by Jeffrey Farek
Sitting at a 13-11 record, the Georgia men’s basketball team had dropped 5 of their last 6 games and looked all but out of the NCAA tournament. The selection committee for the tournament not only looks at overall record, but for wins against tough opponents, especially on the road. They also look for consistency, which is determined by noting any bad losses, games in which the clearly better team failed to win. Head coach Mark Fox was facing criticism and rumors that he may be fired at the end of the season.
Owning a mediocre record, the Bulldogs failed to close out games all season long, blowing chances to improve their résumé. They lost four close games, including a bad loss at Texas A&M in which the Bulldogs blew a 9 point lead with under two minutes to play. The others, losses at Florida and at Kentucky in overtime, as well as a loss at South Carolina by two, all were tremendous opportunities to get a quality win on the road against a team who will make the tournament. Instead, with those opportunities squandered, Georgia had to finish the season strong.
The Bulldogs went on to win 5 of their next 6, despite losing star forward Yante Maten for the season to a sprained MCL in loss at home to Kentucky, another close game that didn’t go Georgia’s way. The success of late can be attributed to great defense and J.J. Frazier, who picked up his offensive play since Maten went down, scoring an average of 31 points per game in the four games without him.
Prior to the game at Arkansas to close the regular season, Georgia was labeled one of the “next 4 out” of the NCAA tournament, according to “bracketology” experts who study what teams the committee will choose to invite into the 68 team field, putting them on the bubble to make it in. A win at Arkansas would be the best win for the Bulldogs all season, the last opportunity to get a quality win.
Down only one at halftime, Georgia fell apart in the second half, shooting an abysmal 25 percent from the floor. This was compounded by a stellar 65 percent shooting from the Razorbacks, resulting in a 17 point defeat. The loss brought Georgia’s record against the top 50 RPI, a metric used to measure the strength of a team, to 1-9 for the season. Not good enough as the experts have dropped Georgia from the bubble, for now.
The regular season will conclude with the SEC tournament in Nashville next week. Georgia has plenty of work to do to make the tournament, as 3 wins are likely needed to place themselves back on the bubble. It starts with a matchup against Tennessee. A win gives the Bulldogs another shot against Kentucky. Assuming they win that, Georgia would need one more win, putting them in the finals of the tournament. Without Yante Maten this seems unlikely, but possible if Frazier can maintain his electric form of late.
Even so, postseason play is still a likelihood for Georgia even if they miss out on the NCAA tournament. They can be invited to the NIT, which they competed in last year, losing in the second round to Saint Mary’s.
Failing to make the tournament will increase the pressure to fire Mark Fox, as it will be his 8th season with the team, only making the NCAA tournament twice. Not good enough for his despisers. Personally, firing Fox will do the program little good, as the biggest issue Georgia faces is keeping in-state recruits from going to other programs, something Fox can certainly do.
Jeffrey Farek is a second-year UGA student and a sports writer for Infusion Magazine.