How Did We Get Here?
For the first time in Georgia’s history, the Bulldogs have finished .500 or better in SEC play for four years in a row. The job that Mark Fox has done at Georgia seems to be under-appreciated by a lot of basketball fans. Fox’s 61-59 SEC record at Georgia doesn’t sound great, but considering that his predecessor went 29-67 in conference play over six years... well, Fox is doing pretty well by comparison.
Yet in spite of all that, Georgia’s 2015-16 season felt like a disappointment. The Bulldogs went to the NCAA Tournament in 2015, and returned three starters from that team. Georgia did have to replace Marcus Thornton, the team’s defensive stopper in the paint, but on paper the team was returning a lot of scoring punch in Kenny Gaines, Charles Mann, and J.J. Frazier.
And yet the defense was fine last year — it was the offense that was the problem. In terms of efficiency, Georgia had the SEC’s third-best defense... paired with its third-worst offense. In 10 of 18 SEC games, the Bulldogs’ defense held the opponent under a point per possession; eight times, the Bulldogs scored less than a point per possession themselves.
The Bulldogs ranked last in the SEC in effective field goal percentage — and that was in spite of shooting 37.5 percent from beyond the arc. That tells you just how bad the Bulldogs were inside the arc; they shot just 40.8 percent on two-pointers in SEC play. There were a lot of culprits, but Gaines and Mann — who both graduated as 1000-point scorers — both shot under 40 percent on twos. As a result, Georgia just couldn’t generate enough offense to get back to the NCAA Tournament. They did get to the NIT and finished with a 20-14 record, 10-8 in the SEC.
Still, it felt like the Bulldogs regressed from one year to the next.
So why is there reason to think Georgia can improve this season? It starts with J.J. Frazier and Yante Maten — two of the three players who were named All-SEC last season who return this year. In all, the Bulldogs return 69 percent of their minutes from last year, and an astounding 80 percent of their rebounding. The Bulldogs also have a couple of good guards entering the program, and another returning from injury. Effectively, the Bulldogs return their entire frontcourt from last season, and that includes a bunch of guys who were freshmen last year and showed some potential.
The reason for skepticism is that other than Frazier and Maten, Georgia doesn’t have anyone who’s a remotely proven scorer. Gaines and Mann might have disappointed a bit last year, but Georgia’s third-leading returning scorer averaged 4 points per game last year.
A side effect of the improved play on the floor, too, is that Georgia seems to be getting better on the recruiting trail as well. Frazier and Maten were underrated, diamond-in-the-rough types, but in the last two recruiting cycles Fox has signed three national Top 150 recruits. Georgia’s 2016 recruiting class ranked 35th nationally and 6th in the SEC, per 247 Sports, and that’s pretty impressive for a class that only included three players. With Frazier and Maten around, the newcomers won’t be asked to make big contributions right away.
Georgia was picked fifth by the TSK contributors -- though nobody actually picked them lower than fifth, and I myself picked the Bulldogs to finish third. There aren’t a lot of proven parts, but Georgia really just needs to find role players to fit around Frazier and Maten. That’s a much easier task than having the role players and needing somebody to step up and be a star. This could be Mark Fox’s best team in Athens, and it should be one of the SEC’s better squads.
|0||William Jackson II||6'4"||185||SO.||0.9174||7.3||1.5||0.5||0.6||0.6||0.4||0.2|
|3||Juwan Parker||6'4"||205||JR.||0.8849||20.2||4.9||3.7||0.8||1.2||0.6||0.8||Redshirted 2015-16|
J.J. Frazier didn’t quite come out of nowhere. The 5’10” senior from Glennville, Georgia, dropped 37 points on Mississippi State as a sophomore, but there were few clues that he would average 16.9 ppg and be named to the All-SEC second team as a junior. But that’s what happened: Frazier scored 20 or more in twelve games last year, while also upping his assists average from 3.3 to 4.4 a game while not committing any more turnovers. Frazier managed to actually see his shooting percentage go up while taking 5.5 more shots per game.
