How Did We Get Here?
Tom Crean’s first year at Georgia was worse than anything the Bulldogs saw under Mark Fox, but then the floor was never the point of making a change. In nine years, Fox had established a higher floor for the Georgia basketball program — his worst team, per KenPom, went 15-17 overall and 9-9 in the SEC. The problem was that the ceiling wasn’t very high, either. In 2014-15, Georgia went 21-12, 11-7 in the SEC, finished 35th in KenPom, and lost in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. That was Fox’s best year. Beyond that, Fox made one more NCAA Tournament, and had Georgia mostly existing as a team that perennially went .500 in the SEC and made the NIT.
That was, perhaps, why Georgia fans were willing to swallow an ugly, 11-21 campaign in Crean’s first year. Better days were ahead — the recruiting class Crean had coming in would see to that. An early, 91-67 loss to Georgia State was a good harbinger of where the 2018-19 season would go. After New Year’s, the Bulldogs won just three games — a home win over Vanderbilt (because of course), a win over Texas, and, somehow, a road win at Florida. At one point, Tom Crean tried to take the blame because he was the one “who decided to keep these guys.”
Unsurprisingly, Georgia got blown out in its next game. Also unsurprisingly, three underclassmen transferred out of the program after the season. And the least surprising part of all this: Crean signed the #10 recruiting class in the 247 Sports composite. Georgia’s eight newcomers will have to make the difference, because frankly, that’s all there really is to this team. There are some holdovers, of course, but the newcomers will make or break Georgia’s 2019-20 basketball team.
|Nicolas Claxton||31.6||13||8.6||1.8||1.1||2.5||NBA Draft|
|William Jackson II||23.8||5.6||1.8||2.1||0.6||0.2||graduated|
|Ignas Sargiunas||5.8||1.8||0.5||0.5||0.2||0||transfer/Colorado State|
|JoJo Toppin||5.5||1.4||0.7||0.2||0.1||0.1||transfer/Georgia State|
Nicolas Claxton developed perhaps too quickly. Claxton went from a raw player with upside as a freshman to an NBA Draft pick as a sophomore. Georgia will miss his production inside; as for the rest, while there are a lot of departures, most of them are not going to make or break the team. Derek Ogbeide was useful for what he was, a 6’9”, 250-pound guy who could score and bang down low. As for the rest of the departed... well, there was a reason why Georgia went 2-16 in the SEC.
Georgia returns 41.2 percent of its possession-minutes from last season and while losing a bunch of players is usually bad, I always say that for bad teams, losing a bunch of players can actually have the opposite effect: because the players arriving may actually be better. In at least one case, this is certainly true of Georgia.
Rayshaun Hammonds, Tyree Crump, and Jordan Harris were the players who were supposed to take Mark Fox’s program to the next level: instead of under-the-radar finds like Yante Maten and J.J. Frazier, these were guys who were legitimately well thought of as recruits. In Hammonds’ case, that might be true: after a year as Maten’s understudy, he averaged 12.1 ppg and shot 54.4 percent on twos last year.
Crump and Harris, on the other hand, have never been anything more than role players. Crump shot 34.8 percent from three as a junior and seemed as likely to shoot Georgia out of games as into them. Harris had his best season last year, shooting 41.5 percent from three, but he’s never averaged more than 20 minutes per game.
Tye Fagan and Amanze Ngumezi were little-used freshmen last season. Fagan, one of Crean’s first recruits, started three games early in the season and showed enough promise to figure into the future plans, while the 6’9”, 235-pound Ngumezi was a project and played like it. Still, Ngumezi was a four-star recruit, so there may at least be some upside there.
|Anthony Edwards||6'5"||225||#2 in 247 Sports composite|
|Christian Brown||6'6"||215||#70 in 247 Sports composite|
|Jaykwon Walton||6'7"||205||#83 in 247 Sports composite|
|Sahvir Wheeler||5'10"||180||#100 in 247 Sports composite|
|Toumani Camara||6'8"||220||#103 in 247 Sports composite|
|Rodney Howard||6'11"||245||#252 in 247 Sports composite|
|Mike Peake||6'8"||205||#412 in 247 Sports composite|
|Donnell Gresham Jr.||6'3"||205||graduate transfer/Northeastern|
Tom Crean signed more top 100 recruits (four) in his first recruiting class than Mark Fox did in his entire nine-year tenure (three.) Most important, of course, is Anthony Edwards. While James Wiseman, the #1 recruit in the country, joining a team that made the NIT last year, is getting all the attention in the preseason, Edwards might be a better test of how much of a difference a single elite recruit can make in a team’s fortunes. In fact, nbadraft.net has Edwards projected as the #1 pick in the 2020 NBA Draft as of this writing.
It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that Georgia’s fortunes this season will hinge a lot on Edwards, because while the rest of the class is solid, it’s mostly composed of guys who are likely to be four-year players — in other words, not players who are terribly likely to make an instant impact. With what little Georgia has coming back, they’ll have to.
|11/25||vs. Dayton (Maui Invitational)|
|12/4||North Carolina Central|
|12/14||at Arizona State|
|1/18||at Mississippi State|
|2/15||at Texas A&M|
|2/26||at South Carolina|
That Georgia was invited to the Maui Invitational isn’t entirely because of Anthony Edwards; in fact, if I’m not mistaken, Georgia was announced as a participant before it was clear that Edwards would be playing for them. Either way, that tournament provides a lot of the meat in the Bulldogs’ nonconference schedule. They open with Dayton and, if they win that, would probably play Michigan State in the semifinals. Georgia also has a road trip to Arizona State and a made-for-TV game at Memphis (where Edwards will square off with the aforementioned Wiseman), as well as home games against Georgia Tech and SMU, and a secretly tricky home game against Georgia Southern two days before Christmas.
The opening of the SEC schedule is ridiculous, with two games against Kentucky, trips to Auburn and Mississippi State, and a home game against Tennessee within the first five games. In addition to Kentucky, Georgia will play Florida, South Carolina, Auburn, and Texas A&M twice. That’s one of the harder SEC schedules out there.
As stated in the opener to this preview, switching from Mark Fox to Tom Crean was all about upside, and that’s the story of the 2019-20 team as well. Georgia may have the best freshman and possibly the best NBA Draft prospect in the country on its team.
The rest of the roster is why they’re projected to finish 10th in the SEC. Aside from the fact that we don’t actually know what Georgia will get from Edwards, Rayshaun Hammonds is the extent of the proven commodities on this team. Jordan Harris and Tyree Crump might be able to make something happen in their senior season, and at least one or two of the other freshmen might be capable of contributing right away.
But really, there’s less to like about the overall roster than anybody else in the SEC outside of Vanderbilt. Edwards by himself might be good enough to carry Georgia to the NCAA Tournament; the more likely outcome is a modestly improved team that threatens for an NIT bid.