In Dennis Felton's first season after taking over in the wake of the Jim Harrick mess, Georgia had to scratch and fight and claw for every win. The Dawgs were thrilled to be even mentioned in NCAA tournament talk in the final weeks of the season.
There will be no such postseason talk this March.
Only one player on the roster, sophomore guard Levi Stukes, has started more than one collegiate game or averaged more than three points per game in his career. Of the nine players who will be on scholarship, only three have played in a collegiate game.
"This year will be a very, very difficult challenge," Felton said. "I'm sure it will be the most demanding year in coaching I've ever had. I'm reminded every day of how young our players are. Maturity does not happen overnight. You can develop a lot of things, and you can work to accelerate a lot of processes, but maturity is not one of those."
The senior quartet of Rashad Wright, Chris Daniels, Jonas Hayes and Damien Wilkins is gone, taking almost all of the team's production with it.
"We're not going to have much know-how," Felton said, "and we're not going to have much leadership outside of the coaches."
FRONTCOURTGeorgia's frontcourt could be in for a long year. The only players with any experience, Steve Newman and Marcus Sikes, will take a beating against larger players. This duo combined to average 5.0 points per game last season. Newman, who displayed an ability to find his shot around bigger players, was the more polished of the two last year and will be the first option inside -- at least early in the season.
Joey Waldrop, the 7-foot, formerly 350-pound center who was the delight of fans in Athens and on the road last year, still hasn't developed into a significant contributor. He is down to 299 pounds, which Felton calls "a tremendous threshold for him to have reached," but he spent more time on the stage than on the court in the off-season. A devoted actor, Waldrop works as much, or more, on developing himself outside of basketball than he does in the sport.
"He has a lot of things that keep him from being as driven to the game of basketball as some other guys," Felton said. "He has so many things going on in his life that sometimes basketball gets pushed to the side for periods."
BACKCOURTThe Bulldogs hope their attack starts with Stukes. He started all 30 games last season as a freshman and benefited greatly from the experience. He averaged 9.5 points per game (including hitting 57-of-151 3-pointers), but he will have to score more this year while also taking on a leadership role.
"Levi always, always deferred to those seniors last year," Felton said. "Logically, he should be the guy who takes on the most significant leadership role, but he's going to have to do it for that to happen. It's a lot to ask of any sophomore to lead an entire program, but that's all we have so that's what we're going to have to rely on."
Walk-ons Buzz Wehunt and Jay McAuley are the only other guards on Georgia's roster who averaged more than four minutes per game last year, and neither averaged more than 2.6 points. Freshmen Channing Toney, son of former NBA player Andrew Toney, and Sundiata Gaines, who possesses the kind of on-court cockiness that Felton loves, will get plenty of opportunity to play.
FINAL ANALYSISEvery team in the SEC East will have weaknesses this season, but nobody will have as many as Georgia. Offensively, the Bulldogs have only one proven scorer and will have to cobble together enough points to stay in games.
"I don't ever worry about who's going to score," Felton said. "I just worry about how our team is going to have to score."
Defensively, the Bulldogs are so lacking in experienced size in the post that they will be easy pickings for anybody with a mediocre or better big man.
Georgia should be the runaway pick to finish last in the East, and a three- or four-win conference season certainly is not out of the question.