Georgia Basketball must be tenacious against Vanderbilt in SEC Tourney

Georgia's Braelen Bridges (23) looks to shoot while being defended by Florida guard Kowacie Reeves (14) during an NCAA basketball game between Florida and Georgia in Athens, Ga., on Saturday, Feb. 26, 2022.News Joshua L Jones
Georgia's Braelen Bridges (23) looks to shoot while being defended by Florida guard Kowacie Reeves (14) during an NCAA basketball game between Florida and Georgia in Athens, Ga., on Saturday, Feb. 26, 2022.News Joshua L Jones /

Georgia basketball will likely play its last game on Wednesday as the men take on Vanderbilt in the opening round of the 2022 SEC Men’s Basketball Tournament.

The Dawgs are the No. 14 seed and are 6-25 overall and 1-17 in SEC play. Vanderbilt is the No. 11 seed as the Commodores sit at 15-15 overall and 7-11 in conference games.

Georgia has surpassed the most losses for one individual season and currently has one of the worst SEC records. The Dawgs have struggled all year, and while there have been sparks of success — they haven’t done it consistently enough to win.

One win since Dec. 20, 2021 — that stat is how low Georgia basketball is right now. While fans would all love to see the Dawgs beat Vandy and continue playing, the sooner this season can end, the better.

Georgia basketball needs a miracle to beat Vandy in the opening round of the SEC Tourney.

This season has been such a letdown, and while it all can’t be head coach Tom Crean’s fault — a big portion of it falls on his shoulders.

Georgia’s starting five has found some success down the stretch offensively, but defensively is where the Dawgs continue to struggle. The last two times the Dawgs took on Vanderbilt, they lost 85-77 on Jan. 29 and 73-66 on Jan. 15. Those games against the Commodores were ugly because of the defense’s inability to guard the three-point shot, among other things.

Three of Georgia’s starters average double-digit points as Kario Oquendo leads the Dawgs averaging 15.4 points a game. Braelen Bridges is close behind him averaging 12.8 points, and the third double-digit scorer is Aaron Cook at 10.6 points per game.

Bridges leads the SEC and ranks No. 4 nationally in field goal percentage at 64.2%. That shooting average is the second-best by a Georgia player. His ability to take good shots has been beneficial when Oquendo needs some help.

Oquendo has been incredible this season. He has 10 20-point games on the year, and eight of them came during SEC play with a 33-point performance against Texas A&M was his best of the year.

Cook may average double-digit points, but it’s more about his experience that really helps the team. He has 161 assists on the season, which ranks No. 3 among Georgia’s all-time season leaders, and is eight away from taking the No. 2 spot.

Not to mention Wednesday’s game will be his 164th college game which is the third-most ever by any men’s basketball Division 1 player. Cook has the experience, and that is what Georgia needed from him.

Can Georgia basketball beat Vanderbilt?

The Dawgs fell by eight points and seven points in the last two meetings against the Commodores, so getting the win is possible.

Georgia averages 70.4 points while Vanderbilt averages 69.5, so the two teams are super close in offensive production. However, the Commodores only give up 67.5 points on average, while Georgia gives up 78.3.

The defense will be the biggest key to this opening-round game. Georgia has been productive on offense outside the turnovers but has been atrocious on defense. If Crean can focus on defense when preparing for this game, Georgia has a shot at a victory.

Georgia is shooting 44.6% from the floor, while Vandy shoots 42.3%. The Dawgs make 32.7% from the arc, and Vandy hits 33.6%. Perimeter defense must improve because that is where Scottie Pippen Jr. and the rest of the Commodore offense hurt Georgia the most.

Pippen averages 20.5 points a game, so they must prioritize stopping him and finding a way to keep him from getting hot.

In the most recent meeting, Vanderbilt shot 52.2% from beyond the arc, so if the Dawgs stopped them three more times, they wouldn’t have lost.

So many of Georgia’s games have come down to not getting the stop at times they need to. There are other issues, but defense-play is the biggest issue. It’s frustrating to watch them be productive on offense yet struggle immensely on defense.

If the Dawgs want to get one more game at least this year, they will have to win the rebound battle, cough up fewer turnovers and contain Vanderbilt around the perimeter. It may seem like a lot, but it’s simple to fix by tweaking a few things.

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Georgia basketball will have a late-night for the opening round, but it could pay off and produce a miracle. Tip-off is set for Wednesday at 8 p.m. ET at Amalie Arena in Tampa, Fla.