MBB: As schedule heats up, Crean stays locked in on one game at a time

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MBB: As schedule heats up, Crean stays locked in on one game at a time

Tom Crean coaching against Georgia Southern (12/23) in the second half
Tom Crean coaching against Georgia Southern (12/23) in the second half

Georgia men’s basketball schedule heats up as they’ve got a couple of ranked opponents back-to-back to start the new year. It all starts Saturday, as the Bulldogs’ (9-3) take on the No. 11 Memphis Tigers (12-1) in a CBS nationally televised matchup at 1 p.m. ET. 

Coming into the season, the Tigers signed the consensus No. 1 recruiting class in the country, while Georgia inked the No. 5 class according to ESPN.com. 

Georgia is coming into the game off a great performance besting Austin Peay, 78-48. The Bulldogs are averaging an impressive 82.2 points per game, which is ranked No. 12 nationally through games played by Jan. 1. 

The Tigers’ only loss this season came to No. 14 Oregon on Nov. 12, but since then they are riding a 10-game winning streak. Memphis is coming off an 84-73 win over Tulane.

Memphis has a trio of freshmen that are averaging double-digit point totals. Precious Achiuwa leads the team averaging 14.2 ppg and is also rebounding a team-best 9.9 rebounds per game. D.J. Jeffries is adding 12.0 ppg, and Lester Quinones is scoring 11.4. 

Georgia’s Anthony Edwards is averaging 18.8 ppg (No. 2 nationally among freshman), and junior Rayshaun Hammonds is scoring 14.0 ppg. Among other freshmen, Sahvir Wheeler is a name that has gotten notice. Wheeler seems to be the true point guard that Georgia needed and is leading the team in assists with 62.

Georgia vs. Georgia Southern 2019 - Second Half - December 23, 2019
Georgia vs. Georgia Southern 2019 – Second Half – December 23, 2019

“We know (Saturday) is going to be a challenge, and Penny (Hardaway) is a great coach,” said Georgia head coach Tom Crean during Friday’s media availability. “They are very, very talented. They are extremely fast as they are scoring 30 percent of their points in transition. They create a lot of turnovers as they are very athletic, and dynamic. They mix their defenses up well.” 

Something that Georgia has struggled with this season is when teams switch from man to zone defense. Last week against Austin Peay, Georgia jumped up to a 16-4 lead early in the first half. But they struggled when the Governors’ switched from man to a 2-3 zone defense in which Georgia struggled to get inside and get offensive rebounds. 

The Bulldogs play what Crean calls “transition basketball” and they lack a true big man inside. When opponents have increased the defensive pressure, this young team folds and starts turning the ball over. 

“This is a huge personnel game for us on how we want to guard people, but the bottom line is we have to take care of the ball,” said Crean. “We’ve got to be in the rebounding game, and that we’ve got to understand our personnel. If we don’t rebound and continue to consistently turn the ball over then we won’t win.”  

Georgia is one of the youngest teams in the country with ten new players, and nine of them are freshmen. This is the part where it gets hard as they play Kentucky and Auburn following Saturday’s matchup against Memphis. It’s the real “meat and potatoes” part of their schedule. 

In Friday’s press interview head coach Tom Crean ignored the part about the rest of the schedule, and was focused on this game only. 

“We’re set in on this game. There’s no talk about the next game. I mean we certainly work ahead as coaches, but not with the team. It’s all locked into what we’re doing now. “

“…You stayed locked in. You pace your team to get better, and for them to improve. But at the same time, you put in what you have to get better for that game.” 

Here is the video from Tom Crean’s interview:

Tom Crean’s interview before the Memphis game on Friday, Jan. 3rd, 2020.

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Currently an intern for BI, and a junior journalism major at the University of Georgia.