Mark Fox’s Georgia Bulldogs officially open the 2015-16 season this evening at 7:00 p.m. in Stegeman Coliseum against the Chattanooga Moccasins. For what it’s worth, Georgia leads the all-time series versus the school formerly known as “UT-Chattanooga” 28-5, last year going on the road to the Scenic City to notch an 86-55 win. The Mocs shrugged off that defeat to post a 22-10 record and finish second in the Southern Conference.
That earned Coach Will Wade the head coaching job at Virginia Commonwealth, and he was replaced by first year head man Matt McCall. McCall comes from Florida, where he served as an assistant under Billy Donovan. Prior to that, McCall served as the Gators’ Director of Basketball Operations, and even as a student basketball manager. If you don’t like Florida Gators as a matter of principal, Chattanooga head coach Matt McCall is your kind of boogeyman.
Chattanooga returns four starters from last season’s squad, and will likely come out of the gate led by senior guard Casey Jones (14.2 points and 7.0 rebounds per game in 2014-15). The 6’5 New Orleans native plays long and could be trouble if the Mocs get ahead. It would be helpful if the ‘Dawgs could play strong defense early to get him on the wrong track.
I’ll also be keen to see what McCall can get from Fayetteville native Justin Tuoyo. The 6’10, 235 pound forward is the kind of experienced big man mid-major squads often rely on to give the big boys fits. Tuoyo averaged 10.2 points, 6.4 rebounds, and an impressive 3.3 blocks per game per game in 2014-15.
The Bulldogs return nine experienced players from last season’s NCAA tournament team which finished 21-12 overall and tied for third in the SEC. Georgia hopes to rely on an experienced backcourt led by guards Kenny Gaines and Charles Mann. Both players earned first team All-SEC honors from the coaches during the preseason, and they combine to give the ‘Dawgs easily their most experienced pair on the back end in a long time. Given the extent to which turnovers and poor perimeter shooting have dogged the Fox Hounds at times over the past couple of seasons, this can’t be anything but an improvement.
Mann and Gaines have started a combined 133 games between them, and that’s not accounting for spark plug J.J. Frazier, who returns to his guard spot after starting 16 games in 2014-15. Frazier suffered a hairline fracture to the face, but should be able to play against the visitors from Tennessee while wearing a face mask. Speaking of injuries, junior Juwan Parker could get back into the rotation but it may not be tonight, as Fox has indicated that Parker continues to suffer from the Achilles tendon injury that’s dogged him since last season.
Fox’s squad will need to lean on those veteran guards while figuring out the rotation in a front court that lost Marcus Thornton and Nema Djurisic, both double digit average scorers last season. Adding to the front court questions: talented freshman Derek Ogbeide is a game time decision according to Coach Fox after suffering a shoulder injury in practice earlier this week.
It would be nice to see what Ogbeide could do against a talented player like Tuoyo, but that would mean a lot of banging for a guy with a sore shoulder. Instead, look for Fox to go elsewhere for inside minutes. I expect the first guy in that rotation will be sophomore Yante Maten, who might fit more naturally at power forward. But we do what we must, right?
This one kicks off a series of matchups against talented mid-major squads, as Georgia will host Murray State on November 20th and High Point on November 25th before traveling to play at Seton Hall following Thanksgiving. For those who remember the Dawgs’ early struggles in 2013-14, this stretch sets up as more important than might initially meet the eye. Until later . . .