Friday, December 5, 2008

Weekend Preview: Dawgs vs Illinois

The Dawgs slide up to Chicago's United Center (home of the Bulls) this weekend to battle Illinois in a rare intriguing inter-conference battle. The game tips off at high noon EST tomorrow (11 AM locally.) For the 7 people in Georgia lucky enough to get ESPNU, you'll get to see the Dawgs for the 2nd consecutive game. Scott Howard and the Elevator himself, Herb White, will call the game for the rest of us on local radio.

The Dawgs are an impressive 7-20 vs Big Ten schools all-time, including 0-4 against the Illini. This game is part of Coach Felton's overall initiative to create a better slate of non-conference games now that he has enough players to do so. Still a long way to go toward making the non-conference schedule one of the best in the country like Harrick used to every year, but programs like Illinois certainly don't hurt (usually.)

Illinois is coming off a disastrous season by their own standards, finishing 16-19 with no postseason berth. The offseason was adventurous, as Head Coach Bruce Weber had to dismiss perhaps his best player in guard Jamar Smith, for a myriad of off-court problems. The majority of the returning strength in the team lies in the backcourt, notably sophomore guard Demitri McCamey. Some scouts see McCamey as NBA worthy, but he's been fairly inconsistent throughout his career in Champagne. He's been pretty good thus far this season, going for about 13 ppg. The leading returning scorer was former walk-on guard Trent Meachem, and he's picked up about where he left off to the tune of 11 ppg. It is worth noting that the Dawgs may see guard Jeff Jordan (son of Michael) on the floor tomorrow. Kentucky transfer Alex Legion should be joining the roster by the end of this month, and they'll be much better when he is in the fold. Luckily for the Dawgs, that won't happen tomorrow.

Frontcourt was expected to be the weakness of this team, but in some respects it has been a major surprise for Weber. 6-10 sophomore Mike Davis might be one of the most improved players in America. After a measly 3 ppg/2 rpg campaign in 07-08, he is currently racking up 15/10 and should clearly be UGA's focus tomorrow. JUCO transfer Dominique Keller averaged 25 a game at Lee College in Baytown TX last season, but he's under 6 ppg thus far at Illinois.

The Illini were picked around middle of the pack in the Big 10 before the season, but that had to be before anyone expected to see Davis doing what he's doing so far. Guard play was supposed to be the strength of this team. Backcourt play has been good, but Davis has been better. I'd like to say that he hasn't seen anyone like Trey Thompkins on the blocks, but I see that he did go for a double-double against AJ Ogilvy in a win at Vanderbilt earlier this year. (That said, Vandy has been somewhat disappointing so far this season, so not sure how much stock you can put in that win.)

Clemson won on Illinois' campus earlier this week in the ACC/Big 10 Challenge. The Tigers were severely outrebounded, but won the game because they shot 58% and forced 17 turnovers with a ferocious full court press. I wouldn't expect to see us go full court for any extended length of time, but extending the 1-3-1 defense in the half court probably is a good bet. It wouldn't surprise me at all to see the Dawgs force alot of turnovers as well, although I'm sure Weber sees the similarities in Felton's and Oliver Purnell's styles (physicality and tough defense), and has been preaching ball protection to his boys this week.

The rest of Illinois' season thus far has been fairly average. They beat a decent Eastern Washington team to open the season, then won at Vanderbilt and beat Kent State in tournament play. Before losing to Clemson they struggled mightily to edge Tulsa in the finals of the same tournament. This team really has alot of similarities to Georgia, with the exception of a pretty significant edge to Illinois in the backcourt department as of today. They struggle to score at times just like UGA does, but they play solid, fundamental defense which you'd expect from a Weber-coached team.

I'd give the Dawgs a much better chance anywhere but the in the state of Illinois. What I do expect is for this to be a close, competitive ballgame that the Dawgs may have a chance to win in the end (similar to the Western Kentucky game.) With better guard play from Swansey/Ware, increased minutes for Thompkins and any semblance of a decent FG%, UGA could steal one in Chicago.

Players to Watch: Chris Barnes had a nice game in Bowling Green, going for 7 points and 10 boards in 22 minutes. Jeremy Price, on the other hand was fairly invisible despite logging 25 minutes. I like Barnes' game alot. He gets more out of his time on the court than maybe any other player on the squad except Thompkins. Hopefully Price catches some of his intensity and gets it going tomorrow morning/afternoon. It would be great to see these guys (and Albert Jackson) combine for something in the neighborhood of 20/15 tomorrow. I'd almost guarantee that would spell a win for the Dawgs.


Anonymous said...

Fantastic preview and a must win game.

Anonymous said...

Illinois' Kent State and Tulsa wins were in the semi-finals and finals of the South Padre Invitational in South Padre Island, TX, not @ KSU and @ Illinois.