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SEC Basketball Preview: #13 Georgia Bulldogs

Previewing the No. 13 team in the SEC, the Georgia Bulldogs

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

After tossing Tom Crean onto the scrap heap and reaching for Florida’s retread, Mike White, Georgia understood the turnaround might not be immediate. So when the Bulldogs raced to an 11-3 start, which included a win over Auburn to kick off conference play, many in the fanbase began to think it was possible White was a magician.

White is not a magician. Even after hitting the 3-1 mark in his first 4 conference games, the reality of the Bulldogs as a fringe top 100 KenPom team began to settle in after trips to Kentucky and Tennessee. Georgia would go from 3-1 to finish 6-12 and limped out of the SEC Tournament with an ugly loss to last-place LSU.

This season, White has gone in a different direction. They went in hard on young talent, made a few good portal additions, and are hoping that’s enough to move up the standings and withstand the meat of an SEC schedule. Can they make it happen?


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Georgia Preview

#13 Georgia Bulldogs

Last Season: 16 - 16 (6-12, 11th in conference) No. 154 KenPom

My Prediction: 13 - 18 (5-13, 13th in conference)

The Masses Prediction: 4.7 - 13.3 (13th in conference)

SEC Media Prediction: 12th in conference

KenPom Projection: 17-13 (7-11 in conference) No. 57

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

HEAD COACH: Mike White | 2nd Season, 16-16

Much of the above question about whether Georgia can move up the standings relies upon your faith in Mike White. Around here, we’ve taken up the corner of White skeptics. Not necessarily that White is a bad coach; in fact, I think he’s at least adequate. But being adequate in a place like Florida turned out middling results, so why should it be better at Georgia where it’s inarguably harder to win?

Therein lies the test here with White at Georgia. He wasn’t a flop at Florida, but he also lost ground with a program that was towards the top of the heap before he took over. And now he’s taking over a program with a real lack of success for an extended period of time. Under Mark Fox the program was respectable, but the SEC was also pretty down during that run. Fox had two NCAA tournaments from 2010-2018.

Georgia has the money to commit to basketball if they want to go in, and White has been hunting some big names in more recent recruiting classes. If he can assemble the kind of talent he got at Florida, that will make him a popular guy in the Peach State.

Seat Temp: COOL

georgia bulldogs 10 year look

You can see the steadiness of the Mark Fox-led program give way to Tom Crean Land. White is much more in the Fox mold than Crean. Once he gets things settled it’ll be less boom and bust, but there might be legitimate questions about the ceiling. Although right now Bulldogs fans might say they’re ok with just not being terrible for a while.

SO, WHO’S GONE?

name reason GP %min %pts %ov %poss
name reason GP %min %pts %ov %poss
Terry Roberts graduation 29 67.86% 17.51% 15.78% 19.76%
Kario Oquendo transfer 29 57.12% 16.78% 13.47% 15.16%
Braelen Bridges graduation 32 50.35% 12.68% 14.62% 11.16%
KyeRon Lindsay transfer 10 15.49% 2.83% 3.40% 2.95%
Mardrez McBride graduation 31 46.30% 6.66% 5.94% 6.69%
Jailyn Ingram graduation 24 19.69% 3.65% 2.69% 3.89%
Jusaun Holt transfer 31 47.16% 4.47% 5.95% 5.17%
Jaxon Etter graduation 14 13.77% 1.32% 0.88% 1.66%
63.55% 65.90% 62.73% 66.44%

Last season Georgia went in hard on the transfer portal. However, the portal can be a mixed bag, and a mixed bag is what the Bulldogs got. Offense wasn’t exactly the Dawgs' strong suit last season. They were 190th in efficiency last season, so it might be hard to say whether losing your top three scorers and 65% of the point production is a bad thing.

But gone are the top three scorers. Terry Roberts was the top scorer at 13.2 points per game but did so at a 93.8 offensive rating. He shot just 38% from the floor and just 42.9% from inside the arc. Kario Oquendo returned after leading the team in scoring two years ago and chipped in 12.7 points, but he still struggled from outside, shooting just 26.7%. And Braelyn Bridges turned into a productive big after transferring from Illinois-Chicago.

Jailyn Ingram moves on after competing in seven different college basketball seasons. He received two injury redshirts and benefitted from a COVID season. Mardrez McBride also graduated after being a role player and floor spacer, while Jaxon Etter graduated after being a walk-on for four years.

Jusaun Holt transferred to Kennesaw State after two lackluster seasons in the SEC. And KyeRon Lindsay is a former 4-star recruit who is heading back home to Texas to play for Texas Tech.

