Georgia enters their eighth season under Mark Fox with clear optimism after 3 straight 20-win seasons, the first ever four consecutive SEC seasons without a losing record, and three straight NIT or NCAA appearances. There are plenty of reasons for that optimism with as deep and talented a roster as Fox has had in his time at Georgia.
We kick off the campaign Friday night in Clemson for the debut of a refurbished Littlejohn Coliseum. The Tigers from Auburn-With-A-Lake present a very tough challenge to start the season and are a potential NCAA squad themselves. And a tourney-tested schedule is on tap for the season, with a visit from Texas on January 28th smack dab in the middle of SEC play in addition to potentially Kansas in late November depending our game with George Washington and their game with UAB in the CBE Hall of Fame Classic, a visit from Marquette on December 4th, and a trip to Atlanta and Georgia Tech on December 20th.
But before we look at others when their time comes, let's focus on our squad. We'll start at the top with preseason All-SEC selections JJ Frazier and Yante Maten. The duo provides an excellent inside-outside combo and veteran leadership. The senior PG from down in Glennville has steadily become Georgia's top offensive weapon. An excellent shooter and ball handler, Frazier will also battle for tough rebounds and has a good nose for the ball. Maten adds another versatile and well rounded threat. A solid rebounder and rim protector (8 boards and almost 2 blocks per last season), Maten also adds a strong offensive game with the ability to step out and knock down a jumper or work one of several moves on the low block. Provided they stay healthy, that gives Georgia two of the better players on the floor every single night (well, except perhaps when we play Kentucky, or as mentioned, if we draw Kansas).
Supporting them will be a bevy of savvy vets, emerging sophomores, and intriguing newcomers. Senior Houston Kessler likely provides reserve minutes in the post, as sophomores Derek Ogbeide and Mike Edwards are ready for larger roles. Edwards, like Maten a spring steal from Michigan, brings a lot of energy and athleticism off the bench. Ogbeide took over as the starting center once he got healthy last year, and emerged as a force on the glass. His scoring touch needs some improvement, but he will likely be asked to stick close to the rim so Maten can show off his expanded game.
In the backcourt, there's question who starts next to Frazier. Junior Juwan Parker is back healthy after an achilles injury he exacerbated helping us make an NCAA run two years ago is finally healed, and he'll provide a steady hand and heady defender on the wings (and hopefully has been able to improve his jump shot). Sophomore Turtle Jackson is looking for more after a rough freshman campaign. He'll likely be the primary backup for Frazier at PG, and even allow him to become more of a scorer at times when the 5'10 (hahahahaha) sharpshooter plays alongside the 6'4 Athenian. Freshman Jordan Harris and Tyree Crump will add depth to the backcourt, as well as minutes here and there for senior, scholarshiped-walk-on Brandon Young at PG. Crump may provide minutes at PG as well, but has the length, athleticism, and shot to work at SG. Harris is the bigger one of our incoming SW GA pair, and provides help at SG and SF. Harris has a strong all around offensive game, and the tools to be a lock down defender on the wing with time.
Competing with Harris a touch at SF, and potentially Edwards for minutes backing up PF if Fox does as he's hinted and push the pace this season, are a trio of 6'6 wings. Senior Kenny Paul Geno provides veteran leadership and good enough defense, but a limited game offensively. Sophomore Toe Wilridge and JUCO signee Pape Diatta will be looking to unseat KPG from the starting slot with similar length and athleticism defensively, but hopefully much more of a threat scoring.
The coaching staff has remained stable Fox and assistants Phillip Pearson, Jonas Hayes, Yasir Rosemond, Kent Davidson, and Matt Bucklin having spent well over 24 months together. The squad is very deep, which can be a blessing as players compete for minutes and fill voids left by injury, foul trouble, or other struggles, or a curse if Fox fails to find a consistent rotation and let players find their rhythm. But provided the main two stay healthy, and the seven sophomores and newcomers can step up in support roles, this team has all it needs to sit just behind Kentucky near the top of the SEC, and has strong expectations of dancing come next March in the NCAA Tournament. A fourth straight 20+ win season and post season appearance for Mark Fox would be a pretty good floor to set for the 47 yr old head coach with a basketball program that has long failed to live up to it's potential.