The question isn’t what Frazier will do for an encore, but who else will join him in the backcourt? Juwan Parker was medically cleared just before Georgia took a trip to Spain in August; Parker last played in January 2015 before an Achilles injury sidelined him for all of the 2015-16 season. The 6’4” junior from Tulsa averaged 4.9 ppg and 3.7 rpg in 2014-15 before getting hurt. But that was as a backup to Kenny Gaines and Charles Mann; now, Parker is the most experienced guard on the roster other than Frazier.
If not Parker, Georgia has three underclassmen who were highly-rated recruits, though William Jackson struggled transitioning to the college game last year. But Jackson saved his best performance for the end of the season: scoring a season-high 9 points on 3-for-5 shooting against Kentucky in the semifinals of the SEC Tournament. Strangely, that came after playing 8 minutes in the nine games before that. For the season, though, Jackson had as many turnovers as assists and shot just 28.3 percent from the floor. But sometimes, the scouts are right even if the player doesn’t show it early on, and Jackson could turn things around as a sophomore.
If he doesn’t, Georgia has a pair of top 150 freshmen who could contribute. Tyree Crump, a 6’1” combo guard from Bainbridge, Georgia, has quickness and vision and could ultimately replace Frazier at the point; for now, Crump’s most likely role is as a backup to Frazier, but both Crump and Jordan Harris could force their way into the rotation. Harris, a 6’4” freshman from Iron City, Georgia, is an explosive athlete and also has the length to be a plus defender on the perimeter.
|Osahen Iduwe||3.1||0.5||0.5||0.0||0.1||0.1||0.1||Transfer (UA-Fort Smith)|
|25||Kenny Paul Geno||6'6"||210||SR.||0.8056||19.3||2.6||2.8||1.4||0.6||0.4||1.1|
|5||Pape Diatta||6'7"||220||JR.||0.8528||Transfer (College of Southern Idaho)|
Yante Maten showed promise as a freshman as a rebounder and shot blocker, but nobody could have seen the offensive explosion coming. Maten jumped from 5.0 ppg to 16.5 ppg, and that came while improving his shooting percentage from 41.6 percent to 49.6 percent. Is there even more improvement possible? Maten only attempted 15 three-pointers as a sophomore, but he made 8 of them. His 78.3 percent free throw shooting suggests that he could add more jump shots to his arsenal.
The rest of Georgia’s frontcourt didn’t provide much offense in 2015-16, but this is a unit that ranked 15th in the country in opponents’ two-point percentage, and 7th in block percentage. A pair of sophomores, Derek Ogbeide and Mike Edwards, will compete for playing time in the middle. Ogbeide missed Georgia’s first five games of the season and struggled to acclimate to the college game after that, but worked his way into the starting lineup in February and started Georgia’s final twelve games of the season. Ogbeide showed promise as a rebounder and shot-blocker -- in fact, his rebound rates were better than Maten’s — and shot 47.2 percent from the floor. That’s not a great number for a big man who was mostly shooting close to the basket, but it was better than Edwards’ 44.7 percent showing. Edwards has size and showed some ability as a defender, but with almost no offensive polish as a freshman. If either Ogbeide or Edwards can take a step forward on the offensive end, it would go a long way for Georgia’s offense.
It’s much the same story on the wing. Mark Fox has a bunch of lockdown defenders at his disposal but few proven offensive weapons. Houston Kessler and Kenny Paul Geno, both seniors, started 14 and 10 games respectively last year, but both attempted fewer than three shots per game and shot 37-38 percent. Their stat lines were practically interchangeable. So, Fox might turn to E’Torrion Wilridge, who was used sparingly as a freshman, or Pape Diatta, a 6’7” junior from Senegal via the College of Southern Idaho. Wilridge had a 4.2 percent block rate as a freshman and also shot 55 percent from the floor, albeit on a small number of shots. Diatta averaged 12.9 ppg and 8.3 rpg at Southern Idaho.
