Ruminating on the current state of UGA basketball

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Georgia will enter the upcoming season without its top 6 scorers from last season’s team that managed a 7-11 conference record before being bounced by the Missouri Tigers in the Dawgs’ only SEC tournament game. UGA will return just one starter – P.J. Horne – as it heads into Tom Crean’s 4th season at the helm of this program. If that doesn’t get your juices flowing full of optimism for next year, I’m not sure what will.

Obviously, the biggest losses from the roster were Sahvir Wheeler, Toumani Camara and K.D. Johnson. All three averaged double-figures last year, and both Wheeler (All-SEC Second Team) and Johnson (All-SEC Freshman Team) garnered postseason conference accolades. Possibly the biggest gut-punch of all of this turnover is that the Dawgs will have to play against 3 former starters next year when they take on Kentucky (Wheeler), Auburn (KD) and Ole Miss (Tye Fagan).

While the transfer portal taketh away, it also giveth, and UGA’s roster for next season is about as piecemeal as they come. Georgia is trying an experiment of bringing in guys that barely saw the floor on NCAA tournament teams to see if they can gel and turn UGA into a competitor. Even though Justin Kier transferred to Arizona, Crean did bring in some three-point shooting with the additions of Aaron Cook, Jailyn Ingram and Noah Baumann. Both Cook (Gonzaga) and Baumann (Southern Cal) come from schools with strong basketball pedigrees, yet neither really produced much for those programs as they netted just 4.2 ppg and 3.6 ppg, respectively. Cook had more success at his previous school, Southern Illinois, where he averaged 15 ppg in his junior season; however, one has to consider that Wheeler scored 14 ppg in the SEC, so for now I’m going to assume that there will be a bit of a drop off at the point guard position for the Dawgs next year.

Ingram averaged double-figures for 3 of his 5 years at Florida Atlantic, yet both Kier and Andrew Garcia were double-digit scorers at their previous schools before arriving in Athens, and neither of them were able to replicate that type of production through an SEC slate of games.

The biggest wildcard of all of Georgia’s new additions has to be Jabri Abdur-Rahim, a 4-star recruit out of high school who went to Virginia only to play less than 5 minutes a contest. He could have been underutilized in Charlottesville, or he might have been slightly overhyped out of high school; only time will tell.

Last season’s team was severely undersized in conference play, yet the only addition to the roster to help shore up that handicap was Braelen Bridges, a 6’10” forward from Atlanta who netted 9 ppg off the bench for the University of Illinois-Chicago Flames. Hopefully he can help to protect the rim on defense because I imagine he may struggle to find baskets against bigger, stronger and more skilled SEC bigs.

Barring a late addition of Tre Mitchell (UMASS), next year’s team might struggle to continue the upward trajectory that Crean had this program on for the past three years. In my opinion, the best-case scenario for this crew would be another 7-11 run through the league.

The transfer portal has completely upended the recruiting landscape of college basketball. Just yesterday, I read that 35% of the players that entered the portal have yet to find a new home. It’s quite possible that this is a fad that corrects itself naturally over time as players learn that not everyone can play for Kentucky, Kansas and Duke.

However, this is the current state of college basketball and for now I’d say that Crean is failing in regards to making Georgia a legitimate SEC contender/NCAA tournament team. Players transfer either because they want to play on a team that wins or they want more playing time. Right now, it feels like UGA is offering playing time to guys that were unable to earn it at their previous schools. If Crean has any hopes of making Georgia a winner, he has to figure out how to keep and develop the talent he has, or how to attract the caliber of players that can instantly transform a team into a potential at-large NCAA bid-getter.