ATHENS – J.J. Frazier has been around here awhile, so he gets why this game is important. Because too often over the past few years, the Georgia basketball team has had to look back wistfully on early-season losses that ultimately doomed its big hopes.
“We need every game, especially early in the season,” Frazier said. “Because we always find our groove when we get to SEC play.”
Georgia hosts Marquette on Sunday, in precisely the kind of nonconference game it has tended to lose in seasons it missed the NCAA tournament. Two years ago the Bulldogs eked in, helped by some quality nonconference wins. But every other year while Frazier has been here, and the year before he arrived, Georgia has done well in SEC play, but missed the NCAAs because of its nonconference resume’.
It should be different this year, Frazier acknowledged.
“We never really knew our identity. We were always trying to figure out who was what, where we were going to get our offense from, who was going to be the Alpha and the Beta,” he said.
“But we have that (now). We know our roles. We know who we are. We know what we can do. That’s why it’s much more simple now. We don’t really have that insecurity for what we have.”
It’s very early, but there’s a lot that could be at stake Sunday: A win would mean a resume’ boost. A loss would be a potentially big setback come Selection Sunday.
Georgia (5-2) has so far lost at Clemson — team that’s now 4-2 — and on a neutral court to No. 4 Kansas. The Bulldogs’ best win is on a neutral site over George Washington (5-3), with games remaining this month at Georgia Tech (4-2) and Oakland (8-1), and a January game against Texas (4-3).
Marquette (5-2) suffered its two losses to Michigan and Pittsburgh, on neutral courts. It opened its season with a 24-point road win at Vanderbilt, while its other four wins were all routs of low- or mid-major teams.
Georgia freshman guard Jordan Harris at first pointed out that “every game is important,” but also granted that this is a resume’ game. Sophomore forward Derek Ogbeide, who went through this last year, also realized the importance.
“We knew that last year, but I don’t think us being freshmen, speaking of myself specifically, didn’t have a proper understanding of that,” Ogbeide said. “I think now we have a natural understanding of how important it is, and the things that factor, and how this could impact now and for the future.”
Georgia coach Mark Fox, as he often does before such games, tried to tamp down the talk that this game is any more important than others.
“They’re all resume’ games. And you have to understand that in coaching,” Fox said.
Yes, it’s silly at this point in the season to put much stock in this, but it may be the best way of explaining it right now:
Joe Lunardi, the noted ESPN bracketologist, put out his very early evaluation of where at-large teams stood earlier this week: Marquette was outside the bubble, among his “next four out,” as in among the best eight teams that wouldn’t make the 68-team field. Georgia, on the other hand, wasn’t even on his radar screen.
Marquette was picked to finish seventh out of 10 teams in the Big East preseason coaches poll. But that’s in a deep, basketball-centric conference. The Golden Eagles returned four starters — though not their leading scorer — from a team that went 20-13 last year and 8-10 in the Big East. Head coach Steve Wojciechowski, the former Duke player and assistant, also had the top-rated recruiting class in the Big East. The result is a deep lineup, with 10 players averaging at least 12 minutes a game.
Georgia goes deep too, of course. The issue is how deep the scoring goes beyond Frazier and Yante Maten; Marquette has eight players averaging at least 6.9 points a game, while Georgia only has three.
“We want to play every game the right way. And we feel like if we do that every game it’ll take care of itself,” Frazier said. “Sometimes you won’t win, sometimes we will. But if you put yourself in the right situation most of the times you’ll come out with the right outcome.”