Last season: 6-26 (1-17 SEC, 14th)
Head coach: Mike White (first year at Georgia, 11 years overall, 243-128)
Possession-minutes returning: 58.3 percent
Scoring returning: 60.9 percent
Projected record: 13-18 (4-14 SEC)
SEC rank: 14th
How Did We Get Here?
In the transfer portal era, it doesn’t take much to go from “promising young team” to “nuclear-grade disaster.”
Tom Crean’s third season at Georgia saw the team go 14-12, 7-11 in the SEC — not great by any stretch, but considering how many minutes were going to freshmen and sophomores, it was easy to see the promise. Until everybody left. Sahvir Wheeler (Kentucky), Toumani Camara (Dayton), Tye Fagan (Ole Miss), and K.D. Johnson (Auburn) all left the Georgia basketball program, and with that, the team’s young core was gone. The roster that Crean cobbled together for last season was never going to be competitive in the SEC, but especially not after P.J. Horne, the lone returnee of significance, tore his ACL in the preseason. It was clear early last season that this was a dreadful team, and once SEC play hit the Bulldogs won exactly one game — and it was a surprise they won that many.
As you’d probably expect after that disaster of a season, Crean is gone, unceremoniously fired after Vanderbilt emptied the bench in an 86-51 blowout in the SEC Tournament, the final insult in a 6-26 season — the most losses ever for Georgia in a season, and the fewest wins since the 1973-74 team went 6-20. Georgia has always been viewed as something of a sleeping giant (mostly because of its proximity to Atlanta), and while I think that’s vastly overplayed — for one thing, Georgia’s investment in its basketball program has never been very good; they quite likely have the worst home arena in the SEC now that the Tad Pad is gone — there’s really no excuse for them to be this bad.
In is former Florida coach Mike White, and under normal circumstances, plucking a head coach from a conference rival would be viewed as a massive coup. It’s not viewed that way because a lot of people view White’s Florida tenure as a disappointment, though he did get to the NCAA Tournament four times in seven years and made the Elite Eight in 2017; he also went from a preseason Number 6 ranking to 19-12 and unranked in 2019-20. Still, unlike at Florida where he followed a legend, here he’s following a disaster. That will buy him plenty of time — and good will from Georgia fans if he replicates what he did at Florida.
The Portal Taketh Away
Nine players are gone from last year’s team, accounting for 41.7 percent of Georgia’s possession-minutes from last season. The Bulldogs lost Aaron Cook, an okay point guard (10.5 ppg/5.4 apg), and P.J. Horne, who didn’t play, to graduation.
A quick look at the transfer destinations of the other departed players should pretty quickly disabuse anyone of the notion that all these transfers are bad news: Noah Baumann (8.1 ppg/3.5 rpg) went to Grand Canyon; Christian Wright (5.3 ppg/2.2 rpg) left for Oregon State; Dalen Ridgnal (2.7 ppg/2.9 rpg) bounced to Missouri State; Tyron McMillan (1.7 ppg/1.3 rpg) wound up at McNeese; Josh Taylor (1.1 ppg/0.7 rpg) is now at ETSU; Camron McDowell (1.0 ppg/0.4 rpg) left for Jacksonville State; Tyrone Baker (0.7 ppg/0.7 rpg) landed at Dayton; and Jonathan Ned (DNP in 2021-22) went to Western Washington, a Division II school. Baumann was a useful player and Wright seemed promising, but the fact that Georgia fielded a team with players on scholarship who probably belonged in the SoCon or Southland or Atlantic Sun or Division II probably gets you a long way to explaining how they went 1-17 in the SEC.
With all that turnover, just four scholarship players return — really five if you count (former?) walk-on Jaxon Etter, who started 22 games and averaged 25.4 minutes per game, fifth on the team. (Also a reason Georgia went 1-17 in the SEC: a walk-on merited that much playing time.)
Georgia’s returnees actually aren’t bad, most notably 6’4”, 220-pound junior guard Kario Oquendo. Oquendo was Georgia’s leading scorer last season at 15.2 ppg, and he was good at creating for himself off the bounce and either converting at the rim (56.2 percent on twos) or getting to the foul line, where he went about five times a game. Three-point shooting isn’t a strength, and his offensive rating was underwater — though it’s hard to imagine a guy who got less help.
It didn’t help that Jailyn Ingram was injured nine games into the season and missed the remainder of the season; his 10.7 ppg average was third on the team. Now the 6’7” Ingram is back for a seventh year of college basketball, after getting a medical hardship for both 2018-19 (at Florida Atlantic) and 2021-22. 6’11” Braelen Bridges was the team’s second-leading scorer at 12.9 ppg, most of that coming on chip shots (63.4 percent on twos, zero three-point attempts) though he was a good free throw shooter for a big man. The downside: Bridges isn’t really the defensive presence you want from a guy that size (0.4 bpg); in fact, by the numbers, Georgia’s already bad defense somehow was worse when he was on the floor. 6’8” junior guard Jabri Abdur-Rahim (6.9 ppg/3.2 rpg), the son of former NBA player Shareef, is a former top 50 recruit who transferred to Georgia after not finding his way onto the court at Virginia; he’s still around after a relatively inefficient sophomore season, and could live up to his potential at some point. As for Etter, the 6’4” senior was useful last season as one of the few Georgia players who could shoot from beyond the arc (41.9 percent); but if he’s starting 22 games again, chances are there have been a whole lot of injuries.
