ATHENS, Georgia — Basketball has always been an afterthought at Georgia.
A third straight 20-win season could make the Bulldogs a lot more relevant.
Coming off its first trip to the NCAA tournament in four years, Georgia is hoping to show the sort of consistency that has long been lacking in this program.
Only one other time in school history have the Bulldogs reached 20 wins three years in a row. A second straight NCAA tournament appearance would also be a rarity, having occurred just three times previously.
"Consistency is certainly one of the goals that everybody wants to have in their life, as long as that consistency is one of success," coach Mark Fox said. "I think that the program has been a little bit of a roller coaster historically. We have to get away from that one day. If we can find success again and put together the third straight 20-win season, then that only helps. It's going to take time to establish the consistency, and this year is just another opportunity to do that."
The Bulldogs have three returning starters, led by senior guard Charles Mann. He begins his final season ranked second on the school's career list in scoring (1,042 points) and first in assists (308).
Fox is expecting big things from the 6-foot-5 Mann.
"Charles is big and he's physical," the coach said. "We worked really hard to get Charles into the best shape of his career. He probably didn't enjoy conditioning at all this year because it was harder than it's ever been. He's in the best shape he's been in since he's been with us."
As Georgia prepares to open the season Nov. 13 by hosting Chattanooga, here are some other things to watch for:
PERIMETER STRENGTH: With returning guards Mann, Kenny Gaines and J.J Frazier, the Bulldogs will likely get most of their scoring from the backcourt. Look for Georgia to go the majority of the time with a three-guard lineup, and Fox is even considering whether a four-guard alignment could work in some situations. "That might be something we experiment with," the coach said. "We have always tried to play pretty conventionally with two front-line players."
HOLE IN THE PAINT: Georgia must replace its two most effective inside players. Marcus Thornton was the team's leading scorer and rebounder, while Nemanja Djurisic also put up double-figure scoring. "There is no substitute for experience," Fox said. "Their intelligence and their experience really allowed them to be terrific players last year."
EYE ON MATEN: The player most likely to have a breakout season is Yante Maten, a 6-foot-8 sophomore forward. A solid player off the bench as a freshman, he bulked up in the weight room and transformed his body. "Yante is ready to take that next step in terms of his production," Fox said. "That is going to be important to us."
IMPACT FRESHMEN: The Bulldogs won't be as experienced on the inside, but they should have more size and athleticism. Freshmen Derek Ogbeide (6-8) and Mike Edwards (6-9) could make an immediate impact, though they'll surely make plenty of mistakes as well. "It's like a wild colt," Fox said. "You have to get them trained. Right now, they are making mistakes out of aggressiveness. That's OK." In all, five freshmen joined the team.
SEC SUCCESS: While the Bulldogs have yet to make a breakthrough nationally, they have become one of the more successful programs in the SEC. The last two years, Georgia has posted a 23-13 record in conference play. Fox's program isn't ready to compete with the Kentuckys of the college basketball world, but it is carving out its own little niche in this football-crazy league. Building on that momentum is the key.
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