Virginia will face the Georgia Bulldogs on Monday night in the semifinals of the Legends Classic in Newark, New Jersey. The game is scheduled for 7 PM Eastern, televised on ESPNU.
Georgia comes in with a record of 2-2. They’ve taken care of business in wins over Florida International and South Carolina State, while coming up short in losses to Cincinnati and Georgia Tech.
Head Coach Tom Crean was hit hard by transfer departures after last season. He has an almost entirely new team. Seven of his top eight players are in their first season as Bulldogs, including six transfers. Despite the roster turnover, it’s an older group. They’ve been sending four seniors out in the starting lineup, two of them using an extra year of eligibility.
One of those super seniors, point guard Aaron Cook (15.0 PPG), leads the Bulldogs in scoring. Virginia fans may remember him as a role player at Gonzaga last season. He’s being asked to carry a big load for this Georgia team. Everything starts with him.
Illinois-Chicago transfer Braelen Bridges (14.3 PPG), the only true big man in the rotation, provides interior scoring. Forward Jailyn Ingram (10.3 PPG), a transfer from Florida Atlantic using his extra year, is sort of a stretch-four man. Athletic guard Kario Oquendo (8.0 PPG) was a nice addition out of junior college.
With an experienced core and some talented scorers, Georgia is very capable. They play a lot of small lineups, which can be difficult to guard. Their weakness is on the defensive end, where they lack rim protection and overall athleticism. Georgia Tech shot 60% from the field against them on their way to 88 points.
Virginia transfer Jabri Abdur-Rahim gets a chance to reunite with his former teammates on Monday. A prized recruit out of high school, his stay in Charlottesville was short. He transferred to Georgia this past off-season after rarely seeing the court as a freshman.
His season has gotten off to a bit of a rough start. He’s averaging 4.5 points while only connecting on 26% of his field goal attempts. Coming off his best performance to date against Georgia Tech on Friday, 10 points on 3-3 from the floor,, things could be on the upswing for him.
Not only going against his old team but back in New Jersey where he starred at Blair Academy, Jabri is sure to have lots of family and friends in attendance. After playing well against Georgia Tech, I expect we’ll see him in a bigger role or even in the starting lineup on Monday.
Tony Bennett has been searching for production off the bench. He might have found a solution in Igor Milicic. The 6’10 freshman from Croatia showed flashes of his immense potential on Friday night, scoring 11 points in just 14 minutes of action. He did it in a variety of ways too, connecting on a pair of threes and drawing fouls on hard cuts to the rim. Fans loved what they saw, that’s for sure. More than anything, the obvious confidence that he plays with was a welcome sight.
There was a lot of internal excitement over Milicic when he arrived. That died down some as the team got into regular Fall practices. He’s had the usual difficulty with adjusting to the speed of the American game, as most overseas recruits go through. People within the program know they have a special player. It’s only a question of how long it takes for him to find his feet. Maybe that time is here. We’ll see.
Georgia seems like a good matchup for him to keep the momentum going if given the opportunity.. The Hoos will probably use some small lineups of their own to match Georgia. Igor is the perfect fit for that downshift power forward spot.
The worst part of November basketball is that it counts. Every team will be completely different in a few months when the spotlight fully shines on college basketball. But on Selection Sunday, it’s often the games played now that separate resumes. These two games in Newark could make all the difference.
Georgia was picked by the media to finish last in the SEC. On paper, they’re the weakest team in Newark. Yet they’re a dangerous opponent right now for a UVA team that clearly isn’t hitting on all cylinders early in the season. Beating Georgia alone won’t help the tournament resume, but it would avoid a bad loss and earn them an opportunity for a quality win against the winner of Providence and Northwestern.
Don’t forget to tune in for the pregame show at 6:30 PM on the Locker Room Access Facebook page