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Tom Crean will try to jumpstart Georgia

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Previewing the No. 11 team in the SEC, the Georgia Bulldogs.

NCAA Basketball: Indiana at Purdue Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
Georgia Preview

#11 Georgia Bulldogs

Last Season: 18 - 15 (7 - 11 in conference) #65 kenpom

My Prediction: 15 - 14 (6 - 12, 11th in conference)

The Masses Prediction: 5.3 - 12.7 (12th in conference) #101

NCAA Basketball: Indiana at Ohio State Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

HEAD COACH: Tom Crean | ninth season 145-118

There was a moment this past offseason where Georgia almost made a mistake. Shortly after firing Mark Fox following another mediocre finish, the Bulldog brass actually offered the job to Thad Matta. Matta, a brilliant coach and good recruiter, had flamed out of Ohio State while dealing with health issues. I don’t doubt Matta’s ability to coach and scout do most of the things required of a modern day power conference coach. But the energy and effort required to build back the Georgia Bulldogs needed to go to a man like Tom Crean. A coach with boundless energy and the recruiting chops to go toe-to-toe with the sharks in Atlanta and the state of Georgia to keep more recruits home.

Tom Crean was always the guy for this job. Make no mistakes the Georgia job is a tough one. The administration barely cares about basketball the way others do in the league, but hiring someone with seemingly tireless energy and a solid track record is a step in the right direction. The advantage in Georgia is one Crean didn’t get in Indiana, which is patience. Georgia gave Mark Fox nine seasons and were rewarded with just two NCAA tournaments. Crean is much more likely to double that or more if he’s given time to build.

Seat Temp: COOL

sec basketball preview 2018 georgia 10 year look

Hugh Durham went five for 17 in making the tournament. Tubby Smith went two for two. Jim Harrick went two of four, and Dennis Felton hit just once in six seasons. Just 12 NCAA tournaments in the last 40 years isn’t a great track record but improving on that is a modest expectation and one Crean should be able to reach. A 50% track record, Crean’s track record in his 18 seasons, seems attainable for Georgia if they give him a few years to get the program going.

SO, WHO’S GONE?

name reason GP %min %pts %ov %poss
name reason GP %min %pts %ov %poss
Yante Maten graduation 33 84.39% 28.30% 21.62% 23.03%
Juwan Parker graduation 33 60.14% 12.19% 10.58% 12.90%
Pape Diatta graduation 15 9.03% 0.80% 0.86% 0.89%
Isaac Kante transfer 24 1.79% 0.45% 0.07% 0.45%
31.07% 41.74% 33.13% 37.27%

For the first time since I’ve been doing these previews I won’t be talking about Yante Maten’s impact on the Bulldogs. Maten graduated with one of the more storied careers in Georgia history and was the only double digit scorer on the roster a year ago. The biggest question, and we’ll probably talk about this some more, but where is the production for the Bulldogs going to come from with Maten gone?

Juwan Parker played the perfect role guy who was extended further than he should’ve been. He was not a good offensive player forced into a higher possession rate than he should’ve been due to so few other options. Pape Diatta never really found his stride as anything more than a bit contributor and for similar reasons Isaac Kante decided to transfer.

AND, WHO’S BACK?

player year pos gp %min %pts ts% %ov
player year pos gp %min %pts ts% %ov
William Jackson SR CG 33 72.75% 12.33% 51.06% 23.09%
Derek Ogbeide SR POST 33 53.87% 10.15% 63.95% 7.06%
Rayshaun Hammonds SO CF 33 59.47% 9.84% 54.63% 10.47%
Tyree Crump JR PG 31 34.32% 8.90% 55.00% 9.08%
Nicolas Claxton SO POST 33 36.19% 5.79% 61.75% 2.72%
Teshaun Hightower SO CG 29 24.03% 4.67% 52.83% 7.06%
Jordan Harris JR CG 18 21.27% 2.80% 56.29% 3.00%
Mike Edwards SR POST 29 20.24% 2.31% 48.71% 1.44%
E'Torrion Wilridge SR WING 29 21.56% 1.42% 38.67% 3.04%
Connor O'Neill* SR CF 7 0.52% 0.04% 8.83% 0.00%
Christian Harrison* SR WING 3 0.22% 0.00% 0.00% 0.00%
68.89% 58.25% 54.77% 66.96%
NCAA Basketball: Georgia at Tennessee Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

Rayshaun Hammonds | JUNIOR | COMBO FORWARD

Mark Fox didn’t have very many recruiting wins in his time at Georgia. Atop the list is Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and second is Rayshaun Hammonds. Hammonds didn’t have many opportunities to show off his level of skill, but he’s the quintessential combo forward in todays game. If given the rope this season Hammonds has the skill level to be the man and fully facilitate the offense through his position. Hammonds is a excellent passer for his size and I certainly think his ability coupled with how his new coach likes to play will complement each other quite well.

