Georgia is a very solid team.
Stephen Expat (February 3, 2011)
After handing the Hogs their first home loss of the season, the Georgia Bulldogs return home to Athens sporting a 15-6 overall mark and a .500 ledger in SEC play. As Seth Emerson noted, there is a dearth of teams with losing conference records in the Eastern Division. The same cannot be said for the SEC West; Georgia, the fifth-place team in the East, would be tied for second place in the opposite division with a team the Bulldogs just beat head-to-head. In basketball, unlike in football, the West is the weaker half of the league.
This brings us to the Auburn Tigers, about whom I have been asked to offer my thoughts.
In the wake of their Thursday night loss to the Tennessee Volunteers, the Plainsmen are 8-14 overall, 1-7 in conference play, 1-4 in true road games, and 1-7 in their last eight outings. Through the season’s first 21 games, the Orange and Blue ranked tenth in the SEC in free throw percentage, eleventh in the league in scoring offense, and last in the conference in scoring margin, field goal percentage, blocked shots, and defensive rebounds. Auburn is the last-place team in the weaker division of what historically has not been a basketball conference. The Tigers are bad.
How bad is Auburn? Auburn is so bad that the Plainsmen have no leading scorer. All right, that’s not true; through 21 games, the Tigers’ leading scorer was Earnest Ross, who is not one of the top 20 scorers in the conference. The Orange and Blue sophomore would not be the leading scorer on any other team in the conference, nor would he be the second-leading scorer on seven of the eleven other teams in the league, nor would he be the third-leading scorer for the Georgia Bulldogs or the Kentucky Wildcats. Travis Leslie, Gerald Robinson, and Trey Thompkins all average more points per game than Ross. Basically, no one has done less scoring in college than the Plainsmen since Clark Kent and Lana Lang in the fifth season of "Smallville."
The Tigers are guided by first-year head coach Tony Barbee, who played for John Calipari at UMass and served as an assistant to Coach Cal at Memphis. You may know Coach Barbee from his previous stint with the UTEP Miners, or, more recently, from the Pixar film "Toy Story 3," in which he played a pivotal role by using his relationship with Ken to help rescue Andy’s other toys from the Caterpillar Room, to which they had been consigned by Lots-o'-Huggin' Bear and his evil minions.
Frankly, Georgia ought to win this game handily, and I might even be tempted to forecast a relatively effortless victory, were it not for the fact that Auburn recently went on the road and carded a double-digit win over the South Carolina Gamecocks. Having done it before, the Orange and Blue certainly are capable of doing it again.
That does not mean Georgia does not have certain advantages, of course. For one thing, the Tigers are terrible against teams with our mascot. Auburn lost to the UNC-Asheville Bulldogs by one on November 12, fell to the Samford Bulldogs by eleven on November 19, and were hammered by the Mississippi St. Bulldogs (whom Georgia beat convincingly) by 19 on January 16. The Plainsmen are 0-3 this season against teams nicknamed "Bulldogs," the margins in those games have been getting larger, and Auburn has yet to score as many as 70 points in any of those games. Forget home court advantage and conference standings; the name on the jersey ought to be enough to win this one.
Still, last year’s meeting between these two teams appeared every bit as winnable as this one, and the result was an absolute disaster for the Hoop Dogs, so we cannot be too wary of the Tigers. Saturday afternoon’s showdown in Stegeman Coliseum will be the 175th series meeting in a roundball rivalry dating back to the 1907-1908 season, but, because NCAA sanctions from the Jim Harrick era wiped what would have been a Red and Black win from the basketball record book, Auburn officially holds an all-time 87-86 lead over Georgia on the hardwood. Although I hope this game will not be close, I nevertheless am encouraged by the fact that the Bulldogs have gone 7-1 this year in games settled by three or fewer points (and some of us would stick an asterisk next to that "1").
Despite the poor quality of the competition (or, perhaps, because of it), the Athenians need this victory. As Rangers100 noted in a recent comment thread, Wednesday night’s win vaulted Georgia into the RPI top 40. The latest NCAA Tournament projection has the Bulldogs being seeded ninth in the Cleveland Pod (seriously, Cleveland?) of the East Region. If, as anticipated, the Red and Black need to secure six wins in their nine remaining regular-season games in order to ensure themselves of receiving a tourney bid, Georgia’s outing against Auburn simply must be one that adds an integer to the left-hand side of the Bulldogs’ ledger.
Toward that end, Mark Fox needs to instruct his equipment managers (a) to break out the silver britches and (b) not to loan Rob Chubb any shoes. Saturday’s contest is scheduled to tip off at 1:30 p.m. in Stegeman Coliseum. The game will be televised on the SEC Network, and student tickets (albeit only student tickets) are still available. Frankly, when my wife and I were discussing finding a home basketball game to attend this year, this was the one I preferred, but an unavoidable commitment intervened, so I encourage you all the more strongly to be there if you can, and to root your hardest for the Red and Black.
Incidentally, in case you might not have been aware of it already, I hate Auburn.
Go ‘Dawgs! Auburna delenda est!