ATHENS — Georgia basketball has officially made progress with one more victory than it managed last season and its first win in the SEC Basketball Tournament in four years.

And if second-year coach Mike White can lead the Bulldogs (17-15) to an upset win over No. 6-seed Florida (21-10) in the late game tonight (approximately 9:20 p.m. tip), he’ll really put a smile on the faces of the Georgia fans and advance the ball.

The Gators are a 6-point favorite to beat the Bulldogs, which would likely end Georgia’s season.

The Bulldogs salvaged a degree of respectability with the 64-59 win over Missouri in Nashville late Wednesday. A loss to a Tigers team that entered the night 0-18 in league play would have sent the program into the offseason on a decidedly down note.

Instead, White and the Bulldogs have an opportunity game to beat Florida and validate the direction of the program.

White is 0-4 against his former program since taking over at Georgia, and the Gators have won 10 in a row in the series.

“We’ve got another opportunity to play another really good team (Thursday), you know, an NCAA Tournament team,” White said.

“We’re hoping we can play some postseason. I love coaching these guys. We want to prolong this season as much as possible and continue to build our program.”

White has been open about the possibility — and perhaps even strong likelihood — of Georgia losing players to the transfer portal. As big of an issue as the portal is to college football, it’s even more significant in college basketball, where roster turnover has become the norm.

The transfer portal window opens on Monday and will reman open for 45 days before closing on May 1.

White is looking to build this Georgia basketball program in the face of that challenge and has made it clear he’s determined to keep All-SEC Freshman combo guard Silas Demary Jr., sharpshooting freshman Blue Cain and emerging 6-foot-9 freshman forward Dylan James.

Demary Jr., James and Cain were all Top 100 signees, providing insight of White’s ability to identify to sign talent.

With 5-star signee Asa Newell on the way, Georgia has some real basketball momentum going if it can keep those three key freshmen.

That’s why a win over the Gators tonight — which would get UGA to 18 wins for the first time in six years — would be so big.

An NIT bid would keep the ball bouncing for the Bulldogs and enable White to continue to build momentum.

Beating Missouri was a step, but beating Florida would be the jump-start the Georgia basketball program has been sorely lacking.

Having No. 1 overall pick Anthony “Antman” Edwards and former Big Ten Coach of the Year and Final Four coach Tom Crean provided hope.

No one will ever know how the 2019-2020 season would have turned out if it had not been ended prematurely by the Covid pandemic.

Prior to Wednesday night’s win over Missouri, Georgia’s last SEC win came in the 2020 league tourney with Edwards helping the Bulldogs to a win over Ole Miss.

Interestingly enough, that Georgia team was scheduled to play Florida in its second round game, too, in what would have been a key matchup.

Tonight’s game will no doubt be personal for White, along with Demary Jr. and James, both of whom played their high school ball in the Sunshine State.

But it will also be professional. Georgia basketball needs a win like this.