Posted: 4:36 pm Wednesday, March 19th, 2014
By Chip Towers
ATHENS – Georgia takes on Vermont in a few hours in an National Invitation Tournament first-round game at Stegeman Coliseum. The game is scheduled to tip off at 8 p.m. and will be televised on ESPNU. Here’s a few things to think about as the No. 2 seeded Bulldogs go for their 20th victory against their visitors from the America East Conference.
- It will be the Bulldogs’ 12th appearance in the NIT and first since 2007. Georgia’s first-ever postseason berth was in the 1981 NIT and the schools is 11-11 in the tournament. The Bulldogs advanced to the NIT Final Four in New York City in 1982 and returned in 1998 team. Both times they finished third.
- It’s the second meeting between Georgia and Vermont. They last played on Jan. 31, 1974, in Athens and the Bulldogs won 88-55. Tonight’s winner plays the Iona-Lousiana Tech winner but the date has not been determined. UGA would host again if it wins.
- Tom Brennan, a three-year letterman at UGA (1969-71), was Vermont’s head basketball coach for 19 seasons (1986-2005). He retired after his best season in 2005, when the Catamounts went 25-7, won the America East title and upset Syracuse in the NCAA Tournament. UGA honored Brennan by naming him as its basketball legend at the 2010 SEC Tournament. Brennan, a humorist who now does a radio show for on SiriusXM, is calling tonight’s game the “Tom Brennan Invitational.”
- Expect a lot of students at tonight’s game. Tickets were originally priced at $4 apiece for student but UGA stepped up and said it’d let the first 500 students in free. Coach Mark Fox followed up that gesture by tweeting that he would pick up the cost of tickets for the next 500 students. The the athletic association did Fox one better and declared that every student would be given free admission. That move will end up costing the Bulldogs a little cash as they’ll still have to pay the NIT $4 for every student admitted. Regular folk can get in for $15. All seats are general admission.
- Georgia has played very well at home this season. The Bulldogs are 14-2 at Stegeman Coliseum, and they’re still kicking themselves over the two games they lost. Georgia Tech won 80-71 on Nov. 15 and Vanderbilt beat the Bulldogs 59-54 on Jan. 29. Those teams are ranked 157 and 116, respectively, in the latest RPI rankings. With two more victories UGA likely would have been tabbed for the NCAA Tournament.
- Georgia is shooting for its 20th victory of the season Wednesday. It would be just the 12th such season in the program’s history and second in the past 12 years. That’s especially impressive considering the Dogs stood at 6-6 as their pre-conference slate concluded with a 73-55 loss at George Washington.
- Vermont is not an opponent to be toyed with. The Catamounts (22-9) fully expected to be playing in the NCAA Tournament. But they were tripped up by Albany in the semifinals of the America East Conference tournament, which was being played in Albany. They’d won 11 games in a row and 18 of 19 before that.
- Vermont is typical of the mid-major basketball programs that bubble up each March. The Catamounts are a senior-laden bunch that plays well together, doesn’t turn the ball over and shoots the ball well. They are led by Clancy Rugg, a 6-foot-8, 195-forward who averages 13.2 points per game and shoots 80 percent from the foul line, 55 percent from the field and 44 percent from the 3-point line. Guard Sandro Carrisimo (12.6 ppg, 79.6% FTs, 43% 3s) and 6-6 point-forward Brian Voelkel (6.7 ppg, 47% FG, 5.8 apg) are also seniors.
- Sophomore shooting guard Kenny Gaines is hot for the Bulldogs. He has scored in double figures 22 times and, late in the year, found his range from the 3-point arc. Over the Bulldogs’ last five regular-season games, he made 21 of 36 shots from 3-point range (52 percent).
- Look for Georgia point guard Charles Mann — teammates call him “Chuck” — to drive to the bucket early and often. The 6-5 sophomore Mann comes into the contest with the third most free-throw attempts (257) in a single season in UGA history. Seven fouls shots will see him overtake Alec Kessler (1990) for second. And expect Mann to be highly motivated. He hails from Queens, N.Y., and most of his extended family remains in the area. He desperately wants to play in Madison Square Garden.