When Georgia hired Tom Crean, I doubt they pictured the disastrous season the Bulldogs dredged through in his debut. The school disposed of long-time coach Mark Fox, a man who was mostly mediocre during his time in Athens. However, Fox had a defined style. He recruited physical players, slowed the pace, and tried to impose a brawny style of play to overwhelm opponents. The results were mixed, prompting a coaching switch.
Crean is the schematic yin to Fox’s yang. Crean has long favored a more uptempo brand of offense, while teams’ defensive consistency tends to come and go. Needless to say, merging Crean’s style with a roster built by Fox is like oil and water.
Previous SEC Previews
- No. 14 Vanderbilt Commodores: Jerry Stackhouse takes over at Vanderbilt with a big rebuild ahead of him
- No. 13 Texas A&M Aggies: Buzz Williams takes over a rebuild at Texas A&M, but he’s certainly the long term answer
- No. 12 South Carolina Gamecocks: This feels like a pivotal year for a Frank Martin team looking to break through
#11 Georgia Bulldogs
Last Season: 11-21 (2-16 in conference) No. 132 in KenPom
My Prediction: 18-13 (7-11, 11th in conference)
The Masses Prediction: 7.3-10.7 (11th in conference)
SEC Media Prediction: 9th in conference
KenPom Projection: 16-13 (8-10 in conference)
HEAD COACH: Tom Crean | Second Season, 11-21
Not only is Crean a schematic contrast to Fox, but he tends to live at extremes. Since taking over Marquette in the 1999-2000 season, he’s fielded nine teams that finished inside the top 30 nationally for offensive efficiency and ten that checked in below No. 100 in defensive efficiency. In other words, his teams play fast, pile up points, and hope it’s enough.
On top of that, Crean’s sideline demeanor is as meme-worthy and well known as his ability to recruit and coach an offense. Meanwhile, Georgia, a school just over an hour from Atlanta’s city center, has always possessed potential waiting to be tapped. While it’s a football school, the ATL has been one of the most talent-rich metro areas in the country over the last two decades. Crean has already started to tap into some of that talent, and if he can somehow figure out how to field a defense, he might be the one to turn Georgia into a team worth fearing.
Seat Temp: COLD
With the way Crean’s amassed talent early on, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Georgia earns more than two NCAA tournament bids in the next decade. That’s what the program achieved under Fox, but Crean’s offense and proven player development should improve that number. It also helps that Crean is a grinder, a critical trait in a competitive recruiting ground like Atlanta. On top of that, Crean’s shown a knack for taking modest recruits — Dwayne Wade, Victor Oladipo and OG Anunoby — and polishing them in difference makers. While at Marquette, he made five NCAA tournaments in nine seasons, including a run to a Final Four. If he achieves similar results in Athens, he’ll be a home run.
SO, WHO’S GONE?
Nic Claxton’s decision to leave for the NBA puts a small kink in Crean’s plans. The combo forward blossomed in Crean’s system, which emphasized skill development, while also moving the lean and agile Claxton away from the paint to make plays. You could argue it worked too well. By the end of his sophomore season, he’d grown into the 31st overall pick in the NBA draft.
Meanwhile, Derek Ogbeide was a Fox holdover who still served a useful purpose for Crean. A strong and physical presence on the interior, he was a mauler defensively and assertive on the glass, even if his back-to-the-basket skill set was out of place in Crean’s spread system. Williams’ Turtle’ Jackson came in with some initial accolades, but he never entirely fulfilled his initial promise. E’Torrion Wilridge was a solid athletic wing off the bench. Ignas Sargiunas and JoJo Toppin lost minutes down the stretch to walk-on Christian Harris.
Most of the Bulldogs’ losses were to be expected once Crean started putting together an outstanding recruiting class. However, Claxton is the only guy who’ll be truly missed.
AND, WHO’S BACK?
