Looking ahead to next year’s basketball season

After a quick exit from this year’s NCAA tournament, Georgia players were quick to reassure fans that they intend to be back next season.  Coach Mark Fox told the media that he was very excited about next year’s team.

But can this team – minus Marcus Thornton and Neme Djurisic – put together an effort worthy enough of returning to the field of 68?  Thornton and Neme combined for more than 23 points and nearly 13 rebounds a game, numbers that will be hard to replace.  Yante Maten, who finished his freshman campaign averaging 5 points and 4 boards a night, seems capable of filling Thornton’s shoes.  He may not put up Marcus’s All-SEC type numbers in just his second year, but if he can make a Travis Leslie-esque jump from his freshman to his sophomore year, Maten and the Dawgs should be ok without Thornton.

Replacing Djurisic is going to be more difficult. Neme was a versatile big that could stretch the floor with his creative ball-handling and three-point capabilities. Djurisic shot 34% from beyond the arc this season, and his departure leaves UGA with just three players – Kenny Gaines, J.J. Frazier and Houston Kessler – that made over 30% from the the perimeter this year. Georgia ranked near the very bottom of the SEC this season in three-point field goals made with 180 total on the year (putting them in a tie with South Carolina for 9th place). One of the Dawgs’ weaknesses this year was outside scoring, and losing Neme certainly doesn’t assuage that deficiency.

Next season, should Gaines, Frazier or both find themselves in foul trouble, Georgia will be very limited from the arc. Even Frazier, who ended the year with the team’s best three-point percentage at nearly 40%, shot the ball with less consistency in the latter parter of the season. After J.J.’s 37 point outburst at Missy State, SEC defenses started preventing him from creating space on the perimeter. Frazier shot 31% from beyond the arc in the 14 games following the contest in Starkville; in UGA’s first 19 games, J.J. had been making a robust 45% of his attempts from the outside. The scouting report on Frazier is out: stay close and keep a hand up, which is an effective strategy considering J.J.’s height.

While the Dawgs do have some intriguing prospects coming in next year in Will Jackson, E’Torrion Wilridge and Derek Ogbeide, none of them are deep threats. Ogbeide, who is considered a 3-star by Rivals and a 4-star by ESPN, should give Coach Fox a decent option off the bench to spell Maten. Jackson will also be expected to contribute early, providing relief to both Frazier and Mann at the point position. For the moment, though, Georgia does not have any shooters enrolling for the 2015-2016 campaign.

A strong perimeter game is a staple of a superior college basketball team. Ten of the sixteen teams that reached the Sweet Sixteen of this year’s NCAA Tournament make more than 35% of their three-point attempts. Of the top fifty teams with the highest three-point percentage in college basketball this season, twenty-one of them made this year’s tournament.

UGA should have a solid backcourt next season, but I fear that Coach Fox’s scarcity of shooters could ultimately have them returning to the NIT rather than the Big Dance.