Tom Crean had me at “We’re going to shoot the 3.” He uttered this statement several months ago at his first official press conference as the head basketball coach at UGA. The three-point line is paramount in college basketball today, yet Coach Mark Fox never seemed to get this. Either that, or he was just stubborn and resisted. Fox’s inability to recruit perimeter shooters certainly was a contributing factor to his downfall at Georgia. Instead of joining the rest of the basketball world and designing an offense around the arc, Fox chose to hunker down and continue with his hard-nosed, defensive, slow the game down to a crawl approach. This style of play is effective at keeping teams in contention in games, but it obviously did not support a winning style of play as his UGA teams routinely lost games during the critical final stretch.
At this point, Crean has done nothing other than make a series of highly-energized speeches about how excited he is about this program and where he sees it going. Based upon his track record at both Indiana and Marquette, he should be able to put a product on the court that is far more entertaining than what Georgia fans grew accustomed to under Fox. If it hadn’t been for J.J. Frazier, Fox may have been ousted a year earlier; Frazier’s ability to freestyle and create his shot from anywhere masked Fox’s pedestrian offense from fans.
How soon can Crean create success in Athens? That’s the million dollar question. UGA fans may have been SLIGHTLY spoiled in this department after seeing Kirby Smart follow up his initial 8-5 season with a trip to the national championship game. However, UGA basketball fans tend to be a bit more reserved when it comes to expectations; that’s what happens when your team has only made 5 trips to the NCAA Tournament over the past two decades. Crean will most likely get a pass for the first couple of years, at least until he gets some of HIS players on the court. After that, fans will want to see more than just trips to the NIT; Crean is going to have to get Georgia dancing on a semi-regular basis to legitimize his presence here over Fox’s.
As far as next year is concerned, I definitely have some worries. Georgia did not deal well with J.J. Frazier’s departure last year as they ended up last in the SEC in scoring at 68.1 ppg; the team’s ineptness on offense contributed to their 18-15 record overall and a 7-11 conference record. Next year, the Dawgs will be looking to replace another leading scorer, Yante Maten, who will vacate a league-high 19.3 ppg.
UGA’s leading returning scorer will be Turtle Jackson, who netted a little over 8 points a night last season. The most probable starting five will be Turtle, Tyree Crump, E’Torrion Wilridge, Rayshaun Hammonds and Nicolas Claxton, though Teshaun Hightower and Derek Ogbeide could easily work themselves into the starting lineup at some point. Maybe 6’9″ freshman Amanze Ngumezi works his way into the mix as well. Either way, that is not a squad that strikes fear in the eyes of its opponents. That right there is a team that’s ceiling at best is the NIT. Some of those aforementioned players might perform better in Crean’s system, which I hear gives players more freedom to create. However, if you compare that group to any of the SEC teams that went to the NCAA tournament last season, Georgia’s not anywhere close.
Most likely, next year will look a lot like this year in regards to overall record. If Crean can land a couple of 4- or 5-star recruits in the 2019 class, he could get things cooking at Georgia sooner rather than later. I think what I’m most excited about in regards to Crean is the potential to watch a Georgia basketball game and see UGA with three players on the court at the same time that can all potentially hit a three-pointer. That would be something that hasn’t been seen inside of Stegeman Coliseum in quite a while.