The SEC tournament raged on without them, but the Georgia Bulldogs remained a talking point — involving much talking and little consensus — at the Dome. Soon we’ll all know their NCAA tournament fate, but a lot of us spent Saturday afternoon trying to decide if they’ll be out or in. Trying and failing.
Joe Lunardi, the ESPN bracketologist, had them out. Jerry Palm, the CBS Sports man, had them in as a No. 10 seed. (Palm has been higher on the Bulldogs than anyone else among the figure filberts, it must be noted.) Andy Glockner of SI.com had them the next-to-last team in. See what I mean by consensus, or the lack of same?
Mike Slive is the SEC commissioner, so he’s biased toward his membership. He also served five years on the NCAA committee, which means he knows more about its workings than you and I and maybe even Joe Lunardi. And he believes both Georgia and Alabama should make it.
Said Slive: “Georgia because of its body of work and because it passes the eye test” [meaning it looks like an NCAA tournament team]; Alabama because it has played so well in the conference and won five games against the East, and that’s part of its body of work.”
As we know, Georgia trumps Alabama on RPI. (Although the Bulldogs’ number did fall to 43, which is dicey, after its Friday flop.) As we also know, Alabama beat Georgia twice in seven days at the end of the season. Those are things to remember. So, however, are these:
• The committee often is less impressed by events in conference tournaments than we expect it to be.
• The RPI is a meaningful gauge when it comes to choosing teams to consider, but it isn’t necessarily a final determinant.
• The committee mightn’t get as caught up in Team A (Alabama, say) versus Team G (Georgia, duh) comparisons as we on the periphery would assume. Those folks have a whole board to consider, not just two teams from one league.
That said, it surely did Georgia no disservice that Alabama got blown out by Kentucky on Saturday. (Said John Calipari, the Kentucky coach: “I think [Alabama] should be in. I think Georgia should be in.”) But let’s return to the concept of the Whole Board: The doings in the Big Ten, where three bubble teams — Michigan, Michigan State and Penn State — reached the tournament semis, and in the Atlantic 10, where Dayton has crashed the final, could have a ripple effect. Or not.
Calipari: “What we don’t know is how much [the committee] has done already.”
If the basketball minds gathered at the Dome agreed on anything, it was that Georgia and Bama and all bubble puppies should feel grateful this NCAA will include 68 teams, up from 65. And also that at least one could wind up playing in Dayton on Tuesday or Wednesday in the new play-in round. (There will be two games there each night, with one night featuring the final four at-large entrants.)
That said, I should note that we geniuses likewise caucused back in 2001 and decided that Georgia, which had lost its final regular-season game and its first SEC tournament game to fall to 16-14, couldn’t possibly be invited to the tournament. Not only did the Bulldogs get in, they were rewarded with a No. 8 seed. Such was the power, apparently, of an RPI of 27. (They lost in Round 1 to Missouri on Clarence Gilbert’s baseline basket at the buzzer.)
If I had to guess — and I don’t, but I will — I think the 2010-11 Bulldogs will be invited to the Big Dance, just. I think they’ll be among the last four in, and I think any Georgia celebration needs to be brief. The Bulldogs could well be playing in the NCAA tournament 48 hours after receiving their invite. They could be bound, if not yet for glory, then at least for Dayton.
By Mark Bradley