LEXINGTON, Ky. — The upside to the debacle that Georgia’s basketball team endured on Tuesday night? It already has a blueprint this season for recovering from a 34-point loss.
In fact, if Georgia wins four of its next six games, as it did after last month’s drubbing by Texas A&M – previously the worst loss in coach Mark Fox’s tenure, now matched – then the Bulldogs will probably still be fine. They might still make the NCAA tournament.
The trick will be going out and actually doing it.
Maybe it wasn’t what fans wanted to hear – throwing a chair or cursing like someone at a Donald Trump rally may have been preferable – but Kenny Gaines’ calm summation of the situation on Tuesday night is still fairly accurate.
“Besides the score difference, I mean, we lost a road game at Kentucky,” he said, when asked what it meant for his team’s season.
Gaines was speaking with the cool-headedness of a senior who has been through this before. As bad as it was, Georgia wasn’t supposed to win Tuesday night. It didn’t need to win the game to get closer to an NCAA bid.
But Saturday? Now that’s where must-win comes into play.
And it looks harder now.
Mississippi State just waxed Arkansas by 32 points, a result no one saw coming. So now the other Bulldogs look more dangerous, but are still only 10-13, and for now are still ranked below the top 100 in the RPI.
What is one of the best arguments Georgia has for an NCAA bid? No losses to teams outside the top 100.
What is one of the things Georgia still needs? Road wins.
So put Tuesday’s debacle away and win on Saturday, and Georgia is back on track. Lose, and things get very bleak.
“We need to get back on a mission,” Georgia sophomore forward Yante Maten said after Tuesday’s loss. “This definitely could send us in the wrong direction, or it could bring us all together and we need to make sure it brings us together.”
There will be the usual catcalls from the gallery to move on from Fox – a coach who has put Georgia in the SEC tournament semifinals each of the past two years, and could still win 20 games for a third straight season, which no coach has ever done at Georgia. This year’s team (6-5 in the SEC) could be the fourth in Fox’s seven years that finishes at .500 or better in SEC play.
But you can cite all the good stats you want, it’s still hard to eradicate the stink of two 34-point losses.
The only thing that will is a strong finish, one which propels Georgia back into the NCAA tournament, or at least provides hope. (In the long run, Georgia replaces two senior guards, Gaines and Charles Mann, with two top-100 recruits, Jordan Harris and Tyree Crump. Its two leading scorers this year, Maten and J.J. Frazier, are both due to return next year.)
Georgia has lost nine games this year. Two of them were by 34 each, the other seven were by a combined 38 – or an average of just over 5 points. Four of those losses (Chattanooga, Kansas State, Ole Miss and LSU) were by a combined eight points. Turn two of those around, and Georgia’s record and season feels a lot different.
There’s still a lot of season left. But Fox’s team has to respond to this embarrassment the way it did to the last one.
And, by the way, make sure it’s the last such embarrassment of the season.