The Georgia Bulldogs Men's Basketball team (8-4) will begin the toughest part of their 2007 regular season schedule when the head down to Gainesville to face the defending National Champion Florida Gators (13-2) on Saturday.
The Gators have the core of their championship team back, but Florida head coach Billy Donovan thinks the Bulldogs are as talented as any team they will face this season.
"I have been very impressed with Georgia having an opportunity to watch them on film and I think they have played a terrific non-conference schedule when you consider Wisconsin, Georgia Tech, Gonzaga, and Clemson. They are a basketball team that a year ago was considered a young team and basically, their whole team has returned. They are a team with a lot of experience in both the frontcourt and the backcourt, so they are a veteran team that has played against very good competition up to this point and it should be a great test for us and a great game Saturday," said coach Donovan.
The Bulldogs will have to bounce back from their three game skid against Georgia Tech, Clemson, and Wisconsin and beat Florida who has not lost at home since February of 2006 to Tennessee.
"Looking at Georgia's team they were a team that had a really good recruiting class in last year and those freshmen had a chance to play a lot last year
Mike Mercer, and they have a guy in Levi Stukes who has been there since Dennis took over who has played a lot of minutes. Sundiata Gaines came in the following year and has been a starter in this league for the last three years. They have
Dave Bliss and Steve Newman and they have added frontcourt players so I think they are a very good team, said Donovan. "They played Clemson very tough and I do not think the score indicated how close it was on the road there. If you look at what they did to Wisconsin at home with a tied score with two minutes left to go in the game and Wisconsin is a top five team in the country. They have played a team that is undefeated, one of the few undefeated teams in the country and they have also played a team in the top five exceptionally well, so there are very good, team. I think this league is so balanced that on any given night anything can happen and in my opinion Georgia is as good as anybody."
The SEC East division may be the toughest division in NCAA basketball according to the head coaches around the league with Florida and Tennessee ranked in the top 25 and five teams with at least ten non-conference victories.
Despite their 8-4 record, head coach Dennis Felton's Bulldogs are quickly impressing coaches and experts with their play this season.
"It is as difficult as any division or any league in college basketball," said Vanderbilt head coach
Kevin Stallings about the SEC east. "We are all aware of Kentucky's dominance in the division and now Billy (Donovan) has taken Florida to a whole new place so we are all really staring up at Florida at this point. With what Tennessee has done this year as well as last year, they have certainly elevated their program. It is a tremendous challenge for all of us in the division because there are no bad teams. There is no one you get a night off against and that makes it very difficult. There are many challenges for all of us in the Eastern Division and I can certainly relate to the difficulty Georgia faces in playing and trying to succeed in this division.
Two-time defending NIT Champions South Carolina will travel to Athens on January 10 and the Gamecocks having been eying Georgia since before the season began.
"I said from the outset from SEC Media Days in Birmingham in late October when they asked me to assess our league that as a whole and in particular the eastern division, I thought Georgia would be the most improved team in our league. Nobody was talking about them then and they have certainly turned out to be that, there is no question about it; Georgia is the most improved team in our league. They have improved as a team mainly because their offense is much better. I think their defense is good and they have a measure of physicality that is not seen in a lot of teams and they shoot the ball quicker and better, score more points, and coach Felton should be very proud of what he has done down there with his team," said South Carolina head coach Dave Odom.
Coach Odom thinks the play as a whole has improved throughout the Eastern Division.
"Still the challenge is there when you look at our division those at the top whoever you pick Florida is certainly going to be there and two or three other teams will be there as well. You have to go to their level because they will not come down to yours. You cannot count on Florida getting worse," said Odom. "They will not, they will get better, Kentucky will get better, Tennessee will get better, Vandy will get better, and hopefully we will and I know Georgia will. The challenge is a real one and you have to push your team to that one because there is no doubt those teams will not come back down into the pack unless they are made to do that because other teams have gotten better and pushed them back."
The Bulldogs will square off against Gators at 12:00 pm on Saturday January 6 before returning home for the Gamecocks on January 10 at 7:30 pm in Stegeman Coliseum.
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