Can Dogs find their way from Georgia Dome to Big Dance?

Georgia coach Mark Fox speaks to his team at center court before Wednesday's practice at the Georgia Dome. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Georgia coach Mark Fox speaks to his team at center court before Wednesday's practice at the Georgia Dome. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

How many games must the Georgia men’s basketball team win this week to play in the NCAA tournament next week?

That question dominates discussions about the team entering the SEC tournament at the Georgia Dome.

Must the Bulldogs beat Auburn, their opponent at 1 p.m. Thursday, to reach the big dance? Must they also beat Alabama, which will face the Georgia-Auburn winner Friday? Or might the Dogs possibly slip into the NCAA tournament even without a win at the Dome because of a weak bubble field?

Similar questions follow two other teams into the SEC tournament — Alabama, which most “bracketologists” argue is in a worse position on the bubble than Georgia, and Tennessee, which the same experts contend is in a better position than Georgia.

Three other teams enter the SEC tournament with no doubt they’ll get NCAA bids Sunday evening — Florida, Kentucky and Vanderbilt, all in the top 25 of the RPI.

At issue is how many more teams the SEC will send to the NCAA tourney.

“We should be getting six teams in,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “Now, people have got to advance here in this [SEC] tournament. They don’t have to go to the finals and all that, but you’ve got to advance a little bit. You’ve got to help your cause. I think that will be a big part of how this all plays out.”

Georgia (20-10, 9-7) would hurt its cause, perhaps decisively, if it lost to Auburn (11-19, 4-12) in the SEC tournament opener.

Auburn extended the Bulldogs to overtime before losing 81-72 on Feb. 5 in Athens and enters the tournament on a two-game winning streak. But the Tigers have an ugly RPI of 254.

“Let’s face it, if Georgia loses to Auburn on a neutral court, I think their case pretty much is over,” ESPN bracket expert  Joe Lunardi said Wednesday.

Auburn coach Tony Barbee took note of the Bulldogs’ situation, saying: “You read some of the stuff [about] the NCAA tournament and what’s at stake and all that, and they have got to do some things here to put themselves firmly in the field. So they have got a lot at stake to play for.”

If Georgia gets past Auburn, Friday’s quarterfinal against Alabama also would have NCAA ramifications. Although the RPI — a computerized measure that evaluates teams’ relative strength — holds Georgia (39) in much higher regard than Alabama (83), the Bulldogs lost in Tuscaloosa last week and might need to counter that defeat by winning a rematch.

“I don’t think six [SEC teams] can get in,” Lunardi said, “because I think there is a fork in the road when and if Georgia plays Alabama.”

Lunardi called a potential Georgia-Alabama SEC quarterfinal an “elimination game” for an NCAA tournament at-large bid.

Tennessee’s place on the bubble also is interesting as it heads into its SEC tournament opener against Arkansas at 7:30 p.m. Thursday. The Vols (18-13, 8-8) lost six of their final nine regular-season games and finished fifth in the SEC East (behind Georgia), but they have eight wins over teams ranked in the top 50 of the RPI.

“I don’t really know,” Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl said when asked if the Vols need more wins to reach the NCAA tournament. “I know the math says we’re in pretty good shape because of our strength of schedule [No. 2 nationally], RPI [36] and the number of wins we have over top-50 and top-100 RPI teams. The more you win, the better position you put yourself in, so we’re going in [to the SEC tournament] believing we need to win to improve our chances.”

Georgia coach Mark Fox has taken a similar posture, maintaining that the Bulldogs’ season-long “body of work” merits a spot in the 68-team field, but adding on his weekly radio show: “By no means are we going into this [SEC] tournament with the feeling that we are in a comfortable position.”

Georgia’s players seem to be trying to tune out the widespread chatter about next week’s tournament.

“People talk about it, but we just go to work,” Jeremy Price said. “People talk about the RPI and whatever, but we want to play the games and try to get some tough wins and move on.”

