It’s mediocre yet again, especially in the paint
For the third year in a row, this is kind of bad. The Bulldogs toggle between man and zone, rarely pressing. At first blush, they do appear to do a good job allowing a relatively low number of attempts directly at the rim. Hoop-Math says that just 29.4% of defensive field goal attempts against Georgia are at the rim, the 36th-lowest rate in America. Likewise, they do a great job of forcing non-rim twos at the 16th-highest rate in America. That’s all good and well, right?
It’s all good and well if you’re actually forcing the opponent to miss those shots. Because there is no true center or rim protector on this team, Georgia is not forcing anyone to miss these shots. The Bulldogs are allowing a 65.3% hit rate at the rim, which ranks 311th nationally:
It tracks pretty nicely with the fact that Georgia has pretty much no one who can consistently block rim attempts or truly scare you for a full 40 minutes in the paint. Only eight teams in America block fewer rim attempts than Georgia does, and six of those eight (only Air Force and Chicago State) allow a lower FG% at the rim than the Bulldogs do. The non-rim twos are somewhat better, with Georgia ranking above the national average in blocking slightly longer shots, but they sit 271st in FG% allowed on these shots at 39.9%. It’s all pretty bad.
If you can get inside the three-point line and avoid turning the ball over, there isn’t much Georgia is able to stop. Tennessee isn’t a great shooting team, as I think we all know, but Tennessee is very good at getting to the paint and getting fouled, along with taking a good amount of high-percentage attempts. Even on Synergy, which is a bit more charitable to describing some of the non-rim two pointers as “around the basket” attempts, Georgia ranks in the 8th-percentile nationally in half-court. Georgia’s rim defense is pretty much exactly as bad in transition, so this isn’t a pacing issue; it’s just that Georgia doesn’t have a body to stop you when you get to the paint.
In Tom Crean’s first season, he had enough leftover frontcourt beef from the Mark Fox era that he actually put together a fairly solid two-point defense with it. Georgia only ranked 72nd in opponent 2PT%, but they blocked 12.7% of opponent two-pointers, which ranked 31st-best nationally. It wasn’t perfect, but you could rely on Nicolas Claxton to come up and block something at least once or twice per night.
Claxton left, and the current roster barely has any Mark Fox holdovers left. Crean has chosen to go smaller, and while this has led to a serious improvement in forcing turnovers, it’s also turned Georgia into one of the weakest rim-protection teams in a power-conference and has led to them getting demolished on the boards. Out of 347 active Division I teams, Georgia ranks 335th in defensive rebounding.
However, their 2-3 zone appears…moderately successful?
It’s all very, very bad. Which makes it quite funny that Crean’s makeshift zone defense is both outperforming their normal man-to-man look they ran out last season and is forcing more turnovers. Georgia’s taken a huge jump from 228th last year to 36th this year in defensive TO% in part because this zone is pretty aggressive and forces both a lot of bad jump shots and turnovers:
It’s just 197 possessions worth of data, so be cautious, but only 25.7% of half-court possessions against the zone result in an attempt at the rim. In the man-to-man look, this number is 34.9%, and almost all of that comes from a drop in jumpers forced. Georgia isn’t particularly great at actually guarding these jumpers, mind you, but you’d rather get to the basket in the first place.
When Georgia does go to this 2-3 zone against Tennessee, which they will for at least some chunk of the game, Tennessee needs to work the ball inside-out. I know we say that a ton, but considering 64% of catch-and-shoot attempts against the Georgia zone have been deemed Unguarded by Synergy, it’s likely to result in a pretty open three-point attempt like this one:
If Tennessee doesn’t turn the ball over a ton in this game, it really shouldn’t be that difficult of a game to break open, relatively speaking. Georgia’s main goal in this game will be to force Tennessee to shoot over the top of them, and if Tennessee can breach the paint somewhat consistently, it should be a comfortable Wednesday night in Knoxville.
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