With the start to the 2015-2016 college basketball season just a little over a month away, Georgia basketball fans – myself included – have to be wondering just what can be expected from this year’s team. In his initial Bracketology of the season, Andy Katz pegged UGA as a candidate for the 11-seed play-in game where he had them facing Rhode Island. But really, how much stock can be put into an NCAA Tournament prediction that was made more than three months before the start of the season?
For the past couple of years, Georgia has enjoyed the stability of an established frontcourt to pair with its strong backcourt trio of Mann, Gaines and Frazier (if those three don’t make it in basketball they have a great potential law firm name). However, the departures of Marcus Thornton and Nemanja Djurisic have left a huge hole in the Dawgs’ post, which may be to big for just Yante Maten to fill alone. Much of UGA’s success (or lack there of) this year will ride on how much Coach Mark Fox gets from incoming freshmen Derek Ogbeide, E’Torrion Wilridge and Michael Edwards. All three of these guys look fabulous on their Youtube highlight reels, but the stakes get a little higher when freshmen hit the collegiate courts and find themselves working against competitors that are the same size as or bigger than themselves.
If Georgia hopes to return to the NCAA tournament again, which it hasn’t done consecutively in over a decade (2001, 2002), Coach Fox is going to need at least one of his incoming frosh to be a major contributor. The Dawgs have plenty of returning role players: Kenny Paul Geno, Houston Kessler and Juwan Parker; but none of those three has shown any hints of breaking out into anything more than they already are. UGA’s backcourt will be as solid as ever with Charles Mann, Kenny Gaines and J.J. Frazier all returning, and Maten should be better than last year – it’s that last spot on the court that’s going to be a significant question mark for Fox, and how well he can fill that position will certainly be a testament to his coaching prowess.
Recently, Athlon Sports ranked the SEC basketball coaches, pitting Fox as the 8th best skipper in the league, right behind South Carolina’s Frank Martin. Considering that Fox’s Dawgs have finished 3rd in the conference the past two seasons, that ranking seems a little inaccurate, especially the Frank Martin insult. But with the additions of Ben Howland (Missy State), Rick Barnes (Tennessee) and Avery Johnson (Alabama) to go along with last year’s newbie – Bruce Pearl (Auburn) – the SEC is starting to take a more formidable shape as a basketball conference (all of the aforementioned coaches were ranked ahead of Fox, except for Johnson). The competition in the SEC will undoubtedly become stiffer, and finishing in the top four of the standings should be much more challenging moving forward.
If UGA wants to fulfill Mr. Katz’s August prophecy, then CMF is going to need to coach’em up.