ATHENS — Georgia basketball coach Tom Crean said when the SEC portion of the Bulldogs’ schedule was released on Friday, he thought it might be a prank.
The Georgia first-year coach was only half-kidding.
The Bulldogs’ January schedule is no joke, with successive Saturday games at defending SEC co-champions Tennessee (Jan. 5) and Auburn (Jan. 12).
“That was a reality jolt,” Crean told reporters Friday in the Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall.
“You almost think when the first copy comes somebody sent you a prank, and then you realize that’s not true, that’s the way it’s going to be.”
Home games with Kentucky (Jan. 15) and Florida (Jan. 19) follow Georgia’s trip to Auburn.
The Bulldogs, who return three starters, have one of the most top-heavy schedules in the league if early projections hold true.
“We have to make sure we don’t lose confidence going through a schedule like that; my first initial fear would be that,” Crean said. “We have to understand how little margin for error we have with an opening like that.”
Georgia has made just one NCAA Tournament appearance the past seven years, most recently in 2015.
The road to the Big Dance doesn’t figure to get any easier with SEC Men’s Basketball on the upswing, having placed a record eight teams in last season’s NCAA Tournament.
“If this was a stock, it would have already split, when you look at what’s going on with the league,” Crean said at SEC Spring Meetings in Destin, Fla., earlier this summer. “Three years ago, three teams [get in NCAA tourney], two years ago, five teams. This past year it was eight teams.”
The Bulldogs did catch a break from the league with a favorable placement of games early in the season with five consecutive Saturday home games between Jan. 19 and Feb. 16.
That stretch includes Florida (Jan. 19), Texas (Jan. 26), South Carolina (Feb. 2), Ole Miss (Feb. 9) and LSU (Feb. 16).
“It’s paramount because it gives us opportunities to get a lot of people to sell out the building,” Crean said, “and certainly we don’t just want to sell it out on the weekends, we want to be able to do it on the weeknights.”
Georgia also has the good fortune of not playing any back-to-back SEC basketball road games, though Crean hadn’t noticed even hours after the release.
“I haven’t studied the whole February part of it yet, going into March,” Crean said “I kinda got stuck on those first five games.
“We just have to keep getting better. I know it sounds like coach-speak, but it’s true.”
Georgia plays an exhibition games on Thursday, Nov. 1 at Stegeman Coliseum. The regular season begins on Friday, Nov. 9 against Savannah State in Athens.
The Bulldogs finish the regular season at South Carolina on March 9 leading into the SEC Tournament, which runs March 13-17 in Nashville at Bridgestone Arena.
Georgia basketball SEC schedule
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