It’s been just over a week since the NCAA decided to cancel March Madness due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus. A day before that the Georgia men’s basketball team won their opening game in the SEC Tournament over Ole Miss 81-63 in the play-in round.
When the news broke, the Bulldogs were preparing for their 3 p.m. matchup against Florida in the first round of the SEC Tournament. Not knowing that Wednesday would be their last game, it was a rather disappointing end to a roller coaster of a season. Georgia finished the season at .500 (16-16, 5-13 SEC), but was looking forward to making a run at a possible NIT berth.
“The bottom line for the team is this is such an incredible and tumultuous time for everybody,” Crean said during a Thursday teleconference with the media. “The most important thing they can learn from all of this is that when they are responsible for their families someday, that they will always put their safety, their health, and their well-being in front of everything. That’s what we’re doing throughout the world.”
Crean said the players were more than likely “stunned” when the announcement came that their season was over, but they were well aware of the NBA players who had allegedly tested positive for the virus.
“We just try to treat it for what it is, that none of us really know, things are happening so fast, they are seeing things coming up every couple of minutes,” Crean said.
For fans, this can be seen as a punch in the gut too, because of all they’ve invested in this team through the past couple months. Georgia definitely showed their immaturity and lack of leadership at times this season. But they also started to play a tad bit more consistent towards the end of their season in the final stretch of a strenuous SEC schedule.
Now that the dust has settled, there are a few questions looming around Crean’s program headed into next season.
Reports broke Thursday night that freshman Rodney Howard has decided to enter his name into the transfer portal. Friday morning, the news broke that we all expected to come sometime; freshman standout Anthony Edwards will enter his name into the NBA Draft, in which he is projected to be the No. 1 overall pick.
Georgia also graduated three seniors in Tyree Crump, Jordan Harris, and Donnell Gresham Jr. With those four players gone, and Howard’s return up in the air, that leaves a few roster spots open for Crean.
Towards the end of the year, Georgia’s starting five was: Harris, Edwards, Toumani Camara, Sahvir Wheeler, and Rayshaun Hammonds. Wheeler and Camara will be sophomores next season, and Hammonds is expected to return for his senior season.
More than likely those three will keep their starting duties, but that leaves two spots to be filled.
As of now, Georgia will have five returning sophomores, and two of them only really saw playing time. Mike Peake and Christian Brown were the two who showed promise and could provide Georgia with some size up front. The real concern is if these two players can make the transition from rotation players to starters. Tye Fagan is another guy who played valuable minutes for the Bulldogs and can give some experience at the guard position.
Another problem is the depth of stature on the team.
With Gresham and Howard off the table, Georgia really lacks a true ‘big man’. Howard was the Bulldogs’ best option, but it looks like he will have to recruit another prospect to take his place. Georgia didn’t have a problem grabbing boards this past season, Hammonds led UGA this past season with 238 rebounds, followed by Edwards with 137, and Camara with 138. his place.
The next alternative is Jaykwon Walton, a rising sophomore, who only played in seven games this past year. Look for Crean to try and develop Peake and Walton into guys who can assert themselves into the lineup to replace Hammonds down low. Another option would be to bring in a graduate transfer that has some experience. Regardless, Crean will need to ultimately change up his offense to fit this proposed dynamic.
A real problem this past year was watching Georgia play a consistent enough offense to be able to compete.
Crean will be the first to tell you that he doesn’t run a traditional offense, and none of his players have actual positions. He calls it a “positionless offense” and most of the team’s points are scored in transition on fast breaks. This is something that proved to be ineffective this past season, as Georgia would consistently go on scoreless droughts for multiple minutes in games. It just looked like sometimes that players were lost in competition.
A huge problem that was evident was that guys weren’t getting open to create shots. Crean would point out in post-game pressers that his players weren’t cutting enough and getting to the rim. He was completely right because the offense lacked in grabbing offensive rebounds. The Bulldogs also struggled to retain offensive possessions because of the lack of discipline this young team had. Turnovers were a huge problem this past year, and in total, they racked up 473 on the season.
With Edwards gone, the offense next year will have to find a steady leading scorer.
Edwards led the team with 19.1 points per game, followed by Hammonds with 12.9, and Wheeler with 9.0. Edwards had his moments of weakness, but looking back at it he scored double-digits in 27 of 32 games. It wasn’t a problem for Georgia to rack up a boatload of points, but it was a problem with guys who couldn’t score consistently enough to make a difference. Hammonds fits this description well. He could go off for double-digits one night and then go completely cold the next.
Wheeler is a player who proved he could score, but we’re going to have to see more of that. Towards the end of the year, Brown and Fagan could come off the bench to provide some extra spark to the offense. The losses of Crump and Harris hurt because the Bulldogs won’t have a lot of senior experience in the locker room. And both of them provided Georgia with some extra spark, scoring-wise.
Currently, the Bulldogs have four signatures for the class of 2020, and are possibly looking at a few graduate transfers as well.
The Bulldogs have already gotten commitments from guards K.D. Johnson and Mikal Stars, along with forwards Jonathan Ned and Josh Taylor. Two transfers to possibly keep an eye on are sophomore Pittsburgh guard Trey McGowens, and Louisville guard Darius Perry, who could sign as a graduate transfer.
Unfortunately, recruiting is affected by these unusual times and the NCAA has banned official visits, and face-to-face interactions for the time being. Heading into next season, Georgia will have a lot to fix, but it does help this past recruiting class because a year can make a lot of difference.