Mark Fox is entering his fifth season as head coach of the Bulldogs with an overall record of 65-63, but his team will have to find a way to play without Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who is now a member of the Detroit Pistons. (Reuters)
Georgia opens its 2013-14 season by hosting Wofford today, and its immediate concern will be how to replace shooting guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.
“We lost the best player in the league to the lottery of the NBA draft,” coach Mark Fox said of Caldwell-Pope, the eighth overall pick by the Detroit Pistons who left after his sophomore season.
Georgia finished tied for the eighth in the SEC last year and was voted to wind up 11th in the 14-team league this season.
Much of the backcourt burden to make up for the loss of Caldwell-Pope — the second-leading scorer in the SEC at 18.5 points per game in 2012-13 — will fall on sophomore guards Charles Mann and Kenny Gaines, while forward Donte’ Williams is the only senior on the roster.
Junior forward Nemanja Djurisic (7.9 points) is the highest returning scorer for the Bulldogs, who averaged 60.8 points last season — 12th in the SEC.
Wofford, located in Spartanburg, S.C., was picked to finish fifth in the 11-team Southern Conference by the media and sixth by the coaches, and will be led by junior guard Karl Cochran, a preseason all-conference pick.
Fox said the workload Mann (21.5 minutes) and Gaines (10.3) logged as freshmen will complement an experienced frontcourt as the Bulldogs try to reach the postseason for the first time in three years.
Georgia is also expected to receive a boost from redshirt junior forward Marcus Thornton, who declared himself healthy and ready to go after playing only nine games last season and undergoing three knee surgeries since arriving at Georgia.
The Bulldogs missed a chance to play in a postseason tournament last year when they lost to LSU 68-63 in the first round of the SEC tournament to finish with a sub-.500 record.
Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
Georgia Tech looks to break through in the ACC this season, and those hopes received a big boost when the NCAA ruled senior transfer Trae Golden eligible to play immediately.
The former Tennessee standout leads the Yellow Jackets into their season opener at home today against Presbyterian, bolstering a strong backcourt featuring sophomores Marcus Georges-Hunt and Robert Carter Jr. Golden averaged 12.1 points and 3.9 assists for the Volunteers a season ago.
The Yellow Jackets return five of their top six scorers to start Brian Gregory’s third season as head coach.
Georgia Tech will be without guard Chris Bolden, who started 15 of the final 16 games last season, for the first three games due to a suspension for violating team rules. The Blue Hose won just eight times a year ago and are picked last in the Big South Conference’s South Division’s preseason poll.
Golden transferred to Georgia Tech to be closer to his father, who is reportedly facing health issues. His arrival, coupled with a year of experience for Georges-Hunt (10.8 points last season) and Carter (9.9), will bolster an offense that ranked 255th nationally in scoring in 2012-13. Center Daniel Miller leads all active ACC players in blocked shots and has started every game the past three years.
Florida State Seminoles
Florida State hopes to put a subpar season behind it with a return to prominence in the Atlantic Coast Conference, beginning with its home opener against Jacksonville today.
After four straight NCAA Tournament berths and several statement wins in conference play in recent seasons, the Seminoles were mired in mediocrity a year ago before bowing out in the first round of the NIT. With the loss of leading scorer Michael Snaer to graduation, senior forward Okaro White will be an integral part of the offense.
“(White is) a lot further along when you put him on the perimeter — offensively and defensively,” Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton said to Seminoles.com.
White can play both forward positions and will be called upon to make up for some of the outside spark and penchant for the clutch shot that characterized Snaer’s game.
The Dolphins return three starters from a 2012-13 team that finished fourth in the Atlantic Sun, including leading scorer Keith McDougald, who averaged 13.1 points as a junior.
White enters his senior season coming off career highs in several categories, including scoring (12.4 points per game) and rebounding (5.9) and was the only Seminole to start all 34 games in 2012-13.
Florida State returns three other starters, including center Kiel Turpin, who led the team and ranked eighth in the ACC, averaging 1.3 blocks per game last year. Joining Turpin in the middle are fellow 7-footers Michael Ojo and Boris Bojanovsky, giving the Seminoles plenty of size in the paint.
Coach Tony Barbee enters his fourth year at Auburn looking to get off to a quick start as his Tigers play host to Nicholls State in the season opener for both teams. Barbee coached the Tigers to a career-worst 9-23 record last season, including a last-place 3-15 mark in the Southeastern Conference. Nicholls State is from the Southland Conference.
Barbee, who is 12-38 in SEC contests, 35-59 overall at Auburn and whose Tigers teams have lost 20-plus games twice, insists he’s not worried about whether he’s on the hot seat.
“That doesn’t mean a thing to me,” he said. “The only thing that matters is how I perform every day in preparing this team.”
Auburn will be trying to overcome the loss of its top scorer Frankie Sullivan (14.5 points per game). If Chris Denson (11.9), who missed 12 games due to injury last season, can stay healthy, he should be should be the Tigers’ top scoring option. Allen Payne (7.7 points, 4.6 rebounds) is only other returning Auburn player to get significant playing time last season.
After beating Alabama, 49-37, last Feb. 6, Auburn closed out last season with losses in 16 of its last 17 games. Better things are expected from the Tigers in 2013-14, especially of Asauhn Dixon-Tatum (3.7 points per game), a 7-foot center, who should get more playing time after making just one start last season. After redshirting in 2012-13, Virginia transfer KT Harrell could have a big opportunity as well.