From a big picture view, Georgia’s conference schedule could be considered generous.
It has the Bulldogs playing only single games against four of the Southeastern Conference’s top five teams currently in the RPI, including league powers Kentucky and Florida.
That’s small consolation tonight when the Bulldogs (6-6) begin league play like they usually have under coach Mark Fox — with an imposing opener.
This time, it’s No. 21 Missouri in Columbia, where the Tigers are tied for the nation’s longest home winning streak at 26 games.
“I’m surprised we’re not playing at Rupp (Arena) twice to start the league,” Fox cracked about Kentucky’s home arena. “You look at our openers the last five years, no surprise we’ve got a hard one.”
Georgia gets a ranked team to open SEC play for the fourth time in five years under Fox, having played Kentucky twice, Florida and Alabama. The Bulldogs are 1-3 in SEC openers under Fox.
Missouri (12-1) will make a late February visit to Athens, but the Bulldogs will only play road games against Florida, Kentucky, Arkansas and Tennessee.
Florida, Kentucky and Missouri are all top 30 RPI teams and Arkansas and Tennessee are the next highest rated in the SEC at 54 and 66, according to ESPN’s Inside the RPI.
Georgia ranks last among SEC teams at 239, meaning its 11th place preseason pick by the media in the SEC could be hard to reach.
“It’s kind of like a new start,” center Donte’ Williams said. “We can’t worry about the last 12 games. … There’s a lot of games out there that we can win.”
The Bulldogs probably haven’t missed 2012-13 SEC player of the year Kentavious Caldwell-Pope’s offense — they rank third in the SEC in field goal percentage at 48.1 — as much as they have missed his rebounding and on the defensive end.
He led the Bulldogs each of the past two seasons on the boards.
The Bulldogs don’t have a player that ranks in the top 20 in the league in rebounding and rank eighth in the SEC in rebounding margin (plus-3.3) and 12th in scoring defense (69.6).
“This is probably the first team I’ve ever had that’s not been as consistent there,” Fox said.
The result is a .500 record in nonconference play, getting swept in an early season tournament in Charleston and entering league plays coming off road losses at Colorado and George Washington.
“As unromantic as it sounds, we’ve got to dig in in the trenches and get stops and rebounds,” Fox said. That’s where we can make major improvement and that’s an area where you can fix the fastest. … We need to make some progress there.”
Williams, seventh among active SEC players with 403 career rebounds, has just three rebounds in each of the past two games. He fouled out of both games.
Fox said his team is sending opponents to the foul line too early in the bonus.
“Defending without fouling is critical,” Fox said.
Opponents are shooting 76 percent from the foul line, the highest percentage against any SEC school.
Colorado and George Washington cashed in at the free throw line. The Buffaloes made all 26 free throw attempts and the Colonials hit 20 of 28.
“We want to focus on defense and limiting second-chance points for the other team,” guard Charles Mann said. “Don’t give them second, third and fourth chance in scoring. That’s a big priority we’ve got to fix in order to win games. We’ll get it fixed.”
GEORGIA at MISSOURI
WHEN/WHERE: 8 p.m. today/Mizzou Arena.
TV/RADIO: SEC TV/The Ref 960-AM
RECORDS: Georgia is 6-6, 0-0 SEC. No. 21 Missouri is 12-1, 0-0 SEC.
PROBABLE STARTERS: Georgia – G Charles Mann (So., 6-5, 210, 13.0 ppg, 2.8 apg); G Kenny Gaines (So., 6-3, 195, 11.5 ppg, 2.2 rpg); F Brandon Morris (Jr., 6-7, 215, 9.6 ppg, 3.4 rpg; F Marcus Thornton (RJr., 6-8, 235, 6.7 ppg, 4.6 rpg); F Donte Williams (Sr., 6-9, 225, 6.3 ppg, 5.3 rpg). Missouri – G Jordan Clarkson (RJr., 6-5, 193, 19.3 ppg, 4.1 apg); Jabari Brown (RJr., 6-5, 214, 18.4 ppg, 5.2 rpg); G Earnest Ross (RSr., 6-5, 228, 14.0 ppg, 6.5 rpg); F Johnathan Williams III (Fr., 6-9, 223, 6.8 ppg, 7.6 rpg); F Ryan Rosburg (RSr., 6-10, 252, 5.1 ppg, 4.7 rpg).
SERIES: Missouri leads 4-0.
LAST MEETING: Missouri beat Georgia 79-62 last year in Columbia, Mo., on Jan. 16. Senior guard Vincent Williams scored a career-high 23 for Georgia. Five players scored in double figures for Missouri. Georgia has 19 turnovers.
SEASON AT A GLANCE: Georgia enters SEC play at an underwhelming 6-6 without a win against a power conference program. The Bulldogs are coming off a 73-55 loss at George Washington on Friday. Junior college transfer Cameron Forte scored a career-high 14. All six of Georgia’s wins came at home. Missouri, which has just one starter back from last season’s team, has the best record in the SEC at 12-1. Its lone setback came with a 65-64 loss to Illinois in St. Louis on Dec. 21. The Tigers won 68-64 at N.C. State and 69-59 at home against Long Beach State since then.
NOTEWORTHY: This is Georgia’s second game against a ranked opponent. The Bulldogs lost at then No. 21 Colorado 84-70 on Dec. 28. The Bulldogs are 6-21 against ranked opponents under Fox. Missouri is also No. 21 in the USA Today coaches’ poll. … Fox was to rejoin the team in Missouri Tuesday night after returning home to Kansas for memorial services for his father who passed away Saturday. … Missouri’s 26-game home winning streak is tied with Stephen F. Austin for longest in the nation. …Ross is an Auburn transfer who is fourth among active SEC players with 1,030 career points. … Missouri’s Brown has scored at least 20 points in five games this season.His 2.62 3-pointers per game are third most in the SEC. …The Tigers are fourth in the SEC in field goal percentage defense at 38.2. … Clarkson ranks second in the SEC in scoring, just behind Auburn’s KT Harrell (19.4). … The Tigers are 41-1 at home under coach Frank Haith. …Missouri has used the same starting lineup in all 13 games this season.