Opponent Preview: Jacksonville

Jacksonville Dolphins
Jacksonville

The Bucs will be hosting the Dolphins of Jacksonville (10-10) on Thursday night at 7:00PM. ETSU comes winning 2 of their last 3 including a 10-point victory at KSU on Saturday. Jacksonville comes in hot with a 3 game winning streak and a 5-2 record in the conference that has them in 2nd place.

ETSU hopes to pick up where they left off on Saturday. The Bucs had their best shooting game of the season against KSU on Saturday. ETSU has struggled at home this year with only winning two games on their home court while Jacksonville has struggled on the road.

Versus ETSU:  ETSU leads series 11-5.  Last meeting ETSU 55 – Jacksonville 61 in Johnson City.(2012)

Last Season 8-22
Conference Record 6-12 (9th)
Coach Cliff Warren (Mount St. Mary’s ’90)
Record At School 110–124 (8 years)
Career Record 110–124 (8 years)

A Quick Look at Jacksonville

After a disappointing season last year Jacksonville has started out strong in conference play. Jacksonville is lead by guards Keith McDougald and Jarvis Haywood. The Dolphins are somewhat hard to figure out as they go blown at home earlier this season to Wofford by 42 points but have been playing very well since starting conference play. Jacksonville puts up very similar stats to ETSU which should make for an evenly matched game.

A Quick Look at ETSU

ETSU is coming off their best shooting output of the season. The Bucs shot 63% from the field and 69% from the 3-point line on Saturday. Both Jarvis Jones and Lester Wilson had strong games, with both combined going 7-8 from the 3-point line. In addition to that, KGC has also played a very important role the last two games.

Team Stats

Scoring Offense: ETSU 59.5, Jacksonville 68.0
Scoring Defense: ETSU 69.5 points allowed, Jacksonville 71.8
Field Goal%: ETSU 40.4%, Jacksonville 41.4%
Field Goal% Defense: ETSU 44.9%, Jacksonville 45.1%
3-Point Field Goal%: ETSU 32.2%, Jacksonville 30.8%
3-Point Field Goal% Defense: ETSU 35.6%, Jacksonville 34.5%
Rebounding Margin: ETSU -6.5, Jacksonville -0.4
Turnover Margin: ETSU 0.0, Jacksonville +0.7

For ETSU to Win they will need strong play from their top two scorers Wilson and Jones. It is also vital that KGC and Hunter Harris play well on both sides of the ball. Good shooting and limiting their turnovers is also vital for the Bucs success. This is defiantly a winnable game for ETSU as both teams are fairly evenly matched. A win will put ETSU right back in the mix of things in conference play.

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Opponent Preview: Kennesaw State

kennesaw state
Kennesaw State

The Bucs will be visiting the Owls of Kennesaw State (2-16) on Saturday at 2:30PM. ETSU comes in on a one game losing streak after losing on Thursday night to Mercer 59-78. KSU has dropped their last 3, but they did have an 8-point victory against Mercer at home two weeks ago, a team that outplayed ETSU in all aspects of the game Thursday night.

The Bucs look to get back on track against the current last place team in the A-Sun. KSU won their lone conference home game this year against Mercer. While ETSU is 1-2 on the road in A-Sun conference games this season. ETSU will get a look at where they truly stand in the A-Sun Saturday afternoon against Kennesaw State. If ETSU cannot win this game then the rest of the season may look bleak for the Bucs.

Versus ETSU:  ETSU leads series 13-1.  Last meeting ETSU 64 – Kennesaw State 59 in Kennesaw, GA (2012)

Last Season 3-28
Conference Record 0-18 (10th)
Coach Lewis Preston (VMI ’93)
Record At School 5–44 (2 years)
Career Record 5–44 (2 years)

A Quick Look at Kennesaw State

Kennesaw State is picked last in the A-Sun this season and is currently at the bottom spot with a 1-5 conference record. KSU is lead by Senior forward Markeith Cummings who is averaging 18 points and 4 rebounds per game. Like ETSU they give up around 70 points per game and only score around 60 point per game. Even though KSU has only won two games this season I still expect this to be a tough game for ETSU.

