March 18, 2013

What's next for hoop Dawgs?

Georgia's basketball season came to a sudden end on Thursday afternoon when the Bulldogs were defeated by the LSU Tigers in the SEC Tournament.

With that, a season that saw the Bulldogs go from a team that struggled mightily early on, to one that showed it could compete with anyone else in the league.

Today, UGASports takes a look back at what went right, what went wrong, breaks down each position on the roster, and what to look forward to going into Mark Fox's 5th season as the Bulldogs head coach.

What went right…

We'll start with what went well during the 2012-13 season. The obvious bright spot is the play of shooting guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who was named SEC Player of the Year by the league's coaches. The sophomore star finished the season averaging 18.5 points, 7.1 rebounds, and 2.5 steals per game, all of which rank near the top of the SEC.

Despite the loss to LSU, Caldwell-Pope went out on a high note with a 32-point, 13-rebound performance. What might be considered most impressive about KCP's accomplishments this season is the fact nobody else on Georgia's roster averaged more than 8 points per game. Opposing teams knew where Georgia wanted to get the ball every possession and it didn't matter; Caldwell-Pope managed to score in double-figures in every game this season.

Another bright spot for the Georgia Bulldogs this year is the play of the freshman class brought in by Fox. Point guard Charles Mann, shooting guard Kenny Gaines, and small forward Brandon Morris all showed signs of becoming very good SEC players down the road. Mann, a 6'6 floor general from Milton High, was the team's third leading scorer at 6.7 points per game and also averaged just under 3 assists per game. His best performance of the season, without a doubt, was in a victory over Tennessee at home when he finished with 18 points and eight assists in 24 minutes without turning the ball over.

Gaines, a 6-3 scoring guard out of Whitefield Academy (Ga.), saw the least amount of minutes of the trio, but made his mark when he hit the court. In back to back games in February at South Carolina and at Tennessee, he scored in double figures and helped the Dawgs build a 5-game winning streak. Morris, a 6- 7forward from Miller Grove (Ga.), saved his best performance for the last game of the regular season at Alabama where he scored 11 points and pulled down 5 rebounds.

What went wrong…

If Georgia had any hopes of qualifying for post-season play this season, those hopes were pretty quickly put in jeopardy early in the season. The Bulldogs started the season with a 2-7 record with tough losses at home to Youngstown State, Southern Miss, and Iona. The Bulldogs rallied back to finish non-conference play at 6-7, but the damage had already been done at that point.

Two main issues hurt the Bulldogs this season. The biggest issue facing Georgia this season was the lack of experience on the roster entering the season. Despite having five upperclassmen on the roster, only Donte Williams and Marcus Thornton had received significant playing time in the past, and Thornton ended up missing most of the season due to knee injuries. We mentioned above that Fox brought in a talented trio of freshman, but talented freshman always go through growing pains their first year.

The other big problem facing the Bulldogs this year is the lack of a consistent low-post scorer, which we'll address below where we break down the post players.

Breaking down the point guards

This is a spot where the Bulldogs entered the season with a great deal of uncertainty.

Although senior guard Vincent Williams was still around, he had never really played major minutes in his first three years at Georgia. The only other floor general on the roster was freshman Charles Mann. By season's end, the point guard position was pretty stable.

Both Mann and Williams were very solid players for Georgia this year. Each started several games and their minutes were pretty evenly split throughout the season with Mann playing 21.5 minutes per game and Williams playing 19.3 minutes per game.

Going forward, the position is in good hands with Mann still having three years of eligibility left. Although he had some struggles at times and still needs to improve his perimeter shooting, his future looks bright in Athens as he finished the season as Georgia's third leading scorer and led the team in assists.

Williams graduates, but the Bulldogs are bringing in freshman J.J. Frazier, who could provide a spark off the bench with play-making ability. Although only about 5-10, Frazier will be one of the fastest players in the SEC and has the ability to put points on the board in a hurry. Next year, look for Mann to put the clamps down on this position and playing big minutes with Frazier coming off the bench to spell him.

Breaking down the wings

Shooting guard and small forward were the most productive positions this year for Georgia.

Why? It all starts with Caldwell-Pope and his 18.5 points per game. KCP didn't have a ton of consistent help from the others wings this year, but Sherrard Brantley, Morris and Gaines all stepped up at times and had big games.

What will happen at shooting guard and small forward next season depends on one simple question: will KCP stay in Athens for another season or depart for the NBA Draft? We'll take a look at what could happen under both scenarios.

● If KCP returns, this will no doubt be the strongest position on Georgia's roster. Joining him on the wing would be Gaines, Morris, and incoming freshman Juwan Parker, another capable scorer. If KCP is back, he'll have much more help carrying the scoring load and Georgia could have a shot at being one of the better teams in the SEC next season.

● If he leaves, it's obviously a significant blow to the Buldogs. Under that scenario, Fox would need Gaines to grow up in a hurry at the shooting guard position to help make up for the points KCP scored. Morris and Parker would also need to be ready to play big minutes and you would likely see the coaching staff try to add a late signee in the 2013 recruiting class.

Breaking down the posts

The play of the post players for Georgia was once again an issue for the Bulldogs all season. Defensively, they were pretty respectable and they also did an admirable job rebounding the ball. The big issue is not having somebody to consistently throw the ball inside to for an easy basket.

If the Bulldogs are going to take a step forward next year, the post players will need to really develop their post-up games this off-season. Since losing Trey Thompkins and Jeremy Price two years ago, the Dawgs have struggled to get consistent production inside. Nemamja Djurisic, Donte Williams, Tim Dixon, and John Cannon are all returning next year while Houston Kessler will be a red-shirt freshman next season. It would be a major help to Bulldogs' chances of getting back to the NCAA Tournament next season if just a couple of them would become consistent low-post scorers.

Latest in recruiting

Georgia loses three seniors off the 2012-13 team, which means they have three scholarships to use in the 2013 class. They have already signed Frazier to replace Vincent Williams and Parker to replace Brantley, but there is still one open scholarship for Fox and his staff to use in the late signing period if they would like.

With that last scholarship, it appears they would to use it on a bigger wing or an instant impact post player.

There are a few different routes the Bulldogs could go with the last scholarship. They could continue to look for unsigned high school or junior college players, although most SEC-level recruits in the southeast have already signed with a school. They could sit back and see which recruits back out on their current school if a coaching change is made. The last option would be to take a transfer, although a transfer would have to sit out next year unless they received a waiver making them eligible right away.

There are a few names for Bulldog fans to keep an eye on at the moment. Algie Key, a 6-4 guard from Barton Community College in Kansas that is originally from Atlanta, Ga., had a big sophomore year and has caught the eye of Fox's staff. Kenny Paul Geno, a 6-6 athletic small forward from Boonesville, Mississippi, has started drawing interest from several SEC schools, including Georgia.

Four-star shooting guard Demarcus Croaker recently de-committed from Murray State and had some interest in Georgia prior to that commitment, but he appears to be headed to Texas now. At this time, there are no recruits that have backed out on another school and there are no players at other schools that have been released to transfer, but some names could be popping up within the next month.