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Final thoughts on the 2018-2019 season as well as looking ahead

A short recap of the season

The Georgia Bulldogs (11-21, 2-16) were projected to finish 13th in the SEC prior to the start of the 2018-2019 season, and Tom Crean’s first UGA team fulfilled that prophecy as they ended up one spot above winless Vanderbilt.

Crean is going to get a pass on his initial year of running this program. For the first half of the season, he attempted to shift the tempo of this team from neutral to 4th gear almost instantaneously. That experiment did not go well, particularly in SEC play as the Bulldogs were turning the ball over at a torrid pace.

Eventually, Crean made the decision to put the fast-paced style of play on hold so that he could put this team in the best position to win based upon the players on the roster. The result: after 3 consecutive double-digit losses to Alabama, Ole Miss and Texas A&M, the Dawgs started to compete. Georgia lost a string of heartbreakers to LSU, Missy State, Ole Miss and Auburn before finally breaking through with an amazing 61-55 road upset at Florida.

The remainder of the season became rather dismal as UGA lost Rayshaun Hammonds to a foot injury, and the Dawgs dropped the last three games to Missouri (twice) and South Carolina in an unsightly fashion; Georgia shot below 40% from the floor in each of those games.

Ultimately, this team lacked the guards to be successful in conference play, which is why Crean cannot be faulted for the unsightly league record that this team produced.

Surprises from this year

Even though it was definitely expected of him, Nic Claxton’s ascension from year one to year two was certainly impressive. The sophomore led the Dawgs in minutes, points, rebounds, steals and blocks en route earning Second Team All-SEC honors in just his second season of college basketball. Last year, Claxton showcased flashes of his shot-blocking ability, which he regularly put on display this season. However, this year with Yante Maten’s departure, the sophomore took on a much larger role in the offense, especially as one of its primary ball-handlers. Claxton displayed a level of versatility this year that is atypical in a 6’11” big, and his talents have not gone unnoticed as he is showing up in the first round of NBADraft.net’s 2020 mock draft.

The most pleasant surprise of this Georgia basketball season had to be the development of junior Jordan Harris. The former 4-star recruit had failed to live up to potential in his first two years in Athens before being removed from the team by former skipper Mark Fox. Crean gave Harris a second chance, and the junior didn’t disappoint, particularly in the latter portion of the season. Harris scored in double-figures in 10 of the final 14 games for Georgia as he averaged nearly 12 ppg during that stretch, including a career-high 26-point performance in the SEC tournament loss to Missouri. Over the course of the season, Jordan morphed into this team’s best rim attacker off the dribble, and he should be a double-digit contributor in scoring for his senior season.

Players who need to improve

Prior to the start of the season, I expected both Rayshaun Hammonds and Tyree Crump to flourish under the new regime. In his freshman season, Mark Fox sort of forced Rayshaun Hammonds to play on the block with his back to the basket, and he looked visibly uncomfortable. Crump seemingly got pulled after every mistake under Fox, which made it nearly impossible for him to develop any type of offensive rhythm.

Coach Crean loosened the reins on both of these guys by playing Hammonds on the wing and letting Crump be Crump (which means shooting the ball a lot from beyond the arc). Once SEC play began, both of these players began to fade offensively. Hammonds ended up averaging just 9.7 ppg in conference games; Crump shot under 30% from the perimeter as he netted only 7.6 ppg himself. These guys should have been double-digit scorers for Crean this season, yet they couldn’t make it happen.

Looking ahead

To put it simply, Crean is recruiting at a Kirby-like level. After this weekend’s addition of 6’6″ wing Christian Brown, UGA now has 4 players coming in next year from the ESPN100 list, highlighted by McDonald’s All-American Anthony Edwards. Georgia currently has the #6 class in the nation for 2019, according to 247sports.com. The last time UGA had a Top 10 recruiting class in basketball was…

As exciting as this new crop of Dawgs will be for Crean next year, if Claxton departs early, which apparently is a possibility, it would certainly take some wind out of the 2019-2020 season’s sail. Georgia is already losing its best back-to-the-basket scorer in Derek Ogbeide, so losing Claxton would really put a damper on the Dawgs’ frontcourt. Personally, I believe he needs another year. At best, he goes in the second round, which means far less money. Also, I know that the fact that Claxton grew late in high school is a big reason why he’s such a good ball-handler, but it’s also a big reason why he often does not take the ball to the basket like a 6’11” center. Nic needs to stop attacking the rim with the ball on his shoulder like a guard, or the NBA will be a very unkind environment for him.

Should Claxton stay, Georgia could certainly be somewhere around the NCAA bubble next March.

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