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Post Men’s basketball preview

Thursday November 9, 2006

Georgia’s men’s basketball team begins the 2006-2007 regular season on Friday night against Southern. The Dawgs look to show additional progress from the 15-15 mark they ended with last season. Today we’ll look at what to expect from the men, and the women’s preview will be up tomorrow.

When we last left them…

Georgia flirted with midseason dreams of the postseason last year, and an early February win over Alabama made a postseason trip seem all but certain. The Dawgs faded during the final month of the season as team after team exploited Georgia’s lack of an interior presence. In the end, they came up a win or two short and spent March at home.

The bright spot last season was the play of Georgia’s young guards. Sundiata Gaines matured as a capable point guard. Freshmen Mike Mercer and Billy Humpries had impressive first years. Still, the inconsistency and youth at guard could not carry the team past its frontcourt deficiencies.

A .500 record last year was a disappointment after the early part of the season teased at something better. Still, that result represented a solid improvement over the hopeless previous season.

Key losses:

  • PG Kevin Brophy
  • F Younes Idrissi
  • F Kendrick Johnson

The tragic death of Brophy puts a crunch on the backcourt with no true backup for Gaines at point guard. Johnson didn’t play much last year, so his departure (for academic reasons) is a wash. Idrissi developed over his two seasons at Georgia but still wasn’t anywhere near a physical presence inside. His experience will be missed, but the Dawgs should be able to absorb the lost production.

Key additions:

  • F Takais Brown
  • C Albert Jackson

Help is on the way for the frontcourt. Brown and Jackson are both bonafide post players who were courted by some very respectable programs. Brown’s debut will be delayed indefinitely because of an academic-related suspension.

The competition:

Even if a team is better and improved in absolute terms, that improvement has to be measured against the teams it will play. Unfortunately, the SEC continues to improve across the board. Florida returns as the defending national champion and preseason #1, and much of the same cast of characters is back. Alabama and LSU look strong after deep NCAA runs last March. Kentucky had a "down" year by their standards, but the young talent they have should be coming along now. Tennessee should also be strong, but a late-season fade has kept them from being a preseason favorite this year.

While Georgia should now have the depth and talent to compete with anyone in the league, their ability to beat the rest of the conference will determine the bulk of their success. Seven games against Vandy, SC, Auburn, and the Mississippi schools will hold the keys to Georgia’s SEC fortunes. When you figure that a minimum of seven and likely eight SEC wins will be necessary for an NCAA berth, Georgia must holds its own against this group and find a couple of wins in the nine games they will play against UK, UT, UF, Bama, LSU, and Arkansas.

The nonconference schedule isn’t terribly brutal. A game against Gonzaga in Duluth should be interesting, and a trio of ACC games against Georgia Tech, Wake Forest, and Clemson will be very good December tests. The Dawgs should expect to win the remainder of their nonconference games.

What to expect:

The frontcourt additions alone make this team much better. Dave Bliss is healthy, and Rashad Singleton has bulked up. Consistent guard play still will determine the success of the team. Stukes and Humphries will have to be much more steady shooters, especially from outside. Humphries can’t be the guy who hits a few first half baskets and then disappears. Mike Mercer has to find a role. He’s not quite a point guard, but his shot was too streaky to play him for long stretches at other positions. Mercer has spent the offseason re-tooling his shot, so we’ll see what comes of that. If he can be anything close to consistent as a shooter, he is explosive enough to become a big-time playmaker. Gaines will be fine at point guard if he is not asked to carry the backcourt’s offensive production.

The wing position could be an x-factor for the team this year. As a junior, it’s time for Channing Toney to show that he can be a steady contributor to the team. Sophomore Terrence Woodbury missed most of last year with an injury, and he is an unknown that could really make a difference. Georgia really hasn’t had much of a wing/small forward since Jarvis Hayes left, relying on guards like Damien Wilkins or posts like Steve Newman to fill that role. Woodbury in particular is the kind of player you expect to see at this position.

December games against Gonzaga, Wake Forest, Clemson, and Georgia Tech should be good barometers for this team, and a split of those games would be a pretty favorable sign. It would be a red flag if the Dawgs lost other nonconference games.

The deficiencies of last season were understandable and easy to spot, but they’ve been addressed and won’t be excuses for much longer. The jump from winning 15 games to winning 18-20 seems small, but that would represent wins over some very good teams while eliminating the occasional dreadful losses to some bad teams we’ve seen over the past two years (Auburn anyone?). That kind of transition can come from maturity and experience, and there are now several players with two or three years of experience in the Dennis Felton program. Fans have understood the challenges facing the program and been patient as Felton built a foundation, but for the first time in a while some payoff from that investment will be expected.

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