As Mark Fox enters his seventh season calling the shot for Georgia's men's basketball program, he'll be looking to lead us to previously unseen sights. If Georgia can win 20 or more games this season, it'll mark just the third time in school history they've had back to back to back campaigns obtaining that mark. They'll also be in search of a second consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament, which is a pretty rare sight in these parts and something we've never done three seasons in a row (until hopefully after next season). So with his staff of assistants, Jonas Hayes, Phillip Pearson, and Yasir Rosemond, back in full for another year, there is a lot of stability within the program that should help continue to breed success.
On the floor, Georgia will have to replace a lot of production on the interior, and may as a result change to a faster pace. New NCAA rules changes and refereeing focus to help speed up the games should also be a part of that adjustment. But with the season getting underway tonight with an exhibition against Armstrong State at 7, then for real real next Friday when Chattanooga comes to the Steg at 7 as well, it's basketball season again! Georgia will also play host to Kansas St on December 4th, Georgia Tech on December 19th, and Clemson on the 22nd before beginning SEC play in January.
So who is gonna be on the floor in red and black? Let's take a look.
Charles Mann and Kenny Gaines provide senior leadership in the backcourt. The Atlanta area pair have been around for what feels like forever, in part because of the significant impact they've had on each of our last two seasons. Gaines was plagued by a litany of ailments last season, but if healthy this year, the 6'2 SG can show the scoring skills we saw in SEC play as a sophomore. Able to knock down a jumper from outside or finish at the rim off a hard drive, Gaines not only can be the team's top offensive threat but has been a lock down defender at time. Mann has handled the ball a lot for Georgia, providing excellent play all over the floor and a stat line stuffer who gives points, rebounds, assists, and steals, while getting opponents in foul trouble with ease. The change in rule emphasis should allow Mann to be more aggressive, and get to the free throw line like he did before the refs reverted back to whatever last season was with the whistle. The biggest question on him is will he be needed at the PG, or transition to the wing role we saw him fill late last season when injuries took a toll.
JJ Frazier allowed for that change by stepping up in a huge way, ranking among the SEC's best in assist to turnover ratio, while providing excellent shooting range from deep. Most reports have Georgia continuing with the 5'10 (hahaha) Savannah native alongside Gaines and Mann in a three guard starting lineup that should allow for quality shooting, as well as excellent ball handling options to transition from defense to offense quickly and effectively.
Juwan Parker and Kenny Paul Geno will provide depth on the wings, as they did last season while both had injuries derail promising seasons. Geno stepped in as the starting SF when Parker's achilles' acted up before breaking his wrist. That's when Parker had to step back in, delaying his recovery to help us make the NCAA Tournament. Geno is the longer defender, while Parker the better offensive option, but both provide energy off the bench on the wings and capable all around players that will help Fox mix and match against opponents, run the floor, and provide complementary role players to Frazier, Gaines, and Mann on the outside.
Freshman and product of Athens Christian School in town, Turtle Jackson will be the other potential playmaker on the perimeter. 6'4, with an excellent offensive skill set, Jackson will look to most likely back up Frazier, and to some extent Mann, at PG, while also providing the occasional offensive spark off the bench. He is arguably the biggest recruit Fox has landed aside from lottery pick Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. That's six quality options for the backcourt, and Georgia is going to need it because the front court is a giant question mark.
Yante Maten is the closest thing to a certainty, after being the primary backup to Marcus Thornton and Nemi Djurisic as a freshman last year. The sophomore from Michigan has shown impressive shot blocking instincts, and is a solid defender in the low post. It will be a tough task, but Georgia will have to have him provide 30 minutes a night inside along with being our best offensive and defensive option in the post, because the other options are still to be determined.
"Toe" Wilridge, Michael Edwards and Derek Ogbeide were part of this year's freshman class with Jackson, and all bring different tools to the table, and can be valuable contributors off the bench as Maten was last season in their freshman years.
Edwards, like Maten, was a late blooming hot ticket last spring from the state of Michigan that Georgia beat multiple Big 10 schools to lands. 6'9 and skilled, expectations are for him to fill Djurisic's shoes eventually as a versatile PF, and just might be needed to reproduce the 7 points per game and handful of starts our graduated European provided in his freshman season. Ogbeide has come in physically ready to bang, and is said to be a beast around the rim. Listed 6'8, 250, he may be the most ready of the freshman to start games this year, or he could just provide the physical backup at C style play Maten gave behind Thornton last year (which would be awesome). Wilridge came from Texas, and is a 6'6 wing F that may play some PF in an up tempo system, or be a true SF that the team lost when Brandon Morris ran into his issues before last season.
Osahen Iduwe and Houston Kessler round out the depth at PF and C. Both were used seldom last season, but could be needed to fill the vacuum the aforementioned seniors left behind. Iduwe reportedly had a severe case of malaria last year that had Fox fearing for the young Nigerian's life. But at 6'10, with long arms and a lot of muscle, he's got prototypical C size and length, and is a solid athlete. At the least, he should be able to provide quality interior defense if he can be healthy. Kessler, the redshirt junior nephew of former All-American Alec Kessler, is said to be considering entering law school after he graduates. 6'8, with a solid outside shot and a smart player, Kessler could easily be a role playing starter that gets subbed out early while Fox matches up to opponents. If he can prove to be effective defensively, his game is well suited to pick and pop plays alongside Frazier, Gaines, and Mann, spacing the floor for Maten inside.
Brandon Young and Connor O'Neil will provide emergency depth off the bench. Young, a junior PG from Marist, saw action in seven games last season and was rewarded with a scholarship to start the season. O'Neil is a freshman from Blessed Trinity in Roswell, by way of the Tilton School, where he played one more college prep season of basketball after playing basketball and football at the Georgia high school.
Expectations will be high for Fox, and the margin for error thanks to the big man situation seems very thin. But another 20 win season and NCAA Tournament appearance with that sort of veteran leadership and talent on the outside is a reasonable expectation.