ATHENS — Georgia star Yante Maten would be able to play in the NCAA tournament, if the team received a bid, head coach Mark Fox vowed on Monday.
But the more immediate concern is the SEC tournament, and the junior, who sprained his knee three weeks ago, remains uncertain to return.
“We won’t put him out there unless he’s cleared to play. I am confident that the following week he would be ready to go,” Fox said. “I think that essentially what he was diagnosed with and the timetable that he was given, I think we’re confident that if we can advance to play the following week that we could have him.
“Whether or not we would have him this week would probably be a blessing. But I do think by the next week that barring any setbacks that he would be good to go for that week and going forward.”
Georgia plays Tennessee on Thursday at 1 p.m. ET in the SEC tournament.
Maten has not practiced yet since his injury, but has been able to start shooting on the side. He’s due to meet with the team doctor before the team leaves for Nashville.
“I don’t know if I could put odds on it; 50-50 maybe, I don’t know,” Fox said when asked the chances Maten would play this week. “That’s probably unfair of me to even guess. But we’ll wait to see what the doc says, and then progress from there.”
Maten missed the final four games of the regular season, along with almost all of the Kentucky game, after suffering the injury 95 seconds into that game. While Georgia won the first three full games without Maten, it was routed Saturday at Arkansas.
Georgia won its only game against Tennessee, last month in Knoxville, when Maten only played 17 minutes and fouled out with 5:11 left in the game. J.J. Frazier led Georgia back for that win, as he has since Maten’s injury.
“He’s owned us in the two games we’ve played against him since I’ve been here,” Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes said.
Still, it’s clear Georgia will need its star back, if for no other reason than to show the NCAA selection committee that he would be available.
Georgia (18-13 overall) is widely considered to be out of the NCAA field at this point, but still on the bubble. It has an RPI rank of 53 as of Monday, with just one top 50 win (No. 44 Vanderbilt) but just one sub-100 loss (No. 118 Oakland.)
USA Today’s updated projection has Georgia as the second team out. ESPN and CBS Sports’ latest updates weren’t as optimistic, with CBS not having Georgia among its first four out, and ESPN leaving the Bulldogs out of the top eight teams out of the field.
At this point, a win over Tennessee seems to be a must for Georgia to stay alive. Then it becomes a matter of whether a win over Kentucky would be enough, or whether a close showing could still keep the hopes alive. That would depend on the rest of the field, and how other bubble teams are faring.