ATHENS, Ga.- Kentucky coach John Calipari had just joined the SEC basketball coaches teleconference on Monday, when a moderator mistakenly said Kentucky was playing Georgia this week.
"I hope we're not playing Georgia," Calipari said in reply. "They're playing so well right now."
That's true: Georgia has won five of its past six, and is alone in third place in the SEC, two games ahead of fourth place.
But it's still not good enough to put the Bulldogs (15-11 overall) in contention for an NCAA tournament bid. Their RPI rank as of Monday was 89, per CBSsports.com, which is probably about 30-35 spots away from being viable for an at-large berth. The low rank is thanks to that middling (to put it lightly) performance in nonconference play.
So Georgia likely has to win the SEC tournament in three weeks to get a bid. But in the final two weeks of the regular season the Bulldogs can still have a big effect on who from the conference gets into the NCAAs.
Florida and Kentucky are the only two SEC teams assured of a bit. Florida (25-2) ascended to No. 1 in the Associated Press poll on Monday, and Kentucky (21-6) is No. 10 in the RPI, contending for a No. 2 seed in the NCAAs if it can finish strong.
But after that, nobody else in the conference is in a good position.
There is a seven-way tie for fourth place in conference right now, and four of those teams have a realistic shot at an at-large berth: Missouri (19-8, RPI rank of 45th), Tennessee (15-11, 60), Arkansas (18-9, 70) and LSU (16-10, 72). Then there's Ole Miss (16-11, 80), which was once a strong contender, but is on a four-game losing streak, including a loss at Georgia.
Georgia hosts Missouri on Tuesday, then goes to Arkansas on Saturday. After hosting woeful Mississippi State a week from Wednesday, the Bulldogs finish off their regular-season with a visit to LSU.
There's always the chance the Bulldogs could play their way on to the NCAA bubble, but it would almost certainly require going at least 3-1 the next two weeks and then reaching the SEC championship game. Even then, it might be a long shot.
But the Bulldogs do have a very realistic shot at finishing in the top four in the conference, which would give them a double-bye into the SEC tournament quarterfinals on Friday. Here are the current standings (not including the bottom four):
Ole Miss ........ 7-7
Texas A&M .....7-7
Georgia could technically still finish all the way back in 10th. But the Bulldogs will own the head-to-head tiebreaker over Ole Miss and Texas A&M. They will not own the head-to-head tiebreaker over Vanderbilt and Tennessee. None of that will change. Currently, the Bulldogs own the tiebreaker over Missouri, LSU and Arkansas - but each of those teams have a chance to even that back up.
Of course, Georgia could very well end up in a tie of three or more teams. In that event the tiebreaker is head-to-head record among those teams.
The bottom line: If Georgia splits its remaining four games, it's very likely it will finish third, or at least in the top four. There is one remaining game that Georgia will be a big favorite - the home finale against Mississippi State - and if the Bulldogs can win one of the other three, then they'll likely get the double-bye.