Crean faces big challenge after Bulldogs picked last in SEC

NCAA Men's Basketball

Southeastern Conference media gave Georgia coach Tom Crean an easy motivational tool when they predicted the league’s finish.

Crean now can tell his players they are viewed as the worst team in the league. Georgia was picked last in the 14-team league in voting released Tuesday by media who picked Kentucky first.

”As far as I know, none of the people who voted have seen us practice,” Crean said Wednesday on the Athens Banner-Herald’s Bulldogs Extra podcast.

Crean said the prediction ”doesn’t really make a difference” but added ”there’s a time and place for those kind of motivations.”

Voting on the last-place prediction came before Crean said Wednesday on Twitter Georgia’s only returning starter, forward P.J. Horne, will miss the seasonwith a knee injury.

Crean is upbeat about his team even though a staggering list of departures by transfers forced a dramatic makeover of his roster. He faces a big challenge as he enters his fourth season.

”I understand why we’re picked last,” Crean said. ”I understand all that. It doesn’t mean anything but I get it. Nobody really knows what to expect. It’s a lot of new guys.”

Perhaps most painful to Georgia fans was seeing the team’s top scorers from last season transfer to other SEC schools – guards Sahvir Wheeler to Kentucky and K.D. Johnson to Auburn.

Only a handful of players return from last season’s team which finished 14-12 overall and 7-11 in the conference. Nine players left through transfers. Crean added seven transfers, including five from Division I schools, and three freshman signees.

NEW LEADER

Crean says point guard Aaron Cook may be the best leader he’s had in his four seasons at Georgia. Cook was a backup at Gonzaga last season after beginning his career at Southern Illinois. He’ll play his final season as a graduate transfer.

Horne’s injury only adds more significance to Cook’s floor leadership.

LONG-RANGE SHOOTERS

Crean likes his new 3-point shooters. He says Jabri Abdur-Rahim, a transfer from Virginia, ”thinks he’s as good a shooter as there is in the country, and I love an attitude like that because he’s in there working on it all the time.”

Kario Oquendo made 40.3% of his 3s at Florida Southwestern State.

Noah Baumann played in 31 games at Southern California last year. While at San Jose State, he set school records for 3-pointers in a game (eight) and season (81 in 2018-19).

Another name to watch is forward Dalen Ridgnal, who was rated among the top junior college transfers in the nation. Braelen Bridges, a 6-foot-10 transfer from Illinois-Chicago, may start at center.

REPLACING HORNE

Horne played his first three seasons at Virginia Tech before starting all 26 games at Georgia last season. He averaged 8.5 points and 3.5 rebounds last season, and his 46 3-pointers led the team.

Crean said freshman Tyrone Baker and graduate transfer Jailyn Ingram from Florida Atlantic are among players who will be asked to replace Horne.

FAMILIAR NAME

Abdur-Rahim is the son of former NBA player and current G League president Shareef Abdur-Rahim. Jabri’s uncle, Amir Abdur-Rahim, was an assistant on Crean’s first Georgia staff in 2018-19 and now is the coach at Kennesaw State.

Jabri Abdur-Rahim saw only limited playing time in only eight games for Virginia’s Atlantic Coast Conference championship team last season.

SCHEDULE

The Bulldogs’ nonconference schedule includes a visit to Cincinnati on Nov. 13, a visit from state rival Georgia Tech on Nov. 19 and a game against Virginia on Nov. 22 in Newark, N.J.

Georgia also has a home game against Memphis on Dec. 1. The Bulldogs open their SEC schedule against Texas A&M on Jan. 4.

More AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/college-basketball and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25

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