“We got to win probably one or two games,” Chris Barnes said, “but we’re not really focusing on the NCAA tournament right now. That’s something in the back of our minds, but we’re focusing on playing Auburn.”

“Right now the only thing we can control is playing this game at 1 o’clock [Thursday],” Trey Thompkins said. “Hopefully there is a future for us, but we’ll take care of what we can take care of.”

29 comments Add your comment

Bryan G.

March 10th, 2011
5:23 am

We need to beat Auburn for sure, but I think we need to beat Auburn and Alabama.

Sugar Hill Dawg

March 10th, 2011
5:46 am

All of the speculation is interesting, but I know I’ll have my eyes on the selection show Sunday for the first time in years thanks to Mark Fox!

Nub

March 10th, 2011
6:17 am

This entire group is classified as “Dang Good Dawgs” ….. Sic AU today DAWGS!!!!! WooF….. woof…..woof…

[...] Can Dogs find their way from Dome to the Dance? asks Tim Tucker of the AJC. [...]

Dawg Gone It

March 10th, 2011
6:57 am

Good luck today Georgia. We’re pulling for you guys.

1953 dawg

March 10th, 2011
7:09 am

Wouldn’t be surprised to see this team lose to Auburn. If they do beat the Barn, they will most definately lose to Bama. This team has had so many chances to win a big game on their home court this year, but have blown each one. Tenn, Vandy, Fl, and Xavier were all chances for this average team to make a statement, and they failed. They also had a chance to make a statement on the road at Bama, but blew that one also. This team is terrible in the 2 most important aspects of the game. One, they can’t handle the basketball if a team pressures them, they always have more turnovers than their opponent. Which means they don’t pressure the other team at all, and secondly, they play terrible half court defense. They never defend anybody in the paint, once a guard penetrates past his defender, no big man ever rotates to defend him, and he has a clear path to the basket. Thompkins, Price&Barnes are the worst trio of defensive big men in the SEC. When you don’t play defense, and you turn the ball over repeatedly, that is a bad combination. If you don’t believe me, watch this team when they play Bama, if they get that far.

Americus dawg

March 10th, 2011
7:34 am

It’s actually really simple. We beat AU today, and i think we’re in. Lose it, and its NIT bound for us regardless of what AU and ALA do tomorrow. I dont think they would penalize us for losing a 2nd Rd. game. The other teams “on the bubble” with us have lower rpi and sos than we do(Colorado, Nebraska lost in the first round of the big 12 tourney, Butler was on the buble but they won their tourney) The four day rest SHOULD help Tompkin’s ankle and shins. I hope. Leslie and Robinson are key components for us today. gotta find some scoring punch off the bench also. Wish Fox would have played Thornton, Williams, and Nolte a lot more early on. That would be a tremendous boost of confidence for those guys come SEC tourney time! Even when we were up 20 with 5 min to go agains LSU( i think), MF still had all five starters in eating clock!!! Unbelievable!!! GO DAWGS!!!!!!!!!!! Sic EM!!!

Beast from the East

March 10th, 2011
7:43 am

Take care of Auburn first.
Best of luck!

WhathappenedtoConner

March 10th, 2011
7:48 am

Conner seems to come into games and get to loose ball rebounds and is not so flat footed; and can hit the jumper if left open. It seems like he could help out on the floor more by doing the little things that trey, jeremy, and chris lack at times…

Sloan

March 10th, 2011
7:49 am

Here’s hoping we don’t start out tight and anxious. We need a good start and establish a healthy lead. And in the second half, we have to take better care of the basketball.

GT Dude

March 10th, 2011
7:52 am

Only if there’s a tornado today…

Americus dawg

March 10th, 2011
8:04 am

WhathappenedtoConner, My thoughts exactly!!!!!!!!!!

What's the fuss?

