Tennessee’s last two matchups with Georgia have seen the Vols clinch an SEC regular season championship and seen them kick off their SEC title defense with a 46-point win. Tennessee won’t be playing for anything as meaningful as the former and shouldn’t be expecting anything resembling the latter when they tip off in Stegman Coliseum Wednesday night.
It won’t be the same Bulldog team that the Vols ran out of Thompson-Boling Arena last January, as Bulldog’s head coach Tom Crean has Georgia back on the NCAA Tournament bubble in his second year in Athens.
“I'm not surprised about what he's been able to do at Georgia,” Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes said of Crean, “He's been around the game a long time. I first met him when he was at Michigan state, he's been around a really a long time. I've said before when you've been around awhile, and you want to work at it and get better, you continue to find ways to improve not only your team but yourself.”
The Bulldogs enter Wednesday’s contest with a 10-5 record including an 0-2 start to conference play which saw Georgia lose to the league’s top two teams, Kentucky and Auburn. Georgia’s non-conference slate saw Georgia pick up wins over Georgia Tech and SMU while dropping games to Arizona State and Michigan State.
“It’s going to be a lot of fun,” freshman guard Josiah-Jordan James said. “We know the team last year did a pretty good job against Georgia, so they’re probably going to look at that tape and say, ‘we’re not going to let that happen again.’ They’re going to come in for a dog fight and it’s going to be another grind game.”
Tennessee’s looking to build off of a pair of SEC wins last week, but the Vols trip to Athens will force to play a different style of play.
Last week’s matchups saw Tennessee battle with two of the best defensive teams in the SEC. However, Georgia enters Wednesday’s matchup fourth in the SEC, scoring 78.7 points per game.
"They get out in transition and score in transition,” Barnes said. “They really drive the ball hard. They are the second, third, fourth best offensive team in the league in terms of the numbers they put up. When they can run like they run and drive like they drive, our defense is going to have to be good.”
Leading the way for the Bulldog’s improved play in Crean’s second season is Anthony Edwards, an Atlanta, Georgia native who sent rip waves through college basketball when he spurned college basketball’s blue bloods to stay at home and play in Athens.
Edwards has lived up to all the hype in his freshman season while recording 18.7 points, 4.8 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game.
“I don't think we have one guy to guard (Anthony) Edwards,” Barnes said. “I don't think that. I don't think anybody does. When he's on, he is one of the toughest players to play in the country. We are going to have to, as a team, make sure we are locked in.”
“It’s going to be fun because they have a potential top five draft pick,” James said. “We’re just going to worry about what we have to do and doing our job, and then lock in on him because we know he’s a big piece of their offense.”
Rayshaun Hammonds is second on the Bulldog’s in scoring, tallying 13.6 points per game while adding 8.7 boards. Freshman Sahvir Wheeler has proven to be a talented scorer capable of running the Bulldog’s offense. The Houston, Texas native averages 8.4 points and 5.0 assists a game for Georgia.
Georgia’s pressure defense has been a staple this season as the Bulldogs are second in the SEC with 122 steals. With Tennessee’s young guards struggling with turnovers, the Vols have turned it over 40 times in the past two contests, and Georgia’s fast break offense, Tennessee’s ability to take care of the ball could prove crucial.
Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. ET as Georgia will look to improve on its 8-1 record this season at Stegman Coliseum. The game will be broadcast on ESPNU.