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Countdown to Tipoff: Previewing uga and Kentucky

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Today we take a closer look at a pair of SEC foes that may end up being the two most talented teams on Tech’s non conference slate

Indiana v Kentucky Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Countdown to Tipoff: 34 Days

uga Bulldogs

Setting the Stage

Georgia Tech will enter this season’s COFH matchup at Stegeman Coliseum seeking their first win in the rivalry under Josh Pastner. The Jackets have lost the last three meetings and none of the games have been particularly close, including an ugly 43 point showing in 2016.

The pugs enter 2019 off a brutal 11-21 (2-16 in SEC play) campaign in what was Tom Crean’s first season at the helm. That said, Crean figures to eventually provide an uptick in performance from the mediocre results dwags fans had become accustomed to under Mark Fox. Leading this effort will be Anthony Edwards, the consensus five-star guard that Crean paid apparently somehow convinced to play his college ball in Athens. Edwards joins a trio of four-star wings In Christian Brown, Toumani Camara, and Jaykwon Walton to form a talented freshman class for uga.

Overall, this is a young but talented roster that may have just enough experience to – unfortunately – surprise some people in the SEC this year.

Roster Construction

The key piece for last year’s Bulldogs squad was Nic Claxton, a sophomore forward who led them in points (13.0 per game), rebounds (8.6 per game) and blocks (2.5 per game). However, he elected to forgo future eligibility by turning pro. He combined with another sophomore, Rayshaun Hammonds, to form a formidable frontcourt. Hammonds (12.1 ppg, 6.1 rpg last year) is a top 50 recruit who should see his role expanded even further this season with the potential for a breakout campaign. Another key cog from last year’s team that won’t be back is Derek Ogbeide, another forward who graduated from the program.

The starting backcourt of Tyree Crump and Jordan Harris return for their senior seasons but figure to be pushed for minutes by some of the blue-chip freshmen. Harris led uga in three-point shooting at 42%, an area that was lacking from the rest of this team. Another apparent weakness of theirs was sharing the ball as no player averaged more than two assists. These are two areas in which Edwards and the rest of this star-studded recruiting class can provide an immediate impact.

Keys for the Jackets

Slow the Game Down – Against a more athletic and perhaps “talented” team, Tech will want to do what it often does quite well, play at a slower more methodical pace that favors deliberate offense. This may result a slog of a game, but it will force a team with many talented but new and unfamiliar faces to have to out-execute the Jackets and work hard for each shot.

Avoid Turnovers – In the same vein, the Jackets will need to protect the ball, something they did not do a great job of last season to avoid runouts and transition opportunities that allow uga to utilize its athleticism.

Crash the Offensive Glass – Tom Crean is an excellent coach, but one criticism of his past teams has been their lack of toughness on the defensive end of the floor. If Tech can find a way to get on the offensive boards it will not only create extra opportunities for them to score but it also could frustrate the young bulldogs.

Kentucky Wildcats

Setting the Stage

The Jackets will travel to Rupp Arena for the first leg of a two game series for one of their biggest non conference games in years. It was another fruitful season for John Calipari’s team last season, finishing with an elite 8 appearance. As usual for the Wildcats, there was plenty of roster turnover, with another elite recruiting class arriving in Lexington for a year before they all leave, and the cycle repeats itself.

In all seriousness, while this Kentucky class is no doubt a good one, it features just two players in the top 20 and three in the top 30 of 247’s rankings. I almost can’t believe I just wrote that sentence, but such are the standards for Big Blue. The most prized of the new arrivals for Kentucky are Tyrese Maxey and small forward Kahlil Whitney. There is also consensus five-star wing Keion Brooks. Finally, there’s Johnny Juzang and Dontaie Allen who are excellent four-star recruits, but are also wing players that should provide depth behind the aforementioned players.

Roster Construction

As with most Kentucky teams, many of its key pieces from the prior season have moved on but there are still a few impact performers from last year that have decided to stick around for another year of seasoning.

Gone are the Wildcats top five scorers, including bruising front court mates Reid Travis and PJ Washington as well as sharp-shooting Tyler Herro. However, Kentucky will be thrilled to welcome back starting point guard Ashton Hagans. Hagans, who has proven himself to be an excellent distributor (4.3 assists per game last year) and one of the best defenders in the nation (1.6 steals per game), elected to return to school to work on the one piece of his game that was missing, his shot.

Also back, are some depth players from last squad including Immanuel Quickley, Nick Richards, and EJ Montgomery. Richards and Montgomery could be thrust into the starting lineup this year as UK doesn’t have great depth in the front court. Maxey figures to start at shooting guard with Whitney at the other wing spot.

Keys for the Jackets

Work the Post – Richards and Montgomery are certainly talented, but I think they are by far the weakest link for the Wildcats on the outset. While Kentucky boasts great length on the perimeter and on ball defense in the form of Hagans, their front court is unproven to an extent and more importantly not deep. James Banks and Moses Wright have shown the ability to be effective post presences and Tech should look to get them involved early and often. At the very least they can hope to get one of these two players in foul trouble which could make for some difficult lineup management for Coach Cal.

Out Hustle Them – When you’re out-talented to the extent that Tech is in this matchup, you must do all the little things that Coach Pastner constantly preaches. Loose balls, deflections, long rebounds, etc.; the Jackets must win this facet of the game by a large margin I would think. Kentucky is unlikely to have a ton of chemistry when these two teams play so any way that GT can make life tough for them will help.

Make Hagans a Shooter – It’s simple, the Jackets must make Ashton Hagans prove that he has indeed improved that questionable jump shot. Look for them to sag off him and try to contain the plethora of talented wings on this roster. There aren’t a ton of great matchups that Tech can look to exploit but this seems like a fairly obvious one to me.