The Georgia Bulldogs enter the 2012 season faced with trying to replace Trey Thompkins and Travis Leslie while not taking too much of a step backwards in the SEC standings. Mark Fox will rely on his senior backcourt of Dustin Ware and Gerald Robinson as well as freshman and McDonald's All-American Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.
Georgia Basketball coach Mark Fox enters his third season in Athens and is looking to continue the momentum that his club gained in his first two years at the helm. Last season the Bulldogs returned to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2008 but could have a difficult time repeating that feat in 2012. Fox suffered a major set back when both Trey Thompkins and Travis Leslie decided to forgo their senior seasons and enter the NBA draft. Georgia must also replace big men Jeremy Price and Chris Barnes which leaves a frontcourt full of questions for the upcoming season.
One area where Georgia doesn't have any questions is in the backcourt. Both Gerald Robinson and Dustin Ware return for their senior seasons giving Fox leadership at one of the team's most crucial positions. Robinson is the team's top returning scorer at 12.2 points per game and also its best playmaker having lead the team in assists. Fox will be looking for some improved decision making from Robinson but he could also end up being the Bulldogs' go to scorer. Dustin Ware averaged 8.0 points and 3.5 assists per game last season while shooting 44 percent from three-point range. With Leslie and Thompkins both gone, there figures to be more opportunities for Ware in the offense this season. The steady lead guard has led the SEC in assist-to-turnover ratio in each of the last two seasons.
Another source of optimism for the Bulldogs is the arrival of McDonald's All American Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. Fox has described Caldwell-Pope as an impact player with a deft scoring touch that will clearly be needed by the Bulldogs. Caldwell-Pope is listed at 6-foot-4 and will likely man the small forward position in what is close to a three guard alignment by Georgia.
Georgia's frontcourt picture isn't quite as clear as only Marcus Thornton, and Donte' Williams return from last year's squad. Thornton will be relied on from day one in his sophomore season as a post scorer even if he is perhaps more suited to slide between the No. 3 and No. 4 positions. Out of necessity, he will receive heavy minutes early and a lot of the Bulldog's fortunes could rest on his shoulders. Donte Williams also returns and has reportedly worked hard during the offseason to add both weight and strength. The Bulldogs signed four frontcourt players in their 2011 class and JUCO product John Florveus figures to be the most polished of the group.
Depth will be a major concern for the Bulldogs entering the season and Mark Fox will be looking for more production out of the likes of Sherrard Brantley, Vincent Williams and Connor Nolte. Freshman Tim Dixon, John Cannon and Nemanja Djurisic all figure to enter camp with an opportunity to earn minutes. Brantley would seem to be the best bet to provide scoring punch from the bench but he struggled to make shots last season. Scoring aside, one or two of the freshman may be needed to soak up minutes defensively inside.
It remains to be seen whether or not Mark Fox will adjust Georgia game plan much but the team's personnel suggests that the Bulldogs look to play a more uptempo style this season. Fox is 35-29 in two seasons at Georgia and 158-72 overall. The departures of Thompkins and Leslie change the outlook of this season significantly but Fox has shown in the past an ability to keep his team's competitive.
Georgia once again has a challenging non-conference slate lined up highlighted by a trip to Kansas City for the CBE Classic where they will play California and either Missouri or Notre Dame. The Bulldogs will hit the road to play at Colorado, at Xavier and at USC. The Bulldogs will also host Cincinnati and Georgia Tech during the non-conference slate. All of that before entering conference play in what figures to be an improved SEC.
Georgia is going to be hard pressed to repeat its 21 wins and NCAA tournament birth in 2012. In fact, Fox's biggest win could come off the court this season in recruiting with what is considered to be a strong class of 2012 in the state of Georgia. Some regression is likely, especially with the departures of Thompkins and Leslie, Fox just needs to avoid a major collapse and anything resembling contention for a postseason birth will look like a major success.
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