The Portal Giveth
I tend to think the transfer portal is generally overrated, but for a team like Georgia — which had a bunch of holes to fill and also had a bunch of sub-replacement level players departing the program — it’s probably an improvement. Still, there isn’t an obvious star among the six transfers; it’s a mix of three formerly promising recruits who flamed out at big-name programs, and three experienced players from mid-majors.
Of the six, the most intriguing is 6’8” junior Matthew-Alexander Moncrieffe (4.2 ppg/3.9 rpg at Oklahoma State.) Moncrieffe showed a ton of promise as a freshman, averaging 9.0 ppg, but mysteriously lost playing time as a sophomore. But he’s a plus defender on a team for whom defense was a capital-P Problem last season. 6’10” junior Frank Anselem (2.6 ppg/3.8 rpg at Syracuse) should help on that end of the floor as well; 6’7” sophomore Jusaun Holt (0.7 ppg/1.6 rpg) was a four-star recruit who couldn’t find his way into the rotation at Alabama.
On the other end, 6’3” senior Terry Roberts (14.5 ppg/4.1 apg) was Bradley’s leading scorer in his only season there; 6’0” junior Justin Hill (14.2 ppg/4.1 apg at Longwood) was the leading scorer for the Big South champs, though he struggled in the team’s two outings against power conference competition (at Iowa in the season opener and against Tennessee in the team’s brief NCAA Tournament stay.) 6’2” fifth-year senior Mardrez McBride (11.3 ppg/3.0 rpg at North Texas) at the very least brings a badly-needed skill to the Bulldogs as a 39.8 percent three-point shooter in two seasons there.
Georgia signed just a single high school player, not surprising for a team that made a coaching change. 6’7” KyeRon Lindsay, from Denton, TX, signed in the spring after decommitting from UNLV; he ranked 95th in the 247 Sports composite. Playing time is certainly available on this team.
With so much roster turnover, about the only thing here that I’m certain about is that Kario Oquendo will take one of the starting guard spots, probably off the ball. That leaves Terry Roberts and Justin Hill to compete for the starting point guard job, with Mardrez McBride likely to provide shooting off the bench.
The forward spots are even more confusing: on talent, Matthew-Alexander Moncrieffe should start, but it’s a real question whether his freshman or sophomore season at Oklahoma State represents the real product. And, well, if we’re discussing raw talent, Jabri Abdur-Rahim is right there, too. (Talented players who haven’t shown it at the college level is a recurring theme here.) There’s even an argument for just throwing your hands up in the air and playing three guards (probably one of the two point guards, Oquendo, and McBride) and going small, though KyeRon Lindsay and Jailyn Ingram have an argument for playing time as well. Hell, Jusaun Holt was a top-100 recruit, though not cracking the rotation at Alabama is an argument against.
Up front, it’s really a question of whether White prefers the scoring punch provided by Braelen Bridges or the defensive presence of Frank Anselem; they’re not really guys who can coexist on the floor at the same time, so most likely both will play and it’s a question of how the minutes are distributed.
Georgia has eight buy games scheduled before New Year’s and the best team in that group, per KenPom, is Chattanooga, ranked 149th. Drop no more than one of those, and Georgia will have exceeded its win total from all of last season. As for the rest of the non-conference schedule, well, Georgia certainly didn’t overschedule — though none of the other five games will be automatic wins. The three scheduled games are all against ACC teams, with a road trip to Wake Forest in the second game of the season (Nov. 11) and two trips to Atlanta, one to play at Georgia Tech (Dec. 6) and another against Notre Dame in the Holiday Hoopsgiving (Dec. 18.) They’ll also get two games in the Sunshine Slam in Daytona Beach, opening with St. Joseph’s (Nov. 21) and then drawing either UAB or South Florida in the second game. Something like 9-4 out of conference is probably the median performance; any better than that is really promising.
The SEC schedule is manageable. Georgia draws South Carolina — who’s probably their main competition to escape the cellar — twice, and drawing both Florida and Ole Miss twice each is fine. They do get Kentucky twice, though, as well as Auburn. Still, KenPom only has them favored in two SEC games — home games against Vanderbilt (Jan. 21) and South Carolina (Jan. 28.)
I like the Mike White hire — for both Mike White and Georgia. Georgia gets a guy who will at the very least stabilize the program after it hit rock bottom; Mike White gets a fresh start after a mostly successful but not as successful as his predecessor run at Florida.
That doesn’t mean I like this team, this season, however. Kario Oquendo is a good starting point, and it’s hard to imagine a worse situation than Georgia last season, which might explain why his efficiency numbers weren’t great — but outside of him, I have questions. There are few proven power conference players here. There are guys whose recruiting rankings suggest that they can play at this level, but outside of Matthew-Alexander Moncrieffe’s freshman season at Oklahoma State, almost nobody whose production has matched their recruiting hype. There are quality mid-major players who may or may not be able to play at this level.
Suffice to say, it’s generally a bad sign when I look at a team’s roster and there’s only one guy who I’m certain will be a starter (and not because there are a glut of starter-quality players on the roster.) They likely won’t be abjectly terrible like they were last season; there’s too much talent and Mike White is too good of a coach for that. They’re still my pick for 14th, though, because while I think they’re capable of winning a few SEC games, the SEC overall has too many decent teams for them to get out of the cellar.