A Quick Look at ETSU

ETSU is coming off their worst played conference game of the season against Mercer. This should be a concern for the Bucs as the lone conference game KSU won this season was against that same Mercer team in the KSU Convocation Center. ETSU is 9-0 against KSU over the last four years and will look to continue that streak.

Team Stats

Scoring Offense: ETSU 58.9, KSU 61.4
Scoring Defense: ETSU 70.1 points allowed, KSU 71.8
Field Goal%: ETSU 39.5%, KSU 41.2%
Field Goal% Defense: ETSU 45.2%, KSU 49.9%
3-Point Field Goal%: ETSU 30.9%, KSU 29.5%
3-Point Field Goal% Defense: ETSU 36.7%, KSU 37.2%
Rebounding Margin: ETSU -6.6, KSU -4.9
Turnover Margin: ETSU +0.4, v +0.4

For ETSU to Win they will need to limit their turnovers and have strong play from both Lester Wilson and Jarvis Jones. In addition to that ETSU will need to shoot well from both the field and free throw line, two area’s they struggled with in the Mercer game. The Bucs will also need to play hard on defense especially when defending the 3-point shot. I also think it’s key that ETSU comes out strong in the first 10 minutes, while ETSU has played from behind for most of the season I believe a strong start will help their chances in this game.

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Opponent Preview: Mercer

Mercer
Mercer

The Bucs will be visiting the Bears of Mercer (10-8) on Thursday at 7PM. ETSU comes in winners of 2 of their last 3, including a ten-point win against league leader Florida Gulf Coast this past Saturday. Mercer has dropped 2 of their last 3, but will be playing their first game at home since January 2nd where they are unbeaten this year.

The Bucs look to continue to stay on track Thursday night in Macon against pre-season favorite Mercer. ETSU will be tested against a tough Mercer team that usually plays well at home. Mercer has won their lone conference home game this year against Stetson (70 – 64). While ETSU is 1-1 on the road in A-Sun conference games this season.

Versus ETSU:  ETSU leads series 12-3.  Last meeting ETSU 46 – VCU 54 in Macon, GA (2012)

Last Season 27-11
Conference Record 13-5 (2nd)
Coach Bob Hoffman (Oklahoma Baptist ’79)
Record At School 95–77 (5 years)
Career Record 163–154 (10 years)

A Quick Look at Mercer

Mercer the preseason favorites in the A-Sun this season is lead by Senior guard Travis Smith averaging 12 points per game. They are an experienced team led by several upperclassmen and one of the better defensive teams in the league allowing on 57 points per game. Mercer expects to be a tough outing for the Bucs despite being only 10-8 so far this season. The Bears have two big non-conference victories with wins both at Alabama and Florida State earlier in the season.

A Quick Look at ETSU

ETSU is coming off perhaps their biggest win of the season on Saturday night when they beat league leader Florida Gulf Coast 85-75 in Johnson City. The Bucs hope to continue their strong play against Mercer. ETSU’s 85 points in Saturday’s win is the second most of the season and their 52% shooting percentage was also the second highest shooting percentage of the season.

Team Stats

Scoring Offense: ETSU 58.9, Mercer 61.2
Scoring Defense: ETSU 69.6 points allowed, Mercer 56.9
Field Goal%: ETSU 39.3%, Mercer 40.6%
Field Goal% Defense: ETSU 45%, Mercer 39.8%
3-Point Field Goal%: ETSU 30.3%, Mercer 33.3%
3-Point Field Goal% Defense: ETSU 36.9%, Mercer 33.4%
Rebounding Margin: ETSU -4.8, Mercer +0.1
Turnover Margin: ETSU +0.4, Mercer +2.1

For ETSU to Win they will need to shoot well from the field. ETSU is 4-1 this year in games where they have shot over 43% from the field. In addition to shooting well the Bucs will also need to control the boards and have a strong defensive effort, especially from the 3-point line.