Tom Crean actually has a good list of players at his disposal, and it will be pretty interesting to see how he deploys his new roster. 11 players who saw minutes last year return, and nine of those guys were on scholarship, and a host of them are guards. The front court looks fairly solid as well, even if there aren’t any standouts. The entire supporting cast from last season returns with Derek Ogbeide, who started most of the year, and Nicolas Claxton, who played the majority of the minutes in the middle down the stretch. Plus Mike Edwards returns to his familiar role.

At guard is where things get interesting. Crean is bringing back most of Fox’s guard depth with upperclassmen like William “Turtle” Jackson and Tyree Crump. Jackson was one of the statistical leaders a year ago and provides a lot of sound playmaking without a lot of wow factor. Also in that group is Jordan Harris who had a stellar freshman campaign before falling off as a sophomore and getting suspended in February. The suspension opened a door for Teshaun Hightower to walk through. Hightower got better as the year went on and could be a darkhorse for starter minutes this season.

NCAA Basketball: Florida at Georgia Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Tyree Crump | JUNIOR | COMBO GUARD

I mentioned Crump above but wanted to break him out because in a lot of ways he was the kind of recruiting victory Mark Fox rarely won while at Georgia. He was a Georgia kid, top 100 level point guard who looked like he might be the answer for Fox at the position. But Crump hasn’t lived up to his talent yet. His offensive numbers aren’t great and his usage remains fairly high. Not a great combination. But the talent level remains there and Tom Crean’s history of developing talented guards is certainly there. If Crean and Crump can find themselves on the same page, and Crean can extract the talented guards raw ability, I think that could setup Georgia as a dark horse heading into the season.

THEN, WHO’S NEW?

class player ht wt rating ranking pos
class player ht wt rating ranking pos
Fr Amanze Ngumezi 6'9 245 ★★★★ 112 POST
Fr Ignas Sargiunas 6'4 205 ★★★★ 124 WING
Fr Tye Fagan 6'3 185 ★★★ 216 CG
Fr JoJo Toppin 6'6' 190 ★★★ 335 WING

Not all four star recruits are the same but Crean has some very nice developmental pieces here in this class. Amanze Ngumezi is a big body who looks physically ready to compete for minutes. If you put together the tape of a high major prospect from Europe it would look a lot like the tape of Ignas Sargiunas. He’s not the quickest or most athletic, but he’s craft around the basket and shoots the ball well. He was the primary ball handler for his Lithuanian team, but can operate off the ball and through ball screens fairly well. Reports have Tom Crean being very high on Sargiunas, so we could see a lot of him early. But I’m always skeptical of European players until they face the athleticism of American athletes on a more regular basis.

Tye Fagan comes in perhaps a little under-valued because he doesn’t wow you on tape. He’s 6’3 but pretty long and probably project more off the ball than on. But Fagain finds his way onto a lot of winning teams because he’s a guy with a knack for making the plays needed to win. It wouldn’t shock me to see him have a terrific career at Georgia despite his ranking. And JoJo Toppin is a prospect with bounce but not a lot else right now.

DEPTH CHART

position starter backup third
position starter backup third
(1) Point Guard Tyree Crump Jordan Harris
(2) Combo Guard Williams Jackson Te'Shaun Hightower Tye Fagan
(3) Wing Rayshaun Hammonds E'Torrion Wilridge Ignas Sargiunas
(4) Combo Forward Derek Ogbeide Amanze Ngumezi JoJo Toppin
(5) Post Nicolas Claxton Mike Edwards

This is a depth chart of what I would expect Mark Fox to do. Fox was a very traditional lineup kind of guy. He loved playing Yante Maten at the four, despite what playing him at the five might’ve done for his players offensively. If I’m Tom Crean I let Ogbeide and Claxton battle it out for the five, slide Hammonds to the four, and role out my three best guards. My expectations would be Crump, Hightower, and Jackson. The key though is they’ll still need someone to make three point shots and nobody returning hit more than 33% so maybe that’s also a bad plan.

SCHEDULE

My Projected Record: 15 - 14 | KenPom Projected Record: 12 - 17

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament First Four-Syracuse vs. Arizona State Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

NON-CONFERENCE

Date Location Opponent KenPom Proj W/L
Date Location Opponent KenPom Proj W/L
Nov 9 Home Savannah State 345 W
Nov 13 Away Temple 82 W
Nov 16 Home Sam Houston State 292 W
Nov 19 Neutral Illinois State 87 W
Nov 20 Neutral Akron/Clemson 181/14
Nov 21 Neutral - -
Nov 27 Neutral Kennesaw State 329 W
Dec 3 Home Texas Southern 277 W
Dec 15 Home Arizona State 53 L
Dec 18 Home Oakland 231 W
Dec 22 Away Georgia Tech 92 W
Dec 30 Home UMass 142 W
Jan 26 Home Texas 16 L
avg 176.91

I’m not sure how much of this schedule was already in place but you have to like the looks of a rebuilding team getting seven non-conference home games and nobody ranked in last year’s KenPom top 30. Texas and Arizona State should be tough tasks but getting them at home means that’s a winnable game. Temple on the road should be tough as the Owls had a pretty young team last season and have a lot to build upon this year. Potentially getting Clemson in the second round of the Grand Cayman tournament could be better, but notching two wins in that tournament is certainly possible either way.

