How do you measure who is and isn’t a good basketball coach? Generally, winning and postseason success are the best indicators. Five years ago, Tom Crean was a good coach, no?
Over two decades, he retooled Marquette and reached a Final Four. Then, at Indiana, he dragged an iconic program back from both self-imposed and NCAA sanctions to win multiple Big Ten titles. And the year before the Hoosiers sent him packing, Crean earned a No. 5 seed in the NCAA tournament and won the Big Ten.
When Georgia hired him, the move appeared to be a home run: use the resources of a football power to invest in a coach with a proven track record on the hardwood. It had to work, right?
Crean landed an elite prospect in Anthony Edwards to headline a top-10 signing class in 2019, and the Bulldogs subsequently went .500 overall and slogged to five SEC wins. And that was a good season. Crean finished 47-75, bottoming out at 6-26 last season and earning a buyout.
Again, Georgia is in heavy need of a reset and a stabilizer. Enter Mike White.
Previous SEC Previews
#12 Georgia Bulldogs
Last Season: 6 - 26 (1-17 in conference) No. 219 KenPom
My Prediction: 15 - 16 (5-13, 12th in conference)
The Masses Prediction: 4.0 - 14.0 (14th in conference)
SEC Media Prediction: 13th in conference
KenPom Projection: 14 - 16 (5-13 in conference) No. 93
HEAD COACH: Mike White | 1st Season, 0-0
Mike White was perfectly adequate at Florida. He won 62 percent of games and never finished worse than .500 in SEC play. The problem? He followed Billy Donovan, an elite basketball coach who won two national titles at a football school.
Yes, Florida had pockets of success before Donovan, a member of the Rick Pitino coaching tree, arrived from Marshall. But he unquestionably brought the program to its peak before leaving for the NBA. Any coach would have faced pressure to keep the program at that level.
White, who came from Louisiana Tech, looked promising. After a first-season dip, he engineered a quick turnaround — with a roster still packed with Donovan recruits — to reach the Elite Eight in his second campaign. Then came a whole lot of average.
The Gators went 40-39 in the SEC over the next five years. While they made the NCAA tournament three times, they were never seeded higher than sixth and never reached the second weekend. And after a run of top-20 recruiting classes, the pipeline of elite talent to Gainesville had started to decline. Finally, White turned over his entire coaching staff before last season.
White wasn’t an abject disaster, per se, but the trend line was slanting downward. UF is a bit of an odd job. The school’s hoops budget is fairly modest compared to other top-flight programs, and while fans show up to the Exactech Center, it’s only a 10,500-seat building. And at the same time White took over, rival in-state programs in Tallahassee and Miami have found their stride.
Donovan maxed out every resource he had, and it was likely that his successor would experience a bit of a drop-off. White’s bosses were also patient, but after last season, it seemed like pressure was mounting. So, he got out— and took over a rival program.
Is White a good coach? The evidence appears mixed. He was a rising star at Louisiana Tech, but his performance at UF was merely average. Were expectations a bit too unrealistic? Or was it simply not up to snuff?
The distinction matters. White arrived at a place where there’s no shortage of money and talent nearby, but UGA has always been a tough place to win — and far more demanding than his last job. But is White, freed from comparisons to Donovan, ready for a reboot? Or is this just a parachute landing?
Seat Temp: FRESH
Sometimes your program needs a jolt.
Mark Fox did a good job at Georgia, but built his teams on practicality. They guarded, ran competent offense, and ruthlessly executed a scouting report. Fox sometimes landed top-tier talent, but his rosters were rooted in developmental prospects who became four-year players. Under Fox, peaking meant clawing into sixth place and earning one of the last at-large bids in the NCAA tournament.
It made sense the Georgia brass would want something new. Unfortunately, the gamble on Crean busted, but you could certainly see why his resumé was appealing. Georgia is a program trying to re-establish a baseline, where Fox’s best seasons are considered the floor.
SO, WHO’S GONE?
