Mike White's Georgia basketball roster moves key for program upgrade entering third season

Before Mike White and the Georgia basketball team left for the SEC Tournament in Nashville last month, the second-year coach asked reporters if they saw the numbers laid out in the team’s game notes about metrics that showed improvement from last season.

It came after the Bulldogs stumbled down the stretch of the regular season, losing 10 of their last 12 games and finishing with the same 6-12 record in SEC play as his first season.

Then the Bulldogs made some tangible strides—their first SEC Tournament win since 2020 and winning three NIT games to reach the semifinals before an 84-67 loss to Seton Hall Tuesday night.

"The way we played down the stretch has got me ready for practice in June," White said in Indianapolis on a late night Zoom. "I'm excited to figure out who our roster is going to be, what it's going to look like."

Next season will offer another chance to end the program’s NCAA Tournament drought that goes back to 2015. The Bulldogs finished this season 20-17, a four-win improvement on White’s first season.

"We were picked near the bottom, we all know that, right, but we had higher expectations and standards within our program," White said recently. "If we finished a few of those, we'd potentially be in the other tournament."

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Georgia, unlike some other Power 5 programs, accepted an NIT bid and made the most of it, winning the type of close games they had trouble closing out in the regular season.

“It validates the progress, seeing the success and especially these last few games of three freshmen starting," athletic director Josh Brooks said after Georgia won at Ohio State. "It points to the great job they’ve done developing to be able to get those young guys to progress the way they have all season.”

Roster management time is here for Georgia Bulldogs

Another offseason is here where roster building will be critical and keeping young talent from what was the SEC’s No. 2-rated recruiting class could go a long way in determining if the Bulldogs can be an NCAA Tournament team next year.

The transfer portal has been open more than two weeks and now it should heat up for Georgia, which has 10 players with eligibility remaining but none have publicly said they are firm to return. Only top scorer Noah Thomasson, top rebounder Russel Tchewa and forward RJ Sunahara don't have eligibility left.

"Definitely going to decompress," All-SEC freshman guard Silas Demary said late Tuesday night when he also spoke about helping to build the program. "Obviously we are playing basketball since June. Honestly just take some time away and relax and rest my body. It's been a long season. So obviously going to have those conversations, but obviously just going to take my time and just make sure I do what's best for me."

White planned to meet with the staff to talk about the roster Wednesday morning. He has said he'll also meet with every player. Coaches juggled game prep and practices the last couple of weeks with recruiting calls and Zooms and studying players in the portal on video.

“You want a certain level of continuity, but it’s got to be the right continuity of course,” White said during the NIT run. “You want guys that want to be at your place, too, but you also want to be able to capitalize in the portal if you can get the right guys. It’s a two-way street and it’s a never-ending discussion and consideration at the same time."

Building around Demary, who started all but one game this season, freshman guard Blue Cain and freshman forward Dylan James would give White a young nucleus to build around.

“Who knows what our roster will look like next year?” White said on March 8. “I certainly like those three guys a lot as people, as players. All three of them have had really good freshman years, especially considering how good our league is and the lack of freshmen impacting this league at the level that used to happen.”

They started each of the final eight games of the season.

“Those guys are not just my teammates, but we’re all really close,” James said after the home finale against Ole Miss. “If we’re able to keep that core, I really look forward to keep playing with those guys.”

Brooks said winning close games in the NIT has shown growth and maturation. He hopes those freshmen have enjoyed the experience and want to be at Georgia.

“Anytime you can have success at this point of the year, it shows progress, it shows momentum and hopefully they want to be a part of it and be a part of the future,” Brooks said.

Guard Justin Hill, who led the Bulldogs with 3.2 assists and averaged 9.5 points per game, said he plans to play another season in college, but didn’t say that would be at Georgia.

“We had a lot of talent this year, but looking at next year, we can bring in even more talent and be even better,” Demary said before the SEC Tournament.

Five-star power forward Asa Newell from Monteverde (Fla.) Academy gives Georgia an instant impact player and a skill set it is lacking.

“He’s very different from what we have really on the roster, period,” White said. “As a 6-10, highly energetic, athletic, hard-playing, shot-blocking, rim-protecting, lob-catching big. He can drive it. He’s competitive. He’s an underrated shooter. Not really his role for his current high school team with a bunch of shooters around him, but he can stretch the defense. He’s a really talented kid.”

Mike White sees support entering year 3

White was one of six SEC head coaches hired in 2022. Only White and LSU’s Matt McMahon have not made the NCAA Tournament in either of the two seasons since Mississippi State and Chris Jans made the field this year. Missouri’s Dennis Gates followed a tournament appearance in his first season with 0-18 in the SEC this year.

Florida’s Todd Golden and South Carolina’s Lamont Paris each reached the NCAA Tournament and are getting contract extensions.

White is 36-33 in two seasons. He was hired after Georgia moved on from Tom Crean following a 6-26 season.

UGA president Jere Morehead greeted White with a handshake, and Brooks gave White a quick hug after he got off the SEC Network postgame set following a five-point SEC Tournament win over Missouri .

White has said the Georgia administration has backed what he needs. If he’s behind others in the world of NIL to attract recruits and retain top players, he’s not going public with it.

“Our administration has been fantastic,” White said. “We’ve got all the support that we need, we’ve just got to get better. We’ve got to continue to develop the guys we’ve got. We’ve got to continue to be really strong with recruiting. This spring will be very important for us, as it will for most of our league.”

Georgia’s best win of the season was at South Carolina on Jan. 16, and the Bulldogs pushed No. 5 Tennessee at home in a six-point loss and a ranked Alabama team at home in another.

About those metrics White pointed to, the Bulldogs improved from No. 154 in KenPom last year to No. 90 this year and rose in the NET from No. 152 to No. 100. Scoring differential in SEC games this season went from minus-13 to minus-3.9.

"There's a lot of positive looking back on this season," White said late Tuesday. "We were a much more competitive team, obviously, against Power Five teams, against SEC teams, than we were a year ago, and we look forward to taking more steps in the future."

Brooks has said he wants Georgia basketball built on a rock, not on sand and cited upgrades in facilities for the program including renovations coming to Stegeman Coliseum that should help the program.

Georgia can only hope next season’s team with Newell and more roster changes, that it’s not pointing to improved metrics or another NIT appearance but takes another step towards being a legitimate NCAA Tournament contender in March.

This article originally appeared on Athens Banner-Herald: Can roster moves upgrade Georgia basketball in Mike White's 3rd season?