The good news is that today marks the first day of men’s basketball practice. The bad news is that the ongoing NBA lockout will not permit Travis Leslie and Trey Thompkins to return to Athens for their respective senior seasons.
That’s all right, though, because there is plenty of talent remaining on the Georgia Bulldogs’ roster, but we’ll be looking at the players who will be suiting up for Mark Fox’s squad in a subsequent installment. For the moment, we’ll be concentrating on the schedule the Red and Black will face, which breaks down like this:
Georgia’s home slate features an appropriate amount of schedule fodder, beginning with a November 4 exhibition against Morehouse. The campaign opens officially against the Wofford Terriers one week later, on Veterans Day, and continues with visits by the Bowling Green Falcons on November 13 and the South Dakota St. Jackrabbits on November 16. Also among the presumably less challenging foes to visit the Stegosaurus are the Mercer Bears on December 20, the Furman Paladins on December 23, the Winthrop Eagles on December 27, and the Delaware St. Hornets on December 30. While none of these teams will do a darned thing for the Bulldogs’ RPI, the memory of last year’s struggles should keep us from becoming overly confident. Recall that the "no bad losses" argument was a central part of the Hoop Hounds’ case for an NCAA Tournament berth last season; beating the teams the ‘Dawgs ought to beat is equally critical this year, as well.
Tougher tests in Athens will come from the Cincinnati Bearcats on December 2, the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets on December 7, the Alabama Crimson Tide on January 7, the Tennessee Volunteers on January 18, the Mississippi Rebels on January 21, the Kentucky Wildcats on January 24, the Arkansas Razorbacks on February 8, the Vanderbilt Commodores on February 19, the Florida Gators on February 25, and the South Carolina Gamecocks in the March 3 season-ender. The home date with Kentucky will air on ESPN, representing one of at least seven nationally-televised appearances on the Worldwide Leader for the 2011-’12 Fox Hounds.
As I have noted before, I don’t like having to open the SEC slate against Alabama. Last year, Georgia ended its regular season and its SEC Tournament appearance with agonizing losses to the Crimson Tide, whose head coach, Anthony Grant, many of us had hoped would succeed Dennis Felton at the helm in Athens. Still, last year’s conference opener at home produced a marquee victory for the Hoop Dogs, so the Alabama game unquestionably represents an important opportunity for the Red and Black to make a statement against the SEC team that will benefit most from the unbalanced schedule. The most intriguing non-conference home game appears to be the Big East/SEC Challenge date with Cincinnati and the motivated Yancy Gates.
The Bulldogs will play a baker’s dozen regular-season games outside the Classic City, starting with pre-Thanksgiving dates against the California Golden Bears and either the Missouri Tigers or the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in the CBE Classic in Kansas City. The Hoop Hounds follow that up with non-conference road games against the Xavier Musketeers in Cincinnati on November 25, the Colorado Buffaloes in Boulder on November 28, and the USC Trojans in Los Angeles on December 17. SEC play will carry the Red and Black to Auburn, Baton Rouge, Columbia, Lexington, and such varied -villes as Gaines-, Knox-, Nash-, and Stark-.
That is a serious road schedule, though its difficulty might have been eased a bit by injuries suffered by key components of some of those opposing squads. Mizzou lost power forward Laurence Bowers to a torn ACL, while Southern California will be without Jio Fontan and Dewayne Dedmon for at least the early part of the season. Perennial tourney fixture Xavier gives every indication of having Georgia’s number, so I am not sanguine regarding the Red and Black’s prospects of staying with the Musketeers in the Queen City, but I believe the Colorado game represents a significant measuring stick for the Bulldogs. Georgia narrowly defeated the Buffaloes in Athens last year, but Colorado’s admission to the Pac-12 has significantly improved the team’s Golden State recruiting. If the Classic City Canines can exact a little hardwood revenge for last year’s gridiron debacle in that same city, it will be a huge step for this young team.
More than half of Georgia’s 30 regular-season games will be against teams that made it into postseason play last year. This was no accident, as noted by Coach Fox, who said: "I think we have established a schedule that, first, should prepare us well for SEC play, and, second, should give us . . . the strength of schedule needed in the eyes of the selection committee, if we are successful this season."
Whether the Athenians are up to the task of earning a second straight NCAA Tournament berth remains to be seen, but the pieces are in place to make such a run if Georgia’s young talent develops, as we shall see in the next installment of our basketball preview.