When Georgia head coach Mark Fox changed his lineup against Tennessee, he likened it to a game of chess, with his team needing to be the first to make a move.
In the four games that preceded the meeting at Tennessee, three ended in a loss. So Georgia adjusted and inserted Tyree Crump and Mike Edwards into the starting lineup for the first time all year. That, along with some rotational changes, helped the Bulldogs pick up a road win over the Volunteers.
The strategic maneuvering of Fox’s lineup continued Tuesday against Mississippi State. Instead of sticking with the same group, Fox gave E’Torrion Wilridge his first career start Tuesday evening.
The move was for defensive purposes, considering Mississippi State possessed a good 3-point shooting team. While Wilridge’s primary man to defend, Quinndary Weatherspoon, scored 14 points, Weatherspoon wasn’t able to get into the kind of rhythm he’s accustomed to at times.
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The move paid off, with Georgia recording a second consecutive win.
This is something that could continue throughout the rest of the regular season. Instead of relying on a set starting five and regular rotation, Fox may look to scheme specifically against opponents. For Georgia to keep its NCAA Tournament hopes afloat, it will need to reel off a high volume of wins over the final stretch of the regular season.
“The guys who started the other night that didn’t start (against Mississippi State) had no issue with it,” Fox said. When Juwan (Parker) didn’t start at Tennessee, he was great. He played terrific. They’re all in and want to do what’s best for us to win.”
Fox told Wilridge he would likely start the day game-planning preparation began for Mississippi State, with the original assignment being to guard Mario Kegler.
A day before the 79-72 Georgia win, Wilridge said his task changed to guarding Weatherspoon.
“I think it was a matchup thing,” Wilridge said. “They have a lot of great scorers and Coach was telling me he thought my defense would help us win this game.”
Mississippi State head coach Ben Howland was asked if Fox's lineup change altered anything for him once the game tipped off.
Howland said it didn't, pointing out that there was a clear reason why Fox turned to the specific group of players against his squad.
“They have a lot of players to choose from. Crump, they wanted more shooting in that (Tennessee) game,” Howland said. “I thought (Tuesday) they were more focused on defending us in their man because they were concerned we're a good shooting team. They weren't going to zone us like they zoned Tennessee to start that game. He's just altering his game plan based on the personnel of the other team.”
By doing so, Georgia could be relying on a different fifth option in each game for the remainder of the season. Parker, J.J. Frazier, Yante Maten and Derek Ogbeide are Georgia's top four players seeing the most minutes. As for that fifth spot, it looks like any of Georgia's rotational players could fill that role depending on the opponent.
It would seem likely Fox continues to play the matchup game to see where he can take advantage of an opposing team’s weakness.
“We have a deep team,” Parker said. “Anybody can step up on any night. (Tuesday) was (Wilridge’s) night. I’m happy for him.”