ATLANTA The season almost certainly isnt over for the Georgia mens basketball team, which is likely to receive an NIT bid on Sunday night. But it has now completed a conference season that seems to have revitalized the program.
Georgia tied a school record by winning 13 conference games, counting the regular season and tournament. And it did so with a team that has only one senior.
This conference season and tournament was a big step in the right direction for this program, junior forward Marcus Thornton said. Hopefully it brought something for the fans and the supporters of the program to be happy (about).
We just wanted to build the Bulldog Nation back up, sophomore guard Kenny Gaines said. We kind of struggled in the past few years, the basketball team, and we kind of wanted to get that support back. We did a pretty good job staying within ourselves. We knew when we lost Kentavious that was gonna be a chunk of scoring. But we never wavered in our (belief) in our talent of our team.
We struggled in the beginning. But we ended pretty strong.
Those early struggles a 6-6 nonconference record, with no quality wins are why the Bulldogs will be going to the NIT and not the NCAA.
But conference play gives the team something to lean on heading into next season.
I think that this teams brought a lot of respect back to our program. Im proud of them for that, head coach Mark Fox said. Because when Kentavious (Caldwell-Pope) left I can remember the meeting that day, they still didnt waver that they felt they could have a good team. And they stayed with it and Im proud of them for that.
Said Brandon Morris, a sophomore forward: Weve had a long season, from starting out slow and bouncing back, getting 19 wins. I think weve brought a lot of pride back to this program.
Kentucky head coach John Calipari said after Saturdays game that Georgia should be an at-large selection to the NCAAs. Bracket experts say the Bulldogs have no shot at it now, and even Fox didnt go as far as Calipari.
I havent dug into the stuff. I think we should be in the conversation, Fox said.
But Georgias head coach did rail against the perceived selection criteria, which he said is too weighted towards computer numbers and nonconference play the two factors bringing down Georgias bid.
If this is just about mathematics, OK, thats how were going to pick the NCAA tournament, (then) anybody can outsmart a formula and skew the statistics to make yourself look better. Youve gotta look and see who the best teams are, Fox said. I think whats been lost in some of the media reports is its all math. Whos got the best teams right now, whos playing the best right now, because teams do change during the year.
And games in November shouldnt be more important than games in January and February. Those games shouldnt be more important. And league play should still matter. If it doesnt, then why do we have leagues? And I agree with the body of work philosophy, but I still think youve gotta take into account whos playing the best at the end of the year.
Mann and Frazier
Charles Mann is Georgias leading scorer, but he sat for a big chunk of the second half despite only having two fouls.
Coaches decision. I dont know, he said.
Fox said the decision was a combination of Manns play and that of his backup, freshman J.J. Frazier. The 5-10 freshman once again provided a spark when he entered in the first half, after Mann picked up his second foul. Mann started the second half, but was yanked early after missing a 3-pointer, and stayed out for an extended period.
Charles, weve had to ride him hard, Fox said. And just trying to get him back started into rhythm, get him loose, get his mind right, I think it was about both of them.