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Georgia Bulldogs at Tennessee Volunteers: The Haphazard Ill-Informed Roundball Preview

The Bulldogs went south in a hurry late in the game, missed out on a golden profile-building opportunity and are getting closer to making contact with the bubble. . . .

Given that trend, it's getting harder and harder to make excuses for them.

Ryan Greene (February 17, 2011)

Fans of the Tennessee Volunteers began the week the way fans of the Georgia Bulldogs did, by wondering whether their team would be able to perform well enough in its last six regular season games to earn an NCAA Tournament bid. Both clubs began their stretch runs with conference home games on Wednesday night, in which the Red and Black lost to the Vanderbilt Commodores and the Big Orange won against the South Carolina Gamecocks in a contest featuring Scotty Hopson’s monster dunk. (Evidently, a lot of fellows have those against South Carolina.)

Where does that leave us heading into Saturday afternoon’s showdown in Knoxville? Here is where the Hoop Hounds stand, from the point of view of this random dude:

To start our examination of this weekend’s game, we look not to Knoxville, but to Nashville, where the Vanderbilt faithful characterized the Bulldog squad they just vanquished as "a formidable test" who provided the Commodores with "their biggest road win of the season." I’ll buy the first part of that description, as the Athenians have proven that they can hang with anyone (or allow anyone to hang with them) for 35 minutes or so, but, frankly, I’m not sure how much outlasting the Red and Black really counts for anymore. After Georgia’s last meeting with Tennessee produced the season’s biggest hose job, I’m certainly not counting on this weekend’s game, or any aspect of it, to go the Red and Black’s way.

Still, if there is any remaining road game the Bulldogs have a shot at winning, it’s definitely this one. It is difficult to imagine Georgia pulling off an upset away from home against the division-leading Alabama Crimson Tide or Florida Gators, but the Volunteers have done a poor job of defending their home court, posting a 10-5 record in Knoxville that ties Tennessee with the Palmetto State Poultry for the worst record of any SEC East team in its own building. The Fox Hounds, on the other hand, boast the conference’s second-best road record, as Georgia’s 6-2 ledger in true away games trails only the Sunshine State Saurians’ 6-1 mark in hostile environments.

Prior to Wednesday evening’s outings in Athens and in Knoxville, Tennessee was two spots ahead of Georgia in the SEC in scoring offense and in steals, while Georgia was two spots ahead of Tennessee in the SEC in scoring defense and in field goal percentage. The two teams entered their respective midweek contests virtually deadlocked atop the conference in rebounding, with the Bulldogs pulling down a league-leading 38.7 boards per game to the 38.6 corralled by the Vols.

The Big Orange’s win in Athens last month was Tennessee’s 91st series victory over Georgia; if the Bulldogs are to card what the NCAA record book will show as the Athenians’ 51st all-time triumph over the Volunteers, they will have to do it against a team led by Bruce Pearl, who is back from suspension with his garish orange blazer after engaging in "inappropriate conduct" with high school juniors. (No, not that kind of inappropriate conduct!) Then again, Coach Pearl’s presence may not be a plus for the home team, as some fans are asking whether he has done his worst coaching job ever this year.

Perhaps the single biggest factor operating in the Bulldogs’ favor is desperation. The Red and Black entered the week as one of the last four teams into the NCAA Tournament who would not have to endure the indignity of participation in a play-in game, and last night’s loss dropped Georgia from Chris Dobbertean’s eleven line to his twelve line.

In short, Tennessee should have the benefit of home court advantage . . . but, apparently, they don’t. The Volunteers should be better off with their head coach back . . . but, evidently, they aren’t. The Big Orange should profit from being the better team . . . but, possibly, they won’t. As crazy as it sounds, Georgia actually has a chance in this one.

Tip-off in Thompson-Boling Arena is scheduled for 1:00 p.m. Eastern time on Saturday. Television coverage will be provided by CBS; here’s hoping the network doesn’t assign two random dudes to call the game.

Go ‘Dawgs!