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Georgia Bulldogs v. Washington Huskies: The Haphazard Ill-Informed NCAA Basketball Tournament Preview

Dance anyone?

Mark Fox (March 13, 2011)

So, what do you want to know about the Georgia Bulldogs’ first round NCAA Tournament opponent, the Washington Huskies? You know, other than the fact that they also have an SB Nation weblog with the word "Dawg" in the title? (No, they don’t pronounce "Dawg" like we do; they spell it that way to emphasize the "W." Yes, that’s as silly as it sounds.)

The Huskies field arguably the Pac-10’s most talented lineup, led by the "cold-blooded" Isaiah Thomas, whose buzzer beater gave Washington the conference tournament title. Knowledgeable SEC basketball fans are impressed with U-Dub’s athleticism. Last year, the Purple and Gold made a run to the Sweet 16, and, in this year’s opening matchup, they will try to force a "program on the rise" to play their up-tempo style.

The Fox Hounds can’t afford to let the Huskies do that to them. A Sea of Blue’s Glenn Logan explained it to me this way:

The first thing that stands out about the Huskies is their guard play. . . . Freshman Terrence Ross has moved into the starting 2-guard spot, and he is a dangerous shooter, as is point guard Isaiah Thomas. . . .

The Huskies really like to get up and down the floor, but Georgia has the athletes to slow them down if the 'Dawgs get back in transition. Washington has some good big people as well as guards, and they have a number of really good athletes. One place where Georgia is going to be a bit disadvantaged is that almost all the Huskies can get their own shot and score, where Georgia's scoring tends to be concentrated more toward offensive execution and getting the ball inside to Price and Thompkins.

You don't want to turn the ball over against the Huskies. Not only are they awesome in transition, but they absolutely take care of the basketball. . . .

Georgia will need to control the tempo, as the Huskies love to fly around the court, and play at one of the highest tempos in Division I. If the 'Dawgs can keep the pace deliberate and possessions at or below about 64, I like their chances. Defensively, Washington has a small point guard and Terrence Ross is not a good defensive player yet, and I think if Robinson, Ware, and Leslie take their time and don't get suckered into a track meet with Washington, your more experienced players can hang with them. Washington will block some shots, so it's important for your big people to be looking for that. A blocked shot can often lead to an easy basket, particularly if they are blocked in defensive rotation, like most of UW's will be. Get the ball back and somebody will be open.

I can't emphasize enough how important it is for the 'Dawgs not to get into a track meet with these guys. . . . Georgia has to make sure that their guards rotate back on every missed shot, and send only your bigs to the offensive glass. . . .

Where Washington wins a lot is on the offensive glass. They are big, athletic, and can rebound like crazy, so defensive rebounding is critical against this team, but Georgia's thickness and size will help them against the thinner Huskies. Washington plays above the rim, so it's really important for your big people to block out soundly on defense. Conversely, Washington is not a very good defensive rebounding club and Georgia is a very good offensive rebounding team. So if the 'Dawgs can beat them in the offensive rebound war, it will put you in a good position to win. . . .

Washington is not an execution team, and if your defense can force them to execute on offense or sucker them into challenged shots, more the better. But take care of the glass, do not share the ball with them, and get back fast in transition.

Yeah, I really can’t top that, but I feel I should try to contribute something, so follow me after the jump if you feel so inclined.

One of the factors that got Georgia into the tournament was the Bulldogs’ lack of bad losses. The eleven setbacks suffered by the Athenians were sustained at the hands of the second-seeded Florida Gators and Notre Dame Fighting Irish, the fourth-seeded Kentucky Wildcats, the fifth-seeded Vanderbilt Commodores, the sixth-seeded Xavier Musketeers, the seventh-seeded Temple Owls, the ninth-seeded Tennessee Volunteers, and the Alabama Crimson Tide, who earned a No. 1 seed in the NIT. Although Washington’s out-of-conference losses were to fourth-seeded Kentucky, the seventh-seeded Texas A&M Aggies, and the tenth-seeded Michigan St. Spartans, the Huskies’ defeats in Pac-10 play came at the hands of the fifth-seeded Arizona Wildcats, the play-in game-bound USC Trojans, and four other teams who didn’t make the field of 68.

Those four teams were the Oregon Ducks (who finished the season with a 16-17 overall record), Oregon St. Beavers (11-20), Stanford Cardinal (15-16), and Washington St. Cougars (19-12). The Cougs beat the Huskies twice, and all five of U-Dub’s league losses came at the hands of clubs that finished at or below .500 in conference play.

Through March 12, Washington led the Pac-10 in scoring offense (83.5 points per game), scoring margin (+13.1), field goal percentage (.471), rebounding offense (39.3 rebounds per game), assists (17.2 per game), and three-point field goals made (8.8 per game), but the Huskies ranked seventh in the league in rebounding defense (34.7 rebounds per game allowed) and eighth in scoring defense (70.4 points per game allowed). Georgia ranks third in the SEC in field goal percentage allowed (.396) and defensive rebounding percentage (.683), second in rebounding defense (33.0 rebounds per game allowed) and rebounding margin (+4.7), and first in assists (15.2 per game).

So, what are the Bulldogs’ chances of beating the Huskies? Well, Chris Mottram picked against the Red and Black, but he’s not a Georgia fan. John Berkowitz expects Washington to win a close one. Although Andrew Sharp has Washington as his sleeper team, ten seeds historically have enjoyed a 40 per cent success rate in the first round, and Mark Fox-coached teams are 2-1 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

Coach Fox has become so acclimated to life in Athens that it is easy to forget his Western roots, but, as SurferLucas noted, Coach Fox was an assistant coach in Seattle for two years, and he spent nine years on the staff at Nevada. Prior to landing the Georgia job, Coach Fox’s easternmost career outpost was in Kansas, where they tend to take their basketball pretty seriously. While the Wolf Pack never crossed paths with the Huskies during Coach Fox’s tenure in Reno, his Nevada clubs carded three wins over Pac-10 teams in his five years as head coach.

Though the two programs have history in the Women’s College World Series, Georgia and Washington have never met in men’s basketball. In fact, coming into the 2010-2011 campaign, the Bulldogs had crossed paths with Pac-10 teams on the hardwood on just eleven previous occasions, losing eight of those meetings.

How big a deal is this game? Georgia has not recorded an NCAA Tournament victory that still remains in the record book since March 16, 1996, when the Bulldogs defeated the Purdue Boilermakers in Tubby Smith’s first year in Athens. (You remember Tubby Smith, don’t you?) I’d say 15 years is a long time to go between wins that count on a major sport’s biggest stage; it would be nice if I didn’t have to be writing a year from now about how it’s been 16 years since the Red and Black carded such a triumph. Let’s go ahead and get it out of the way this year, shall we?

Unfortunately, any home region advantage the Fox Hounds might have enjoyed by virtue of facing a team from the Pacific Northwest in Charlotte, N.C., effectively will be negated by the contest’s 9:45 p.m. start time on Friday. The game will be broadcast on CBS.

Go ‘Dawgs!