Ahead of Auburn basketball's SEC home opener against Georgia on Saturday, The Plainsman posed questions for Michael Hebert, Georgia basketball beat writer for The Red and Black. Here's how he sees the action playing out Saturday inside Auburn Arena.
The Bulldogs rebounded well against Vanderbilt after an ugly loss to Tennessee. What improved in that win?
For Georgia, the strength of its team is the frontcourt. Sophomore Nicolas Claxton and senior Derek Ogbeide have led the team, and the rebounding and overall performance against Tennessee wasn't great, to say the least, as they lost by 46.
In the Vanderbilt game, I felt like they really wanted to bounce back from the loss and they wanted to get back to their strengths. One of Georgia's best players in Claxton, had nine points and ten rebounds. He talked after the game about they wanted to bounce back and get back to doing what they do best, and I felt like they certainly did so.
How is Georgia adjusting to life without Yante Maten?
That's a good question, and since I covered the team last season, I felt like Yante Maten was the heart and soul of the team. With a new coach in Tom Crean, there comes a new philosophy, and a lot of that has to do with the idea of "positionless basetball" meaning any player can guard on defenre or play a different role on offense different from their own.
That's probably the best way to describe how Georgia has been able to generate offense and stay afloat on the defensive end. I also think the emergence of sophomore Rayshaun Hammonds, who is averaging 14.2 points and 6.4 rebounds this season, has certainly allowed Georgia to have some go-to options on offense. That, along with the increased attention to 3-point shooting has allowed Georgia to score without having a presence like Maten.
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What differences do you notice on a week-to-week basis with a Tom Crean-led team as opposed to UGA squads in the past?
I think this Tom Crean-led team is more focused on the offensive end. Mark Fox preached tough defense in games and his teams reflected that. But Crean, on the other hand, is more focused on generating offense, especially at the 3-point line.
Although the Bulldogs have struggled in that area up until the second half of the Vanderbilt game, when they went 7-for-14 from three, Georgia, and specifically Crean, has made it a point to be able to score from the perimeter. Although it might be awhile before Crean is able to get his system in place with his players, he's certainly doing well with what he has.
Prediction for Saturday?
Georgia has definitely improved on its performance from the Tennessee game, but I still think Auburn is a more talented team. Georgia may be able to keep it close in the first half but I think that between Jared Harper, Bryce Brown and other scorers, Auburn will be able to pull away. I'll go with Auburn to win, 85-74.
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