When you go 6-26, turning your roster over is probably for the best, and White did just that. Aaron Cook had a solid career at Southern Illinois and parlayed it into a reserve role at Gonzaga for a year. But when it became clear Mark Few would hand minutes to an influx of elite talent, Cook jumped to Athens. The move came with more minutes and a primary role on the ball… only Cook’s efficiency plummeted to a 90.0 offensive rating.
Noah Baumann transferred to Grand Canyon, preparing to play for his fourth school in five years. His job description was simple: can jumpers. And he did just that. Almost three-quarters of attempts came from behind the 3-point arc, and he hit at a 40.7 percent clip. It made him the perfect low-usage, high-efficiency option in Crean’s system.
By contrast, Christian Wright was probably asked to do too much as a freshman, finishing the year with a 38.3 effective field goal percentage. Now, he’s starting over at Oregon State. JUCO transfer Dalen Ridgnal handled a reserve role, but as an undersized 6-7 combo forward, he’ll likely find a better fit at Missouri State.
A parade of players also left for mid- and low-major homes. Tyrone McMillan left Georgia for McNeese State. Josh Taylor left for East Tennessee State, Cam McDowell left for Jacksonville State and Tyrone Baker left for Dayton. None of them had any real impact on the Bulldogs last year.
THEN, WHO’S BACK?
Kario Oquendo | SENIOR | COMBO GUARD
Finding bright spots is challenging in a season where you win six games, but if you squint, Kario Oquendo was just that. The hyper-athletic guard averaged 15.2 points per game with an effective field goal percentage of just a hair over 50 percent. Oquendo wasn’t a great shooter but attacked the rim with reckless abandon and earned nearly five freebies per game.
Oquendo isn’t a lottery pick, but he creates offense, rebounds well for a combo guard, and can create turnovers in passing lanes. You’d like to see his 3-point shooting closer to average and have him cut down on giveaways, but White needs a grinder who will defend and produce each night. For a rebuilding team, that’s a solid starting point.
Braelen Bridges, a UIC transfer who fits in as a reliable interior scorer, is equally crucial to the Dawgs. He’s not super athletic, but the senior knows how to use his feet to create angles and his body to create space around the rim. Per Pivot Analysis, he converted almost 65 percent of his point-blank attempts, and Georgia scored six more points per 100 possessions with him on the floor. When you do that, style hardly matters. As for Jailyn Ingram, he’s just rooting for good health after tearing his ACL.
White also held on to Jabri Abdur-Rahim, a former top-50 talent who saw little playing time at Virginia before coming to Athens. Under Crean, he became a reliable reserve, but a lot depends on whether he can be better around the rim. Last season, Abdur-Rahim had a plus-8.4 net rating, per Synergy sports. He grades out well as a defender and hits 32.7 percent of his 3-point attempts. But he only converted 43.1 percent of the time after getting into the paint. He flashed at times last season. Now, it’s just a matter of putting it all together.
Credit to Jaxon Etter for sticking around. Etter walked on and found his way into the rotation year after year. How? By being a competent player. It’s not normal for any walk-on to average more than 60 percent of the minutes, but that’s where Etter ended up last season.
AND, WHO’S NEW?
|JR||Matthew-Alexander Moncrieffe||6'8||215||TRANSFER||Oklahoma State||CF|
|G-SR||Mardrez McBride||6'2||180||TRANSFER||North Texas||CG|
Terry Roberts | SENIOR | COMBO GUARD
Mike White leaned heavily into the transfer portal to patch the roster, and the most significant addition is probably ‘Scary’ Terry Roberts. An athletic, bucket-getting combo guard, the Bradley transfer averaged 14.5 points and shot 34.5 percent from 3-point range, earning All-Missouri Valley Conference honors.
Roberts should pair nicely with Oquendo in a set-up that uses two ball-handlers. Roberts can put the ball on the floor, but he wasn’t the most efficient PNR player at Bradley, averaging 0.808 points per possession. Instead, Roberts thrived attacking gaps against a closeout, which he forced by making 40.4 percent of catch-and-shoot jumpers. If Oquendo is the primary creator, forcing defenses to rotate and finding Roberts on kick outs, White might have something.