THEN, WHO’S BACK?

player year pos gp %min %pts ts% %ov
player year pos gp %min %pts ts% %ov
Justin Hill SR PG 32 55.41% 12.59% 52.82% 13.16%
Jabri Abdur-Rahim SR WING 32 46.54% 10.40% 60.30% 10.78%
Matthew-Alexander Moncrieffe SR POST 28 45.06% 7.02% 53.97% 7.89%
Frank Anselem-Ibe SR POST 31 35.25% 4.10% 53.19% 5.44%
36.45% 34.11% 37.27%
NCAA Basketball: SEC Conference Tournament First Round - Georgia vs LSU Steve Roberts-USA TODAY Sports

Justin Hill | SENIOR | POINT GUARD

After transferring to Georgia from Longwood, Justin Hill was expected to be the primary option at Point Guard. He ended up starting 10 games, but his offensive impact ebbed and flowed, as did his playing time. But last season is last season and this season Georgia is very much in need of an experienced hand at lead guard. They need someone to settle the offense and run what Mike White is asking for. Too often last season the Georgia offense got sideways and it was too easy to get them out of what they were trying to run.

With a full year under White, you’d like to see Hill take a big step forward in his stewardship of the unit on the floor. His overall on-off numbers weren’t terrible and he was the fourth best player on EvanMiya.com’s BPR.

If Hill can become a more reliable point man and shot creator, he can provide a bridge to a younger group of guards who might need a little time to gestate before being thrown to the wolves.

I mentioned Miya’s BPR above, and Hill is actually the second-highest-rated returner. The highest-rated is former Virginia forward Jabri Abdur-Rahim. A former 4-star prospect, Adbur-Rahim was the most efficient offensive player for the Dawgs last year, and most of that is by design. He played the role of a non-creator, per Synergy, as Abdur-Rahim was responsible for 161 field goal attempts (106 of those were on catch-and-shoot opportunities). And he had 119 3-point attempts to just 41 2-point attempts. Abdur-Rahim’s role was straightforward, and it will be interesting to see this year if he can expand it a bit.

Georgia is also bringing back both of their transfer bigs from a season ago, Matthew-Alexander Moncrieffe and Frank Anselem-Ibe. Moncrieffe started 26 of the 28 games he played in last year, but he was mainly a role guy as a defender and rebounder. He averaged just 5.5 points and only scored in double figures twice while Anselem-Ibe started just 6 games and averaged just 2.9 points in about 15 minutes per contest.

AND WHO’S NEW?

class player ht wt rating ranking pos
class player ht wt rating ranking pos
FR Silas Demary Jr 6'5 190 ★★★★ 72 PG
FR Blue Cain 6'5 190 ★★★★ 77 WING
FR Dylan James 6'9 207 ★★★★ 87 POST
FR Mari Jordan 6'6 190 ★★★★ 166 WING
JR RJ Melendez 6'7 210 TRANSFER Illinois CF
JR Jalen Deloach 6'9 220 TRANSFER VCU POST
G-SR Noah Thomasson 6'4 210 TRANSFER Niagara CG
G-SR RJ Sunahara 6'8 205 TRANSFER Nova SE CF
G-SR Russel Tchewa 7'0 275 TRANSFER South Florida POST
NCAA Basketball: MAAC Conference Tournament Semifinal - Iona vs Niagara John Jones-USA TODAY Sports

Noah Thomasson | SENIOR | COMBO GUARD

If you’re wondering how Georgia is going to score, well... so am I. They weren’t a very good offensive team last year and they return so little of their scoring it was imperative the Bulldogs imported some scoring. Enter Noah Thomasson.

Thomasson, a Houston native, started at Houston Baptist and transferred to Niagara where he was reliable role player as a sophomore. He broke out in his junior season, averaging 19.5 points per game with an efficient 107.5 rating. He shot the ball well (37%) on a high volume (4.5 attempts per game) but took nearly 200 more two-point shots than three-point shots. This indicates Thomasson is comfortable in the creator role. And Georgia will need some shot creation. If Thomasson can make the jump from MAAC to the SEC without losing too much efficiency, the Dawgs may have their guy.

Aside from Thomasson, Mike White imported four freshman signees and four additional transfers. The four freshmen signees are all 4-star players ranking between 73 and 108 in the 247sports.com composite ranking.

The leader of that group is expected to be Silas Demary Jr., a 6-4 combo guard expected to be the heir apparent to the starting point guard spot before too long. He’s a physical playmaker with a developing jump shot. With his size and ball skills, if he can shoot it consistently he’ll likely get some NBA looks. Blue Cain is the highest-rated player in the class. Cain surged in the rankings late after having a strong senior season with IMG Academy. He’s a competitive combo guard who is a consistent shooter, though he’s best on the move and going towards the rim, and has good size for the perimeter.