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Opponent Preview: VCU

VCU

Versus ETSU:  VCU leads series 9-0.  Last meeting ETSU 71 – VCU 79 in Richmond (2001)

Last Season 29-7
Conference Record 15-3 (2nd)
Coach Shaka Smart (Kenyon College ’99)
Record At School 94–31 (3 years)
Career Record 94–31 (3 years)

On Wednesday night (7PM ET) the Bucs take on the 10-3 VCU Rams in the Dome. VCU is ranked just outside of the top 25 (26th in Coaches Poll). This VCU team is the highest ranked team to play ETSU inside of the dome since the 1998-1999 season when ETSU hosted two top 25 teams. Michigan State who was ranked 14th at the time and the College of Charleston who came to Johnson City ranked 20th in the nation.

COACH AND PROGRAM
Coming off an enthralling Final Four run, VCU held mixed expectations last year. Four seniors were gone and head coach Shaka Smart had the ninth-youngest team in the country.

VCU

If there was ever a validation of a program on the rise and not a one-hit wonder, or fluke, it’s what VCU accomplished. The Rams won the CAA championship, beat Wichita State in the second round of the NCAA tournament, and had a game-winning shot to put them into the Sweet 16 bound off the front rim.It was a wild, havoc-fueled ride. VCU led the country in steals (381) and steals per game (10.6). The 381 steals is the highest single-season total in college basketball the last four seasons. VCU also led the country in opponent turnover rate (27.3), steal percentage (16.0), turnover margin (+6.5), and turnovers forced (17.9 per game).

Think havoc is a fast paced game? The Rams also held 17 opponents to 60 points or less, the highest such total in school history. Success indeed begins at the defensive end. “Briante saved us,” recalls Smart, speaking of freshman guard Briante Weber. “Briante gave us swagger. [Senior] Brad [Burgess] was great, but he was a businessman. Our two 757 guys (Weber and Darius Theus, who hail from Virginia Beach area code 757) brought that attitude, that swagger. We needed it to win.” And when it all ended, VCU announced over the summer that it would join the Atlantic 10 conference, moving out of a CAA it had called home since 1996.

There’s even more good news for a program on the rise. The Rams return 84 percent of their minutes played, 80 percent of their scoring and 85 percent of their rebounding next season. Nobody answered the bell better last year than senior Darius Theus (8.5 ppg, 4.7 apg). Theus was charged with replacing Final Four sparkplug Joey Rodriguez as both a producer and a general. Theus hit the mark, handing out 170 assists, grabbing 71 steals and finishing second in assist-to-turnover ratio in the CAA. The 6-4 Theus is a strong defender and the consummate point guard — he isn’t a scorer but scores in big moments, when the team needs him. In fact, Smart could be heard yelling randomly at VCU practices that “the team equals Darius, Darius equals the team!” Still, his shooting could improve. Theus was 15 of 62 (.24.2) from 3. “He’s not known for his scoring, but he’s a maker of big baskets,” Smart said. “He really asserted himself as a vocal leader. That’s a comforting feeling as a coach, having that, especially from your point guard. He just has to maintain and get better.”

Troy Daniels

Troy Daniels (10.0 ppg, 3.3 rpg) is a deadeye shooter who will stretch a defense — he broke a school record with 94 3s made last year. In fact, 94 of his 112 field goal made were 3s — some very long 3s. The 6-3 senior was 94 of 247 (.381) from behind the arc and 18 of 52 inside. It isn’t surprising Smart frequently calls Daniels the best shooter he’s ever coached, but the scary part is that the coach says if you haven’t seen a VCU practice, you haven’t yet seen Daniels at his best.”When you add up what he can do, he should be the best scorer on the team,” Smart said. “We need him to be more assertive. He has to grow from a confidence standpoint, to take how he plays in practice into the game.”

A pair of sophomores give Smart a dynamic offense/defense duo. Treveon Graham (7.0 ppg, 3.2 rpg) is a pure scorer who can shoot the 3 (26 of 83, .313) but has a big body that guides him through traffic to the rim. The 6-6 Graham shot 120 free throws, second most on the team despite playing less than 17 minutes per game. Graham hit UAB and James Madison for 18 points each in his initial season, and scored 13 points against Drexel in the CAA championship game. For Graham, it’s learning how to best exploit opportunities. “We’ve set ambitious benchmarks for him,” Smart said. “But with Tre it’s not about stats. It’s about productivity because he is a scorer. We’re raising his alertness level, getting a better understanding of how to better take advantage of what a defense gives him.”

