Building A Brand: Georgia’s Tom Crean Looks To Elevate College Basketball In Athens

The Georgia men’s basketball team defeated the Montana Grizzlies on Tuesday night to improve to 4-0 on the season. Despite a lack of tough competition lately, the Dawgs remain unbeaten, which is key in a season like this.

In 2020, the college basketball world has seen upsets galore, with programs like Kentucky and Duke fighting to maintain a .500 pace through the opening weeks of the season.

Sure, Georgia may not have any blue-blood programs on its non-conference slate or flashy matchups, but the Bulldogs keep on winning, which is crucial for Coach Tom Crean in his third season as head coach.

In years prior, Georgia suffered a handful of defeats in its non-conference slate to more experienced or talented teams, which piled up losses quick in conference play. As a result, the Bulldogs were all but out of the NCAA Tournament conversation quickly the last few years and interest in the program faded before February even came around.

Now, the Bulldogs have an opportunity to enter a wide-open SEC with an impressive record, having already started the season 4-0. Upcoming matchups with Cincinnati and Samford highlight the rest of the non-conference slate, giving Georgia a real-good chance to enter SEC play unbeaten.

If the team can continue to experiment through an easier non-conference slate, overcome adversity like it did in hanging on against the Grizzlies last night and grow before the ‘real-season’ starts… this team could be dangerous.

For now, I think the first goals of the season for Crean and company are a 20-win season and finishing at least .500 in conference play. The third-year head coach went 11-21 in his first year overall and 2-16 in the SEC, with the Bulldogs improving to 16-16 overall last year and 5-13 in conference, though the COVID-19 pandemic canceled Georgia’s SEC Tournament clash against Florida.

Crean has already shown improvement in Athens thus far, while landing a top-ranked recruit in Anthony Edwards, who went on to become the first-pick in the NBA Draft this November.

For a program like Georgia, which has not advanced past the Round of 64 in the NCAA Tournament since 2002… gaining the attention of national media with a top pick, improving by five wins and selling out Stegeman Coliseum in almost every game…. that’s a pretty successful season.

Now, the challenge for Crean will be whether or not he can bring this program back to true relevancy, as the Bulldogs have not had a 20-win season since 2015-16, last made the ‘Big Dance’ in 2014-15 and made a Sweet Sixteen run in 1996.

Crean has proven he can do it at big-time basketball programs like Marquette and Indiana, but Georgia is quite different when it comes to hoops history.

Given all the uncertainty and chaos to 2020, with typical blue-blood programs out of the championship picture thus far and the SEC as open as ever… Why not Georgia? The Bulldogs have a 4-0 record thus far and the ability to fix their mistakes before it shows up in their record…

If there were ever a year for Georgia to make a Cinderella-style run… the time is now. And who knows, maybe Crean can deliver a signature season for this program, which would spark interest in the program from more of the football fanbase, up donations and deliver Auburn-type energy to basketball in Athens.

With the incredible transition of sophomore Christian Brown into a dynamic threat on both sides of the court and the growing success of point guard Sahvir Wheeler, the Dawgs may finally have the pieces to make a surprise run. Factor in that this team gained the experience of Virginia Tech transfer PJ Horne and picked up two veteran junior college transfers in Jonathan Ned and Mikal Starks… and Georgia could make some noise.

Oh and that goes without mentioning the growth of sophomore Toumani Camara, who had 17 rebounds for the Bulldogs last night.

Crean knows the Dawgs will have to get better as the season progresses and that the team last night will not cut it for Georgia this year, but flashes of potential have been shown and the wins are starting to pile up.

In speaking to the media, the third-year Bulldogs head coach mentioned Tuesday…

“We need to play better and we will.”

Crean said…

“The lineups will change as we go, and some guys will flourish and some guys will take a little bit longer to figure it out. We have to be good together, and when we are, then we’ll be fine.”

Up next for Georgia is a date with Samford on Saturday. The Bulldogs will look to improve to 5-0, with Crean emphasizing the importance of treating every game like going 1-0.

For now, things are looking up in Athens. Keep your eyes on Crean and the Bulldogs, folks. This team has the formula to make a run.


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