Georgia Basketball: Bulldogs welcome Vanderbilt for payback opportunity


The Georgia Bulldogs welcome the Vanderbilt Commodores  into the Stegeman Coliseum Tuesday night at 7:00, offering a return on a lesson learned and some comeuppance as well.

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A year ago nearly to the day, the Georgia Bulldog Basketball team limped off a loss to Kentucky handcuffed by injuries hoping for a break. Instead of charity, the Dawgs found the law of the SEC jungle. A hungry and desperate Vanderbilt team pounced on the dispirited Dawgs and snatched away any chance of a Bulldog NCAA berth.

The lesson of last year’s Vandy loss seems to have taken hold. Tuesday night, the Bulldog Cagers (13-5, 4-2) can right all that was wrong with last years’ season and maybe offer a little payback when the Vanderbilt Commodores visit the Stegeman Coliseum.

Vandy brings its own issues to the January 27, 7:00 PM contest. With an 11-3 start, including an SEC opener win against Auburn, Vandy’s RPI steadily rose from 166 to 80. But five straight conference games dropped the Commodores to 11-8 (1-5) and a 114 RPI..

As usual, Vandy can shoot, ranking nationally 26 in field goal percentage and 61 in 3-point field goal percentage. Vandy also plays well defensively, ranking 69 in field goal percentage and 59 in blocks per game. These rankings were produced against a decent 72 strength of schedule.

So what is the problem with Vandy?

Sophomore center Damian Jones with 16 points per game and freshman Riley LaChance with 13 points per game lead Vanderbilt in scoring. And that’s the problem: Vandy can scorch the nets off the basket, but it is exceptionally young. Vandy shoots 37% on threes, but it ranks 239 nationally in 3-point attempts.

Vandy turns the ball over worse than Georgia – 14 per game and a 270 national rank. The field goal defense rank of 69 is very good, but Vandy ranks 125 in 3-point percentage defense.

Vandy is talented and fifteen-year head man Kevin Stallings will have the Commodores playing winning ball before the season is over. The Dawg’s mission is the same as it was against Seton Hall and Florida: not tonight.

Vanderbilt faces a different Georgia team than last year’s.

Jan 6, 2015; Athens, GA, USA; Georgia Bulldogs guard J.J. Frazier (30) shoots over Arkansas Razorbacks guard Anton Beard (31) during the second half at Stegeman Coliseum. Arkansas defeated Georgia 79-75. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Georgia’s response to this year’s misfortune starts with J. J. Frazier. Juwan Parker and Kenny Paul Geno injuries , not to mention to Yante Maten’s car collision concussion (Yea, but you ought to see the car) left Mark Fox with no choice but to start Frazier.

Good choice.

Since Frazier began starting, the Dawgs are undefeated. Frazier has lifted his scoring average to 10 points a game and is shooting 46%, 45% on 3-point attempts, 84% on free throws, skies for 4 rebounds a game, and adds over three assists per game. With Frasier scoring 10 per outing, every Georgia starter is now averaging in double digits.

With Parker and Geno out of action, the dominos did not stop with Frazier. Charles Mann now takes duty as a regular at Parker’s 3 spot, as well as taking time at the point.

Mann is still averaging four turnovers a game and 63% on free throws. But while battling the old bugaboos, Mann also sparked the Bulldogs out of intermission of the Florida game and the Ole Miss game.

Against Florida, Mann opened the second half with six of the Dawgs first eight points before the under 16 timeout plus a steal to maintain a Georgia five point lead. Against Ole Miss, Mann scored eight of Georgia’s first 13 points before the under 16 timeout and added two rebounds and an assist as the Dawgs turned a four point half time deficit into a one point lead.

Cameron Forte was pressed into action with the wrist injury to Kenny Paul Geno. Again, there was little choice.

Good choice.

With the Bulldog bench shrinking, Forte morphed from on court lone wolf into dazzling spark plug off the bench, displaying a mix of basketball savvy and skill that annoys opponents as much as it thrills the home crowd. The biggest difference in Forte’s play has been his work at the free throw line. A career 40% free throw shooter, he is shooting 75% in the last four games.

Georgia, left with only seven front line players available, asked Taylor Echols and Houston Kessler to take early minutes. Both have responded with the best play of their careers. Dawn of the Dawg can offer no impressive stat line or memorable play.

And perhaps that’s the point. In the last four games, Echols has three turnovers in 32 minutes and Kessler has no turnovers in 27 with a few baskets between them. Making the most of fresh legs, hustle and smarts – with no small measure of courage – the pair adequately annoys offenders and works defenders to give Bulldog play makers the rest and the opportunity to win games.

There is a bit more to the Dawg’s resilience.

Despite the adversity there is a hop in these Dawgs step. There is a sudden purpose about their efforts. There is freshness in the team play – exemplified in particular by the awakening of Cameron Forte and Charles Mann and the determination of reserves Echols and Kessler.

Dawn of the Dawg suggests keeping a close eye on the crusty Professor Marcus Thornton and the crafty Jester Nemi Djurisic. No team wins without leadership and it seems one or both of these seniors has decided it’s time for Georgia Basketball to play in the NCAA Tournament.

Next: Former Bulldog Jacky Dorsey Named SEC Legend