For many years, basketball has been the one major sport at the University of Georgia that has been overlooked and sometimes not cared about. Football has clearly been the main sport at UGA, followed by baseball that has seen success in the past 20 years, but basketball seems to always take a backseat to the other major sports. Things seemed to take a turn this past spring when the Dawgs hired one of the best coaches in college basketball, Tom Crean. This generated instant buzz throughout the university and for the first time since the Domonique Wilkins days, but how long will it be before UGA actually performs with the upper echelon of the SEC and the rest of the country.
Before I get completely roasted for seeming to say that Tom Crean is not the guy, he is the guy. He is clearly the right hire for a basketball program that has needed an identity for many years. However, after getting blowout by SEC power Kentucky, who is not having their best year in the Calapari era, many fans are questioning how long will it take before UGA basketball makes some noise in the college basketball world.
There is no clear answer as to when UGA will finally become a contender for the SEC title, due to many reasons that we cannot predict at this moment (recruiting, injuries to key players, etc.) but we can look at Crean's history to see when his new teams finally broke through. Let's start with Marquette. After spending many seasons as the associate head coach at Michigan State under coaching legend Tom Izzo, Crean took over Marquette who were coming off an under .500 season under previous coach Mike Deanne. Crean was a great hire for Marquette considering Michigan State was coming off a 33-5 season and won the national championship the following season in which Crean recruited most of the players who were on that team.
Marquette continued to play .500 basketball for the first two seasons before finally winning 26 games in 2002 and making the NCAA tournament for the first time in several years. Crean's best season as the Golden Eagles head coach came the next season when the team won 27 games and made the Final Four with future NBA great Dwyane Wade. The Golden Eagles would never see the Final Four during the final 5 seasons under Crean but made the tournament three out of the five seasons before he took the head coaching job at Indiana. So in review, it took Crean three seasons before Marquette finally found success and only four seasons to make the Final Four. He also produced an NBA legend in his time at Marquette, and also produced three other NBA products, leading to a successful first head coaching job. He also finished with almost 200 wins in 9 seasons for a .656 winning percentage.
Now onto his most recent head coaching stint, the Indiana Hoosiers. Indiana is one of the most prestigious college basketball programs and their success has made it widely known that Indiana is a basketball state. However, Indiana had struggled for much of the 2000s and that continued for the first three seasons under Crean. The team won a total of 28 games in three seasons, and never finished higher than 9th in the Big Ten. However, Indiana came out of nowhere in 2012 when they won 27 games, 15 more from the previous seasons, and finished in the Sweet Sixteen. This set the stage for another Crean title run, as Indiana came out as the #1 ranked team in the country in the preseasons polls the next year. They won 29 games in 2013 and again finished in the Sweet Sixteen, but produced Indiana's best player since Isiah Thomas, Victor Oladipo. The team also won the Big Ten title for the first time since 2002. Indiana would win one more Big Ten title during Crean's final four seasons, but would never make it past the Sweet Sixteen during his tenure when they lost in that round in 2016. This would lead to Georgia offering Crean the head coaching job following a subpar 18 win season in 2017 after Indiana released him after a nine-year run with the team. He would end up with 166 wins with the Hoosiers and didn't find success until his fourth season as head coach. Crean produced several NBA guys in addition to Oladipo, including Eric Gordon, Cody Zeller, and Noah Vonleh.
Georgia's rebuild, on paper, could end up being the biggest challenge in Crean's history and one that could take several years to finally complete. However, with the success the football team has found and with the overall athletic program being the best it's been in many years, this could lead to many recruits wanting to join the Dawgs basketball program. Currently, UGA ranks 44th in the country for basketball recruiting numbers, 8th in the SEC, but has not reached the national signing day that could bring in a few key pieces for next season. Many high school basketball players have considered UGA as a top choice, more than in recent history under former coach Mark Fox. If recruiting goes as well as it has for Crean during his former coaching stints, UGA will not have a hard time finding success in that department.
As far as the team's style of play goes, it will be a big change from former coaches. Many of UGA's former coaches like to run plays and keep the tempo slow and steady, looking for the best shot. This is not how college basketball's best programs typically play basketball, as they typically like to run an up-tempo offense and spread the floor, exactly how Crean likes his team to play. Once his style of plays becomes implemented with his players and other coaches, UGA will be playing like the best teams in the country.
With everything that has been mentioned in this article, it seems as if UGA will have a few more years of .500, maybe under .500 play before the breakthrough happens. So even though Georgia isn't quite on the level on an underperforming Kentucky team, UGA will be competing with the Wildcats in only a matter of time. Both Marquette and Indiana didn't find success until the third or fourth season under Crean and that can be expected at Georgia as well, but when it happens, UGA should have a program that will be contending for SEC titles for years to come.