The “most important” part of the season may not begin until next Saturday, but Georgia men’s basketball will attempt to end its non-conference slate on the right note Sunday evening.
Considering the Bulldogs face an opponent they lost to last season, the team’s final game of the 2018 calendar year against UMass is rather important too. In order to win, Georgia will be aiming for more activity on the defensive end.
The Bulldogs (7-4) play the UMass Minutemen (7-5) at 6 p.m. ET on Sunday at Stegeman Coliseum in Athens (TV: SEC Network).
All season long, first-year coach Tom Crean has preached active defense. The No. 1 recipe to that is what he calls “deflections.”
”I was told a long time ago – and I don’t think you can say it any better – deflections are barometer of active defense,” Crean said following the victory against Sam Houston State. “It’s any type of activity on the ball. It’s a finger tip, a hand, blocked shots, chargers, a steal. That’s what we’re aiming for. I want our team at a deflection-to-turnover ratio of 3.5-to-1. To me, that is an optimal number.”
The Bulldogs keep track of Crean’s created deflection stat, and like so many other important statistical categories, sophomore Nicolas Claxton leads the team with 105 deflections. Claxton also leads the Bulldogs in rebounds, assists, steals and blocks per game.
UMass won the only previous meeting in this series, beating Georgia last season, 72-62, at Mullins Center in Amherst, MA.
The Bulldogs enter Sunday having won four of their last five after losing their final two games of the Cayman Islands Classic. In their last game, the Bulldogs defeated in-state rival Georgia Tech, 70-59, at the McCamish Pavilion in Atlanta.
Georgia is 5-1 at home this season.
UMass also possesses seven victories in 2018-19, but the Minutemen have alternated wins and losses each of the last seven games. They edged Fairleigh Dickinson in their last game, 85-84, on Dec. 21.
The Minutemen recently played Temple as well, losing to the Owls, 65-63. Georgia also lost to Temple, 81-77, in the second game of the season. That’s the only opponent Georgia and UMass have in common during the 2018-19 season.