ATHENS – Mark Fox was asked whether he thought his Georgia basketball team looked like one that will make the NCAA tournament. Fox was silent for a few seconds, then offered up a few thoughts before getting to the crux of it.
“I don’t know if it’s time for the look test or not,” Fox said. “We’ve just got to try to win the next game.”
And a big next game it is: Texas A&M, ranked No. 15 in the country in the AP poll.
It would be an exaggeration to call this George’s biggest game of the season. But not by much.
If Georgia wins, it will certainly be the biggest win of the season to this point, and could maintain that title come selection Sunday.
But if Georgia loses, while it would not be a blot on its resume’, it would be yet another missed opportunity for the kind of win, or wins, it needs to get an at-large bid again.
“There definitely are resume’ games. This is a resume’ game,” Georgia sophomore center Yante Maten said. “But I think the same amount of focus goes for every (opponent.)”
Last year Georgia made it as a No. 10 seed, or basically eight spots away from missing it. The team found comfortable enough about its spot that it sat Kenny Gaines, one of the team’s best players, for its SEC tournament semifinal so he could rest his ailing foot.
This year Georgia’s non-conference resume’ is pretty similar: No huge wins, but no bad losses, and a good schedule strength. (Of course that’s an evolving situation, as right now the win over Georgia Tech looks good, while the home loss to Chattanooga doesn’t hurt, but how each team performs between now and March will impact Georgia’s resume’.)
Georgia currently ranks 68th in the RPI. That’s well off what it will need to be to get a bid. But the look test – or eye test, as it’s also called – is also taken into account. The chairman of the selection committee mentioned it last year when asked about Georgia getting in. Playing Kentucky close helped, and there’s empirical evidence this year that the Bulldogs are better than their 9-5 record.
Of Georgia’s five losses, three were by a combined five points: Two-point losses to Kansas State and Chattanooga, and by one at Ole Miss. The game at Seton Hall was also competitive. The loss at Florida wasn’t close.
But at some point Georgia has to have some more quality wins. The Georgia Tech win looks good now, but who knows how that will look in two months.
Texas A&M, on the other hand, looks to be a sure top-50 team, perhaps top-25. If Georgia were able to get the win on Saturday, then just avoiding bad losses the rest of the way could be enough to get a bid.
“You have to get some of those. It’s no question,” Fox said. “This year we have a ton of opportunities for it, because of where people sit. There’s a lot of good RPI games left on our schedule, and we’ve gotta take advantage of some of those.”
That’s true, as the SEC’s numbers have improved. But the chances for very impressive wins are fewer. The only other currently-ranked teams on Georgia’s schedule are No. 14 Kentucky, No. 19 South Carolina (twice) and No. 22 Baylor. Three of those games are on the road, the exception being one against South Carolina, which might drop from the AP poll after getting drubbed by Alabama.
So getting a team like Texas A&M at Stegeman Coliseum is a prime opportunity. The trick is playing well enough to actually win the game.
Texas A&M (14-2 overall, 4-0 in the SEC) is talented, experienced, and proven. The Aggies have defeated two teams (Kansas State and Florida) that Georgia lost to this season. (Both teams also own wins over Tennessee.) Four seniors start for Texas A&M, including 6-foot-7 wings Daniel House (16.1 points per game) and Jalen Jones (17.6 ppg.)
The only non-senior in the starting lineup, freshman Tyler Davis, was one of the nation’s top recruits. He offers an intriguing match-up with Maten.
“They’ve got a big-time team. They have the unique combination of talent and experience,” Fox said. “Obviously that’s a big opportunity. But it’s also a very tough opportunity. Because they’re terrific.”