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Ole Miss vs. Georgia preview: Bulldogs the same perplexing team as ever

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The Bulldogs pose a familiar challenge, despite working through some mid-season identity issues.

NCAA Basketball: South Carolina at Georgia Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Coming off a road win over Auburn that was both encouraging and maddening, Ole Miss now faces a Georgia squad that remains an unknown quantity in many ways.

Despite losing a handful of senior contributors, the Bulldogs mirror last year’s squad in terms of both offensive and defensive efficiency. A few former four star prospects haven’t quite made the immediate impact that was expected, yet Mark Fox’s team looks like the same group that’s given Ole Miss fits year after year.

All of Georgia’s five losses have come to teams in the top 100 in the KenPom ratings, the worst being Oakland at 79th. They’ve managed to overcome some abysmal shooting performances with a stingy defense, including a game in which Georgia Tech scored just 43.

Scanning the Bulldogs’ game logs leads one to believe that the Rebels could have the edge in a handful of statistical categories and still come out the losers. Needless to say, Georgia won’t make this an easy home game.

Yante Maten is not getting much help so far this season.

The former all-SEC forward has taken an expected leap after a breakout sophomore campaign, having already attempted more three-pointers than all of last season. He’s been absurdly efficient all around the floor as a stretch four, sinking shots at the rim and from three at clips of 67 and 41 percent, respectively.

The supporting cast is still catching up to Maten, as the backcourt has some shuffling pieces to sort out. Second leading scorer J.J. Frazier has declined from last year in three point shooting from 39 percent to 27, which is a problem considering he takes nearly six threes per game. Junior guard Juwan Parker is still adjusting from having sat out all last season due to an Achilles injury, shooting 36 percent from the field.

The Bulldogs have a habit of settling for two-point jumpers, taking 41 percent of their non-transition shots from mid-range (second most in the SEC). Aside from that, they’ve taken advantage of opportunities in the paint, converting 67 percent of their shots at the rim, up from 59 last year. Part of the jump can obviously be attributed to Maten, but 6-8 sophomore Derek Ogbeide, healthy after a shoulder injury last year, has been a solid option both rolling to the rim and making putbacks, good for 76 percent down low.

Lucky for Ole Miss, Georgia is currently the conference’s worst three-point shooting team (31 percent, down from 37 last year), but I’m hesitant to rule out the possibility of them suddenly going ham on the perimeter against the Rebels, as teams are wont to do. Still, they’ve broken the 40 percent mark from three just once this year, and that came against Charleston Southern. Limiting transition opportunities and quality shots in the paint may just be enough to stifle the Bulldogs’ offense.

Georgia’s defense is versatile, to say the least.

Less than half of the Bulldogs’ opponents so far this season have managed to score more than a point per possession on them, and they’ve dealt with a wide range of teams from a pace standpoint. Their defensive rating of 90.5 points allowed per 100 possessions becomes especially impressive knowing that their opponents have an average offensive rating of 106.6. In other words, they haven’t just been shutting down mediocre offenses.

Deserving the most praise for the team’s stout defense is Ogbeide, who leads the team in defensive box plus-minus by a mile. His presence has led opponents to convert less than 55 percent of attempts in the paint. Sebastian Saiz has expanded his game in a way that responds well to defenses that pack the paint and limit his usual back-to-the-basket looks. Against Florida and Kentucky, he was able to rely on his mid-range game and occasional three pointer, while still making five of six shots near the rim over those two games. His ability to adapt to what defenses give him will serve the team well on Wednesday.

Given all their struggles on offense, Georgia’s guards certainly deserve credit for limiting opponents to under 32 percent from beyond the arc. The Rebels’ shooting performance against Auburn (44 percent from three) was a positive sign, but there’s still not a clear catalyst for ball movement in the starting lineup. Deandre Burnett had to create his own shot far too many times, and likely would have had a better shooting night had he benefited from the same catch-and-shoot opportunities as his teammates.

Ole Miss is far from mitigating its most glaring issues, or even settling on an identity, but Wednesday presents an opportunity to show that they can at least complete with the middle tier of the conference.