SEC Hoops Preview: Georgia Bulldogs

In part seven in a series of previews of the SEC basketball season, Dean Legge writes about the Georgia Bulldogs.

Athens. Ga.--Dennis Felton's Georgia squad just missed getting into the NCAA Tournament last season. The late-season injury to Mike Mercer didn't help matters. Georgia lost three of its final four SEC contests, which cost them their bid.

The pressure to win big hasn't been on Felton because he has successfully turned the program around. But he hasn't gotten the Dawgs to the NCAA Tournament yet. In truth, he's only had two teams that had a shot at it--his first and last teams--so he does get a break there. But with four-year starter Sundiata Gaines and powerful Takais Brown returning for their final season in Athens, this might be the year Georgia cashes in.

Coach Dennis Felton

Gaines is one of the top returning guards in the conference. He's been the team leader for some time, and it's hard to imagine how this team would survive without him. The Dawgs had to survive without Mercer, who was averaging 14 points a game when he got hurt, last season, and it was difficult. Mercer's return to the lineup, totally recovered or not, gives the Dawgs athleticism they don't have elsewhere on the roster.

Replacing Levi Stukes' shooting ability won't be easy, but Billy Humphrey will likely be the one to try to take that on. If Humphrey can be steady from the three-point arc, Georgia will be fine.

Brown is the type of athlete Georgia missed during the difficult middle stretch of the Felton years. Brown can fight with the best of the big men in the SEC and is skilled enough to take over a game. His frontcourt mate, however, still seems to be in question. Dave Bliss returns for his final season in Athens, but has been slowed by nagging injuries. He can only play a few minutes at a time--still, he's been a fighter for years. Terrence Woodberry will get some looks inside, too, as will 7-0 center Rashaad Singleton.

The Dawgs would do well to have Singleton step up and become a presence in the middle, something that hasn't happened in his career. Talented youngster Jeremy Price could factor in the Dawgs' interior, but the true freshman is an unknown commodity.

Five freshmen, including Price, could make an impact this winter. Chris Barnes picked the Dawgs over Kentucky and could be a difference-maker. Price has the size to play now. Forward Jeremy Jacob has prep school experience, and guard Troy Brewer has good size.

For the first time in a long time the Dawgs have depth, which has been a real hurdle over the last couple of seasons. If Georgia can get 10 wins before entering conference play the Bulldogs stand a good shot at making the NCAA Tournament for the first time since the Jim Harrick Era. Losing more than two of four games against Wake Forest, Gonzaga, Wisconsin and Georgia Tech could spell doom for the Dawgs.

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