At the very least, even if Fox doesn’t get much offense from this group outside of Maten, this unit has proven that it can lock down opposing offenses. And that’s more than can be said for a lot of SEC frontcourts.
|11/3||Fort Valley State (exhibition)||7:00 PM||SEC Network+|
|11/11||at Clemson||7:00 PM||FSN|
|11/14||UNC Asheville||7:00 PM||SEC Network+|
|11/17||Furman||7:00 PM||SEC Network|
|11/21 to 22||CBE Hall of Fame Classic (Kansas City, MO)|
|11/25||Gardner-Webb||7:00 PM||SEC Network+|
|11/30||Morehouse||7:00 PM||SEC Network+|
|12/14||UL Lafayette||6:00 PM||SEC Network|
|12/17||Charleston Southern||1:00 PM||SEC Network|
|12/20||at Georgia Tech||7:00 PM||ESPNU|
|12/23||at Oakland||7:00 PM||ESPN3|
|12/29||at Auburn||7:00 PM||ESPNU|
|1/4||South Carolina||7:00 PM||ESPNU|
|1/7||Missouri||1:00 PM||SEC Network|
|1/11||at Ole Miss||7:00 PM||ESPNU|
|1/14||at Florida||12:00 PM||ESPN or ESPN2|
|1/21||at Texas A&M||12:00 PM||ESPN or ESPN2|
|1/31||at Kentucky||9:00 PM||ESPN|
|2/4||at South Carolina||2:00 PM||ESPN or ESPN2|
|2/11||at Tennessee||4:00 PM||ESPNU|
|2/14||Mississippi State||9:00 PM||ESPNU|
|2/18||Kentucky||TBA||ESPN or ESPN2|
|2/23||at Alabama||7:00 PM||ESPN or ESPN2|
|2/25||LSU||6:00 PM||SEC Network|
|3/1||Auburn||6:30 PM||SEC Network|
|3/4||at Arkansas||2:00 PM||ESPN or ESPN2|
You know we’re getting into teams that are supposed to be good when you see a bunch of games in January and February that will be carried on the main ESPN networks (as opposed to the SEC Network).
Mark Fox is one of the best at working the RPI and this nonconference schedule is no different. There aren’t a lot of marquee games, though true road games at Clemson, Georgia Tech, and Oakland won’t be gimmes (The last one was probably scheduled to give Yante Maten a “home” game). The Bulldogs will face defending NIT champ George Washington in the CBE Hall of Fame Classic, they might see Kansas there as well, and there are home games against Marquette and Texas (the latter in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge.)
In SEC play, Georgia gets Kentucky and Florida twice, and they also draw South Carolina, Auburn, and Alabama home-and-home. Overall, Georgia’s schedule is pretty tough and should work in their favor if they’re under consideration for a tournament bid.
Mark Fox’s teams aren’t flashy, but they’ve won 33 SEC games in the last three years and now Georgia not only returns two All-SEC players, but also a slew of promising underclassmen. They also bring back Juwan Parker after missing the last year and a half. It’s not clear where the scoring will come from outside of Frazier and Maten, but you know Georgia will play defense. What’s not to like here?
Well, for starters, the Bulldogs averaged less than a point per possession in SEC play last year. And that was with Kenny Gaines and Charles Mann. Frazier, Maten, and the defense mean that Georgia has a pretty high floor — barring disaster, this team should finish .500 in the SEC and make the NIT at the worst.
But we can’t just assume that they will, and it’s hard to bank on a team that returns just two players who averaged more than 4 points per game last year — even if those two were, again, All-SEC. Most likely, Georgia will hang around the NCAA Tournament bubble until Selection Sunday, but if Fox can get some contributions out of Ogbeide or Crump or Harris, this could end up being a Top 25 team.