ATHENS — It was a fitting epitaph for a season that began with big hopes. Once again, Georgia entered Sunday night hoping to pull off the upset, and once again it only ended with disappointment.
The NCAA Tournament selection committee left the Bulldogs out of the 68-team field, dealing an expected but still harsh blow to a team that began the season with big hopes.
Instead of the desired NCAA trip, Georgia heads back to the NIT, where a possible rematch with Georgia Tech awaits, if both teams reach the second round. Georgia was given a No. 2 seed and will host Belmont in the first round on Wednesday at 7 p.m. If Georgia wins that game, it could get a re-match with Georgia Tech, which will be facing Indiana in the first round, in Atlanta on Tuesday night.
It’s intriguing, but not the tournament the Bulldogs were hoping to be in.
Georgia (19-14) was hoping that its schedule strength (14th in the nation) and many close losses would sway the selection committee.
But the message seemed clear: Scheduling is great, but a team must win its share of those games too. Georgia finished 1-9 against teams in the RPI top 50, the only win coming at home over Vanderbilt.
While the achingly close losses in SEC play — twice to Kentucky and South Carolina, and also at Florida and Texas A&M — will be talked about, it may have been the nonconference portion of the season that was more costly. Georgia went 10-4, with an acceptable loss to Kansas, but also lost at Oakland and Clemson, which didn’t make the field, and at home to Marquette, which made the NCAAs.
“You can’t go back and play the games again,” Georgia junior forward Juwan Parker said after Friday’s SEC Tournament loss to Kentucky. “Did we make some mistakes in close games and could have won, should have won, yeah. But you can’t look back on them now, the results are the results.”
The last at-large team to make the NCAA field was Kansas State, which had an RPI rank of 57 and schedule strength rank of 39. Its nonconference schedule ranked 230th. Georgia’s RPI rank was 52, its schedule strength 14th, and nonconference schedule strength was 21st.
But Kansas State had four wins against teams in the RPI top 50, including two over Baylor.
Then there’s Southern California, the second-to-last at-large team selected: The Trojans had a better RPI rank (41) than Georgia, but its schedule strength was 73 and nonconference schedule ranked 139th. The Trojans did have two wins over top 50 teams, both in the top 20.
And as it turns out, Georgia wasn’t even among the first four teams left out of the field. The NCAA committee revealed that to be California, Syracuse, Illinois State and Iowa, and subsequently those four will be the four No. 1 seeds in the NIT.
It will be Georgia’s third NIT appearance in four years. The team last made the NCAA Tournament in 2015.
The only upshot will be a chance to get a 20th win for a fourth straight season — unprecedented in program history — and for Georgia fans to see senior guard J.J. Frazier one more time at Stegeman.
When Frazier led Georgia to a senior-night win over Auburn two weeks ago, he smiled afterwards and said “hopefully it’s our last home game.” As he and others feared, it wasn’t. But last Friday when asked about playing in the NIT, Frazier said the team would put forth its best effort.
“Basketball’s fun, man,” Frazier said. “When you put your heart and soul out there and you come up short, it’s disappointing. But you’ve got to live with it.”