Rayshaun Hammonds | JUNIOR | COMBO FORWARD
For Crean to build UGA into a juggernaut, he needs Rayshaun Hammonds to take another step. Hammonds arrived as heralded top-50 player and a reputation as a playmaking forward. And Crean made it clear Hammonds fit his positional preference. “Hammonds has the skill level to be the man and fully facilitate the offense through his position. Hammonds is an 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.”
All of those things are true about Hammonds — and none of them came true last year. He wasn’t bad, but he wasn’t great either. He often deferred to guards, who weren’t as capable scoring or facilitating. He rebounded and scored well enough, but he needs to take the next step this year.
With so many departures, getting Hammonds back was necessary. So was Tyree Crump. Crump is a capable player at getting his looks, but he’s rarely been efficient as a scorer. Maybe that changes with some of the freshmen on the roster. Defenses won’t load up to stop Crump, which could produce higher-quality looks from the floor. The same assessment could be made of Jordan Harris, only he was more at home operating off the ball. Frankly, I’m a little surprised Tye Fagan stuck around, considering the difficulty he’ll have cracking a deep lineup this year. Finally, Amanze Ngumezi could factor into the post rotation as Crean tries to fill out those minutes with guys who can fetch a rebound.
THEN, WHO’S NEW?
|Sr||Donnell Gresham, Jr.||6’2||195||Grad Transfer|
Anthony Edwards | FRESHMAN | COMBO GUARD
Get ready to hear this a lot: Anthony Edwards might be the top pro prospect college basketball next year. Sure, James Wiseman might’ve been the top overall recruit in the 2019 recruiting cycle, but I don’t expect any single player to have as much of an impact than Edwards. He’s built like a defensive end, moves like a running back, and is going to be a lottery pick next year. Edwards’ talent is tantalizing and, at times, overwhelming, and graduating to the college game can result in a player like Edwards encountering some hiccups in terms of consistency and efficiency. How quickly Edwards acclimates will determine whether the Bulldogs earn a spot in the NCAA tournament.
While the Bulldogs recruiting class is loaded, there needs to be a dose of context. Without a doubt, Edwards’ talent can quickly propel the Bulldogs forward, but then the rest of the class may need some time to mature. I’m a fan of Christian Brown, who was ranked 67th nationally and is the second-best prospect in the class. He has bounce off the floor and is more a raw slasher than a skilled wing. Jaykwon Walton, a skilled combo guard with ideal size, might see more minutes early only as Brown tries to polish his game. Then there’s Sahvir Wheeler, who’s undersized but is speedy and pesky on the defensive end. Finally, Donnell Gresham is a grad transfer hoping to make a splash in his last season. He was a vital combo guard for Northeastern last year and could challenge for a starting position this year.
|(1) Point Guard||Jordan Harris||Tyree Crump||Sahvir Wheeler|
|(2) Combo Guard||Anthony Edwards||Jaykwon Walton||Tye Fagan|
|(3) Wing||Donnell Gresham, Jr.||Christian Brown||Toumani Camara|
|(4) Combo Forward||Rayshaun Hammonds||Mike Peake|
|(5) Post||Amanze Ngumezi||Rodney Howard|
How Crean assembles his rotation will be interesting to monitor. The only certainty: Edwards will get minutes. Lots of them. After that, there are many directions Crean can go. Traditionally, he wants multiple ball-handlers on the floor, so Harris and Gresham seem like logical choices. What Georgia lacks is depth in the post, but that’s offset by having bigger wings and athletic combo forwards. If young guys like Brown, Toumani Camara, Mike Peake, and Jaykwon Walton are all able to handle those duties, the Bulldogs should be fine.
