ATHENS -- The first three seasons of the Mark Fox era have had a theme. The fourth one, which starts Friday night, is still seeking one.
Foxs first season as Georgia mens basketball head coach was about establishing himself. The next was about reaching the NCAA tournament. They Bulldogs did. And last year was about rebuilding after two key players left early for the pros.
This year? For the first time the Bulldogs start out with a middle-of-the-pack team, picked to finish eighth in the 14-team SEC. Its somewhere in between the low expectations the first and third years and the high ones of the second year.
So how will it end? As the Bulldogs get started Friday night, at home against Jacksonville, here are five key questions:
1. How far can Kentavious Caldwell-Pope carry the team?
Caldwell Pope had a solid debut season: His 13.2 points per game were the most for any SEC freshman who didnt play for Kentucky. And despite being a wing player, he led Georgia in rebounding.
But he was able to share the perimeter scoring load with two seniors, Gerald Robinson and Dustin Ware, who averaged a combined 22.3 points. Now Caldwell-Pope undeniably is the focal point, who will receive plenty of attention from opponents.
Fox would prefer that his star sophomore not try to do too much and isnt setting any high benchmarks. But its hard to see Georgia doing well without Caldwell-Pope having an All-SEC caliber season.
2. Will the freshmen have a big impact?
Caldwell-Pope was a McDonalds All-American, but this years freshmen were all three-star recruits. That doesnt mean they lack for talent.
Guard Kenny Gaines looks like the best of the bunch, scoring a game-high 16 points in last weeks exhibition game. Gaines, a 6-foot-3 guard, showed a knack for scoring around the hoop and in transition and played well defensively.
Charles Mann, a 6-6 point guard, will get a lot of minutes, too. And Brandon Morris, a 6-7 wing, might be a bit more raw but his size makes him an intriguing player.
Gaines could end up the teams second-leading scorer. If he can take some pressure away from Caldwell-Pope, that would help a lot.
3. Who will win the point guard job?
Mann is competing with senior Vincent Williams, and the difference between the two could not be more stark.
Mann uses his size as an advantage, especially on defense, where he becomes a matchup problem for opponents. His outside shots isnt the best, but he can also make a lot of plays around the basket, unlike most point guards.
Williams, who is listed generously at 6-0, is more of a shooter. He was 13-for-39 beyond the 3-point arc last year, when he averaged just 12.4 minutes per game.
The pair will likely split playing time until one of them proves the better option.
4. Will the frontcourt be any better?
This was far and away the biggest weakness on last years team, and fixing it will depend on the same players.
Fox is hoping that junior Marcus Thornton (3.0 points, 4.8 rebounds per game last year) will have a good year simply because hes healthy. Fellow junior Donte Williams (7.8 points, 5.1 rebounds) is the other expected starter.
After those two, Georgia is waiting for another post player to become a consistent force. John Florveus, a 6-11 senior, will be given an extended shot. Sophomores John Cannon and Tim Dixon played sparingly last year.
Sophomore Nemanja Djurisic was a pleasant surprise last year and could start again. But Foxs preference is for Djurisic to play small forward, with Caldwell-Pope at shooting guard.
5. Can this team contend for an NCAA bid?
The strength of schedule should be good enough. On Nov. 19 the Bulldogs take on No. 1 Indiana in Brooklyn, N.Y. The next night they face either No. 13 UCLA or Georgetown. Three SEC opponents (Kentucky, Florida and Missouri) also start the season ranked in the AP top 15.
Ultimately, an NCAA tournament bid may prove to be a longshot. But this team appears in much better shape than last year.
I mean, this is the first team Ive had that I really look forward to coaching every day, Fox said. I really look forward to seeing them every day, and I cant say thats always been the case. And thats not a knock on the first couple of teams Ive had here, but this team is just a greater joy to be with every day.