The last time Georgia basketball made the NCAA Tournament four out of five years was … well, it’s never happened. Outside of a memorable Final Four run in 1983, the Bulldogs have been mostly irrelevant on the hardwood, and they’ve never come close to that type of consistency.
That could be changing, though, according to The Athletic’s Sam Vecenie.
“[Given] the resources Georgia has — just as a university in general — I think the expectation should be NCAA Tournament four out of every five years,” Vecenie told DawgNation this week. “Maybe you miss one here and there, because in this day and age teams miss NCAA tournaments. It happens, unless you’re a Duke or North Carolina.”
New coaching hire Tom Crean is a “very good basketball coach” who is “really smart,” per Vecenie. His year off from coaching “maybe mellowed him out a little bit,” which could be a sign — fingers crossed, Georgia fans — that he’s ready to step into the ranks of the elite.
Crean put together several strong teams at Marquette and Indiana (including a Final Four appearance with Dwyane Wade and the Golden Eagles in 2003), and will likely stand to benefit from a change of recruiting scenery … as well as the University of Georgia’s deep pockets.
“I’d say there’s no reason why this program couldn’t be at least a second-tier SEC program,” Vecenie said. “Say you get beyond Kentucky. You get beyond Florida. Georgia should be right there, in my opinion, just because of what they have in terms of a recruiting base, what they have in terms of university resources.”
Georgia’s status as a championship-contending football school might actually help the basketball program, not hinder it. Vecenie pointed to schools such as Florida and Ohio State that parlayed mid-2000s gridiron success into boosts on the hardwood.
“It should be a school that is constantly competing for NCAA Tournament berths,” Vecenie said. “That at one point, should probably have — once every three years, once every two years — a top-3 finish in the SEC. And should be in a pretty good position as a program, in terms of consistency, that hasn’t been there in the past.”
He pointed out that returning players such as William Jackson and Rayshaun Hammonds will give Crean a solid starting point.
“There are some really, really talented guys on this roster that I think could help Georgia,” Vecenie said. “But we’ll see what Crean can do on the recruiting trail, because I think that’s ultimately where the results of his tenure will lie. How successful can he be recruiting in the South with who he’s filled out as a coaching staff?”
As far as what fans can expect to see at the arena later this year, Vecenie said Crean is a “really, really crisp offensive coach” who likes to keep the floor spaced and pressure opposing defenses with a fast-paced approach.
“Given some of the athletes he’ll be able to find in the Georgia area, I think you should expect him to try and push the tempo a little more than he did late in his career at Indiana,” Vecenie said. “Defense is gonna be where he needs to find an answer, because late in his Indiana tenure is where they really struggled on defense. And that’s obviously something that Mark Fox and the Georgia program — over the last few years, at least — really tried to hang their hat on.
“It’s gonna be a totally different feel and vibe for the Georgia program.”