My Projected Record: 18-13 | KenPom Projected Record: 16-13
|Nov 5||Home||Western Carolina||217||W|
|Nov 12||Home||The Citadel||302||W|
|Nov 15||Home||Delaware State||352||W|
|Nov 20||Home||Georgia Tech||66||W|
|Nov 26||Neutral||Michigan State / Va Tech||1 / 54||L|
|Dec 4||Home||NC Central||320||W|
|Dec 14||Away||Arizona State||89||W|
|Dec 23||Home||Georgia Southern||126||W|
|Dec 30||Home||Austin Peay||202||W|
The schedule is built to inject some confidence early, and that’s necessary once you see UGA is taking part in the Maui Invitational, an event stacked with Michigan State, UCLA, Virginia tech, BYU and Dayton. Back on the mainland, Arizona State and SMU await. That’s all before you consider the biggest bump in the road is a trip to Memphis, where Penny Hardaway has brought in the nation’s top-ranked recruiting class. The upside is UGA will have plenty of opportunities to notch high-quality wins early in the season.
|Jan 18||Away||Mississippi State||53||L|
|Jan 25||Home||Ole Miss||60||W|
|Feb 1||Home||Texas A&M||58||W|
|Feb 12||Home||South Carolina||69||W|
|Feb 15||Away||Texas A&M||58||L|
|Feb 26||Away||South Carolina||69||L|
It might be wise to tamp down expectations once you look at the Bulldogs’ SEC schedule, which features six games against Auburn, Kentucky and Florida. They’ll need to steal a couple of wins to keep their heads above water. However, their remaining home-and-homes are against South Carolina and Texas A&M, leaving some wins for the taking. Road games against Missouri, LSU and Mississippi State — all potential NCAA tournament teams — also loom. For Georgia to clear .500, they’ll have to steal a couple wins away from Stegeman Coliseum. Finally, Tennessee, Ole Miss and Alabama come to town, rounding out a pretty tough slate.
If it isn’t clear by now, I’ll be blunt: What Anthony Edwards does will determine whether the Bulldogs take a substantial step forward or make the leap into the NCAA tournament.
His supporting cast is, on the whole, pretty good. Crean deserves credit for amassing plenty of pieces to build around, but the rest of the Bulldogs will be trying to keep up with Edwards’ pace. Can they do it?
Missouri managed to pull it off two years ago, even after Michael Porter Jr. was lost for the majority of the season with a back injury. That being said, I’m not sure Crean has the same caliber of players that Cuonzo Martin had at his disposal.
The Bulldogs’ veterans have been inefficient and inconsistent, and now they’ll be married to a crop of talented, but developmental freshmen. Don’t get me wrong, in a couple of years, this recruiting class may be the foundation for an SEC title run. For now, though, it will need to get its bearings.
The case gets better if Hammonds finally becomes a consistent facilitator, easing some pressure on Edwards to score and create. It would also force defenses to show some interest in guarding Georgia up front. Crean’s offenses work best when he has an elite slasher and a combo forward capable of moving around the floor. Assuming Hammonds starts capitalizing on his potential, he’ll have the kind of athleticism and skill that opens up more complex elements of his system.
Everyone knows Edwards’ usage rate will be high, but an off night is inevitable. As you look at the Bulldogs’ roster, who is capable of stepping up?
That’s before you consider Crean’s track record with young teams. Often, they’re a sieve on defense and turnover-prone on offense. Next, the lack of interior size is an issue in a league stocked with the likes of Kerry Blackshear Jr., Reggie Perry, Jeremiah Tilmon, Nick Richards, Trendon Watford and so forth is an issue. A team that gives up easy buckets, possessions, and rebounds needs an elite offense to stay in games. While Edwards can score at will when he gets to the rim, it doesn’t matter if UGA is trading scores.
The SEC is an unforgiving league. Even the best teams get clipped from time to time. Teams without rebounding will struggle. The Bulldogs have shotmakers and a star, but to take the next step up to the middle of the conference, they’re going to need either one of two things to happen.
- Amanze Ngumezi will have to step up as a primary interior presence
- Crean will have to modify his defensive approach
The keys are there to be less risky and play to prevent attacks on the rim. Find a way to plug the defensive dam, rebound hard, and I think you’ll see the Bulldogs move up the ranks. Fail on either front, and I think it’s a fun season — but also a tough one.
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.
* - 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.