KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Ready or not, Georgia’s in the big time now.
The Bulldogs (2-1) arrived here Sunday and, after an afternoon shoot-around practice at the Sprint Center, they enjoyed a reception at the College Basketball Experience exhibit with their fellow competitors in the semifinals of the CBE Hall of Fame Classic tournament. But after that shared meal, the pleasantries were over.
Georgia takes on George Washington (3-0) Monday night at 7 p.m. (ESPNU), with the victor advancing to face the winner of No. 8 Kansas versus UAB. And guess who everybody expects that to be?
“This will be another great test for our team as we continue to grow,” UGA coach Mark Fox said.
This is a season of great expectations for the Bulldogs, who are led by the veteran inside-outside tandem of Yante Maten and J.J. Frazier. Having already dropped their first high-profile matchup on the road to Clemson in the season opener, Georgia’s ability to hold up under the bright lights remains in question.
And the Colonials are expected to give Georgia all it can handle. GW has a pair of returning starters and five lettermen back from last year’s NIT championship team. Among them is Tyler Cavanaugh, a 6-foot-9, 243-pound graduate who comes in averaging 18 points and 8.7 rebounds. He should make a strong foil for Maten, Georgia’s leading scorer and rebounder at 21.7 and 9.3.
The teams have met twice previously, with both winning on its home floor.
The Bulldogs had to fight to get past Furman in the quarterfinals, getting 15 points in the final seven minutes from Frazier and Maten to turn a one-point game into an 84-78 final. It’s finding a consistent third scorer that remains Georgia’s challenge. Senior forward Juwan Parker (8.7 ppg) appears best-suited so far.
The Colonials are undefeated under interim head coach Maurice Joseph with close wins over Maryland-Eastern Shore and Siena and a 20-point win over Arkansas-Pine Bluff to reach the semifinals. But this is expected to be their first real test since coach Mike Lonergan was abruptly fired in September following a university investigation into accusations he was verbally and emotionally abusive of players.
“I don’t know how much the coaching change has impacted how they’re playing,” Fox said. “They were an excellent team last year and they return some really key pieces. So we’ll have to play extremely well to win. And if we do, we’ll have another big challenge the next night, because I think the other two teams are both picked to win their leagues. So this will be another great test for our team as we continue to grow.”
Fox, a native Kansan who holds a graduate degree from KU, wouldn’t even entertain the prospect of possibly getting to play Kansas just 42 miles from their campus.
“We’re worried about one game, and that’s the next game, and that’s George Washington,” he said.