Juvonte Reddic

Briante Weber (3.5 ppg, 1.9 apg) is a joy to watch play — high energy doesn’t even begin to describe the 6-3 sophomore, who led the CAA with 77 steals and led the country in steal percentage (7.01) and steals per 40 minutes (4.6). “When he is at his best he is havoc,” Smart said. Weber has more than just defensive gifts with his length and instincts. He posted a freshman-unusual 1.3-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. Like Graham, Weber has room to grow. “He has unbelievable potential, but until he falls in love with the game, he’s going to be a role player,” Smart said. “He has to get much more serious about the craft — attempt to master ball handling and shooting.” Smart has an eye-catching big man in Juvonte Reddic (10.3 ppg, 6.7 rpg). The 6-9 junior dominated games last season, showing off an array of moves from baseline to free-throw line. Reddic posted 10 double-doubles and handles the ball well for a man his size. He dropped 28 points on William & Mary by scoring on steal/length-of-court drives, jump hooks, and smooth drop steps.

VCU won its final three regular season games and Reddic led the team in rebounding in all three, posting a 10.3 average. The issue: there were games Reddic disappeared. In five of VCUs seven losses Reddic fell short of double figures. Smart’s job is to instill some rattlesnake in the unflappable Reddic. A name to watch this year is combo guard Rob Brandenberg (9.0 ppg, 2.7 rpg). The 6-2 junior plays high-energy and exciting basketball and was second on the team in assists (65). But he struggled much of the season. There was an eight-game stretch in January where Brandenberg averaged just 4.0 points and it was evident he lost a lot of the swagger that is key to his style of play. Brandenberg shot below average, and off from his freshman season (109 of 308, .354) and just 29 percent from 3 (41 of 140). Brandenberg scored in double figures in four of VCU’s final six games, including 13 against Indiana in the NCAA tournament. “He had the sophomore slump of ‘who am I?’ ” Smart said. “We worked with him and let him know that he can’t become great until he becomes consistently good.”

Fellow junior D.J. Haley (3.2 ppg, 3.9 rpg) stands a full 7-feet tall and is a rock solid 260 pounds, but he can move for a man his size. Haley is a bit of a renaissance man, sporting a full beard, quoting Thoreau, and playing piano. On the court he does everything that allows the stars to be stars — set screens, crash the boards, and distribute the basketball. Haley’s ability to play more than short bursts — he battles asthma — could make him dangerous.

Teddy Okereafor (0.8 ppg, 0.5 apg) played sparingly into the middle of the season but more as March drew near. The 6-4 sophomore played his best game of the season — eight points and two assists in 14 minutes — against Northeastern in the CAA quarterfinals. Okereafor is the primary backup at point guard and played well during the team’s trip to Italy over the summer.

Two 6-8 players, sophomore Jarred Guest (0.9 ppg, 0.6 rpg) and senior David Hinton (0.2 ppg, 0.3 rpg) will battle for frontcourt time. A sure sign that VCUs success is gaining national attention: Smart landed two top 100 recruits in his freshman class. Melvin Johnson, a 6-3 combo guard with silly range, committed in late July. Johnson is a smooth scorer who averaged 20.8 points and knocked down 82 3-point field goals in his senior high school season. ESPN rated him the No. 14 shooting guard in the nation and a four-star recruit. “He can put the ball in the basket at a high rate,” Smart said.

A familiar name is 6-5 wing Jordan Burgess, the younger brother of just-graduated Bradford Burgess. Jordan steps onto campus with a college body and a mean streak that won’t allow him to be intimidated. “He will play but he’s got to go take someone’s minutes,” Smart said. “There is a relentlessness to him.”ESPN rated Burgess a four-star prospect and also the No. 24 small forward in the country. Justin Tuoyo is the third member of the freshman class. The 6-8 Tuoyo has the farthest to go from a strength perspective, but Smart notes “he is a sponge and a quick learner.” Those attributes lend well to a redshirt season.

