Georgia finds itself in new, but positive, territory this year: coming off a good year, and expecting another one.
In the program’s recent past, any positive momentum has been derailed by players leaving early for the NBA (Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Trey Thompkins and Travis Leslie), or coaches leaving (Tubby Smith), or NCAA problems (Jim Harrick).
But after last season’s trip to the NCAA Tournament, the Bulldogs return four players who started at least 14 games and 60 percent of both their scoring and rebounding, and they add several more potential pieces to the rotation.
“This group and the entire program is just on more stable ground right now,” coach Mark Fox says. “It feels different than it did a few years ago, certainly, because we’re more prepared, and deeper, and healthier.”
That doesn’t mean Fox’s team doesn’t have some big questions heading into this season.
All SEC predictions and a full preview of each team in the conference can be found in the Athlon Sports 2015-16 Preview Magazine, available online and on newsstands everywhere.
Podcast: Who should be No. 1 in College Basketball in 2015-16?
The biggest void was left by the departure of Marcus Thornton, the team’s leading scorer and rebounder. He missed two games last season, and Georgia lost them both. And the team’s only other graduated senior, Nemanja Djurisic, was a dependable forward who will also be missed.
So the hopes now fall on Yante Maten, who showed promise off the bench last year. The 6'8" Maten is a more classic post player than Thornton or Djurisic, and he was good enough out of high school that Michigan State wanted him. Maten is a shot-blocking machine and has a smooth shooting motion. The question is how soon he can be a physical factor in the post, particularly against bigger opponents.
Beyond Maten is a host of unproven players. Junior Houston Kessler and sophomore Osahen Iduwe have played sparingly. That leaves two freshmen with a prime chance to play right away.
Derek Ogbeide can be a strong physical presence, while Mike Edwards is very athletic. Both are true post players. E’Torrion Wilridge slides into the role vacated by Cameron Forte, who transferred to Portland State rather than play his senior season at Georgia.
Fox is known for developing players, so all three freshman forwards could eventually be pretty good. But how much they can help this year is uncertain. For that reason, how well Maten adjusts to a starting role could very well be the key to Georgia’s season.
Georgia Bulldogs Facts & Figures
Last season: 21-12 (11-7 SEC)
Postseason: First round
Consecutive NCAAs: 2014
SEC projection: 6
Postseason projection: NCAA First Four
If experienced guards are the key to winning in March, then Georgia sets up well.
Kenny Gaines, a senior who has started the past two seasons, offers 3-point shooting and slashing ability and has been the team’s best perimeter defender. When Gaines gets hot, he has All-SEC ability.
Charles Mann will begin his third year as the starting point guard, where at 6'5" he is a size mismatch for some teams. He’s great at getting to the rim and getting fouled, leading the SEC with 6.7 free throw attempts per game last season. But he sometimes depends too much on being fouled, and his outside shot is very inconsistent. Mann also averaged more than three turnovers per game last season.
Then there’s junior J.J. Frazier, who had 37 points in a win at Mississippi State last year, the most by a Georgia player in 23 years. Frazier’s height (5'10") limits him, but he offers high energy on both ends of the court, along with good outside shooting.
Junior Juwan Parker started 14 games last year, but his season was derailed by a nagging Achilles injury. He had surgery as soon as the season ended. Parker isn’t a great scorer, but he plays a very heady game. Another junior, Kenny Paul Geno, started six games last year, and while he also isn’t a dynamic scorer, Fox liked the energy he brought on both ends up the floor.
Despite all that returning depth, freshman William “Turtle” Jackson figures to see minutes at both guard spots. Jackson, a homegrown recruit from Athens, reneged on a commitment to UConn to sign with Georgia.
Key Losses: F Nemanja Djurisic, F Marcus Thornton
Top Players: G Charles Mann, G. J.J. Frazier, G Kenny Gaines, G Juwan Parker, F/C Yante Maten
Mark Fox gets knocked for not signing many elite recruits, and while this class doesn’t allay that criticism, it could be his best at Georgia. Post players Derek Ogbeide and Mike Edwards were late bloomers who could be starters very soon. Guard Turtle Jackson, who was wanted by some big-name schools, could be starting by his sophomore season. Forward E’Torrion Wilridge offers versatility and length.
Georgia isn’t going to be picked by anybody to threaten Kentucky for the top of the SEC, and the Bulldogs set up to be an NCAA bubble team once again. Still, just being in that position for another season is progress. The question is whether Fox and this core can do more than just make the NCAAs.