Roberts headlines a potentially impactful group of up-transfers. Point guard Justin Hill led Longwood in scoring and usage. He’s an excellent 3-point shooter with plenty of experience with the Big South champions. It also helps he has a 28 percent assist rate. Now, Oquendo has some help. Additionally, White imported North Texas guard Mardrez McBride, a 6-2 shooting guard, for depth. In Denton, McBride was a low-usage, high-efficiency floor spacer who shot 40 percent behind the 3-point arc.
The other batch of transfers: high-major players looking to jumpstart their careers. Justin Holt is a prime example. A former top-125 recruit, the 6-6 wing could never crack the rotation at Bama, losing out on minutes to Darius Miles and Keon Ellis. That wasn’t going to change with Miles returning and another top-end recruiting class coming to Tuscaloosa. Coming out of high school, Holt, a Georgia native, was billed as an exceptional shooter. His size also allowed him to make creative passing reads when attacking the second side of the floor.
The same could be said of Frank Anselem, a Peach State product. At 6-10 and a lean 210, Anselem’s frame and length made him an ideal fit for Syracuse’s 2-3 zone, but he found himself near the back of the rotation, and touches were few and far between. So, he’s come home to shore up the Bulldogs’ group of bigs, adding mobility and range. Anselem is joined on the wing by Matthew-Alexander Moncrieffe, another former highly-rated recruit who was a defensive stopper for Oklahoma State but just never made an offensive impact.
White only landed one freshman in his first class, but it’s one with plenty of potential. Four-star forward KyeRon Lindsay, a Denton, TX native and former UNLV signee, reopened his recruitment this spring. He is a fluid and mobile power forward with a developing skill set.
|(1) Point Guard||Justin Hill||Mardrez McBride|
|(2) Combo Guard||Terry Roberts||Jusaun Holt|
|(3) Wing||Kario Oquendo||Jabri Abdur-Rahim|
|(4) Combo Forward||Jailyn Ingram||Matthew-Alexander Moncrieffe|
|(5) Post||Braelen Bridges||Frank Anselem||KyeRon Lindsay|
There are no jaw-dropping additions, but White used spring well enough to upgrade this roster. There’s more athleticism with Moncrieffe, Holt, and Anselem. None of his mid-major guards is a primary weapon, but Roberts, Hill, and McBride bring a collective scoring punch. And finally, White held on to the few quality pieces from last season’s disaster.
Still, I’m not sure this is a good roster compared to the rest of the conference.
Roberts and Hill should be solid at the guard spots, likely backed up by McBride. Oquendo could start or come off the bench for some energy. There’s flexibility in the backcourt, but what about inside? Bridges is the only known entity. Ingram’s coming back from an injury, while Anselem is angling for an opportunity. Then there’s Lindsey trying to carve out an early role.
My Projected Record: 15-16 | KenPom Projected Record: 14-16
|Nov 7||Home||Western Carolina||282||W|
|Nov 11||Away||Wake Forest||80||L|
|Nov 21||Neutral||St Joseph's||169||W|
|Nov 22||Neutral||UAB / USF||52 / 174||L|
|Nov 27||Home||East Tennessee St.||229||W|
|Dec 2||Home||Florida A&M||356||W|
|Dec 6||Away||Georgia Tech||117||W|
|Dec 18||Neutral||Notre Dame||43||L|
White put together a well-constructed schedule, particularly for a program looking to regain footing.
We’re also going to learn quite a lot about White’s group early on with a road game to Wake Forest for the second game of the season. Steve Forbes’ Wake Forest team is regrouping, but it made the NCAA tournament in just his second season on the job.
The Sunshine Slam in Dayton should be a mild test as well, with UGA opening against St. Joseph’s and facing either UAB or USF. If it’s the Blazers, that’s a date with a Conference-USA contender and a squad who made the NCAA tournament. A road trip to rival Georgia Tech won’t be easy, even though Josh Pastner hasn’t gotten that program rolling. The stiffest test is a neutral-site game against Notre Dame and Mike Brey, one of the best coaches in college basketball.
|Jan 11||HOME||Mississippi State||53||W|
|Jan 14||Away||Ole Miss||49||L|
|Jan 28||HOME||South Carolina||78||W|
|Feb 4||Away||Texas A&M||45||L|
|Feb 7||HOME||Ole Miss||49||W|
|Mar 4||Away||South Carolina||78||L|
Again, we first look at the home-and-home matchups: Kentucky, Auburn, Florida, Ole Miss, and South Carolina.
