1. Charles Mann could take the next step.
The junior guard was voted preseason second-team All SEC for a reason — he’s a playmaking scorer. Mann averaged nearly 14 points a game last season despite shooting only 40 percent from the field (and 30 percent from 3). His secret? Well, there’s not one. Mann got to the free-throw line 8.4 times a game — second-most in the conference — and is hard to stop off the dribble. The former Milton High (Alpharetta) standout spent this offseason attacking the weaknesses in his game, particularly his assist-to-turnover ratio. Mann dished out 2.9 assists while committing 3.4 turnovers a game, a stat he says he wants to improve this season.
“I’ve been watching film and tightening up on my ball handling skills,” Mann said. “I feel like I’m a much better player than last year and have improved my decision making as well.”
Look for the 6-foot-5, 215-pound Mann to handle point guard duties, but don’t be surprised if he ends up playing the 2-guard and possibly even small forward as well.
“I can play any position,” he said. “If you throw me out there to play center I’ll do it just to help my team.”
2. How does Fox replace Kenny Gaines?
Gaines, who averaged 13 points and 2.5 rebounds a game last season, won’t play tonight due to an undisclosed illness, and Fox says he’s “pessimistic” regarding the junior’s status for Georgia Tech. With Gaines out, the Bulldogs must replace an explosive asset that logged nearly 30 minutes a game and shot 38 percent from 3 a season ago. Mann can flex around the perimeter to help fill the void, which would place more point duties on sophomore J.J. Frazier.
This could be a chance for sophomore Juwan Parker to shine, too. The Tulsa, Okla., native shot less than 20 percent on treys in his first year on campus, but Fox says Parker has hit nearly 40 percent of his 3s in practice the last few weeks.
“The good thing about this is we’ve just kind of gone with plan b for a while because we knew we weren’t going to have him for a while,” Fox said. “We’re just hopeful we get him back soon. In the meantime it’s given a lot of guys a lot of reps. That’s been good.”
3. Check out that freshman.
This will be the first chance to get a look at Yante Maten, the big recruiting victory for Fox in the 2014 signing class. The Detroit product averaged 19.8 points and 15.2 rebounds a game as a high school senior and reportedly held scholarship offers from Michigan State and Indiana.
The early word is the 6-foot-8, 240-pounder has impressed with his ability to score in the paint and also to use teaching moments in a constructive manner.
“I think Yante has great composure about himself,” Fox said. “He doesn’t carry himself like a freshman. He’s very humble and goes about his business every day. That’s allowed him to be on less of a roller coaster.”
4. Who plays small forward? How does the position become dynamic?
Gaines will be back eventually, so that question will be answered hopefully sooner than later. But what does Fox do at the small forward spot? Parker will see run at any number of positions and could settle in at the 3 once Gaines takes back the 2-guard duties. 6-foot-7 Cameron Forte and 6-foot-6 Kenny Paul Geno are very much in the running as well. Both must raise their level of play from a year ago. Forte, a junior, averaged 3.4 points per game last season while the sophomore Paul Geno saw less than four minutes of action.
Fox indicated small forward is the biggest question mark on the roster and the spot is wide open for the taking.
“It’s just something where someone has to separate themselves, and I don’t think anyone has done that yet,” Fox said.