Taking a closer look at Tom Crean’s tenure at Georgia Basketball and checking in on his future with the program.
Overshadowed by programs like Kentucky, Florida, and Arkansas over the years, Georgia basketball hasn’t exactly shined on the national stage, especially in recent memory. The Bulldogs didn’t actually make an NCAA Tournament until 1983, though that ended in their first and only Final Four appearance.
They’ve added a handful of appearances over the years, though just one in the last decade. Former coach Mark Fox saw his tenure end in 2018, with Tom Crean taking over the program just three seasons ago.
Since Crean’s arrival, Georgia hasn’t exactly experienced a rebirth. Crean and his staff got to work on the recruiting trail, bringing aboard top recruit and eventual #1 draft pick Anthony Edwards. Unfortunately, the Bulldogs weren’t even an NCAA Tournament caliber team that year, even with the top player in college basketball. With three less than successful seasons, it’s fair to wonder how much Crean’s hot seat is heating up.
Initially, we have to consider the circumstances not just at Georgia but in the SEC. Clearly, the SEC is a much improved basketball conference in recent years. A league dominated mostly by Florida and Kentucky now sees programs like Auburn and South Carolina making national headlines with deep NCAA Tournament runs. Winning in the current SEC is no picnic, even with a top recruit, as LSU saw five years ago with Ben Simmons. That being said, there’s a few comparisons to be made when considering what’s happened with Crean at Georgia.
First, consider two off-seasons ago, with Alabama hiring Nate Oats and Arkansas hiring Eric Musselman. These were two mid-major head coaches who had done phenomenal things at their programs.
In just two seasons, they both have already made major strides, with Alabama and Arkansas not only atop the SEC standings this past season but both making NCAA Tournament runs as well. In one year quicker than Crean, these two coaches took programs that weren’t SEC contenders and turned them into contenders for a national title, setting them up well for next season.
On the other hand, consider the case of South Carolina, a fellow SEC member. The Gamecocks hired former Kansas State coach Frank Martin back in 2012 and have only made a single NCAA Tournament appearance during his tenure. However, that 2017 team, highlight by star Sindarius Thornwell, marched all the way to the Final Four after a fantastic run through March. South Carolina was patient with Martin and he put together the talented roster to make that postseason push.
The major difference is that this Georgia team remains in transition, losing much of their talent from last year’s 14-12 squad. They’ve landed Gonzaga transfer Aaron Cook and Virginia transfer Jabri Abdur-Rahim, but this appears to be a team pieced together with the results unclear in the long run.
To current pundits, it would be shocking if Georgia doesn’t finish near the bottom of the standings again in the SEC, but is that enough for Crean? He’d have had four years to put his system into place and would walk away without any concrete results.
Tom Crean led Marquette to the Final Four and rebuilt the Indiana program after scandal. He’s capable of success, but progress has been slow at Georgia. The hotness of his seat will certainly depend on how this upcoming season goes. If his Bulldogs can surprise in SEC play, he’ll likely earn himself some leeway. However, if this is another struggle of a year, don’t be shocked to see Georgia pull the plug on the Crean experience, even if his contract runs through 2024.