ATHENS – There are 351 Division I college basketball programs, almost three times as many as in college, so when you’re ranked it means something, and when you beat a ranked team, it means a lot too.
Georgia hasn’t been able to say either for awhile. It gets another shot on Saturday night.
Baylor (16-4) is ranked No. 17 in this week’s AP poll, putting it in the top 5 percent of all teams right now, and the only teams to beat the Bears (16-4) this season are themselves all ranked – three of them in the top 5.
So that’s the task that awaits Georgia (11-7 overall), which, to top it off, would have to pull off the upset on the road.
“They’re nationally ranked for a reason, because they have a very complete, terrific team,” Georgia head coach Mark Fox told reporters.
The last time Georgia beat a ranked team was two seasons ago, the SEC opener at then-No. 21 Missouri. The Bulldogs used that overtime win to turn their season around, something they need to do again this year, at least in terms of an NCAA bid.
Georgia is 7-30 against teams ranked in the top 25 during Fox’s seven years. That’s actually not that bad, comparatively. All time Georgia is 71-334 against ranked teams – a winning percentage of .175. So Fox’s track record (.189) is slightly better.
But Georgia is just 1 for the last 16. And the most recent, the home loss to Texas A&M, was a 34-point embarrassment. That same Texas A&M team, now No. 5 in the AP poll, is one of the four teams that handed Baylor a loss.
Georgia itself was last ranked six years ago – and that was just for one week, at No. 24 in the AP poll. Prior to that Georgia was last ranked in March of 2003.
Last year Georgia went 0-5 against ranked teams, including Kentucky and Arkansas twice, and Gonzaga. The Bulldogs did come famously close to upsetting then-No. 1 Kentucky, leading by nine in the second half before falling by eight.
There will be other opportunities this year. Kentucky, which Georgia visits on Feb. 9, currently ranks No. 20. It’s also possible that South Carolina could return to the AP poll, after leaving it last week, and are still ranked No. 22 in this week’s coaches poll. The surprising Gamecocks visit Stegeman Coliseum on Tuesday.
Of course, the AP poll isn’t the only ranking, with the RPI ratings – Georgia is 75th on Friday – looming large in the NCAA tournament selection criteria. Georgia got a bid last year largely on the strength of eight road wins and the so-called eye test – but zero wins against teams that finished in the RPI top 50.
But that doesn’t quite fairly sum it up. Texas A&M and Ole Miss were each in the top 50 at the time Georgia beat them – on the road, no less – but both fell out by the time selection Sunday rolled around.
Baylor, however, looks like a team that will be sticking around that top 50 awhile, if not also the more exclusive AP rankings.
“It’s another team, another really good team, that we can play,” Georgia guard J.J. Frazier said. “When you’re a competitor, you like to play the really good teams. It’s another team that a team can learn about themselves – and hopefully get a resume’ win.”