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Early Season Superlatives: Promising Young Bulldogs Still A Work In Progress

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NCAA Basketball: Georgia at Kentucky Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

They’ve completed the non-conference schedule, and find themselves in the meat of the SEC slate. Eighteen games in it’s safe to say that we’ve learned a few things about Tom Crean’s 2019-2020 Hoop Hounds.

At 11-7 (1-4 SEC) the Bulldogs have had the kind of up and down year you’d expect from a team relying heavily on a host of true freshmen and newcomers.

MVP: It’s hard to make a case for anyone other than Anthony Edwards. The true freshman phenom has been as good as advertised, averaging 18.9 points and 4.5 rebounds per game. Along the way he’s had games in which he’s fairly well taken over the action, keeping the Bulldogs in some games that could have gotten out of hand.

It’s a little depressing to think that AntMan is likely more than halfway through his UGA career. But in the time we have left with the future lottery pick it would be nice to see him continue to become more consistent as a shooter. There’s little doubt AntMan is going to be a high lottery pick. But the Crean era will be defined by where things go in his absence.

Pleasant surprise: Sahvir Wheeler. It may be a bit of a misnomer to say Wheeler is a surprise. He was a blue chip prospect out of Houston and picked up some big honors on the AAU and camp circuit before coming to Athens. But it has been pleasant to imagine what this team will look like next season when it will in no small part be built around the speedy point guard. Wheeler’s perimeter defense in particular has been a big asset to a team that struggles inside against bigger competition (see this past weekend’s Mississippi State loss, for example).

What could have been: Nic Claxton. While you can’t begrudge a guy for taking his shot at a pro career, and Claxton’s draft position certainly justified his decision, it would have been fun to see what this team could do with a big man capable of sharing the rebounding duties and playing defense in the paint. Paired with Edwards and Hammonds, Claxton would have given Coach Crean a third option capable of scoring in double digits consistently. Oh well.

What’s next: Having faces the meat grinder portion of their SEC schedule early Georgia now has 13 games to play for SEC Tournament seeding and to impress the NCAA Tournament committee. That begins with a winnable home game on Saturday against Ole Miss in the Stege. Tickets for that one are still available for a reasonable price, though it is a solid four times the get-in price for the Sugar Bowl.

The good news for the Dawgs’ tournament hopes is that they really don’t have any of those early bad losses that dogged some of Mark Fox’s teams. They also have a victory over a top ten Memphis squad, and played Michigan State and Kentucky tight in nationally televised matchups.

But there’s no way the Red and Black make the tournament with a losing record in SEC play, especially in what is shaping up as a down year for the conference. Realistically I think the Hoop Hounds need to go at least 9-4 from here and probably pull off a win in the SEC Tournament to feel really good about their tournament prospects. That’s still a y’all order, but we’ve seen Bulldog teams do weirder stuff late in the year. If they don’t pull it off, Crean will return most of his key contributors minus Edwards for 2020-21, and has already locked up four solid prospects for next year’s freshman class.

In the long run Crean appears to be on schedule to build a UGA basketball team that’s more talented and better developed from a scheme standpoint than any in recent memory. That’s certainly something to get excited about, even if it may take some time to fully bloom. Until later...

Go ‘Dawgs!!!