CONFERENCE

Date Location Opponent KenPom Proj W/L
Date Location Opponent KenPom Proj W/L
Jan 5 Away Tennessee 11 L
Jan 9 Home Vanderbilt 69 W
Jan 12 Away Auburn 17 L
Jan 15 Home Kentucky 7 L
Jan 19 Home Florida 19 W
Jan 23 Away LSU 50 L
Jan 29 Away Arkansas 64 L
Feb 2 Home South Carolina 42 W
Feb 6 Away Alabama 51 L
Feb 9 Home Ole Miss 94 W
Feb 12 Away Texas A&M 48 L
Feb 16 Home LSU 50 W
Feb 20 Home Mississippi State 23 L
Feb 23 Away Ole Miss 94 L
Feb 27 Home Auburn 17 L
Mar 2 Away Florida 19 L
Mar 6 Home Missouri 43 W
Mar 9 Away South Carolina 42 L
avg 42.22

Starting off SEC play on the road against the defending champs? Yikes. The first six games of the SEC season could do a lot to determine what the Bulldogs are going to make of their season. It’s hard to see them winning at Tennessee, at Auburn, or at LSU. And beating Kentucky and Florida at home is no small task either. Basically the Bulldogs really need to find a way to get one or two wins at least if they want to avoid going in the tank early. After that they have a run against Arkansas, South Carolina, Alabama, Ole Miss, and Texas A&M which could help them get into the race if they exceed expectations in their first six games.

OVERVIEW

There is a lot to like about this Georgia roster, but it’s also easy to get a little carried away with the reality of what any one player on this roster has proven. I’m usually a “buy-in” type on Tom Crean and development, but we’re talking about a deep roster of players who have been playing SEC basketball for multiple years and have just been largely unimpressive.

Whether it’s the collective shooting from last season, or their over-reliance on the scoring hand from Yante Maten last season, Crean is going to have to get creating on the offensive end of the floor if the Bulldogs are going to score points this year. Their defense as largely been rock solid, which is something many critics have lobbed toward Crean as a weak point.

The roster is chalk full of guards who were well regarded out of high school, and few have been able to put it all together in a fashion which inspires any sort of confidence. Tyree Crump has all the things you want in a lead guard except for the part where the ball goes IN the basket. His usage rate was second highest on the team despite being on the floor less than reserve big man Nic Claxton. If Crean can find some level of consistency offensively from just one or two of these enigmatic guards Georgia is a team with real breakout potential.

NCAA Basketball: SEC Conference Tournament-Kentucky vs Georgia Billy Hurst-USA TODAY Sports

But that’s a big question if.

Maybe it’s Turtle Jackson or Teshaun Hightower who breaks out? Maybe Jordan Harris is the guy who looked like he could be in flashes as a freshman? Without a clear answer in the back court there are going to be far too many questions about the on court production.

I spoke above about how if Crean gets the right combination of play from his guards, he could have a highly effective offense playing through Hammonds. Last season Hammonds was largely relegated to afterthought in the offense as everything went to Maten or through their guards. Hammonds skill level was only shone in short bursts last year, but if he’s going to be a larger focal point or even a primary option he’s going to need to get a lot more efficient. Hammonds might be best suited with the ball in his hands a lot more and it’s up to Crean to figure that part out.

There are a lot of reasons to view Georgia as a dark horse in the SEC. Crean’s reputation as a grinder and a developer of talent may be the right combination for a host of talented guards who just haven’t turned the corner. And if the Bulldogs can get any level of consistent play and shooting from the perimeter I think you could easily see this team in the NCAA tournament.

That’s probably the most hopeful preview of a predicted 6-12 team in conference I’ve ever produced.


About the preview: a number of respected basketball bloggers were asked to submit one pick the entire league schedule game by game. Because these are game by game picks, they often tend to be a bit of a rosier picture of each teams potential. Each rep’s picks are reflected in the record prediction for the site listed at the top of the page, and within “the Masses” picks as well. Included in “the Masses” are various SEC media members who made picks at my request also.

If you’d like to submit your picks, click here for the Google Form we used.


GLOSSARY

* - an asterisk denotes a walk-on player

GP - Games Played

%min - percentage of total available minutes played, does not account for time missed due to injury

%ov - offensive team value, simple formula of (%points + %rebounds) - %turnovers/*100, similar to Offensive Rating but places more value on performance to the team

%poss - percentage of team possessions the player is responsible for ending a possession, whether by making a shot, missing a shot not rebounded by the offense or committing a turnover.

%pts - percentage of teams points scored

ts% - true shooting percentage, basically points scored divided by 2x fga +0.44*fta.