BLUE RIBBON ANALYSIS
BACKCOURT: A
BENCH/DEPTH: B
FRONTCOURT: B
INTANGIBLES: A

Shaka Smart

Smart is undaunted by moving to the Atlantic 10. “We could play on Mars and it wouldn’t change our personnel or style of play,” he says. “There’s certainly an element of preparing for a season that will be new and different, but for us it’s giving the players the best understanding of what it takes to win one game, a stretch of games. It takes playing hard, playing smart, and playing as a team.” VCU got a jump on its season with a summer tour of Italy in which the Rams beat four teams by an average of 54.5 points. Smart points to the camaraderie and 10 practices as very important, perhaps more important than the actual games in Italy. “The important thing for us is that we need to get our guys in the right frame of mind where they set aside any personal agenda and focus on the common goal of winning,” he said. Winning isn’t a foreign concept. VCU is one of four programs in the country to post at least 24 wins each of the last six seasons (Kansas, Memphis and BYU are the others). Considering VCU has gone 15-5 over the past 10 seasons against current A-10 teams, the winning appears to be here to stay.

It’s hard to poke holes in VCU: they score often (36th in the nation) and efficiently, and force more turnovers than any other team in the nation. They manhandled FGCU and Stetson, beat Belmont by 10, and lost to no.1 Duke by 9.

Led by Juvonte Reddic, the 6’9″, 235 lb energetic, jumping jack, VCU has 3 more double-digit scorers: Graham, Daniels, and Brandenburg. The 6’4″ Daniels has hit 50-3’s this year at a scary 43% clip.

As in most games this season ETSU will have to play tough defense if they want any chance at all to win this game. The Bucs will also need to find a way to get out of their shooting slump. ETSU is currently 335th in the nation in scoring and 339th in FG%.

This will be the first game of the season with the new lighting rig in the dome.

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Game Capsule: ETSU vs. Ole Miss

Ole Miss

Date:  12/14/12

Tipoff: 8pm (7pm local)

Location: Tad Smith Coliseum – aka the Tad Pad

Team: Ole Miss

Nickname: Rebels

Mascot: Black Bear (The riverboat gambler retired)

Founded in: 1844

Enrollment: 20,844 (All UM campuses combined)

Head Coach: Andy Kennedy

All time:  Ole Miss leads 8-5

Last time: 2010 Ole Miss won 71-50

Leading Scorer: Marshall Henderson (Jr.-Guard)

Players to watch: Murphy Holloway (Sr. Forward), Reginald Buckner (Sr. Forward)

TV: None

Web: RebelVision at olemisssports.com

Radio: Buccaneer Sports Network affiliates and on etsubucs.com

The Bucs close out a brutal three game road stretch Friday night at the Tad Pad against Ole Miss.  Still without freshman guard Petey McClain, the Bucs are hoping to have Jarvis Jones back, but could very well be without Hunter Harris who is listed as day to day with a stinger.  Ole Miss will be looking to take out their frustrations on ETSU after dropping a heartbreaker to brother university MTSU before finals began.  ETSU is looking to continue to improve and gain experience for its’ young squad as they move closer to conference play.  Tip off is 8pm EASTERN, 7pm CENTRAL for fans who are making their way to Oxford.

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Game Capsule: ETSU vs. #16 North Carolina

Opponent: #16 North Carolina

Nickname: Tar Heels

Conference: ACC

Founded In: 1789

Enrollment: 28916

Venue:  Dean Smith Center

TV: None

Web: WatchESPN or ESPN3.com

All time series:  North Carolina leads 5-0

Last time:  1987 North Carolina won 118-65

Previous game: ETSU lost to James Madison 70-45 and UNC beat UAB 102-84

UNC Players to watch:  James McAdoo, PJ Hairston and Reggie Bullock

Leading Scorer:  James McAdoo 15.8

With ETSU’s roster depleted, expect North Carolina to build a lead early and experiment with defensive looks, lineups and younger players.

