NASHVILLE — Mark Fox had an unusual present for Dick Vitale, who was calling Saturday’s SEC semifinal for ESPN: A box of cupcakes. It was a not-so-subtle message about why Fox thinks Georgia should be in the NCAA tournament.
Georgia is pinning its longshot hopes on its non-conference schedule, which as of Sunday was ranked the fourth-hardest in the country. Fox’s message to Vitale, the other talking heads and the committee was clear: Georgia didn’t schedule any cupcakes.
“We’ll see if they reward teams that challenge themselves,” Fox said of the selection committee. “We obviously didn’t have our starting center (freshman Derek Ogbeide) for the first couple games. I think we have a legitimate chance. But we’ll just have to wait and see what’s most important to them.”
Kentucky head coach John Calipari, as most coaches do for conference foes, lobbied for Georgia getting in.
“The team you just watched, the way they played – now they just won five games in a row. They won five straight games and had us beat most of the game,” Calipari said. “They’re an NCAA team.”
Without naming any other teams, Fox criticized the idea that some will be rewarded for padding their record by beating lower-ranked teams. Georgia, on the other hand, played just one team ranked lower than 200 in the RPI (Robert Morris at 291), while playing five that as of Saturday were in the top 100.
The Bulldogs (19-13 overall, ranked 64th in the RPI as of Sunday) went 7-4 in non-conference play. The losses were to No. 50 Chattanooga (when Ogbeide was out), No. 90 Kansas State (when Ogbeide played just a few minutes in his first game back), and at Baylor (25) and Seton Hall (19). The problem for Fox’s team is the lack of quality wins. Its best non-conference win was over Georgia Tech (69).
But Fox wants credit for risking his team with the harder schedule, and then having a good SEC season.
“If you look at a team that played one-third of their schedule versus teams outside of the top 200, I mean of course you’re going to rack up wins. But what’s that show about your team?” Fox said. “We won 12 SEC games, including the tournament. And we had what you said is the No. 4 strength of schedule in non-league. If that doesn’t get you in, why are we scheduling up? You know? That’s a good question we’ll have to ask ourselves. …
“I coached at a smaller school. And I found ways to play Oregon State, Cal, Kansas, Georgia. I found ways to do it. North Carolina. So I think that’s a complete cop-out to say people won’t play good teams. I found a way to do it. Some of those teams, they’ve had great years and I don’t take that away from them. But they shouldn’t be rewarded for winning one or two games when we’ve had to win 10, 11, 12 of them. But our work is done and we’ll just have to wait and see.”
Fox, when asked the team’s plans for watching the selection show, said he hadn’t thought about it yet.
“I was planning on being here tomorrow,” Fox said.