ATHENS — Believe it or not, it’s time to play some hoops, and Georgia is ringing in the start of the 2018-19 basketball season in a big way.
The Bulldogs are holding a rare women’s and men’s doubleheader on Friday night at Stegeman Coliseum. Joni Taylor’s Lady Bulldogs will get it started with their season opener against St. Bonaventure, scheduled to tip off at 6:30 p.m. That will be followed by the men’s team, which will christen the start of the Tom Crean Era with a matchup against Savannah State, set to tip about 8:30 p.m.
For Crean, this day couldn’t get here quick enough. Succeeding Mark Fox last spring, he has been a walking, talking billboard promoting Georgia basketball ever since. But now it’s put-up or shut-up time as Crean tries to make his mark on a program that was picked at SEC Media Days last month to finish 13th in the 14-team conference this season.
“I knew it’d get here,” Crean told reporters this week. “When you’re locked in day-by-day to get the team better, you know it’s coming here and you don’t want it to get here that fast. But once it gets here, you’re excited about it. So I know who we are and I know it’s going to be a very unique game.”
What will make it unique is both teams will be looking to go fast and put up as many shots as possible. Crean, who has coached at Marquette and Indiana previously, is above all else considered an offensive guru. His teams tend to play a sort of free-flowing, “positionless” game in which the object is to get back down the court and put up a good shot as quick as possible.
Bulldog fans saw that in their home exhibition game against West Georgia, in which Georgia scored 98 points and made nearly half of their 26 3-point attempts (11). The flip side is the Bulldogs’ players aren’t used to playing quite that fast, as their 26 turnovers (15 in the first half) attested.
Meanwhile, Savannah State took 73 3-point shots out of the 99 they put up in their preseason games. So the ball should be in the air a lot on Saturday.
The tone is decidedly different for coach Joni Taylor’s Lady Dogs. Georgia is coming off a 26-7 season in which it finished second in the SEC and earned a No. 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament last year. The Bulldogs return three starters from that squad and six of its top seven scorers and welcome some impressive additions who should make a difference.
The only downside is Georgia lost starter Que Morrison to a knee injury during the preseason. She’ll be out for an extended period while rehabbing. But that has done nothing to quell the excitement for the Lady Dogs.
“I just think there’s a collective adrenaline rush for this coming season, playing Friday, playing Sunday and a big football weekend playing Auburn at home,” said junior guard Taja Cole. “So there’s a lot of excitement in Athens.”
The Lady Dogs host Winthrop on Sunday before the schedule cranks up considerably with road games at UCLA on Wednesday and Georgia Tech on Nov. 18.
Crean’s Bulldogs have only Friday’s game to work out the kinks before getting an early test at Temple on Tuesday in Philadelphia. The hope is they will have some of the loose ends tied up by then.
“Not turning the ball over, playing together and not trying to force anything that’s not there,” Georgia sophomore Rayshaun Hammonds said of the Bulldogs’ goals in their opener.
Meanwhile, the Bulldogs’ new coach seems to have already drummed up some excitement on his own. Georgia has announced sellouts for both the Florida, Kentucky and Texas games later this season. It’s the earliest the Bulldogs have ever sold out home hoops contests.
Now comes the hard part, getting his team to play well.
“We’ve just got to get better at playing the way we want to play,” Crean said.