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The Big Basketball Preview: Georgia and Virginia in the Legends Classic

NCAA Basketball: Coppin State at Virginia Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Coming off an easy win over Coppin State, Virginia Basketball moves back to facing major conference opponents, facing a 2-2 Georgia Bulldogs team that has a familiar face in the rotation. Virginia’s top rated recruit from last season, Jabri Abdur-Rahim, son of former NBA player (and current President of the NBA G-League) Shareef, did not play much during his freshman season at Virginia.

He moved on to Georgia, where his minutes have increased. His production, though, mostly has not. On the season, Jabri is 5/19 from the field including 2/9 from downtown. He’s also got five TOs in four games, and not recorded an assist. He is coming off a strong game in a loss to Georgia Tech, where he totaled 10 points on 3/3 from the field.

We don’t know what went on behind closed doors with Jabri last season. Why did he play so sparingly and why did he leave? The rumors are that he was not willing to put in the work to pick up Tony Bennett’s defense. Jabri plays some good defense here, fighting through a screen and getting the deflection and the dunk. It’s early, but his defensive numbers are solid, while his offensive numbers are poor. Jabri’s offensive skills were, we’ve been told, not in doubt. But he never “got it” on defense.

Moving to Georgia certainly guarantees him playing time, but may not actually help him reach his goal of playing in the NBA. Jabri started UGA’s opener, but played just 16 minutes. His minutes are trending up though, and he played 22 in the loss to the Yellow Jackets. It remains to be seen if this was a good long-term decision for Jabri.

This game is being played in Newark, NJ as part of the Legends Classic. Virginia will face either Providence or Northwestern tomorrow as part of the same tournament.

Jabri is far from the only transfer playing for Georgia and head coach Tom Crean. In fact, there’s really only two guys this season who aren’t transfers. One is freshman Christian Wright, another PG who comes in to allow leading scorer Aaron Cook to play off the ball. The other is wing Jaxon Etter, who is finally seeing playing time after playing sparingly for two seasons.

Cook is averaging 15 per game through four games. He played for Gonzaga last year, after spending four years at Southern Illinois (missing most of his senior year due to a broken hand). Cook was not a huge part of Gonzaga’s final four team, averaging just 13 minutes and 4 points per game. Against Virginia last year, Cook had 6 points in 13 minutes. In the early going this season, he is 9/15 (60%) from downtown, which is clearly not sustainable.

This is a pretty good look, even if he’s a full step behind the arc. Virginia should (and will) pick him up sooner. He’s a 35% career shooter from downtown and will likely finish in that range. He’s also shooting just 38% from inside the arc, which is well below his career average. So things may even out for him some. Cook is also among the nation’s leaders in assists in the early going.

The recipient here is Kario Oquendo, a JUCO transfer who is a solid defender and shot over 40% from downtown at Florida Southwestern State, but is just 2/10 so far at Georgia. He is also just 4/12 from the FT line, which is bad. But at least he is getting to the line. At 6’4” 215, Oquendo is very athletic and a lot of his eight points per game are coming off dunks like above.

Georgia’s frontcourt is basically just one guy, Braelen Bridges, a transfer from Illinois-Chicago. He’s tough to stop inside and will hit the offensive glass hard. For the most part, the rest of the roster is wings with games similar to Jabri, who are best in the open court and off the bounce.

We have a similar question to what we’ve had all season. Which of Kihei Clark and Reece Beekman will be guarding the 6’2” Cook? The other will be tasked with somebody much bigger. That starts with Oquendo, but will also include both Etter and Wright. None of the three are huge assets in the half-court offense, so the impact of having a smaller defender on them is negated some. Thing is, if one of those guys gets hot, it could spell trouble.

The Bulldogs want to get out in transition They are middle of the pack so far in tempo, but they want to play faster. They are not a great half-court team, relying on transition to get a lot of their points. Other than Cook, they aren’t a great outside shooting team and they are one of the least three-point-happy teams in the nation.

Defensively, they play aggressively to force the action. That often means easy buckets. The Yellow Jackets shot 8/15 (53%) from downtown in their 10 point win, but shot 26/41 (63% from inside the arc). The Bulldogs do not have an interior defensive presence. If you can get inside, you can score.

This is from Georgia’s earlier home loss to Cincinnati. The Bearcats’ quick guards were repeatedly able to get into the paint, either in transition or in the half court. The above is sort of semi-transition.

This one is pure transition. Virginia won’t look to run quite like this, but look for Reece Beekman to try getting things going in transition at times. Virginia needs to find ways to get easy buckets and Beekman is the perfect guy to do it. He’s been far too passive offensively, but has had intermittent success getting to the rack and finishing. We finally saw what Igor Milicic can do offensively, as he scored 11 points in 13 minutes against Coppin State. Is that a sign of things to come, or was that just Tony getting minutes for the youngster against an overmatched opponent. Who knows, but you can’t teach this.

Tony Bennett’s best teams had Kyle Guy, Malcolm Brogdon or Joe Harris, who could all knock down these shots curling off a screen. There isn’t another guy, right now, who has shown that ability consistently. With Georgia’s lack of size, there should be minutes available for Milicic on the wings today.

Navy ranked 153 on KenPom when they upset the Hoos on opening night. Georgia ranks 167 right now, so around the same area. If Virginia (ranked 60th right now) struggles with Georgia as much as they did with Navy, it does not bode well for the rest of the season. This Georgia team is a mess, and maybe the worst major conference team in the country.

Virginia should have their way inside, and Georgia does not have the depth of shooters to trouble the pack line, as some Virginia opponents this season have had.

DraftKings have the Hoos favored by 8.5. Tipoff is at 7:00 p.m. ET on ESPN U.