UGA men’s basketball will try to help its SEC tournament position in game against Vanderbilt

Georgia can help its seeding in the Southeastern Conference tournament by earning a road win against Vanderbilt tonight.

AJ Reynolds/Staff
Georgia guard Charles Mann (4) reacts after during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Athens, Ga., Saturday, Feb. 23, 2013. Georgia won 62-54 in overtime.

A victory would give the Bulldogs (13-14, 7-7 SEC) the head-to-head tiebreaker over 11th-place Vanderbilt (11-15, 5-9) with three regular season games to play against Tennessee and Kentucky at home and at Alabama.

“That tournament will be very, very important, so obviously getting in the best position going into it is going to have some importance to it,” Georgia coach Mark Fox said.

Teams seeded 11 through 14 must win five games to win the tournament, which begins two weeks from tonight in Nashville, and earn the SEC’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. Seeds five through 10 begin play on Thursday.

Two-win Mississippi State and three-win South Carolina and Auburn seem headed for the first-round Wednesday games.

“Every team in the SEC would want a bye in the first two rounds or a round,” Georgia point guard Charles Mann said. “Just so we could recover more and just keep practicing and try to get ready for the next round.”

The top four seeds get double byes into the Friday quarterfinals, needing just three victories to win the championship.

“The breaks of the last two weeks have made that more challenging,” said Fox, whose team is two games behind fourth-place Ole Miss after two close road losses last week. “But we had such a hard part to the schedule with Florida twice and at Missouri to start with. A lot of people don’t even have to play Florida twice and some people don’t have to go to Missouri. We endured that, and we’ve kept getting better.”

Winning five games in five days is doable. Connecticut won the Big East tournament title by doing just that in 2011 after finishing 9-9 in the conference.

“Obviously it can be done,” Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said. “The preference, obviously, would be not having to play Wednesday or Thursday, but you certainly better your chances the fewer games you have to play I would imagine.”

The Commodores, which lost its top six scorers from last year’s NCAA tournament team, are led by guard Kedren Johnson’s 13.4 points per game. They are averaging 60 points per game, 12th in the SEC and just ahead of the 59.7 of Georgia.

“They’re a totally different team than they were two months ago,” Fox said. “I think they’re a team playing their best basketball.”

This is the one and only regularly scheduled game this season between the teams, the first time that’s happened in 50 years.

Vanderbilt has a unique setup at home with teams’ benches on the baseline of the elevated court.

“Why don’t they let the coaches walk up and down the sidelines?” Fox said. “That doesn’t make any sense to me. … It’s a neat part of Vanderbilt, a neat part of their tradition. Leave the benches on the end, I’m fine with that, but at least let the coaches go up and down the sideline. You got signs on the sideline now, cheerleaders sitting on the sideline. I’m not that fat. I’m not blocking the view of everybody.”

Fox said he is more concerned about how freshmen Mann, Brandon Morris and Kenny Gaines will handle things on the perimeter.

“The players have to do more of the play-calling and focus on their IQ better,” center John Florveus said. “Basically coaching ourselves really.”

“There’s a lot of that game that you’ve got to manage on your own on the floor,” Fox said. “(Former Vanderbilt center) Will Perdue told me that he thought it was a guaranteed six points every game. We’ll see.”

The Commodores are 7-6 at home, including 3-4 in the SEC. Georgia has lost six in a row at Vanderbilt, and will try to avoid a seventh when the teams tip off at 9 p.m.

“It’s going to be tough,” said Mann. “A lot of people have told me it’s hard to communicate with the coaches. We’re just going to have to play together, trust each other and just get it done.”

 

Georgia at Vanderbilt

When: 9 p.m. today

Where: Memorial Gymnasium, Nashville, Tenn.

TV: FSN

Radio: WRFC 960-AM.

Records: Georgia is 13-14, 7-7 SEC; Vanderbilt is 11-15, 5-9 SEC;

Season at a glance: Georgia ended a three-game losing streak with a 62-54 win in overtime Saturday against South Carolina. The Bulldogs lost their last two road games (in overtime against Ole Miss and down to the wire against Arkansas) after winning three in a row. A season after winning the SEC tournament, Vanderbilt is in rebuild mode after three players were taken in the first 31 picks in the NBA draft. The Commodores crushed woeful Mississippi State 72-31 Saturday in Starkville and have won three of their last five. Before that, they lost four in a row, a stretch in which it did not reach 60 points in a game.

Probable starting lineups: 

Georgia: G Vincent Williams (6-0, 165, Sr., 5.0 ppg, 2.3 apg); G Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (6-5, 205, So., 17.6 ppg, 6.6 rpg ); F: Brandon Morris (6-7, 205, Fr., 4.0 ppg, 2.3 rpg); F Donte’ Williams (6-9, 225, Jr., 5.5 ppg, 5.0 rpg); C John Florveus (6-11, 240, Sr., 2.4 ppg, 3.2  rpg).

Vanderbilt: G Kedren Johnson (6-4, 215, So., 13.4 ppg, 3.5 apg); G Kevin Bright (6-5, 210, Fr., 6.5 ppg, 5.5 rpg); G Dai-Jon Parker (6-3, 190, So., 6.2 ppg, 4.0 rpg.); F Rod Odom (6-9, 215, Jr., 10.5 ppg, 4.2 rpg); C Josh Henderson (6-11, 230, RSo., 5.3 ppg. 3.0  rpg).

Series record: Vanderbilt leads 86-49, including seven in a row. The Commodores lead 51-13 in Nashville.

Last meeting: Vanderbilt won 63-41 in the second round of the SEC tournament in New Orleans on March 9, 2012. John Jenkins led four Commodore players in double figures with 15. Dustin Ware scored 10 for Georgia, which was held to 16 second half points.

Noteworthy: Vanderbilt lost 88 percent of its offensive production from a team that won 25 games last season. Gone are Jenkins (first-round pick Atlanta Hawks), Festus Ezeli (first round Golden State) and Jeff Taylor (31st overall pick to Charlotte). …Georgia is No. 123 in the NCAA’s official RPI. Vanderbilt is No. 143. …Georgia ranks fifth in the SEC and 49th in the nation in scoring defense at 61.1 points per game. … Vanderbilt is second in the SEC in 3-pointers per game at 7.8. It takes 43 percent of its shots from behind the arc. … The Commodores rank 334th of 345 teams nationally in free throw percentage (61.0 percent). … Vanderbilt has made a 3-pointer in 858 games in a row, second in the nation behind UNLV. … Vanderbilt held Mississippi State to 31 points Saturday, the fewest it has given up since a 36-31 win over Alabama in 1949.

—Marc Weiszer

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