Dylan James is an intriguing post prospect. He’s an exciting athlete with long arms and some bounce in his legs, plus a burgeoning skill set that could develop into a fun offensive weapon. Mari Jordan has the size and athleticism to see the floor early if he can shoot it consistently enough.

But this season is going to hinge more on the transfers like Thomasson than the freshman like James and Jordan. Mike White wanted an anchor in the middle of his defense and he landed Russel Tchewa, a massive human being who’s spent the last three seasons at South Florida. He’s 7’0 and 275 lbs and is not a high tempo player. Tchewa had his best season last year by averaging 11 points and 8 rebounds, but most of his touches and shot attempts came on post ups. He also graded out poorly as a defender for the Bulls last season.

RJ Sunahara will be an interesting case study. What happens when the Division 2 National Player of the Year who plays for a team that uses a high tempo transfer to a high major and plays for a coach who isn’t known for pushing pace? Sunahara has good size and plays with good pace, so he should be able to make an impact in some way. But it will be a question of how his game will translate to the SEC.

White also added Illinois transfer R.J. Melendez, who is a former top 100 recruit and capable of being an elite shooter but has been wildly inconsistent and struggled to be an impactful player for Brad Underwood. He’s joined in the junior class with the physical and scrappy forward Jalen Deloach from VCU. Deloach is a guy who knows who he is, he’s a mobile four who looks to attack the rim off the bounce and get to his right shoulder around the rim. He also does not take jump shots, 0 for 0 from outside the arc on the year last season.

DEPTH CHART

position starter backup third
position starter backup third
(1) Point Guard Justin Hill Silas Demary Jr
(2) Combo Guard Noah Thomasson Blue Cain Mari Jordan
(3) Wing Jabri Abdur-Rahim RJ Melendez
(4) Combo Forward Jalen Deloach Matthew-Alexander Moncrieffe RJ Sunahara
(5) Post Russel Tchewa Frank Anselem-Ibe Dylan James

How Mike White implements his freshmen will be an interesting thing to track, and could give you a glimpse into his expectations on the season. The starters could really go any number of ways but I think Justin Hill at least begins the year as the starting point guard. They’re going to need scoring and shot creation, so I’m giving the nod to Thomasson. And it’s hard to see Jabri Abdur-Rahim not starting due to his efficiency on catch and shoots. From there White could go smaller with more athleticism and use either Matthew-Alexander Moncrieffe or R.J. Melendez as the starter at the 4. Or he could go with a more traditional lineup and use Jalen Deloach and Russell Tchewa in the middle.

The good news is it does look like White has more depth than he had last season. That alone should make the Bulldogs more competitive, as long as he uses the depth.

SCHEDULE

My Projected Record: 13-18 | KenPom Projected Record: 17-13

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament Midwest Regional- Miami (FL) vs Texas William Purnell-USA TODAY Sports

NON-CONFERENCE

Date Location Opponent KenPom Proj W/L
Date Location Opponent KenPom Proj W/L
Nov 6 Neutral Oregon 41 L
Nov 10 Home Wake Forest 73 L
Nov 12 Home NC Central 306 W
Nov 17 Neutral Miami (Fla.) 45 L
Nov 19 Neutral K State / Providence 25 / 54 L
Nov 24 Home Winthrop 161 W
Nov 29 Away Florida State 88 L
Dec 1 Home Mercer 247 W
Dec 5 Home Georgia Tech 118 W
Dec 16 Home High Point 282 W
Dec 20 Home Mount St. Mary's 259 W
Dec 22 Home North Florida 277 W
Dec 30 Home Alabama A&M 340 W
186.42 8-5

For having a roster in a bit of transition, Mike White didn’t back off on the non-conference schedule. Four of the first five opponents all landed inside the KenPom top 100 last season with 86th rated Wake Forest being the lowest of them. Oregon hasn’t been quite the same team over the last few seasons but Dana Altman always recruits well and has a roster which could turn their fortunes a bit. The early home contest against Wake Forest should be a really good early test, it’s at home but Steve Forbes has proven to be a fantastic coach and should have Wake competitive again this year.

Then an MTE where they get Miami, then either Providence or Kansas State. There are no easy games in that group and Georgia will be challenged to escape with a win. Fortunately, the back of the schedule is more manageable, but if things go sideways early it could be easy to see the Bulldogs drop a game they shouldn’t in December. If they can flip that early game against Wake though, and possibly upset someone in the MTE, there’ll be reason to believe the Bulldogs can outplay expectations in Conference play.