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JMU Preview:

School:  James Madison University

Nickname:  Dukes

Mascot: Bulldog

2011-2012 Record:  12-20

Head Coach:  Matt Brady

Last time ETSU/JMU played:  ETSU won in 2011 70-56

All Time Series:  ETSU leads 7-4 and have won the last three in a row.

Preseason Notes:  AJ Davis was selected Preseason All CAA, the Bulldogs predicted finish was 6th.

Returnees:  Six seniors, two juniors, two sophomores, five freshman.

Key Returnees:  AJ Davis, Rayshawn Goins, Devon Moore, Andrey Semenov

Key Loss:  Humpty Hitchens

Leading scorer: Rayshawn Goins (15.4 PPG)

Leading Rebounder:  Rayshawn Goins (8.3 RPG)

Assists leader:  Devon Moore ( 7.1 APG)

Steals: Andre Nation

2011-2012 Record:  12-20

Head Coach:  Matt Brady

The Dukes have been hampered by injuries and attrition the last few years, and this season is no different with Andrey Semenov battling a groin injury.  Picked 6th in the CAA Preseason poll, JMU is a mix of seniors and freshman.  They are the only Division I team in the country that has five redshirt seniors and six total seniors.  The Dukes are very similar to ETSU, they’re battling issues with depth, injuries and attrition.

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Opponent Preview: Georgia (Fri., Nov. 23, 7:00pm EST, Stegeman Coliseum)

Note: The following preview has been compiled from information gathered from espn.com, blueribbonyearbookonline.com, etsufans.com, etsubucs.com and the opposing school’s website.  Information in this report is as of Oct. 1.

Georgia Bulldogs

Georgia Bulldogs

 

 

 

 

 

Enrollment: 33,337

Location: Athens, GA

Basketball Facility: Stegeman Coliseum (10,523)

Stegeman Coliseum

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Athletic Conference: SEC

SEC

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Versus ETSU:  ETSU leads series 2-1.  Last meeting ETSU 76 – UGA 58 in Hawaii (2007)

 

Last Season 15-17 (.469)
Conference Record 5-11 (t-10th)
Starters Lost/Returning 1/4
Coach Mark Fox (Eastern New Mexico ’91)
Record At School 50-46 (3 years)
Career Record 173-91 (8 years)
RPI Last 5 years 99-194-109-52-104

 COACH AND PROGRAM

Head Coach Mark Fox
Head Coach Mark Fox

Georgia coach Mark Fox isn’t ready to say the rebuilding job he inherited is complete, but he likes the progress the program has made in his first three seasons.

“I probably feel better about Georgia basketball today than I ever have,” Fox said. “We felt this was a difficult situation — a complete rebuilder. And we had a couple of curve balls thrown our way with a couple of guys leaving early, and we weren’t in position to withstand that. But I believe we can win at a very high level.”

Those two curve balls were named Trey Thompkins and Travis Leslie, both of whom declared for the NBA Draft after the 2010-11 season and were chosen in the second round by the Los Angeles Clippers. Kentucky may be able to lose multiple draft picks every year and retool with McDonald’s All-Americans. Not Georgia.

Actually, that’s not entirely true. Fox and his staff did bring in 6-5 Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, a consensus five-star recruit, and he was good as a freshman, earning a spot on the SEC All-Freshman team. But despite Caldwell-Pope (13.2 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 1.2 apg, 1.8 spg) and the presence of two veteran guards, departed seniors Gerald Robinson (14.2 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 3.5 apg) and Dustin Ware (8.1 ppg, 2.3 apg), the Bulldogs couldn’t finish above .500. Their lack of overall firepower (60.9 ppg, .395 FG, .312 3PT) left them vulnerable.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope

But the last five games of the season, the Bulldogs — who started 1-7 in Southeastern Conference play — developed some bite, beating Florida at home and Mississippi State in the first round of the SEC tournament.

Caldwell-Pope was front and center in those two wins, and another freshman, 6-8, 230-pound Nemanja Djurisic began playing like a guy who might one day average a double-double.

Georgia’s play in March gave Fox and his staff reason for hope. So did a recruiting class that saw Georgia land three of the four in-state high school players it targeted — only Tony Parker, a four-star recruit from state power Miller Grove, disappointed with his late-April decision to attend UCLA — helping reverse a long trend of the big state school failing to mine the rich lode of talent within close proximity.

