ATHENS — For the second time in three years, Georgia will play in the consolation basketball tournament.
A couple hours after being left out of the NCAA tournament, the Bulldogs received an NIT bid, as a No. 3 seed. They will host Belmont on Wednesday night at 7 p.m. at Stegeman Coliseum.
If Georgia wins it could end up traveling to the West Coast for its second round game. The winner of Georgia-Belmont faces the winner of the game between second-seeded St. Mary’s (Calif.) and seventh-seeded New Mexico State.
Belmont (20-11) won an automatic bid to the NIT after finish first in the Ohio Valley during the regular season but falling in the conference tournament.
The Bruins are ranked No. 95 in the RPI, with its lone top 100 coming at home over Valparaiso, a bubble team left out of the NCAAs. Belmont played just one power conference team this season, falling 83-74 at Arizona State in November.
Georgia (19-11) made the NIT in 2014 as a No. 2 seed, winning its first round game then falling in the second round to Louisiana Tech, whose coach was future Florida head coach Mike White.
White is back in the NIT this year, as the Gators were selected as a No. 2 seed. A total of four SEC teams made the NIT, with South Carolina a No. 1 seed and Alabama a No. 5 seed. LSU announced Sunday night that it was electing not to participate in the NIT, though it was not clear whether the Tigers would be invited.
For Georgia, missing the NCAA is an obvious disappointment, but the NIT offers a few consolation prizes.
It will be a chance to win 20 games for the third straight year, something that’s been done only once before in program history. (The 1995-96 through 1997-98 seasons.)
It potentially gives younger players a bit more seasoning. Freshman guard Turtle Jackson, for instance, finally saw his first extended action in the SEC semifinal and scored nine points.
And it’s a chance for the team’s two lone seniors, guards Charles Mann and Kenny Gaines, to extend their college careers.
After Saturday’s loss to Kentucky, Mann was asked if the team would be able to get up for an NIT bid.
“Anytime you get a chance to play basketball you just enjoy it,” Mann said. “It’s an opportunity that’s not given, it can be taken away at any moment.”