Those first three teams project to finish in the upper half of the standings, while UK and Auburn might earn protected seeds in the NCAA tournament. At the very least, there are five games you could slot in the loss column. For White, the key might be picking off his old employer in Gainesville and holding serve at Stegeman Coliseum against Ole Miss and South Carolina. And since you’ve read about the Gamecocks, whose roster might be in worse shape than Georgia’s, maybe the Dogs can steal a road win.
If all that happens, Georgia is a 4-6, and, as we know in this league, everything after that is what happens at the margins. For example, Mississippi State, Missouri, and Vanderbilt all come to town. Winning those matchups matters. It could help White reach six home wins, and anything after that is a bonus.
If you’ve previously read Florida previews, you know we have had healthy skepticism around the expectations set for White while leading the Gators. As mentioned earlier, the program was good. Still, it was also evident it was trailing off from the standard set by Donovan over two decades.
White’s still just 45 years old. He’s won 65.5 percent of the games he’s coached and only missed the postseason twice in a decade. But what’s good in Ruston isn’t in Gainesville. However, what’s average at UF would be an improvement in Athens.
Florida expected White to be Donovan 2.0: a young coach who adapts an aggressive press to fit in the SEC. Georgia? It’s hoping for relevance and stability. White might be just the person to accomplish those goals.
And for White himself? Maybe he can rediscover the identity that made him attractive at Louisiana Tech. Those teams pressed 94 feet, played fast, and feasted on turnovers. Once he arrived at UF, White’s stylistic compromises produced no identity. The Gators recruited well early on but so did plenty of other SEC programs. When UF found success, it was through suffocating half-court defense and lead guards who could operate well in ball screens.
So which is the style that will work at Georgia?
Just skimming this roster, it looks closer to what White had in Ruston. It supports the idea of playing at a faster pace thanks to a grouping of athletic wings who can play spots two through four, multiple ball handlers, and a plethora of bigs. None fit well into a slow, plodding half-court system. With Hill and Roberts, there’s enough athleticism to get up and down.
What’s more, the depth on the wing, with its long and athletic defenders, could be enough to make Georgia the kind of team to make some noise in SEC play. So, am I talking myself into the Georgia Bulldogs?
Look, the roster makes more sense than the last few years under Crean. White added talent with upside and reliable guards. It’s a positive sign that vets like Oquendo, Bridges, and Ingram will fight for their place in the rotation. And there’s still time for Holt and Abdur-Rahim to emerge as a really good wings. If it all clicks, the backcourt could sneak up on people. White has come in and made the roster better. How much better is to be determined.
Reasons to be OPTIMISTIC
White has four guards who can score, a trio of long wings who can defend, and a nice mix of size and skill down low. That’s a foundation for a team that might surprise people as it gets out of the basement. Up-transfers tend to see their roles shrink, but White has enough collectively to withstand Hill and Roberts adjusting to the SEC. Put all that together, and UGA could do more damage than some expect.
Reasons to be PESSIMISTIC
Seven seasons in Gainesville gave us plenty of time to evaluate White. While he didn’t faceplant, there was more of a drop-off than you might expect. The fanbase never seemed to turn hard against him, but the decibel level of grumbling got louder. Instead of waiting for the inevitable, he found a soft landing to the north. You could argue White failed to capitalize on quality rosters and momentum between 2018 and 2020. Now, he’s at a school that’s made just three NCAA tournaments in 20 years. Everyone recruits Atlanta hard, and the SEC is full of good coaches. If White struggled at Florida, it’s fair to wonder how he’ll do moving ahead.
About the preview: a number of respected basketball bloggers were asked to submit one pick for 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 Masses” picks. 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.