ATHENS, Ga. - Mercer upset a lot of people's brackets, but Charles Mann is an exception: The Georgia sophomore point guard said he had the Bears picked to beat Duke.
And if that sounds unlikely, Mann was basing it on inside knowledge: Georgia had a closed scrimmage against Mercer last fall, and Mann came away impressed with the Bears' combination of guards and big men.
"They were real good," Mann said. "They're just all seniors, and play to win. I just knew they were going to win it."
You can also count Georgia forward Marcus Thornton among those who wasn't surprised. Thornton, a fourth-year junior, is good friends with Mercer star Langston Hall, and has played against Mercer every year he's been in Athens: There was this year's scrimmage, and the teams met in regular-season games each of the previous three years. (Georgia won each game.)
"I know everybody on that team, pretty much," Thornton said. "They're a greatly experienced team. So to be honest it's not a surprise at all. I thought that was something that could happen."
Georgia players and head coach Mark Fox, speaking a day before they play their NIT second-round game against Louisiana Tech, seemed genuinely happy for their in-state comrades. It helps that Fox and Mercer head coach Bob Hoffman have become close, and many of the players know each other.
When the teams met in that November scrimmage it wasn't a game by a traditional sense. They split it into three simulated periods. Thornton said he remembered splitting the first two periods, and couldn't remember what happened the third period.
Fox said Hoffman would like to schedule another series between the teams, it's just a matter of working it out on the schedule. Fox called it a "possibility."
"I'm really happy that they won today," Fox said. "Bob and I have a great friendship, and we talk quite a bit. I was extremely happy for their team. But I thought they would be very good. They're obviously senior-laden and well-coached, and those kids deserve every bit of success that they're having."
In fact, Mercer is a model for what Fox hopes to have at Georgia very soon: A team built not on five-star recruits, but experience and chemistry. Georgia starts one senior, one junior and three sophomores this year.
"One of the goals we've had is to eventually have an older team. And when you have an older team and an experienced team it works to your advantage," Fox said. "We've not really had that, because of early entries. We haven't had a lot of that. But we're getting closer. And hopefully next year we'll have a stronger flavor of that experience."