March 10th, 2011
8:09 am

We should be 25-5 right now so if we don’t get in, it’s our own fault for not taking care of business when we had the chance. We should have swept Tennessee. We had Florida beat at home and failed to guard the shooter who hit a long trey. We had Notre Dame beat and let them live to come back and beat us. We had Vandy down at home and let them come back from way down to win. We would likely be ranked in the top 15 if we had just finished some games. Now the trick is to keep Thompkins and Leslie in school for one more year and hope someone else steps up to be a force inside. AND someone has to encourage Ware to SHOOT MORE OFTEN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

RomeDawg

March 10th, 2011
8:11 am

Absolutely, positively HAVE to win today or this season ends with a thud!

Paul H

March 10th, 2011
8:45 am

Today is a must win. Nothing else matters right now.

DawginLex

March 10th, 2011
9:23 am

Latest bracketology has UGA in the play-in game against Colorado playing the game in DENVER! Does Lunardi use his brain? If the NCAA sets up that game, that is a home game for Colorado, a team UGA already beat this year.

What a joke.

dawg fan 4ever

March 10th, 2011
9:27 am

im just glad the dawgs are in conetntion for a tourny bid. by god i hope we get in, but fox has done a damn good job with these boys goin from 20 losses to 20 wins in 2 years……….. even though we did let some games slip from us this year……i think uga basketball is on the uprise…… and we could become a sec powerhouse.

Floundering Fox Hounds Batman !

March 10th, 2011
9:35 am

UGA has punched its ticket to the NIT. Book it !

Bawbie

March 10th, 2011
9:36 am

Fire Dave Perno !

mcdawg

March 10th, 2011
9:37 am

Marquette just uped the ante

Delta Stewardess

March 10th, 2011
9:52 am

UGA has lost 2 out of 3 of it’s last games. UGA has to win 2 to be in the NCAAs. I don’t think they will do it. We will see. I am just not sure a win over Auburn will get the Dawgs in the tourney. 3 hours until the journey either begins or ends. This game is HUGE toward Post season destinations.

UGA Insider

March 10th, 2011
10:09 am

The Dawgs are fired up and will roll later today. I also expect UGA to beat Bama on Friday and for us to be a 7 or 8 seed in the tourney.

gdawginkalamazoo

March 10th, 2011
10:16 am

I think we need to beat Auburn and Bama to get in. Just remove all doubt. This is the perfect place and time for Thompkins and Leslie to start making the case for the NBA. This team is capable and if winning the two + in the SEC tourney should prove that they won’t go to dance and leave after the first song.

Go Dawgs!

The Smartest Bulldog

March 10th, 2011
11:48 am

Great bulldog sports and basketball questions at http://www.smartestbulldog.com. This is one fun dawg game.

BuckheadBill

March 11th, 2011
11:09 am

Please stop “picking up the ball when the Bulldogs start to kick”. According to so called experts, each game is a “must win”. After the win, well, depends on next game.

BG

March 11th, 2011
12:41 pm

Dawgs should be in the big dance with the rpi they have now.

john emery

March 11th, 2011
3:48 pm

Shame on coach fox he;s terrible clock management sucks he;s no good under pressure send him off to division 3 school to learn if any one wants him.

LLUGA

March 11th, 2011
4:35 pm

Uhhh, not now…does anyone really think they should after the loss to Alabama?
Or how about choking halftime leads in losses to:
Notre Dame
Florida (twice)
Vandy
Xavier
Those are six BAD losses, and then throw in the last second loss to UT to make seven total CHOKE losses.
AWFUL…this team might have earned the right to play in the tourney by manning up and playing with heart in ANY of those games, but they played scared in all of them.
The bottom line: UGA is WEAK mentally and physically, and weak teams will always be losers….never champions….
I was hoping the basketball team could teach the football team a thing or two about winning and playing with heart this year….shame on me for having such high hopes for such a losing, pathetic organization….I’m so sick of being a UGA fan…I’m so sick of watching my third grade son be continually disappointed by these underperforming losers…they can all go to heII

Delta Stewardess

March 11th, 2011
11:19 pm

NO
NIT here we come.