Georgia Bulldogs look for elusive SEC victory against a scrappy South Carolina team

Nicolas Claxton-Georgia basketball-2019 NBA Draft
Nic Claxton needs just one more block to tie his father Charles for eighth-most blocks in a season for a Georgia player with 59. The sophomore has 12 more games to run down his father's school record of 94 in the 1994-95 season.

ATHENS — Tom Crean’s NFL ties are deep and he happens to love the game of football. But he won’t have anything to do with Super Bowl 53, even though it’s being played 65 miles away from his front doorstep.

“I’ll watch it, certainly, and I’ve got friends on both sides,” Crean said. “But I have no plans right now, not this time of year.”

Football runs in Crean’s family. His wife is the former Joni Harbaugh, whose father and brothers all have coached professionally. In fact, Jim and John Harbaugh played each other in Super Bowl 47 in 2013.

But Crean simply has too much on his mind at the moment with his struggling Georgia basketball. The Bulldogs (10-10, 1-6 SEC) will be looking for their first conference win in nearly a month when South Carolina comes to town on Saturday  for a 1 p.m. tip (TV: SEC Network; radio: WSB 750-AM and 95.5 FM). Don’t let the Gamecocks’ 10-10 overall record fool you. They won their first four in conference play before dropping SEC games to LSU and No. 1 Tennessee to fall to 5-2 recently. Meanwhile, South Carolina has won its last four meetings against UGA, including the last three at Stegeman Coliseum.

The month of January represented an incredible challenge for Crean and his staff as they made their way through SEC play for the first time. Every opponent they played but one represented a Top 50-ranked NET team, with an average ranking of 31. Georgia went 2-6 over that span, and February’s not looking much more benign.

“We are getting an indoctrination as a staff every day in this league,” Crean said. “… I’ve coach against Frank [Martin] when he was at Kansas State and I was at Marquette, and we scrimmaged each other one year. But I never coached against him at South Carolina. … You think you know a team and you watch them and then all of a sudden you dive in and study them, and you just realize how good of a coach he is, how good of a staff he has.”

One of Martin’s assistants, Chuck Martin, was on Crean’s staff for four years at Indiana. So the Gamecocks will know a lot about how the Bulldogs play as well.

The two teams are evenly matched in almost every phase of the game. Georgia average 75.1 points to South Carolina’s 74.7, the Gamecocks allow two-tenths of point less in scoring average at 73.7 and they both tend to play teams close, with scoring margins of plus-1.1 and 1.0, respectively. The Bulldogs are markedly worse at protecting the basketball, at 16.8 turnovers per game, but they also rebound the ball better at 41 per contest.

From that standpoint, expect a tough, gritty competition, as Georgia-South Carolina games traditionally are.

“Yeah, they play totally different than every other team we play,” said sophomore Nic Claxton, who is averaging 12.9 points and 9.3 rebounds per game.  “With them, you’ll be trying to set and screen and they’ll jam your hips. It’s just totally different and we have to adjust our play. … You just have to be ready because you know they’re going to foul and the refs can’t call them all. You just have to keep playing and not complain to the refs.”

Meanwhile, the Bulldogs will look to play with more consistency. After putting together one of the best shooting performances in school against Texas (66.7 percent from floor, 70.6 from 3-range), Georgia shot a season low 29 percent pn both field goals and 3s and 51.7 percent from the foul line the next time out against Arkansas.

Senior Derek Ogbeide was 2-of-11 on free throws while scoring 14 points on 6-of-9 shooting.

“A whole bunch,” the 6-foot-9 forward said of how much foul shooting practice he’s had yet. “But it wasn’t so much the repetition as it was knowing exactly what I was doing. Once I tweaked one thing it got me back on track.”

As for the Super Bowl, Crean said he’s been to two. He went to Super Bowl 46 in Indianapolis between the New York Giants and New England Patriots while he was at Indiana. And, of course, there was no missing the Harbaugh vs. Harbaugh Super Bowl in New Orleans the next year. John’s Baltimore Ravens defeated Jim’s 49ers 34-31.

“That was special,” Crean said. “I’ll go back when they’re back.”

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