(Updated 4 p.m. Thursday)
NASHVILLE –- Two years ago, Georgia entered the SEC tournament with a 4-12 league record and a No. 6 seed -– and famously won the tornado-struck event in Atlanta.
Tonight, Georgia starts the SEC tournament with similar credentials — a 5-11 league record and, again, a No. 6 seed.
“Well, I’m not going to pray for a tornado,” coach Mark Fox said.
Even so, Georgia’s improbable success in 2008 seems to have become a standard rallying cry for SEC underdogs who dream of a shocking run that would put them in the NCAA tournament.
“Two years ago, Georgia did it,” LSU forward Tasmin Mitchell, whose team went 2-14 in SEC regular-season games this year, said here Wednesday. “We’re going to go out and play every game like it’s our last and try to get one of those spots like Georgia did.”
Georgia senior guard Ricky McPhee, who sat out the 2007-08 season as a transfer, recalled the “magical run” and said: “Hopefully, we’ll get on a run like that.”
Senior center Albert Jackson thinks it’s possible. “We probably have, all-around, more talent than that team had,” he said. “If we play with the high level we can play with, I feel like we can make the same run without the tornado.”
Fox noted that a photo of the 2008 team holding the tournament trophy hangs in the Bulldogs’ locker room, where the players “see it every day.”
Beyond that, Fox isn’t getting too carried away with the flashback angle.
“Outside of telling them to pack for a week,” he said, “our complete focus has been on just playing well on Thursday night.” Georgia plays Arkansas in the last of the opening-round games at 9:45 p.m. (or shortly thereafter).
“I don’t think the tournament of 2008 or the tournament of 2000 is going to have a lot of impact on the tournament in 2010,” Fox said. “My guys need to play well when they turn that scoreboard on.”
Arkansas had to weather some controversy leading up to tonight’s game against Georgia.
Freshman forward Marshawn Powell told reporters early in the week that “what this team needs is a leader” and “we haven’t had that all year” and vowed to try to fill the void.
Arkansas coach John Pelphrey said he discussed the comments with Powell, a member of the SEC’s all-freshman team. Pelphrey said he believes Powell was referring to suspensions and injuries taking some veteran Arkansas players off the court at times this season. Pelphrey also noted he previously had encouraged Powell to develop as a leader.
“Hopefully nobody reads into [the comments] anything . . . negative . . . other than that we are encouraging a young man who’s got a chance to be a tremendous player,” Pelphrey said.
Georgia would have to win four games in the next four days to reach the NCAA Tournament. But the Bulldogs possibly could work their way into another postseason event.
The NIT? Doubtful, because that tournament has never taken a team with a sub-.500 overall record and Georgia (currently 13-16) would remain below .500 unless it wins the SEC tournament.
So how about the CBI or the CIT?
Many of you probably are asking: The what?
The College Basketball Invitational (CBI) is a 16-team event in its third year. It takes teams passed over by both the NCAA and NIT tournaments. Games are played on campuses. The tournament is single elimination until the final, which is a best-of-three-series. Oregon State won last year’s event.
The CollegeInsider.com Tournament (CIT) is a 16-team event in its second year. It, too, takes teams passed over by the NCAA and NIT. Its field last year consisted entirely of teams from mid-major conferences. Games are played on campuses. Old Dominion won the event last year.
So, barring a 2008-style miracle in the SEC tournament, would Georgia be interested in playing in the CBI or CIT?
Fox wants to see how his team plays in the SEC tournament before answering definitively.
“I think [this team has] been really committed to being as good as they can be,” Fox said outside Georgia’s locker room here Wednesday. “That’s why I think if they have a terrific tournament, then I’d certainly go to [athletics director] Damon [Evans] and say, ‘Let’s see what’s out there.’
“This group has represented Georgia well, but I also am of the belief that postseason tournaments should be a reward for a quality year. And we need to have a good [SEC] tournament for us to really say, ‘Hey, we’ve had a good enough year to move on.’”
Albert Jackson, the Georgia center, said Tuesday that he “definitely” expects sophomore Trey Thompkins to be back at UGA, rather than in the NBA, next season. So Fox was asked Wednesday: Do you agree with that assessment?
“Do I think he’ll be back?” Fox replied. “I’m not sure I have an opinion on that yet. Or if I do, not one that I’ll tell you.”
Fox said he’s sure that he’ll meet with Thompkins and his family about the matter after the season.
“I’ll get all the information that they need me to get,” Fox said. “My only piece of advice will be that they listen to the 30 general managers who make the decisions on draft day. And then I’ll assist them and him in the process however I can.”
Asked how high, in general, he believes an underclassman needs to be projected to go in the draft to justify entering it, Fox said: “I think it’s different for everybody. I think any kid should have a guaranteed money spot, which would be first round. That would be my opinion. But it’s about a kid’s life. It’s about a career, not a cup of coffee, but it’s about a kid’s life. And it is their decision, not mine.”
Thompkins said Tuesday and again Wednesday that he hasn’t thought much about the matter.
“It’s not even on my mind, to be honest with you,” he said. “I haven’t made my decision yet.”
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