With Kentucky hoping to snap a two-game losing streak when it plays Georgia on Tuesday night, here are five things about the Bulldogs:
1. It’s hard to know what to make of fiery Mark Fox
Fox was 123-43 in four seasons as Nevada’s head coach before taking the Georgia job. He’s gone 139-111 overall in eight seasons in Athens with a 65-63 SEC record. His teams were 61-40 over the last three seasons when Fox became the first coach in Georgia history to win 20-or-more games in three successive seasons.
On the down side, Georgia has been to just two NCAA Tournaments under Fox and has yet to win a game there, going 0-2. In fact, Georgia hasn’t won an NCAA Tourney game since 2002 under Jim Harrick. Before that, it’s last tournament win was 1996 under a coach named Tubby Smith. Bulldog coaches since Smith: Ron Jirsa, Harrick, Dennis Felton and now Fox.
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Fox is considered an excellent X and O coach. When Kentucky was going 38-0 in 2014-15, the Bulldogs gave the Cats one of their toughest tests, losing 72-64 before Wisconsin finally stopped UK’s attempt at the perfect season in the Final Four.
Recruiting has been the biggest knock on Fox. He has a reputation of disliking the AAU process and he has not been able to keep top prospects from leaving the state. In the Class of 2017, Rivals’ No. 5 prospect Wendell Carter of Atlanta is headed to Duke; No. 7 prospect Collin Sexton of Mableton is going to Alabama; No. 40 prospect Chuma Okeke of Atlanta will play for Bruce Pearl at Auburn.
Overall, Fox is 3-11 against Kentucky. The Bulldogs have lost six straight to the Cats. They are 5-59 against Kentucky in Lexington with their last win at Rupp coming March 4, 2009 over Billy Gillispie’s second and last Kentucky team 90-85.
2. Georgia’s strength is its defense
Mark Fox’s Bulldogs may be only 13-8 overall and 4-4 in the SEC. They may be No. 52 in the current Ken Pomeroy’s rankings and 120th in offensive efficiency. Ah, but the Bulldogs rank 25th by Pomeroy in defensive efficiency.
This isn’t anything new. Georgia ranked 22nd in defensive efficiency in 2015 and 46th last year.
Georgia also led the SEC in defensive field goal percentage last season at 38.5 percent. This year, the Bulldogs are second behind South Carolina at 40.1 percent. They’ve held three of their eight SEC opponents under 40 percent – Mississippi State at 34.7; Ole Miss 27.5; Texas A&M 36.2 percent.
Ole Miss scored just 18 points in the first half of a 69-47 loss to the Bulldogs.
Georgia’s problem has been on the offensive end. Despite the inside-outside combination of Yante Maten and J.J. Frazier, Georgia is shooting just 44.3 percent from the floor.
3. Yante Maten is a force around the basket
My Herald-Leader colleague Jerry Tipton wrote a feature on Maten and with good reason.
One of Fox’s major recruiting wins was prying Maten out of Bloomfield Hills, Michigan where he turned down both Michigan State and Indiana to come south to Athens. Maten was Michigan’s Gatorade Player of the Year as a senior in high school.
Maten is second in the SEC in scoring this season at 19.7 points per game and third in rebounds at 7.7. (UK’s Malik Monk leads the conference in scoring at 21.7 points per game.) Maten averaged 16.5 points and eight rebounds per game last season. His field goal percentage has improved from 41.6 in 2015 to 49.6 last season to 53.6 this year.
Maten has scored 20-or-more points eight times this season. He led the Bulldogs with 21 points in their 59-57 win over Texas last Saturday. He has produced five double-doubles which ranks second in the SEC.
At the SEC’s Basketball Media Day back in October, Mississippi State coach Ben Howland said this of Maten: “I think the most underrated player in our league, by far, and I see it from you guys, is Yante Maten. There’s a real argument he’s the best big guy in our league.”
4. Don’t foul J.J. Frazier
The 5-10 senior guard from Glennville, Georgia has made 83 of 93 free throws for 89.2 percent, which ranks first in the SEC and 23rd nationally. He’s a career 82.9 percent free throw shooter. He was 159-of-193 last season for 82.4 percent from the line after hitting 86 of 104 free throws for 82.7 percent as a sophomore.
Overall, Frazier’s production is down slightly this season. After averaging 16.9 points per game last year, Frazier is averaging 15.5 this year. He’s surprisingly struggled from three-point range. After making 50 of 127 for 39.4 percent as a sophomore and 76 of 197 for 38.6 percent as a junior, Frazier has made just 33 of 121 from behind the arc for 27.3 percent this season.
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Frazier did score 11 of his 14 points in the second half of Georgia’s win over Texas last Saturday in a game where Fox switched his starting lineup. The coach decided to start Turtle Jackson and bring Jordan Harris off the bench. Harris responded by hitting a pair of important three-pointers.
And Fox has received a lift in conference play from Juwan Parker, a 6-4 redshirt junior from Tulsa, Oklahoma. Parker has scored in double figures seven of the Bulldogs’ eight league games. He had a career-high 17 points each in back-to-back games against Vanderbilt and Florida.
You might want to avoid fouling Parker, as well. He’s made 47 of 57 free throws for 82.5 percent.
5. This is a big game for Georgia’s NCAA Tournament chances
The Bulldogs are either on the bubble or hoping to climb on the bubble and the next three games could play an important part of the effort. Tuesday’s foe, Kentucky, is ranked eighth. Saturday, Georgia visits South Carolina, which is ranked 19th. Next week, the Bulldogs play host to Florida. The Gators are ranked 24th.
Georgia has been hurt by a second-half collapse in a loss to Oakland, a controversial one-point loss at Texas A&M in which Georgia blew a 13-point lead and included a late-game clock malfunction, plus a blowout 80-60 home loss to Alabama in which the Fox didn’t even make it to halftime before being ejected. The coach was tossed with 1:59 left in the first half.
On the plus side, the Bulldogs dominated Georgia Tech 60-43 in Atlanta on Dec. 20 and the Yellow Jackets have surged lately with wins over North Carolina, Florida State and Notre Dame.
It will be interesting to see if the Bulldogs built some momentum with the two-point win over visiting Texas last Saturday in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge. The Dawgs dodged a bullet when Jarrett Allen’s hook shot that would have sent the game into overtime instead rimmed out at the buzzer. Still, Georgia twice fought back from 10-point deficits and outscored the Longhorns 36-25 in the second half.
Georgia men’s basketball 2016-17
Georgia at Kentucky
When: Tuesday, 9 p.m.
Where: Rupp Arena in Lexington
TV: ESPN with Brent Musburger, Jay Bilas and Kaylee Hartung
Radio: UK Network with Tom Leach and Mike Pratt