CONFERENCE

Date Location Opponent KenPom Proj W/L
Date Location Opponent KenPom Proj W/L
Jan 6 Away Missouri 55 L
Jan 10 Home Arkansas 14 L
Jan 13 Home Tennessee 8 L
Jan 16 Away South Carolina 66 L
Jan 20 Away Kentucky 18 L
Jan 24 Home LSU 47 W
Jan 27 Away Florida 39 L
Jan 31 Home Alabama 10 L
Feb 3 Home South Carolina 66 W
Feb 7 Away Mississippi State 27 L
Feb 10 Away Arkansas 14 L
Feb 17 Home Florida 39 W
Feb 21 Away Vanderbilt 79 L
Feb 24 Home Auburn 15 W
Feb 27 Away LSU 47 L
Mar 2 Home Texas A&M 24 L
Mar 5 Home Ole Miss 82 W
Mar 9 Away Auburn 15 L
avg 36.94 5-13

It’s a pretty tough way to open conference play when you start with a road game at Missouri, and you can expect the Tigers will be tough to beat at home again. Then you welcome in two teams who many are expecting to contend for a league championship this year. Your reprieve is a road game against a likely bad South Carolina team, then a road trip to Lexington. White really needs to find a way to avoid an 0-5 start.

The home and homes are against Auburn, Arkansas, Florida, LSU, and South Carolina. The Gators may be a mixed bag, and Auburn might not be great this year. So there are some opportunities to win a few extra games, particularly against South Carolina and LSU.

OVERVIEW

Anytime a team is ranked 13th of 14, the view may seem dire. I’m not sure about a lot of things with this roster and team, but I think they can surprise a little more than expected, and set the tone for a good year three.

It’s easy to overlook that Georgia was a top 100-level team for much of the season last year, until the bottom fell out around late January. If I were Mike White, I would spend this season focusing as much on efficiency as anything, in hopes of building up a quality young group of freshmen and a few juniors who could really be reliable players on a good team if things go right.

But the bottom fell out for a reason last year, the Bulldogs were a little bit of a paper champion in that their record did not line up with their resume. They were 10-3 coming out of the non-conference schedule but zero wins inside the top 100, and three losses to the only teams they played with a real pulse, including a road loss at Georgia Tech who was 161st in KenPom. So when the Bulldogs slid, it seemed more inevitable. The question this season is if they can avoid the slide earlier. Because the schedule has set up some pitfalls.

Syndication: Shreveport Times/The Times Andrew Nelles / Tennessean.com / USA TODAY NETWORK

For a team that struggled to score the ball, White didn’t really fix his problem unless Noah Thomasson can make the jump from the MAAC. It’s happened before, but it’s not something you should count on. If Thomasson isn’t able to generate shots, where do the Bulldogs turn for scoring? There isn't a player on the roster who has been a primary option at a high level, and that can work if you have a lot of shooting (which the Bulldogs don’t have).

This is where it is nicer to have depth. If you can roll bodies there’s a chance you find a different combination on multiple nights where you keep in games and maintain a higher level of efficiency.

This is where I begin to wonder how White handles his youth. The combination of Demary and Cain is a tough and competitive duo. That foundation might be reminiscent of Charles Mann and Kenny Gaines. Those two led Georgia to their last NCAA Tournament as juniors. You add in the physical profile of Mari Jordan and there’s a foundation of youth which is what you need to be able to build around.

The possibility of this season being a lost one and a stepping stone both exist. Georgia has a path to surprising everyone with a few extra wins, but it’s hard to envision this team and roster being much better than a bottom-half of the league type of team. I look at a few games as key turning points for how this season goes and the first one starts with Wake Forest. Florida State and Georgia Tech are both winnable games as well. If Georgia can win those three games and avoid an ugly start to conference play I think they can find their way to maybe 7 or at most 8 wins.

I may not be the biggest fan of the hire of Mike White, but he’s at worst a competent coach. And the good news is they don’t need to be great this season, they just need to be better than last season. They should be better. This should be a top-100 level team that’s stout defensively, and if they can find enough offense they can take another step.

Reasons to be OPTIMISTIC

Rebuilding the roster through the portal is a good way to kickstart a program, but there is no substitute for high-end talent. White’s pivot to recruiting in the 2023 class, and his forays into deeper waters in the 2024 class and beyond show a commitment to elevating the talent level. And the best way to win in the SEC is with a better and deeper roster. The foundation of the 2023 class begins just that.

Reasons to be PESSIMISTIC

Georgia hasn’t made an NCAA Tournament since 2015, and under White, Florida was trending down. Having to overachieve in a place after underachieving at a better job is asking a lot.


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 team's 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 as well.

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.