We've let you know when the schedule was announced, and with the first game less than a month away, tonight is "Basketbash!" V103's Ryan Cameron emcees our version of Midnight Madness, starting TONIGHT at 7, where you can get free Chik-Fil-A, free t-shirts, autographs of both the men's and women's team, and a whole bunch of other awesome stuff, in addition to watching these amazing athletes do amazing things for fun. Oh, and did we mention it's FREE! Tonight, at 7, at Stegeman Coliseum. (There is also the 7th annual "Do it for Broph" 5K Saturday morning).
So, with everyone now aware and attending the festivities tonight (You are going, aren't you?), let's look at the roster Fox returns, and what we can expect from our Hoop Dawgs this upcoming season.
Technically, the Fox Hounds started their season over a month ago, when they took what everyone seems to say was an amazing team building experience in Italy. It also gave Fox a chance to break in new ball handlers, as point guards Gerald Robinson, Jr and Dustin Ware graduated from last year's team, and to get some work for what he called "a deeper basketball team. We’re more athletic. We’re a more physical group and we’re certainly a more experienced group than we were last year."
Considering the team takes on potential top 5 teams Indiana and UCLA or Georgetown in Brooklyn in little more than a month, we're going to need that athetlcism and depth. Georgia has a ton of big bodies to bang down low, and some new faces in the backcourt to work in alongside leading returning scorer Caldwell-Pope. KCP, as he's commonly called, averaged over 13 points per game last year despite wearing down in the final month of his first collegiate season where he also led the team in rebounding. The sophomore wing from Greenville, Ga will be expected to carry the bulk of the scoring load this season.
Fellow sophomore Nemi Djurisic, a 6'8 F from Montenegro would mix in moments of brilliance (see vs Miss St last year, or both Florida games) with major struggles. But he has the width and the skills to step up in a big way this season. Junior big man Donte Williams finished just behind KCP in rebounding (5.1 to Pope's 5.2 per game), and also led the team in blocked shots. He used his quickness to be a force on the offensive glass, and if he has added some strength to his slender frame, should be better able to handle opposing centers.
The best news so far out of early practice may be the return to health of junior F Marcus Thornton. Said to be nearing 100%, the former Georgia Mr. Basketball was a big coup for Mark Fox in recruiting out of high school, but multiple knee injuries, a bout with mono, and other health issues have severely curtailed his production to date. The Westlake High School (Atlanta) product was clearly a shell of the player he's capable of being as he battled injuries through 27 games last season. If lady luck is finally on his side health wise, we will have another big, athletic body able to contribute offensively and give excellent defense to the front court.
Sophomore Tim Dixon was said to be the pleasent surprise in Italy, when the 6'9 center from Columbus led the team with over 10 rebounds per game. He'll join 7 footers in senior John Florveus and sophomore John Cannon rounding out big man depth. Freshman Houston Kessler, nephew of former All-American Alec Kessler, is expected to redshirt if possible.
In spite of all those big bodies, basketball is still a guard's game. And the Bulldogs will struggle some on the perimeter. Pope holds down one of the two wing spots. The other will be up for grabs between senior shooter and Dublin native Sherrard Brantley, freshmen scorer Kenny Gaines and athletic defender Brandon Morris, unless Fox decides to go with a big set and start all 3 of Djurisic, Williams, and Thornton. Brantley has been a bit of a disappointment since having to spend a year at a JUCO after not getting sufficient offers when he graduated from the high school in middle Georgia, but has one last season to make his impact. Gaines was last year's Class A player of the year in Georgia, and also won the AJC's slam dunk contest, while Morris won 4 state titles at Miller Grove.
Georgia's biggest question mark is at PG, where senior Vincent Williams will compete with freshman Charles Mann for minutes. Williams has been a steady backup the last 3 years behind Ware and Robinson. Small and quick, the Miami area native is a solid defender who enjoyed his best offensive season by far last year. He is also a very different player from the 6'4 Mann, who uses his big body to shield players from the ball as he attacks the lane. Williams will likely get the nod early on, as Mann learns Fox's triangle offense, but the Atlanta product is expected to take over the starting spot as soon as he's deemed ready.
Considering the schedule, Georgia has it's work cut out for them if they want to make the Dance next March. They should win at least 10, and hopefully 12 games in the non-conference schedule, which is difficult enough to be a boost in RPI discussion should they be on the bubble. But with Frank Martin now in South Carolina, solid squads in Missouri and Texas A&M joining the conference, and of course, the juggernaut that is Calipari and Kentucky, getting to the necessary .500 or better mark in SEC play will not be easy, especially relying on true freshmen to play major roles in the backcourt. Expectations should be for a team that makes the NIT, or with some good bounces, perhaps the NCAA. Anything less would be a disappointment.