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SEC Basketball Season Preview: Georgia

Pretty much everybody’s pick for last place, and it’s not Vanderbilt!

NCAA Basketball: Georgia at Florida Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Team: Georgia Bulldogs

Dates: January 15, 2022 (in Athens) and January 29, 2022 (in Nashville)

Times: 5:00 PM CT January 15 (ESPN2), 5:00 PM CT January 29 (SEC Network)

Last year: 14-12 (7-11 SEC), 95th in KenPom

Tom’s Prediction: 14th in SEC

Head Coach

Tom Crean won at Marquette (190-96 and five NCAA appearances in nine seasons), and while he didn’t win quite enough at Indiana to satisfy their fans, he still did quite well after inheriting a disaster (166-135 and four NCAA appearances in nine seasons.) His tenure at Georgia, on the other hand, has gotten off to a slow start, with records of 11-21, 16-16, and 14-12 in his first three years. His 14-40 SEC record isn’t great, either, though it’s improved in each of his three seasons from 2-16 in his first year to 5-13 in 2019-20, to 7-11 last season.

If the improvement is linear, Crean should be knocking on the door of an NCAA appearance in his fourth year; but as we’ll see, this season probably isn’t going to be an improvement.

SEAT TEMPERATURE: Warm

At least based on his first three years, Crean’s job shouldn’t be in that much danger entering his fourth year. After a first-year reset, things started to get a bit better, and this is a school that doesn’t care that much about its basketball program, evidenced by the fact that the Bulldogs play in the oldest gym in the league (Benches Not On The Baselines Division) and giving a long leash to both Dennis Felton and Mark Fox. Georgia hasn’t made the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament since 1996 and hasn’t even won a game since 2002, and they’ve made the tournament just three times in that time frame.

Then again, this season has the look of an impending disaster, and that’s never good for a coach’s job security. Fox and Felton both bought themselves more time by going .500 in the SEC in their fourth year (and Felton then bought himself a sixth year by winning the SEC Tournament in his fifth.) My guess on Crean’s seat temperature mostly has to do with how bad I think this season’s going to be. If he pulls a rabbit out of his hat and fields a decent team, Georgia will probably retain him. That probably is not what’s about to happen.

Who’s Gone?

Hoo boy, where do we start?

I always say that you can get a pretty good idea of how much a program will miss a player who transferred by said player’s transfer destination, and when you’re losing guys to Arizona (Justin Kier, 9.5 ppg/3.7 rpg), Auburn (K.D. Johnson, 13.5 ppg/2.8 rpg), Ole Miss (Tye Fagan, 9.2 ppg/4.3 rpg), Dayton (Toumani Camara, 12.8 ppg/7.7 rpg), and Kentucky (Sahvir Wheeler, 14.0 ppg/7.4 apg) ... well, you’re obviously losing a lot of high-level talent. Wheeler started every game for Georgia last season, while Kier, Fagan, and Camara started all but one; Johnson, after sorting through some eligibility issues early in the season, emerged as Georgia’s second-leading scorer and first player off the bench after being declared eligible at midseason.

Of course, Georgia wasn’t even done there: Andrew Garcia (8.7 ppg/4.0 rpg) transferred to Kent State for his final year of eligibility, and bench players Christian Brown (4.4 ppg/2.5 rpg), Jaykwon Walton (1.0 ppg/3.0 rpg in two games), and Mikal Starks (0.2 ppg/0.7 apg) also left the program. If you’re keeping score at home, nine players left the Georgia basketball program, and it especially says a lot of not-great things about the state of said program that five of them were major players for the Bulldogs.

Who’s Back?

And, of course, things got even worse last week when the team’s lone returning starter, 6’6” fifth-year senior P.J. Horne (8.5 ppg/3.4 rpg), was ruled out for the season with a torn ACL. With that news, Georgia won’t have the services of its top eight players (and all five starters) from last season.

With Horne out, Georgia’s leading returning scorer from last season is 6’4” junior Jaxon Etter (2.4 ppg/1.1 rpg), a walk-on. You’d think he would be on scholarship by now, but by my count, Georgia is at its full scholarship load this season without him so he’s presumably not. None of the four returnees aside from Horne averaged more than 10 minutes per game last season, though I guess one of 6’9” junior Tyron McMillan (1.9 ppg/1.3 rpg), 6’9” senior Jonathan Ned (1.6 ppg/1.4 rpg), or 6’9” sophomore Josh Taylor (0.3 ppg/1.6 rpg) could emerge this season. Taylor, at least, was ranked #152 in the 247 Sports composite in 2020, though he barely got off the bench as a freshman, playing just 19 minutes.

Who’s In?

The transfer portal taketh away, and the transfer portal giveth... though probably not as much as it took away.

