Fresh off their 89-69 win over USF, Seton Hall meets with a tough Georgia team for the first time ever in Athens on Sunday night.
The road game will be Seton Hall's second in a row, a trip that Kevin Willard said was intentionally planned, partially to simulate the two-game road excursion to Xavier and Creighton in early January. Georgia hasn't played in two weeks since they beat Colorado at home by seven points on December 7th. The Bulldogs have lost tough games to Gonzaga, Minnesota and Georgia Tech this season, all away from home.
The two-week lay off has given Georgia ample enough time to watch the three games Seton Hall has played since the last time the Bulldogs took the court and has Kevin Willard wondering about expecting the unexpected on Sunday night.
"Yeah, a little bit. Mark's [Fox] a great coach, I don't think he'll change too much. I think they had finals for part of that time, they really are back-heavy on their schedule. I'll be interested to ask him why he did it because if I like something he did I might try it.
"I'm sure they'll have some wrinkles, but most importantly they'll be really prepared for us. That's the thing we have to get ready for, from a defensive standpoint they're going to know our tendencies, they're going to know what we run.
"We'll throw a new wrinkle in here tomorrow and on Saturday," said Willard post-USF of planning for Sunday. "We'll start off with that then we'll get back to our old stuff. Because again teams are always prepared for your stuff early then as the game flows on, game slippage, they'll break down."
Seton Hall practiced at USF's facilities yesterday before traveling east to see an Orlando Magic game last night - the team will fly to Georgia today. The Bulldogs have won 22 of their last 25 games at 10,523-seat Stegeman Coliseum, which has averaged 5,084 in paid attendance this season.
Of top priority for the Bulldogs is the status of junior Kenny Gaines. The starting shooting guard was taken to the hospital for a shoulder sprain he suffered diving for a loose ball against Colorado two weeks ago. He participated in practice on Thursday after not shooting for nine days and is set to play tomorrow night but his range of motion may be affected; Gaines has attempted the most threes (10-31, 32%) on the team.
Mark Fox's team hasn't lost much from last season's 20-win NIT team, and it's showing through balanced play. Four out of five starters average in double figures with slashing guard Juwan Parker (7 ppg, 4.3 rpg) the only one to not do so.
Aside from being an outside threat, Kenny Gaines can also beat defenders off the dribble due to his athleticism. He plays next to Charles Mann (12 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 3.9 apg), who does a little bit of everything for Mark Fox. Mann is given the point guard reins when in the game, has tough to guard size at 6-foot-5, and gets to the free throw line at the 24th-best rate in the country. Leading the charge, Mann's free throw rate has ensured at least 20 free throw attempts in every game (20th in FTA/FGA) for Georgia this season including a whopping 48 against Stony Brook.
J.J. Frazier (9 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 3 apg) has started three games, but is usually the first player off of Fox's bench and can play either guard position quite well. Frazier has dished 4+ assists in four games but is also 9 of 17 from three over his last four games. The impact guard may be required to play more off the ball on Sunday due to Kenny Gaines' availability.
Senior forward Marcus Thornton (14.9 ppg, 7 rpg) is the motor for the Bulldogs down low and combines with Mann often on screen and rolls. Standing at 6-foot-8, Thornton is a bully in the paint and can also hit mid-range shots to open up the post. He is the more physical of a two-man forward tandem that includes Montenegrin Nemanja Djurisic (11.3 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 2.1 apg). Djurisic has Euro-like footwork and naturally has the ability to hit outside shots (79-214, 37% career), though he hasn't cashed in that efficiently (7-22, 32%) this season. Thornton and Djurisic are spelled by freshman Yante Maten (4.9 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 2 bpg), who has the 19th-best block percentage in the country so far.
Georgia plays a two-three zone and has shown impressive defense on several occasions this season. Thornton and Djurisic are two big bodies in the paint and are a main reason for Georgia's solid defensive rebounding (93rd) despite playing in a zone.
Three things to watch:
The start of the game. Georgia is coming off a two-week break while Seton Hall is on a steady diet of non-conference games and has started well in four of their last five games. Putting a damper on the crowd early (though I'm not sure it'll be raucous in the least) will be an objective of the Pirates, something they couldn't sustain at Wichita State.
Georgia's forwards on offense. When Georgia is able to get the rock down low to Marcus Thornton and Nemanja Djurisic, good things usually happen. Thornton will be a very tough ask of Angel Delgado, who will likely require help defense from Brandon Mobley or a guard. Djurisic will probably be watched by Mobley, as he's a little less physical and more mobile. The Bulldogs have the edge here.
Isaiah Whitehead vs. Charles Mann. Standing at 6-foot-4, Whitehead looks like he will get the call defensively against a physical guard like Mann. Both are capable of doing a lot of things to get their team involved, so it will be worthy of keeping an eye on who controls the game early on. Sterling Gibbs will probably be matched up against Kenny Gaines or J.J. Frazier.
KenPom says: No. 39 Georgia 74, No. 36 Seton Hall 70 (36%)
Projected Georgia starters:
G - Charles Mann
G - Kenny Gaines
G/F - Juwan Parker
F - Nemanja Djurisic
F - Marcus Thornton
Time: Sunday, 6 p.m. ET
Radio: 970 AM