Looking Ahead to Next Year

When the 2011-2012 college basketball season rolls around next year, Mark Fox and the Georgia Bulldogs are going to experience life without Trey Thompkins and Travis Leslie.  In other words, the Dawgs are going to need to replace nearly 31 points and 15 rebounds per game.

The Georgia basketball program will probably take a step back next season, but how far back remains to be seen.  The Bulldogs’ frontcourt is taking a massive hit with the departures of Thompkins, Leslie, Jeremy Price and Chris Barnes.  For the past two seasons, one consistent strength of this team has been their tremendous size (mainly width) inside.

The backcourt, however, has the potential to be one of the best in the Southeastern Conference.  Gerald Robinson, Jr. averaged 12.2 ppg and 4.0 apg in his first season of big-time college basketball.  Robinson established himself as a shut-down defender on opposing point guards, and his offense was brilliant at times – unfortunately, there were lapses (games) where his offensive play was non-existent.  Next year, Coach Fox will look to GR2 to shoulder more of the scoring load (15+ ppg?), and he will have to be more reliable with his decision-making when he has the ball.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (KCP) has the skill set to possibly step right in and lead this team in scoring.  KCP has a silky-smooth outside shot and he can create for himself off the dribble as well.  At 6’6″, Pope gives Georgia some much-needed height on the defensive end.

And of course, the glue guy – Dustin Ware – will return for his senior year to provide both leadership and outside scoring.

Of the three bigs that Fox has signed for next year – Tim Dixon, John Florveus and Nemanja Djurisic – Dixon is the one that has me the most excited.  After watching one of his YouTube videos, it’s clear to see that he likes to run up and down the floor to chase rebounds, and at 6’10” he looks like a pretty skillful shot-blocker.  If I were to guess today, I’d say he finds himself in the starting five to begin the year along with GR2, Ware, KCP and a player to be named later…

…and that player is – Marcus Thornton.

Thornton was fairly underwhelming in his first year as a Bulldog, averaging just 1.5 ppg and 1.9 rpg in 9.4 minutes of play ( to go along some dismal shooting – 35.3% from the floor and 41.7% from the line).  Despite his offensive woes, Marcus did turn into a pretty solid defender, and in the second half of the season he was typically interchanged with Travis Leslie on the other team’s best wing.

Thornton’s inability to finish around the rim this year does leave some room for concern, but let’s not forget about another Georgia freshman – Travis Leslie – who also looked lost on offense in his rookie season.  As a frosh, Leslie netted 6.3 ppg and 3.9 rpg in 14.3 minutes – however, that was on a much worse Georgia team.  In his first season, Travis Leslie looked generally out of control whenever he was in the game.

But then something happened: Mark Fox.  Under Fox’s tutelage, Leslie transitioned into an All-SEC player and is now turning pro.

If Thornton buys into Fox’s system and is ready to work, he could possibly undergo a Leslie-esque transformation.

The final key that I wanted to touch on for next season is Coach Mark Fox himself.  I think that for next year’s team to be successful, Fox is going to have to adapt his system a bit.  The Dawgs may have to alter or even ditch the triangle offense in 2012, and look to a more up-tempo style of play that will center around their strong backcourt.

Season predictions anyone?