Marcus Thorton
Marcus Thorton

In its last three recruiting classes, Georgia has signed two former Georgia Mr. Basketballs — 6-8, 230-pound junior Marcus Thornton (3.0 ppg, 4.8 rpg), whose 2011-12 season was wrecked by injury, and McDonald’s All-American Caldwell-Pope — and three players — Kenneth Gaines, Charles Mann and Brandon Morris — who helped lead their respective high schools to Georgia state championships in 2012.

“We’ve made a lot of progress,” Fox said about restocking his roster with homegrown talent. “We’re not going to completely solve overnight a problem that’s been around a quarter century, but we’ve made a lot of headway.”  That will be evident this season if Caldwell-Pope takes the next step in his development, Thornton can play without pain in his knees and Gaines, Mann and Morris assume spots in the rotation, which Fox expects to happen.

Caldwell-Pope made a big impact on the SEC — Kentucky’s John Calipari called him “a game changer,” — despite the fact he played out of position at the three. That allowed him to lead Georgia in rebounding, but it hampered his development in other ways.

“Playing out of position every night against older, more physical players hurt his productivity,” Fox said. “Now that I’ve got him back at his natural position [two guard] and he’s a year older, he’s probably going to become the guy that’s the face of our program.”

Caldwell-Pope was probably too reliant on the 3-pointer last year, cranking out 214 shots from behind the arc. He made 65, but his .304 percentage has to improve, as does his .654 free-throw percentage.

Thornton was leading Georgia in rebounding (5.8 rpg) through the first 12 games of last season, but he injured his right knee against Furman and had to undergo arthroscopic surgery. Thornton missed five games and wasn’t nearly as effective after his return. After the season, he underwent surgery on his left knee and wasn’t able to play during the Bulldogs’ trip to Italy in August. That was his third knee surgery in two years.

“Once he’s healthy, we think he can be very effective for us,” Fox said. “He’s extremely powerful. He can guard four positions. He’s a very good rebounder, and his offense is coming along.

“He’s never been able to get comfortable offensively because he’s never been healthy. He’s a great leaper and hasn’t been able to use it because of his injuries. But when he’s healthy, he can drive it to the basket, knock down a three and can post up some.”

Donte Williams
Donte Williams

With Thornton injured, 6-9, 225-pound junior Donte Williams (7.8 ppg, 5.1 rpg) had to become a major con-tributor inside. After averaging six minutes a game as a freshman, Williams played 25.9 a game last season and his numbers improved markedly. He led Georgia in blocked shots (51), was second in rebounding and scored in double figures seven times, including a pair of 17-point games against South Dakota State and Kentucky.

Nemanja Djurisic
Nemanja Djurisic

Along with Williams, Djurisic (7.0 ppg, 4.2 rpg) also began to emerge in 2011-12. He started 12 times at the four position and showed signs of becoming a legit inside-out player. He put together consecutive double-figure rebounding games in March (10 against South Carolina, 11 against Mississippi State) and shot .364 from 3 (20 of 55), second on the team.

“He’s as versatile an offensive player as we probably have,” Fox said. “He can shoot threes and also post up and score. He’s an excellent passer. Physically, he was probably thrown into the fire before he was ready after Trey Thompkins left, but he was a very good player for us.”

Georgia has some size and depth in the post, if the trio of 6-9, 225-pound sophomore Tim Dixon (0.3 ppg, 0.9 rpg), 6-10, 240-pound sophomore John Cannon (1.3 ppg, 0.9 rpg) and 6-11, 240-pound senior John Florveus (1.8 ppg, 1.8 rpg) can take the next step.

Dixon and Cannon played sparingly as freshmen, but Florveus, who transferred from junior college a year ago, played in 32 games, started three times and averaged 12.8 minutes. He blocked 22 shots, second on the team. Florveous added 20 pounds of muscle in the offseason, which should help him do battle in a league that’s traditionally filled with athletic, physical post players.

