This weekend, Shaka Smart’s Texas Longhorns take a break from the Big 12 season to participate in the annual SEC/Big 12 Challenge, and will face the Georgia Bulldogs on the road.
This conference event is a fun affair that creates interesting match ups each season, this year giving us an intriguing contest between Kansas and Kentucky. But at least nationally, the Texas-Georgia game is likely to draw fewer eyeballs.
This is in part because both teams are having their struggles. The troubles of the Texas season are familiar to readers of this blog, and there is no need to rehash them, so let’s talk instead about Georgia.
At a high level, Mark Fox’s team looks like a somewhat more experienced and somewhat better version of Texas, but likely with more limited long-term upside. Like the Longhorns, the Bulldogs are pretty solid on the defensive end of the floor but can struggle to score. They can be turnover prone, don’t get to the offensive glass all that much, and haven’t shot very well from three-point range. So yes, Texas fans know the struggle well.
Georgia has had a sort of blah season. At 12-8 overall, and 4-4 in conference, the Bulldogs look to me to be in the hunt for a trip to the NIT. They come into this game dropping three of the last four, with the most recent loss coming in a game where Fox was tossed early and the Bulldogs got run out of their own building by Alabama.
The Bulldog offense is keyed by two players. Senior point guard JJ Frazier is quick and is a good all-around player. Frazier is an outstanding shooter who somehow is only hitting 30 percent from three-point range this season, but his career totals from beyond the arc and at the free-throw line tell what is more likely the true story about his shot-making abilities. He is a little undersized at 5’10, but he can put the ball in the hole and you probably don’t want to be the team that allows his perimeter shooting numbers to start to revert to the mean.
The second key offensive player is 6’8 junior Yante Maten, who is Georgia’s leading scorer at just under 20 points per game, as well as the team’s best rebounder. He does most of his damage in around the basket, but can hurt teams all over the floor, as this season he appears to have improved his perimeter stroke and is a threat to knock down a three. He makes trouble on the offensive glass and is an above average free-throw shooter.
Taking a tertiary role in the offense is 6’8 sophomore Derek Ogbeide, who has been the only other Bulldog to deliver efficient offense this season, and gives Georgia a secondary scorer inside. He and Maten also do a solid job defensively, and in large part due to their work Fox’s team is just much better on that end of the floor.
6’4 junior wing Juwan Parker plays a lot, and seems to have a weird condition that enables to allow him to shoot well from the free-throw line while struggling to translate that to shooting from the floor. I personally feel his pain rather deeply in this matter.
Meanwhile 6’4 freshman guard Jordan Harris has been getting heavy minutes lately, and over a limited sample has shot the ball decently from the perimeter. Fox seems to have shortened his bench in recent weeks, leaning heavily on his starting five.
This is a game where basic offensive competence may be difficult to detect, given the two participants. The show gets started Saturday in Athens at 3 p.m. CT, and will broadcast on ESPN.