKU, he was most well known for romancing Cher, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Susan Sarandon in Eastwick. Coach Horn’s job performance has led Garnet and Black supporters to write open letters to their head coach declaring the honeymoon to be at an end and to enquire casually (rather than inquire formally) whether "Darrin Horn is certifiably insane."

Particularly after the Gamecocks’ solid performance on Tuesday night, the Bulldogs cannot take this game for granted. Nevertheless, Georgia is the better team, and the contest will take place in sold-out Stegeman Coliseum. To top it all off, South Carolina was slotted tenth in the latest SEC Power Poll, which is significant because the fifth-ranked Bulldogs are 1-5 against the teams ranked above them and 6-1 against the teams ranked below them. Saturday night’s game isn’t a sure thing, but it is a game Georgia ought to win.

Tomorrow evening’s tip-off is set for 7:00, and, for the benefit of those of you who will not be in Athens for the event, the game is being televised on Fox Sports Net and streamed on ESPN3.

Go ‘Dawgs!

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