How stacked is Georgia? Even after suffering the unfortunate loss of Rebecca Rowsey last month to a torn ACL, the Lady Bulldogs still return four of five starters from last season's Sweet 16 team.
Even without Rowsey, coach Andy Landers gets his top six scorers back, and they are terrific. The best player on the team -- a squad ranked No. 4 in ESPN.com's preseason top 25 -- is Tasha Humphrey. The 6-foot-3 sophomore will slide from center to power forward to replace Rowsey, who started all 34 games last season. Humphrey wears No. 34 in honor of the player she most wants to emulate, and in true Charles Barkley form, she's very aggressive and a tremendously talented inside player who can hit a 3-pointer. Last season, Humphrey averaged team highs of 19.0 points and 8.4 rebounds en route to SEC freshman of the year accolades.
Though it's because of unfortunate circumstances, Humphrey's move could be very advantageous. Now, she won't have to expend energy guarding players such as LSU's Sylvia Fowles. Instead, that task falls on 6-5 freshman Angel Robinson and 6-6 Penn State transfer Reicina Russell, who will share time at center.
Senior Sherill Baker is the team's best defender and typically guards the opponent's best wing. Baker should break the Georgia career record for steals this season. Senior Alexis Kendrick is a steady point guard who runs the team.
Janese Hardrick is the unknown. The 5-6 junior had a great freshman season for Georgia, hitting a lot of big shots. But last season, Hardrick had a subpar sophomore effort because of an ankle injury, one that was surgically repaired this offseason. If Hardrick performs to the level coaches expect, she has the potential to replace junior Cori Chambers or Baker in the starting lineup. Either way, there will be depth at the guard positions.
Megan Darrah, who was Rowsey's backup last season, again will be the top reserve at power forward. Because of the size on the team -- six players at least 6-3 and nine 6-1 or taller -- the rebounding should be better (plus-4 average in 2004-05). Georgia's experience is also a major strength.
The biggest weakness, however, is outside shooting. When Georgia's guards shot well last season, the team won. But when the shots didn't fall, the Lady Dogs were in trouble. Against LSU in the semifinals of the SEC tournament, for example, Georgia's four guards (Kendrick, Baker, Chambers and Hardrick) were a combined 12-for-33 from the field. In a Sweet 16 matchup against Duke, the four guards shot 12-for-37 from the field. Georgia lost both games.
When the team shot 40 percent or better from the field last season, the Lady Dogs were 20-2. When they shot worse than 40 percent from the field, they were 4-8. Also, the team was only 2-5 against ranked teams in 2004-05.
But this is a new season, and with the experience and depth returning, Landers is in a position to make another Sweet 16 run, one that could turn into a Final Four run if his team can improve its shooting consistency.
Peter Newmann is the college basketball researcher for ESPN. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.