ATHENS — Ah, that familiar feeling. On the bubble again, every game vitally important, every game a swing in one direction or the other. That’s how it’s been for Georgia basketball the last few years, and is again.
That’s why the near miss at Florida on Saturday has to be so painful for those around the program. A victory, in a game Georgia led most of the way and in the final minute, arguably would have been the best of Mark Fox’s tenure at Georgia, and would have given his team sudden breathing room as it chases an NCAA tournament bid.
Instead, Georgia is back to the bubble watch. In the big picture, that’s not that bad: This program has been to only 12 NCAA tournaments in school history. There’s plenty to be said for being in contention every year, where Fox has the program at this point.
But it would be nice to enter the SEC tournament just playing for seeding, instead of a bid. There’s still time for that to be the case. There’s also time to fall completely out of the conversation. So where do things stand?
Some good news: Georgia’s resume’ is setting up to be fairly similar to two years ago, when it made the tournament with room to spare. (Though not a huge amount of room, as a No. 10 seed.)
Two years ago on selection Sunday, Georgia (21-11 after the SEC tournament) ranked 38th in the RPI, was ranked slightly higher in schedule strength, had zero top 50 victories but was 8-4 against the top 100.
This year, as of Monday, Georgia (11-6) ranks 42nd in the RPI, 19th in schedule strength, has one top 50 win (at Ole Miss), and is 4-5 against the top 100.
Of Georgia’s remaining 14 regular-season games, 11 are against teams currently in the RPI top 100, and five against the RPI top 50. The lowest-ranked team Georgia has left is Texas (162).
Two other critical factors got Georgia in two years ago:
- Road wins. Georgia had eight two years ago. It has three this year, and another on a neutral site.
- Eye test. Georgia impressed the NCAA committee by making the SEC semifinals and playing No. 1 Kentucky close in the final week of the regular season.
The eye test part remains to be seen. If Georgia keeps playing as it did last week — when it won by 22 at Ole Miss and took Florida to overtime — then it not only will pass the eye test, but do enough to make the field.
An important point here: it’s impossible right now to say to Georgia must win a certain amount of games, or have a certain record in order to make the tournament. That’s impossible to know without knowing which teams Georgia beat, which teams Georgia lost to, and how the rest of the field stacks up. They pick the best 36 at-large teams. They don’t award you a bid based on what you do by yourself. You are competing against the field. So it works both ways. Right now the bubble looks very weak, and Georgia doesn’t need to do an extreme amount to get in. But that could change based on events elsewhere.
What does Georgia need to do? Those that say Georgia needs to win one of those big games — against Kentucky, Florida or South Carolina — are probably wrong. It made it without any top 50 wins two years ago. (Twice it beat teams that were top 50 at the time, but those teams eventually fell out. Ole Miss, currently at No. 45, may do that this year.)
The Bulldogs probably can afford a bad loss or two, if you go by two years ago, when it lost to South Carolina twice and Auburn at home. But a couple may be all this year’s team can afford, unless it offsets it with a few top 50 wins.
The other thing to watch is the performance of other teams Georgia has played. Georgia Tech is suddenly helping the cause, pulling off upsets and rising into the RPI top 100. Oakland, which beat Georgia last month, was also helping before an upset last week saw its rank careen from 64 to 107.
OK, this is all a bit involved. And geeky. My apologies.
We’ll know for sure in a couple months. In the meantime, it’s setting up to be a rocky ride on the bubble. Been there. Done that. And doing it again.