Georgia missed an opportunity Saturday to strengthen its case for an NCAA Tournament at-large bid.
Visiting Arkansas, the Bulldogs fell 85-67 in a game the Razorbacks controlled throughout the second half. While the loss may not eliminate Georgia’s chances for a tourney berth, it certainly makes it harder to get there.
Georgia (18-13, 9-9 SEC) will need to at least record two wins in the SEC Tournament to be back in consideration, according to Shelby Mast, the lead bracketologist for both USA Today and BracketWAG.com.
“If they win three games, I think they’ll probably be in,” Mast said. “If they win two games, they’re going to be right there on the cut line. I don’t know which side of it, though.”
Mast said he probably won’t move Georgia off of his "First Four Out" line following Saturday’s loss. With teams such as Ohio State and Georgia Tech losing, Mast said Georgia’s position is currently safe. Mast also said Clemson’s win over Boston College is not good enough to jump the Bulldogs.
While Mast still thinks Georgia has a way into the NCAA Tournament, ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi moved Georgia from his "Next Four Out" group to off his board.
ESPN’s Andy Katz went one step further after Saturday’s game against Arkansas. On air, Katz said he believes Georgia won’t be considered for an at-large bid and would need to win the SEC Tournament to earn entry.
“I think it’s done. I think the drama is over,” Katz said. “I think you can put five (SEC) teams in the NCAA Tournament – Kentucky, South Carolina, Florida, Arkansas, which beat Georgia earlier (Saturday), and Vanderbilt.”
Vanderbilt proved to be one of Saturday’s biggest winners by rallying to defeat Florida. Even with 14 losses, and the possibility of another, the Commodores are trending toward an at-large bid thanks to its strength of schedule and quality wins.
With Vanderbilt and Georgia’s Saturday games going in separate directions, it would be a tough task for the Bulldogs to replace the Commodores in the field of 68. Therefore, Georgia may have to prove the SEC is worthy of earning six bids with a great showing in Nashville.
But for Georgia, at least the opportunity exists.
There are also some other factors the selection committee could consider. Given the number of close losses to quality teams, Georgia could be granted some leeway.
Its strength of schedule is also one of the best in the nation’s top 20. While the Bulldogs are 1-8 in RPI top-50 games, five of those losses came against Kansas (No. 2), Florida (No. 3, twice) and Kentucky (No. 8, twice). The other three came against South Carolina (No. 27, twice) and Arkansas (No. 28). Its lone win in this department came against Vanderbilt, ranked No. 50, although that number will rise after the Commodores’ win over Florida. Georgia has nine total wins against the top-100.
If Georgia wins two games next week, and if forward Yante Maten, who is recovering from an MCL sprain, becomes available for the NCAA Tournament, then that could also change how the selection committee evaluates the Bulldogs.
“If there’s a chance he’s coming back then that shines a different light on it,” Mast said. “The committee will look more at games he played in. But if he doesn’t come back and they know for sure he’s not coming back, then they treat this as a different team from earlier in the season. I know they’ve won some games but there aren’t a whole lot of games to really judge it by. So my guess is if they know he’s not coming back that’s probably bad news for Georgia.”
Head coach Mark Fox offered his at-large case during a post-game news conference with reporters after the Arkansas loss.
“I think our team has played a top-20 schedule in America,” Fox said. “We’ve probably got (nine) wins vs. the top-100. Of our losses, I think we had five vs. the top-10. All that proves is we’re not a top-10 team. It doesn’t mean we’re not a top-30 team ever. We certainly feel like when we’re whole, when Maten comes back, that we’re as good as anybody. We’ll go home and regroup and try and get ready for Nashville.”