This isn’t just a huge game — it could well become a test case. If Georgia loses to Alabama and the Bulldogs don’t get an NCAA tournament invitation but the Tide does … well, it would pretty much invalidate the way the NCAA committee has done its business.
Georgia carries an RPI of 39; Alabama’s is 83. (These according to ESPN’s InsiderRPI, the link for which requires registration.) A handy article in the Wall Street Journal — written by Darren Everson, it features a photo of Georgia big man Jeremy Price as illustration — informs us that, over the past 10 years, 84.7 percent of at-large candidates bearing an RPI between 31 and 40 have made the NCAA field.
And how many at-large candidates with an RPI over 80 have gained entrance? Everson’s chart stops at 70, which tells us all we need know.
The argument for Georgia over Alabama is the one Bulldogs coach Mark Fox posed to reporters after Thursday’s victory over Auburn: “We’ve tried to do the things the committee has traditionally asked for.” Meaning: Play a decent non-conference schedule.
Georgia’s strength of schedule is 40; its non-SEC strength of schedule is 98. Alabama’s strength of schedule is 153; its non-league strength of schedule is 295.
But now we come to the case for Alabama: The Tide won the SEC West by three games and finished 12-4 in conference play. Would the committee really ignore a 20-win team that won its division in one of the Big Six leagues because of a bad RPI? Maybe. But would it ignore the same team if it arrived at Selection Sunday having beaten an at-large aspirant with an RPI of 39 twice in seven days?
As of early this morning, the famous Joe Lunardi of ESPN had Georgia as his next-to-last team in — although, somewhat oddly, he also has the Bulldogs as a No. 11 seed. (Usually the last at-large invitees are 12th seeds.) He had Alabama as the 71st team in a 68-team field, or the third-from-last out.
There’s no guarantee Alabama beating Georgia would close a gap of five places. There’s also no assurance both Georgia and Alabama couldn’t make the field. But everything would get much simpler if Georgia just beat Alabama today. I believe the Bulldogs will.
And with that, our dumb little SEC live chat is underway. A crowd is gathering at Ye Olde Dome — although the big draw on the afternoon card is Game 2, which features the Big Blue — but this promises to be one of the most-watched games of the weekend by a group gathered in a hotel suite in Indianapolis. I refer to the NCAA committee.
By Mark Bradley