ATHENS – Call it a rivalry game if you will, but the Georgia basketball team’s game at Georgia Tech is much more important for another reason: It begins a three-game stretch that will say a lot about whether the Bulldogs begin the new year with any NCAA tournament hopes.
Thus far, the season hasn’t gone well in that regard: In its four most high-profile games, the Bulldogs have only logged one victory, on a neutral site against George Washington.
“Yeah, we definitely need to start getting more resume’ wins,” Georgia junior forward Yante Maten said. “Those big-time wins, that caliber that’s going to help us later in the season.”
While this week’s two games – Georgia also plays at Oakland (Mich.) on Friday – wouldn’t necessarily be quality wins, they both would help. So would next week’s SEC opener at Auburn.
Why? Two seasons ago when Georgia made the NCAA tournament, it also hadn’t knocked off many good teams, but it did have eight road wins. That was something the chairman of the selection committee said weighed heavily in Georgia’s favor.
Last season, when the Bulldogs missed out on a bid, they only had three road wins, and didn’t get the first win until Jan. 20. So in the absence of quality wins — which still may come — Georgia (7-3) can at least try to make up for it somewhere else on its resume’.
“We’ve got 11 true road games in front of us,” head coach Mark Fox said. “And then games away from home in the (SEC) tournament. Obviously we’re going to have to play well outside of our building. It’s a good time for us to get back out of here and find out if we’re ready to do that.”
The other reason it matters: Avoiding bad losses. Two years ago, Georgia also kept those to a minimum, which helped its bid.
For what it’s worth — and yes it may seem ridiculously early — Georgia’s RPI rank is 59. That’s not bad, and points to a good nonconference schedule strength. So Georgia’s computer numbers — as they usually are under Fox — should put them in good position if they can actually win.
So that’s the question: Is Georgia, a team that lost at home a few weeks ago to Marquette (RPI of 82) good enough to win at Georgia Tech (6-3, with an RPI of 135)?
In two games last week, Georgia beat inferior opponents soundly. Did it fix much of what was ailing it, namely perimeter defense, getting scoring help for Maten and J.J. Frazier, and having a stable rotation?
Frazier said he thinks Georgia is a better team since the Marquette loss “because we learned from our mistakes,” rather than changes in the rotation or anything else personnel-wise.
“I think we understand, as a team, how hard we’ve got to play on the defensive end,” Frazier said. “It’s not really changing what we do, it’s just about executing and playing harder to get it done.”
Fox indicated he’ll be winnowing the rotation over the next three games, though not necessarily using the same one in each game. He said it will be mainly determined by matchups, but indicated it will be less than it is now.
“Our depth is of greater quality today than it was three weeks ago. Is our depth of quality enough to play 10 or 11 guys away from home? We’ll have to see,” Fox said. “I do think we’re getting better, but there’s a lot of growth left in this team.”