After a long layoff for exams, Georgia (5-3) gets back on the hardwood when they host the Ragin' Cajuns of Louisiana-Lafayette (8-2) tonight at 6 in Stegeman Coliseum (and also on SEC Network). The last time on the floor, Georgia fell to a tough Marquette squad 89-79 in Athens. Tonight's foe will also be a difficult test for the Dawgs, and one that stylistically poses an interesting matchup question for Mark Fox's men.
Fox has been consistent with his starting lineup since opening night, going with sophomore Turtle Jackson and senior JJ Frazier in the backcourt, juniors Juwan Parker and Yante Maten at forward, and sophomore Derek Ogbeide inside. Mike Edwards and Houston Kessler provide depth in the front court, while Pape Diatta, Jordan Harris, Tyree Crump, Kenny Paul Geno, and E'Torrion Willridge come off the bench for the guard and wing spots. And if you've watched the squad all year, you've seen Frazier and Maten provide almost half of the team's points (48.2% of it to be precise), and a lot of need for improvement in the rest of the team.
That said, Mark Fox has often had his teams start slowly only to make huge strides over the exam break, before getting hot going in to January and SEC play. So far this season, Georgia has struggled with their man to man defense at times, and the offense has been stagnant in addition to overly dependent on the two preseason All-SEC picks to make something happen from nothing. And that is where the matchup issues come in to play.
The school formerly known as Southwestern Lousiana has won 8 straight after opening their season with two defeats (although like our game with Morehouse, their win over D-2 Pandhandle State (Oklahoma) counts but not really). They've played twice since our last game, defeating Loyola (New Orleans) 94-60 and Louisiana Tech 91-83, both at home. So they won't be as rusty as we should be after 10 days off.
Also of note are those two scores in the 90s, as the team has posted over 80 points in every game since the season opening loss at Minnesota. This is a team that likes to score, a lot, and create a chaotic environment on the floor that goes harshly against Mark Fox's closely controlled half court desires. They'll full court press us for much of the game, something we have routinely been poor at handling under Fox. And they'll attack the rim off the dribble a lot, putting pressure on our defenders to stay in front of their man, our big men to protect the paint, and everyone hopefully avoid foul trouble in the process. Simply put, they like to play a game we really don't like to play, so which team's style dominates the pace of play will likely go a long way in to determining a winner. We should win, but it won't be easy.
In terms of players, head coach Bob Marlin relies on obviously a quick and athletic group to run his up tempo, pressing system. No one who plays more than 10 minutes a night is taller than 6'7, but don't let their lack of height fool you. This team is among the top 10 in the nation in rebounding margin, as well as in scoring offense and free throw attempts. Junior big and reigning Big South Player of the Week Bryce Washington comes in to the game stuffing stat lines, averaging over 15 pts, 11 rebounds, a block and a steal a night. Junior Frank Brantley has been on fire since becoming eligible this year after sitting out last season as a transfer from BYU. The 6'3 G is averaging over 19 per game, and been deadly from the outside having made over 45% of his 3s despite a high volume of over 5.5 attempts a night. Senior PG Jay Wright, from Effingham County, Georgia, runs the show offensively and defensively, but doesn't bring near the perimeter shooting threat of Brantley (hitting just 25% of his 3s, after shooting just 37% overall from the floor last year), but he still scores over 14 a night with over 4 assists.
Freshman Justin Miller will start alongside Washington on the interior, and is their only other double digit scorer averaging just over 10 per night to go with over 4 boards. Freshman wing Roydell Brown is the 5th starter, but contributes limited stats in under 20 minutes a night after taking over a starting wing role from junior Johnathon Stove earlier on in the season. Stove still gets consistent action off the bench, and freshman PG PJ Hardy adds another shooting threat in reserve (he's hit over 50% from 3 this season, averaging more than one make per game so far). A pair of redshirt freshman, 5'11 G Kadavion Evans and 6'6 F Jerekius Davis are the other players averaging more than 10 minutes a night. Marlin will go 11 deep off his bench, but that's their primary 9 we can expect to see tonight.
It should be a good game, and great contrast in styles, as well as a tough test for the Dawgs in hopes of building an NCAA Tournament caliber resume. Info on how to follow the action is below.
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