Crean brought in five transfers this season, and this has the feeling of a situation where he maybe didn’t want to hit up the transfer portal so much but kind of had to because of what the program lost. 6’8” sophomore Jabri Abdur-Rahim is a pure bet on upside, a former top 50 recruit who struggled to find playing time as a freshman at Virginia, playing just 37 minutes over eight games. 6’2” Aaron Cook, a sixth-year senior, was a role player for a very good Gonzaga team last year (4.2 ppg/1.7 apg), but he did average 10.5 ppg and 3.7 apg at Southern Illinois in 2018-19, and was averaging 15 ppg in 2019-20 before being lost for the season. And, 6’6” fifth-year senior Noah Baumann went from a three-point bomber at San Jose State in 2018-19 (10.8 ppg/2.7 rpg) to a bench player at USC in 2020-21 (3.6 ppg/0.9 rpg.) 6’7” sixth-year senior Jailyn Ingram comes from Florida Atlantic, where he averaged 12.4 ppg and 6.0 rpg last year and also shot 45.2 percent from three-point range. There are definitely some guys in this group who bring skills to the table, and they’re all going to have to play big minutes for Georgia this season. The question mark is 6’11” senior Braelen Bridges, who has size but also averaged 9.9 ppg and 4.8 rpg for a meh UIC team; players like that don’t typically turn into significant players in the SEC.

Aside from the transfers, Crean brought in a couple of JUCO players who weren’t really on anyone’s radar — neither was ranked by 247 Sports — in 6’7” junior Dalen Ridgnal, who averaged 18.6 ppg and 11.7 rpg in two seasons at Cowley College, and 6’4” sophomore Kario Oquendo, who played a single season at Florida SouthWestern College and averaged 13.5 ppg and 3.8 rpg. Three freshmen — 6’3” Christian Wright (#210 in the 247 Sports composite), 6’5” Cam McDowell (#231), and 6’11” Tyrone Baker (#262) — don’t figure to make big impacts.

Projected Rotation

This is a total guess — because almost everybody is new to the program.

Aaron Cook will probably be the starting point guard, because Christian Wright is really the only other viable option at that spot and he’s a freshman. Noah Baumann probably starts at the two and Jailyn Ingram at the three, with Cam McDowell, Kario Oquendo, and Jaxon Etter vying for backup minutes.

Things are tougher to figure out inside. If Jabri Abdur-Rahim plays to his potential, he’s the starting four with Dalen Ridgnal behind him off the bench — unless none of the big guys are capable of starting, in which case Crean will probably go small and play one of those two as a de facto five. Of Braelen Bridges, Tyron McMillan, Jonathan Ned, and Josh Taylor, I’m really not sure who exactly is capable of playing significant minutes, but somebody will have to step up if Georgia wants to go big.

Schedule

The nonconference schedule isn’t quite as soft as you’d probably expect for a team that doesn’t project to be very good. The season’s first two weeks will see the Bulldogs make a road trip to Cincinnati (November 13) and host Georgia Tech (November 19) before heading to Newark for the Legends Classic on November 22, where they’ll open with Virginia and then play either Northwestern or Providence in the second game; though this stretch does also include two likely wins against FIU and South Carolina State (sound some real alarm sirens if either of those teams are competitive with Georgia.) That’s followed by a tossup home game against Wofford on November 28 and a likely home loss against Memphis on December 1. There’s a decent chance that Georgia will be 2-6 before getting a chance to pad their record against Jacksonville, George Mason, Western Carolina, East Tennessee State, and Gardner-Webb — all projected wins according to KenPom, though not by much in the case of ETSU.

One way to read projections on Georgia is by the fact that of the Bulldogs’ 18 SEC games, 12 will be televised on the SEC Network and three on ESPNU, which is typically where ESPN stashes really bottom-of-the-barrel SEC games; two of the three are against Texas A&M, who I have projected 13th. (Also telling: eight of Georgia’s ten nonconference home games will be on SEC Network+, with only the Georgia Tech and Memphis games making it onto the SEC Network.) Georgia catches a bit of a break by drawing Texas A&M twice, in addition to the normal two games against South Carolina; they also draw Vanderbilt twice, who I think will be improved but still not a great team. They also have two games each against Florida and Auburn. That would be a pretty manageable schedule for a team that returned, well, all the players Georgia lost off last year’s team; with this squad, though, it may not matter all that much.

Outlook

If you’ve been reading so far, you can probably tell that I don’t think much of Georgia’s basketball team this season, and I’m certainly not alone in that — KenPom has the Bulldogs ranked 159th in his preseason rankings, a full 63 spots behind the next-worst SEC team, and Bart Torvik has them 215th, 64 spots behind the next-worst SEC team. And people who aren’t number-crunchers don’t think much of the Bulldogs, either: my colleague Sam Snelling at Rock M Nation also picked Georgia to finish last. The one slight outlier is Matt Norlander, who has Georgia ranked 115th and one spot ahead of Texas A&M. In other words, there’s a pretty solid consensus that Georgia is the worst team in the SEC this year or close to it.

And it’s not hard to see why, either. The Bulldogs weren’t that good in 2020-21, though they appeared to be improving — and then basically all of their important players left the program, and the one who didn’t is out for the season. There are certainly some interesting newcomers on this team, but it all has the feel of a bunch of spare parts that probably won’t amount to much. It’s never a good sign when I have no idea who your best player is, and it’s really not a good sign when I have to ponder whether a guy who was the second-leading scorer at Florida Atlantic might be your best player.

Record Prediction: 9-22 (2-16 SEC)

I’m sorry, Georgia fans, but this is probably Satan coming to collect on the bargain you made to win a national title in football this year.