The Georgia Bulldogs are currently in 3rd place in the SEC (with a 10-5 conference record) and with that, they are sitting a full two games clear of every program not named “Florida” or “Kentucky” in the race for positioning in the SEC Tournament. However, the Bulldogs cannot be found in any projected NCAA Tournament field right now despite their recent high-level play.
Mark Fox has his club playing lights-out basketball right now, as the Dawgs have won 6 out of 7 games in route to that gaudy 10-5 conference mark. While Georgia did fall short in their toughest game during that run (in Knoxville against Tennessee), they took care of business against a “better” team in Missouri on Tuesday and squeaked past a very solid Ole Miss team earlier in the run.
The recent stretch of success has seemingly awakened much of the UGA fan base, and chatter of potential “bubble” status is the focus of conversation. Mark Fox’s club does have a bit of a challenging schedule remaining with road trips to Arkansas and LSU surrounding a very winnable home game against Mississippi State, and if they were to run the table (not a given by any stretch), a 13-5 record in a “power” conference would look incredibly impressive.
Unfortunately, not everyone is gung-ho on the prospects of the Bulldogs making a run at the tournament. The most famous “Bracketologist” in the country, ESPN’s Joe Lunardi, was quoted as saying some pretty negative things about Georgia’s chances at making a run toward the good side of the bubble (quotes from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution):
“If I said, ‘Let’s spend a lot of time talking about their best wins,’ it would be a fairly short conversation,” Lunardi said. “The league just isn’t good enough where being third or fourth, wherever they’re going to finish, is in and of itself good enough. So I think that they have work to do, especially away from home. Their best road win was probably the first win over Missouri, I guess. Again, we’re talking lots of bad, bad games on the non-conference schedule, which is sinking their RPI. Because of that they have to get all their good work done in the league and the league isn’t good enough to make that work easy to come by. I don’t think they’re there yet. They’re not really even that close yet.”
Lunardi is a “numbers” guy, and frankly, the numbers are not good for Georgia. As of Thursday morning, the Bulldogs are ranked at #84 by the RPI, and that is the kiss of death for the committee. There are many flaws with RPI rankings (KenPom or Sagarin would be much better to use, for instance), but there is no denying that the committee is instructed to use the measure in evaluating teams, and being the 84th team in that index basically rules out any bubble conversation.
In addition, the lack of quality wins for Georgia is a real thing. The Bulldogs have exactly zero wins against the top-25 this season, and the only two victories against the RPI top-50 have both come against Missouri, who currently sits at #46. Bad losses are a stigma for UGA as well, as most bubble teams don’t have 3 losses to teams outside the top-150 (Georgia Tech, Temple, Auburn), and the non-conference schedule didn’t do the team any favors.
A “perfect world” argument would suggest that the Bulldogs could win all three games down the stretch, enter the SEC Tournament at 19-11 overall and 13-5 in league play, and perhaps make a run to the semifinal or final rounds. Still, that scenario in itself seems unlikely (winning both at LSU and Arkansas, where they will be underdogs in each game, is a tall task), and if Georgia made that happen, I still believe that they would need a big-time “splash” in the tournament, which could only be grabbed by knocking off Florida or Kentucky along the way.
The last three weeks have been a revelation for Mark Fox, both for his program and for his job security (have you noticed the lack of “hot seat” talk lately?) moving forward. That said, there is much work to be done to even get the Bulldogs on the figurative “bubble”, and getting into the tournament is another story altogether.