The new year means that basketball season is about to head into conference play. For the women, SEC action is already underway. The Lady Dogs had an impressive win over Arkansas last Sunday, and they’ll be in Knoxville tonight. The men start things off with a familiar foe: the quirks of the schedule and SEC Tournament mean that Alabama will be the opponent for the third time in the last four conference games. That’s not necessarily good news: the Tide dispatched Georgia twice last year and will be favored to do so again this time. Playing Alabama has a tiny bit of added significance now: Georgia and Alabama replaced coaches at the same time, and in some small way Mark Fox and Anthony Grant will be compared and contrasted as long as they hold their current posts.
With the start of conference play nigh and the football season now over, let’s play catch-up and see where our basketball teams are over a third of the way into the season. We’ll start with the men.
You didn’t have to be an expert to get an early read on the 2012 Dawgs. The departure of Travis Leslie and Trey Thompkins in addition to the graduation of Chris Barnes and Jeremy Price meant that this year’s team would be woefully thin in the frontcourt. The only hope was for an impact newcomer, and that didn’t exactly happen. Georgia did bring in several young post players, but they’re understandably, well, young and are having to learn on the job.
Donte Williams and Marcus Thornton have started most of the year up front. Thornton’s had to play a bit out of position – he’s a natural small forward and not really a post, and he’s been injured for the past few games. Still, he’s managed to be Georgia’s leading rebounder out of the gate.
Nemanja Djurisic is one of the newcomers and has started while Thornton is out injured. Djurisic is “raw” personified, but he isn’t afraid to drive to the basket or fight for rebounds. He also has nice range on his shot, giving the Dawgs a fourth outside weapon when he’s in the game. John Florveus and Tim Dixon are the other newcomers providing minutes in the frontcourt, and Connor Nolte continues to contribute off the bench.
Struggles on the frontcourt have had an impact on the guards. A lot was expected of returning senior starters Dustin Ware and Gerald Robinson, and it’s been tough for either to establish consistency. A weak frontcourt means that defenses can extend on the guards, and that’s been disruptive.
There have been two positive developments in the backcourt. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope was Georgia’s first McDonald’s All-American signing in 20 years, and he hasn’t disappointed. KCP leads Georgia in scoring and has the ability to make the steal, the move, or the dunk that gets the crowd on its feet. He’s a freshman and still has a lot to learn and work on in shot selection and especially defense, but he’s off to a great start. The other good development has been the play of Vincent Williams. Williams has come on as a backup point guard and shows a lot more confidence in his shot. He’s even earned the start lately over Ware.
The Season So Far:
As expected with the turnover from last season’s NCAA Tournament team, it’s been a rough go of it for the Dawgs. Georgia is 9-5 going into conference play. If there’s one thing positive in the results so far, it’s that the team hasn’t had a truly bad loss – with one exception. The home loss to a poor Georgia Tech team was possibly the low point of the season and really highlighted the deficiencies of the Dawgs. To Georgia’s credit, they rebounded and have won five straight. The Dawgs don’t really have any marquee wins under their belt, but some nice wins away from from against Notre Dame and Southern Cal were impressive.
Around the SEC:
As shaky as Georgia has looked so far, they’re far from the worst team in the league. That says a lot about the state of the bottom tier of the SEC, but it could also help the Dawgs avoid the basement even with their shortcomings. If the guards can carry the team past a couple of lower-tier conference foes, they should break clear of the bottom third of the league.
As expected, Kentucky and Florida are off to strong starts. Kentucky is the clear favorite and a national title contender, but the Gators aren’t to be dismissed. Mississippi State had moderately strong expectations after a disappointing season a year ago, and they’ve lived up to the billing so far. The Bulldogs have stepped up their typically weak nonconference slate, and they’ve met the challenge.
Alabama has been a slight disappointment. The Tide started the season ranked and won their first seven. They lost three of four in early December, but they’ve since righted the ship. Their 25-point demolition of Georgia Tech this week was appreciated, but it’s also a warning to what awaits Georgia in their SEC opener. Vanderbilt has been the league’s real disappointment. They started the year in the top 10. Some early losses to quality opponents fell in the “close call, but no shame” category, but chance after chance to establish themselves among the top third of the league was missed. A convincing win over Marquette demonstrated what the Commodores can do, but they’ve missed that target more often than not this year.
Then there’s the bottom half of the league. Each division has three teams that are going to struggle to earn much postseason notice. The West might have the slightly stronger group: LSU and Ole Miss aren’t awful, but Auburn is. Georgia and a Tennessee program with their new coach could battle for 4th/5th in the East, and South Carolina should wind up on the bottom.
Remember that the SEC is going away from divisional standings this year. Though the schedule will still follow a divisional format (which doesn’t make much sense), the teams will be sorted on overall conference record. Under this system, Georgia could realistically finish somewhere around 7th-10th this year.