There are two people I know who believe Georgia will win the SEC East. One is esteemed former colleague Jerry Tipton of the Lexington Herald-Leader, and he’s in the Basketball Writers’ Hall of Fame. The other is yours truly, who on occasion walks down the hall of his house in unfashionable South Cobb while humming the theme song from the movie, “Fame.”
As we know, I’m often wrong. But Jerry isn’t. Listen to him if not to me.
This is the week we’ll all learn if such a notion has weight. The Bulldogs play Florida on Tuesday in the Stegasaurus — I’ve been asked politely to stop referring to Stegeman Coliseum that way, and this is my polite way of saying, “Uh, no” — and then Kentucky on Saturday in Rupp Arena.
Win once and Georgia is in good shape. Win twice and it’s in what the Brits call the driving seat. (Not to be confused with the driving range. Or a driving rain. Or driving the lane.) Winning twice won’t be easy, especially with the latter game in Lexington, but I’m thinking this team has it within itself to win pretty much anywhere.
Nobody in the league — the SEC West is awful, as you might have heard — has a better player than Trey Thompkins. Nobody in the league has a better starting five than Georgia. (Several teams have more depth, which could become a factor.) When it plays near capacity, Georgia is capable of overpowering Kentucky, which rarely happens in this sport. The comprehensive victory of Jan. 8 was a lovely bit of skill and cohesion and willpower, and it served notice that the Bulldogs were indeed a team of worth.
But then: Georgia lost at Vanderbilt. That wasn’t so bad: Vandy is where good teams go to get humble. (Also to rage at the refs.) The Bulldogs responded the way an angry good team should by hammering Ole Miss in Oxford. But then: Georgia came home and lost to Tennessee on Brian Williams’ stickback at the buzzer.
Georgia fans howled that Williams should have been called for climbing over Chris Barnes’ back, but I can see why there was no whistle: Watch the replay. (I have, many times.) Williams didn’t so much push Barnes as he outfought him for the ball. And once Williams had the ball, he was free to do with it as he pleased. Which he did, to the Bulldogs’ displeasure. But it should have taught them a lesson: If you’re going to win a conference game — or a conference title — you can’t be passive. Williams made a big-time play. Georgia stood around and griped.
And that’s my only real question about these Bulldogs: Can a program that has won one SEC regular-season title — that in 1990, when Kentucky was ineligible and LSU had too much talent — convince itself that it belongs in the discussion with the Wildcats and the Gators, who have nine NCAA titles between them? Can it climb to the top of the division and then take everyone’s best shot down the stretch?
I’m thinking Georgia can. I’m thinking this team can stand with any in school history. (Yes, even the 1983 Final Four team.) I’m thinking we’re about to see the Bulldogs have a big week. And I’m thinking my man Tipton might be thinking the same thing.
By Mark Bradley