Tom Crean’s Georgia Bulldogs will tip off the 2020-21 season this afternoon in Stegeman Coliseum against Columbus State. In truth, that’s about all we’re certain of.
We do know that the game can be viewed on SEC Network+, and that tip time is 5:00, and that a limited crowd of about 1600 fans will be permitted inside the Stege.
But in terms of the basketball itself, this season is a bit of a wild card. Gone obviously is top overall NBA Draft pick and last season’s leading scorer, Anthony Edwards. Also out the door is graduated forward Rayshaun Hammonds, last year’s leading rebounder. The Hoop Hounds also lost a pair of major contributors at guard in departed seniors Jordan Harris and Tyree Crump.
Who returns? Notably the ‘Dawgs bring back sophomore point guard Sahvir Wheeler, who averaged 4.5 assists per game in 2019-20 as he transitioned into the floor general for Crean’s offensive attack. While he made the obligatory freshman mistakes, Wheeler looks like a player who can grow into a reliable presence on the court. JUCO transfer Mikail Starks will also see time at the point. Starks averaged 5.6 points and 3.6 assists last year at Eastern Florida C.C.
Also returning in the backcourt is junior guard Tye Fagan. The former Upson-Lee standout averaged 4.1 points off the bench last season, and it’s likely his minutes will increase this year. I’m also intrigued by freshman K.D. Johnson. The 6’1, 190 pounder averaged 26 points per game at Hargrave Military Academy in Virginia last season after playing tab Southwest Dekalb. He has good vision passing but also a very natural shooting stroke from the perimeter. I don’t know yet which guard slot at he’ll see the most time, but I expect him to be a big part of Crean’s plans.
Georgia does return some guys who look to play on the wing or down low in Crean’s up-tempo attack. But they’re largely unproven. 6’7 Sophomore Jaekwon Walton was limited in 2019-20 to a total of 7 games, but if healthy he could bring needed help on the perimeter. Christian Brown saw about 10 minutes of game time per contest last season and showed promise both as a scorer and rebounder.
Finally big man Toumani Camara played in all 32 games last season and averaged a solid 6.6 points and 4.3 rebounds. His continued development could be one of the keys to this team taking a step forward in 2020-21.
But Coach Crean Will once again be relying on some graduate transfers to bridge the gaps in his roster. In particular, Virginia Tech transfer P.J. Horne is expected to draw a starting nod. The 6’6 Tift County native started for the Hokies and was a key contributor. But the pandemic and the desire to be closer to family prompted him to play his final collegiate season closer to home. Having a veteran starter come over from the ACC may prove to be a big asset for this generally young team.
Joining Horne from the transfer wire are guard Justin Kier, formerly of George Mason, and Andrew Garcia of Stony Brook. Kier was a perennial starter for three seasons at GMU before a stress fracture in his foot robbed him of most of last season. If he’s healthy, he’ll be a major asset. Garcia started all 33 games for the Sea Wolves (an underrated nickname) last year, and provides a suitable veteran presence down low if those younger guys don’t develop ahead of schedule.
The issue for this team isn’t necessarily a lack of pieces. There are talented basketball players scattered throughout this roster. It’s more a question of cohesion. Can Coach Crean meld the disparate pieces into a unit with limited practice, no scrimmages, and all the other limitations of the COVID era? Frankly I’m not sure.
I could certainly see Georgia replicating its 5-13 SEC mark from last season. Getting consistent production across the roster could push that closer to .500. This does not look like an NCAA tournament team which, frankly, coming into year three of the Crean regime should be the goal. But this season could see some of last season’s touted freshmen grow into their roles and take a step toward tournament contention. Until later...