Georgia Bulldogs Basketball: Higher ceiling than last season?


The Georgia Bulldogs have two more non-conference games before SEC play. With what we’ve seen, does this team have a higher ceiling than last year’s squad?

It was in the final minutes of the SEC Network telecast of the Georgia Bulldogs’ home game with in-state rival Georgia Tech that the booth reveled a conversation they had with Georgia head coach Mark Fox before the game. While the team is still trying to figure itself out like any team before conference play, Fox answered the following two-part question, “Is this Georgia team better at this point of the season than they were last year and does this team have a higher ceiling?”

Fox answered ‘no’ and then ‘yes’ to the two-part question and I believe that he is spot on with those responses. Last season the Georgia Bulldogs had both their health and senior leadership at the forward position. Key players like Nemanja Djurisic and Marcus Thornton graduated, leaving opportunities for big minutes for Yante Maten and Derek Ogbeide. Swingman Juwan Parker has yet to play this season and Ogbeide is just now getting back into the rotation.

-= Related: J.J. Frazier settling nicely into new role =-

Though the Georgia Bulldogs only boast a 5-3 record on the season, none of there three losses are to bad teams. Chattanooga has been surprisingly good. Seton Hall has been on the verge of getting back into the NCAA Tournament for years. Kansas State usually contends with Kansas, Iowa State, and Baylor in the Big 12. UGA lost to the Mocs and the Wildcats by a field goal in each game, so the difference between 5-3 and 7-1 is razor-thin.

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In the non-conference part of the schedule, Fox had to figure out how to play the backcourt trio of J.J. Frazier, Kenny Gaines, and Charles Mann more efficiently. All three are great players for UGA in the backcourt, but sometimes there are too many cooks in the kitchen in the backcourt and spacing becomes an issue.

However, Fox has succeeded in making sure that the Dawgs have at least one go-to scoring threat in the back court for every minute of a contest. Mann will attack the rim and distribute. Gaines has a smooth stroke from the outside. Frazier can take over games when he’s on fire like he was against Georgia Tech on Saturday afternoon. Good SEC defenses will have a tough time accounting for UGA’s threats out on the perimeter.

What gives UGA an edge as the SEC part of their schedule rapidly approaches is that the frontcourt is further along thnt we had expected. Yante Maten is playing out of his mind in his sophomore year. The former Gatorade Player of the Year in Michigan may have a future in the NBA. He has been one of the most improved players in the NCAA in the early part of the 2015-16.

Ogbeide was a stud at Pebblebrook High School before signing with the Dawgs. He’s had to deal with a shoulder injury, but has the look of a great inside post player for the Georgia this season. There’s a high IQ, physicality quality to him that bodes well for the Dawgs taking care of business on the glass and in the low post game. Even bigs like Houston Kessler and Mike Edwards have shown that this team does have more depth down low than what I thought UGA had entering 2015-16.

Should Parker and fellow swingman Kenny Paul Geno have their health this season, UGA could have even more depth than they had as last year’s NCAA Tournament team. In the non-conference, I’ve better outside shooting, a commitment to excellence on the boards, and a team that has a better feel for the game with a shorter shot clock.

It’s amazing, but losing a couple of seconds on the shot clock this season seems to accelerate the Dawgs to playing at their ideal pace. When the Georgia Bulldogs are competitive on the glass and can dictate tempo, this will be a hard team to beat this season. 20 wins again seems likely and a March Madness date is still very much on the table.

Next: J.J. Frazier leads Dawgs past Jackets, 75-61

I don’t know how the Dawgs stack up against Kentucky, South Carolina, or Vanderbilt in the SEC this season, but UGA should have no problem sticking in the top half of the conference during SEC play. UGA plays better during that part of their schedule. With honestly a higher ceiling with this year’s team than last season’s, I’d like to believe that the Georgia Bulldogs fight their way back into Bracketology conversations.