In preparation for tonight's all-bulldog matchup between State and the a bulldogs of Georgia, we asked our brothers in blogging at Dawg Sports, the SBNation Georgia Bulldogs Site, to stop by to answer a few questions. In preparation for tonight's tipoff (9pm CT), I would encourage you to check out their site for the best information you'll find on the web on Georgia.
Q1: In the first all bulldog matchup in February, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope led Georgia with 20 points including the game winner. Should we expect more stellar play tonight from the Freshman or was that a "Game of the year" type game?
Dawg Sports: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is the real deal; he's maybe the realest deal to play his home games in the Classic City since Dominique Wilkins. The freshman sensation spent most of the year as Georgia's leading scorer, and he finished the regular season as the team's leader in defensive rebounds, minutes played, steals, and three-pointers. Without regard to class standing, Caldwell-Pope ranks eleventh among SEC players in scoring, and he is among the top five players in the league in steals and in three-point baskets made per contest. He had a great game against State, but it was by no means his sole superb outing of the campaign.
Q2: What are Gerogia's expectations both vs. State and overall coming into the SEC Tourney?
Dawg Sports: Funny you should ask that, because I asked that same question in a recent video for the Dawg Sports YouTube channel (shameless plug)! Basically, our expectations are what they have been for men's basketball for most of my lifetime: zero. At 14-16, Georgia would need to win three SEC Tournament games to avoid a losing record for the season, and no one thinks these Bulldogs still will be playing in New Orleans on Sunday.
That said, the SEC's two sets of Bulldogs historically have played one another tough. State leads the all-time series by a single game (52-51), the teams are tied in SEC Tournament matchups since the 1992 divisional split (3-3), and, the last two times Georgia and Mississippi State met in the league tourney, the winner went on to win it all, so a Red and Black win wouldn't be the craziest thing that's happened to this program in recent seasons.
Q3: Outside of Caldwell-Pope, who does Georgia need to step up tonight to have an opportunity to win?
Dawg Sports: Gerald Robinson has to play smart and play tough if Georgia is going to have a chance. When he's been on, he's been on, as he was in his 23-point outburst in the season finale against South Carolina. If he can force his way inside and drive to the basket for the layup or to draw the foul that sends him to the free throw line, Robinson can open up opportunities for the rest of the offense. If Robinson starts jacking up ill-fated bone-headed three-point jumpers that rattle the rim before becoming Mississippi State rebounds, though, it will be one early exit for the Bulldogs and one long night for Bulldog Nation.
Q4: How would you rate Mark Fox as your coach as his 3rd year at the helm nears it's end?
Dawg Sports: Is it a cop-out to say I would rate him higher than I would've after his first year, but not as high as I would've after his second? On the whole, I'm pleased with the direction of the program under "The Fiery Librarian," if only because I don't think what success he has enjoyed is (a) a fluke fueled by severe weather, (b) likely to land us on NCAA probation, or (c) a stepping stone to a higher-profile job, which is what we in Athens have come to expect from our head basketball coaches.
The problem is the talent level in Athens. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is the only McDonald's All-American to have signed with Georgia out of high school in the last 20 years. In the Red and Black's recent blowout loss to Kentucky, the Wildcats fielded six such superstars in the first half alone. Mark Fox has whiffed on several in-state prospects from the fertile recruiting fields of Atlanta, and, unless he figures out a way to get his fair share of those prep standouts to Athens, he'll forever be playing twelfth (or, now, fourteenth) fiddle in the SEC.
Q5: Give us your game score predictions
Dawg Sports: I'm confident of Georgia's ability to play defense. I'm less confident of Georgia's ability to play offense. I expect State to win an ugly slog bereft of style points with a second-half surge. Your Bulldogs will beat my Bulldogs, 59-50.
Q6: With basketball being squished between football (great team) and baseball (great team), how do most Georgia fans feel about basketball?
Dawg Sports: For every SEC school that does not count Ashley Judd as a season ticket holder, football is the most important sport, period. However, such traditional SEC gridiron powerhouses as Alabama, Florida, and Tennessee all have built respectable roundball programs, too. (Well, all right, Bruce Pearl didn't exactly built a respectable program, but he built a program that won games.)
Georgia's historic traditions in football, the school's most important sport, and in baseball, the school's oldest varsity sport, certainly have drawn some of the fan base's focus away from men's basketball, but the Bulldog faithful still find themselves able to pay attention, to varying degrees, to men's and women's golf, men's and women's swimming and diving, men's and women's tennis, softball, women's basketball, women's equestrian, and women's gymnastics . . . all sports, not coincidentally, in which Georgia fields teams that range from consistent competitiveness to outright excellence.
Like all fans, Georgia fans will support a winner, but, frankly, we've been burned by men's basketball before. We thought Hugh Durham's Final Four run in 1983 was the start of something big; it wasn't. We thought Tubby Smith was building a program for the long haul; he wasn't. We thought Jim Harrick had put his past behind him; he hadn't. We thought---all right, we hoped---the 2008 SEC Tournament run was no mere flash in the pan; it was. We thought last year's NCAA Tournament appearance marked the turning of a corner; it didn't.
Georgia fans are fully prepared to be enthusiastic men's hoops fanatics, if not on a par with Kentucky and Vanderbilt fans, then at least on a par with any SEC fan base that regards bowl games in football as a birthright rather than a periodic novelty. If being once bitten makes you twice shy, though, what are you after being umpteen times bitten? That's us, so we're skeptical after seeing so many mirages. If Mark Fox builds it, we will come . . . but he'll have to build it first. We'll attend a grand opening, but not a groundbreaking ceremony.
Our thanks to out again to T Kyle and the rest of Dawg Sports crew for helping us out. May the best dawg emerge victorious tonight!