Two veteran guards will get an opportunity to fend off the challenges of two freshmen. Vincent Williams (2.9 ppg, 1.0 rpg, 1.3 apg), a 6-0 senior point, started 11 games as a junior, put together a solid assist-to-turnover ratio (1.8) and was a respectable 3-point shooter (.333).

“He was very solid,” Fox said. “He was playing behind our best player in Gerald Robinson, but this season he’ll have a great opportunity to play significant minutes.”

Sherrard Brantley (1.7 ppg, 0.8 rpg), a 6-2 senior, was brought in from junior college to make 3s, but in two seasons he’s averaged .288 from behind the arc, including .255 last season (13 of 51).

Brantley had better make more shots if he wants to play, because freshman guards Charles Mann and Kenny Gaines should quickly move into Fox’s rotation.

At 6-4, Mann is a true point guard who last season averaged 16.2 points and 5.8 assists and led Milton High School of Alpharetta, Ga. to the Class AAAAA state championship. ESPN rated him the No. 21 point guard nationally.

“He has a natural instinct to pass the ball and make people better,” Fox said. “He’ll compete for the starting job with Vincent Williams.”

Gaines, a 6-3 scoring machine from Whitefield Academy in Atlanta, averaged 25.2 points, 7.6 rebounds and 2.6 steals last season for a team that won the Class A state title. ESPN rated him the No. 24 shooting guard in his class.

“He’s an explosive scoring guard, a terrific athlete who knows how to put the ball in the basket,” Fox said. “We think he ultimately will be able to play both guard spots, but we probably won’t do that to him his freshman year.”

Fox says both rookie guards can make 3-pointers, which could help shore up a major 2011-12 weakness.

Yet another Georgia freshman helped his high school claim a state title a year ago. Brandon Morris, a 6-7 combo forward, averaged 10.9 points, 8.0 rebounds and 2.3 blocks for Miller Grove of Lithonia, Ga. which won its fourth straight Class AAAA championship. Morris was overshadowed in high school by the more heralded Tony Parker, but Fox is expecting big things from him.

“Brandon Morris will probably be the best player out of our freshman class,” Fox said. “He’s going to be a terrific SEC player. He’s another versatile guy who’s long and very athletic. He’s a great rebounder, and I think he will be an awesome defender. He can make an open jump shot and drive it to the basket.”

When Parker opted for UCLA, Georgia knew where to turn for help in its frontcourt. Houston Kessler, a 6-8 freshman, is no Tony Parker, but he is a legacy recruit — his father is Chad Kessler, a four-year Georgia letterman, and his uncle was the late Alec Kessler, Georgia’s No. 2 career scorer.

The younger Kessler, is a stretch four man, is probably ticketed for a redshirt season, and there’s precedent within his family to suggest that could pay dividends.

“His dad was drafted into the NBA,” Fox said. “But his uncle was a lottery pick. The difference was dad did not redshirt, but his uncle did. We’d really like to redshirt Houston if we can. He’s a good shooter and rebounder who can eventually help us.”

Kessler didn’t win a Georgia high school championship in 2012, but he was a first-team Class A pick who ended up as the leading scorer in Landmark Christian School (Fairburn, Ga.) history. Kessler racked up 1,600 career points and more than 1,000 career rebounds.

BLUE RIBBON ANALYSIS

BACKCOURT: B-
BENCH/DEPTH: C
FRONTCOURT: B-
INTANGIBLES: C+

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Early defections to the NBA and injuries have hampered the program under Mark Fox’s watch, but he enters his fourth season in Athens with a full roster that includes nine scholarship players from talent-rich Georgia. If the trend of keeping in-state talent at home continues, this program will rise above the two-steps-forward-one-step-back mode it’s been stuck in the last couple of decades.

As for this season, the Bulldogs will be young and have to answer some questions. Can Caldwell-Pope elevate his game? Can Thornton shake off the knee injuries that have hampered his progress? Can freshman guards Mann and Gaines make immediate contributions?

If the answer to those questions turns out to be yes, Georgia will produce a winning record and could claim a postseason tournament berth. The NCAAs probably aren’t realistic this season, but a spot in the NIT would be a step in the right direction.

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