January 15, 2010

Dawgs hope to 'block out' Varnado, MSU

Yes, Mississippi State's Jarvis Varnado is an intimidating force as the premiere shot-blocker in all of college basketball.

But Georgia coach Mark Fox warns he's not the only player his squad needs to concern itself with when the Bulldogs travel to Starkville Saturday afternoon.

In fact, after answering several questions about the talented Varnado, Fox appeared to grow slightly agitated when the subject wouldn't be left alone.

"It's you guys who seem to be worried about it," said Fox, after being asked if someone of Varnado's skill is enough to change an entire gameplan. "Yes, he's a great player, but they have other good players, too."

Actually, Fox is correct.

When Georgia (8-7, 0-2) and Mississippi State (14-3, 2-0) tip off at 2 p.m. Saturday in a game that will be televised live on ESPN2, Coach Rick Stansbury's squad will boast four players averaging in double-figures, led by 6-foot-7 guard Raveem Johnson who is tallying 14.4 points per game.

But there's no denying the impact Varnado has when he's in the game.

During Thursday's 82-80 victory over Arkansas, the 6-9 Varnado became the first State player ever to record two career triple-doubles by scoring 17 points, grabbing 12 rebounds and tying his MSU all-time high of 10 blocks.

Varnado has 90 blocks on the year, an average of 5.29 per game. South Carolina's Sam Muldrow is second in the league in blocks with 54.

"They do have a great shot-blocker inside. It's a terrific skill, a unique skill and not too many players have it, although I think a greater concern is their level of experience and balance. It's a complete team," Fox said. "There are a lot of things to prepare for, but when you think about Mississippi State, one of the things you think about is obviously Varnardo and his ability to change things at the basket."

What makes him so successful?

Fox said he has a pretty good idea.

"I'd say timing, length and the ability to do it without getting fouls," Fox said. "I think he's doing it at a record pace obviously, and should be recognized for that."

Fox hopes the fact that the Bulldogs will counter with two big men of their own - 6-10 sophomore Trey Thompkins and 6-11 senior Albert Jackson will help keep Varnado and his 11-rebound-per-game average off the board.

"One of the things we play two big players so you can't guard both of them. You have to play basketball," Fox said. "But most shot-blockers get their blocks against not the player they're guarding but in help situations. That's not something you can over-react to, because there are so many other things that will impact this game."

Fox's main concern is just getting a full 40-minute effort from his team and to eliminate the mistakes that cost it during Wednesday's 80-76 loss to Ole Miss.

The Bulldogs are looking for their first SEC win of the year.

"We just made some mental mistakes that we haven't been making. We didn't play as well as we wanted to play," Fox said. "We had been playing at a pretty high level a couple of games in a row and we didn't play as against Ole Miss as maybe we had. They were hungry for a win, came here and earned it."

Georgia at Mississippi State

WHERE: Starkville, Miss.

WHEN: Saturday, 2 p.m.

RECORDS: Georgia 8-7, 0-2; Mississippi State 14-3, 2-0

TV: ESPN2

RADIO: Georgia Bulldog Radio Network

NOTES: Georgia will attempt to get into the SEC win column at a most troublesome venue. Since the league expanded in 1992 -- and Georgia's trip to Starkville became a biennial affair -- Bulldog teams have won there just once (2002) in nine tries. Oddly, Georgia had won three years in a row in Starkville before 1992. … These two programs met twice last season, first on Jan. 24 in Athens (MSU 67-61) and again in the SEC Tournament first round at Tampa (MSU 79-60). In fact, they've played in the past two SEC Tournaments, including a semifinal matchup in the tornado-marred gatherČing of 2008. … The Bulldogs are currently in the midst of the most difficult portion of their entire 2009-10 schedule. Since the start of the year, the Bulldogs have begun a stretch of eight games whose opponents have a combined W/L record of 105-25 (.807) and an average RPI of 46. Georgia's strength-of-schedule rating in the most recent RPI listings is 19th. Here's something that Fox can really hang his hat on. At least one follower of that cyberspace called Twitter -- evidently, someone with much free time on his hands -- has proclaimed Fox to be the top "Tweeter" among all participants from the Southeastern Conference. Blogger Andy Pawlowski, who mainČtains the site DigitalHoopsBlast.com, has posted a recent blog titled "The SEC All-Twitter Team." In the blog he calls Fox the SEC Twitterer of the Year and lauds the first-year coach for his personal and often humorous Tweets. Best of all, the "twit" behind all of this first-rate Tweeting is Fox himself, not someone from his staff.



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