Georgia can’t do anything without drama this year. Against the good teams, it’s play close, sometimes achingly close, before ultimately losing. Against the bad teams, it’s play close, and still ultimately win.
The same goes for the all-important question of an NCAA Tournament bid: The Bulldogs haven’t eased into the tournament in 15 years, and they won’t now. In fact they looked doomed just a few weeks ago. But just when you thought they would fall completely out of contention, here they come again.
The consensus from the experts right now is Georgia is back squarely on the bubble. Joe Lunardi, Jerry Palm and USA Today all have Georgia among their first four out. Palm, who wasn’t even discussing the Bulldogs a week ago, on Sunday had them as his first team out.
Despite what has seemingly been a disappointing season, there are plenty of reasons Georgia is still alive:
— The bubble is very weak.
— Georgia, as it always has under Mark Fox, scheduled well and thus has good computer numbers.
— While the Bulldogs have failed to get that signature win — the kind that Georgia Tech keeps getting — Fox’s team also has avoided bad losses.
The result: A resume’ squarely down the middle, making this final week of the regular season pivotal.
Georgia’s key numbers:
- Record: 17-12 (though 16-12 in the eyes of the committee, because the win over Div. II Morehouse doesn’t count.)
- RPI rank: 56 as of Monday
- Schedule strength: 23rd
- Best wins: Vanderbilt (48 in RPI), UNC-Asheville (65), Tennessee (66), Ole Miss (70)
- Worst losses: Oakland (104), Alabama (96), Texas A&M (86)
The resume’ is fairly similar to two years ago, when Georgia made it in: Not any overwhelming statement wins, but solid computer numbers. The main difference is Georgia’s RPI is lower (it was in the 30s two years ago) but there is just the one sub-100 loss to Oakland (two years ago there were three such losses at this point.)
Bottom line: If you were a bettor today, Georgia wouldn’t be a good bet. Especially with Yante Maten’s return uncertain, no matter how well J.J. Frazier keeps playing.
Georgia probably needs to win both games this week (home vs. Auburn and at Arkansas) in order to enter the SEC Tournament in good shape. In fact, the Arkansas game is shaping up to be close to all-or-nothing. Beat Auburn and then Arkansas, and Georgia actually might enter the SEC Tournament squarely in, just needing to avoid a bad loss in the quarterfinals. That would be the effect of beating Arkansas, a top 50 team now itself squarely in.
But a win over Auburn, followed by a loss at Arkansas, and the Bulldogs probably need to win a couple games in Nashville, including an upset of one of the SEC’s top four teams.
Lose both games this week, and the SEC Tournament becomes a win-or-NIT (or worse) scenario.
A final point: The previous few paragraphs just speak about Georgia, but no team receives a bid in a vacuum. The Bulldogs are playing against the field, seeking to be one of the 38 at-large teams selected. If the bubble continues to be very weak, Georgia could sneak into the tournament without a strong final two weeks. If the bubble gets better, the opposite could happen.
Given all the missed opportunities this season, and Maten’s injury, only this can be said with certainty: It’s fairly amazing Georgia is still in the discussion. That’s a credit to Frazier, Fox and the Bulldogs.
But a lot of work remains to be done if they’re going to finish this off feeling good a week from Sunday. A whole lot of work.