ATHENS – The good news is Georgia drew a team it beat during the regular season for the first round of the SEC Tournament. That’s the bad news, too.
As the 11th seed, the Bulldogs (14-15, 5-11 SEC) will face sixth-seeded Mississippi State (21-10, 8-8) in the first round Thursday night in New Orleans. Georgia shocked the “Maroon Bulldogs” 70-68 in overtime on Feb. 11th. At the time coach Rick Stansbury’s team was ranked No. 20 in the nation.
As a result, Georgia will be facing a team that not only is fighting and clawing for an NCAA Tournament berth, but one that will also be motivated by revenge.
“Our first game versus Mississippi State was a terrific win for us,” said Georgia coach Mark Fox, whose team capped the regular season with a 67-55 win over South Carolina on Saturday. “They’ve been nationally ranked most of the year and we were fortunate to catch them on short rest. They are hard to beat because they have a great point guard in [Dee] Bost, great size and good 3-point shooting.”
Mississippi State earned the No. 6 seed by thumping Arkansas 79-59 Saturday in Starkville. It was the Bulldogs’ second win in a row.
If Georgia can somehow get past State, it will face third-seeded Vanderbilt (21-10, 10-6) in the second round. The Commodores, one of four teams to earn a first-round bye, beat the Bulldogs twice this season. A preseason Top 10 pick, Vandy won 77-66 on Jan. 14 in Nashville and 61-52 on Feb. 19 in Athens.
The Bulldogs did manage to avoid Kentucky’s bracket. With Sunday’s 74-59 win at Florida, the Wildcats (30-1, 16-0) became the first team to go undefeated in SEC play since 2003 when they did it under Tubby Smith.
Georgia has won the SEC Tournament just two times. The first was in 1983, which catapulted the Bulldogs to their only NCAA Final Four appearance. The second came in 2008 and remains one of Georgia’s most unexpected and thrilling sports stories of this century.
Dennis Felton’s Bulldogs, which finished last in the Eastern Division with the conference’s worst SEC (4-12), won four games in four days during the tornado-interrupted tournament in Atlanta and clinched the championship and an NCAA berth on the home floor of the rival Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets.
Georgia is 39-48 all-time in the conference tournament with six appearances in the finals and 12 in the semifinals.
“We’re definitely looking forward to it,” senior guard Dustin Ware said. “We’re going in there thinking it’s a brand new year, a new season in itself. We’re looking to play well and win some games.”
Of course, without a first-round bye, any team attempting that feat must win four games in four days. The Bulldogs talked about how exhausted they were this past Saturday after playing South Carolina two days after facing No. 1 Kentucky on the road in a late Thursday night contest.
The Bulldogs will be playing the last game of the day on Thursday. It’s slated to tip off at 10 p.m. EST.
“It doesn’t really matter,” Ware said. “We’ve played that late a couple of times. The ball still goes in the air. We’re just going down there looking for a win.”