Stop me if you’ve heard this before: With 1 week left to play before the SEC Tournament begins, the NCAA Tournament hopes for Mark Fox‘s Georgia Bulldogs are hanging on by a thread. As someone who has lived and died with the result of just about every game for the past 8 seasons, it feels like the Hoop Dawgs have been in the exact situation all too many times in the past few years.
But what about this season? After what has been universally regarded as a disappointing season, with perhaps Mark Fox’s most talented roster, are the Hoop Dawgs even on the bubble? What will it take for UGA to get into the field of 68? You might be surprised by the answer.
One week ago, even the most optimistic UGA fan would have admitted the only realistic way to get into the NCAA Tournament would be to win the SEC Tournament. I follow both Joe Lunardi and Jerry Palm, and neither of these Bracketologists has had Georgia listed as “First Four Out” or “Next Four Out” in at least a month. With star forward Yante Maten out for the remainder of the regular season, it appeared that Georgia’s NCAA hopes were over. But apparently, a lot can change in a week.
After their road victory over Alabama on Thursday, the Dawgs were able to avoid disaster with a last second home win over last place LSU on Saturday. (God Bless you, JJ Frazier!). Saturday’s win over LSU certainly did not feel like a big victory. Coming into the game, LSU had lost 14 straight conference games. Still, it took 2 Frazier free throws with 1.6 seconds remaining to seal a home win against one of the worst SEC basketball teams in recent memory. Other than Frazier, the Hoop Dawgs’ performance was lackluster at best. A loss to LSU would have been catastrophic.
But after the game, something crazy happened. Jerry Palm updated his Bracketology and had Georgia as his FIRST TEAM OUT. Say what?!? This has since been updated again after Sunday’s action, and, unbelievably, Georgia is currently Palm’s second team out. Joe Lunardi also listed Georgia as one of his “First Four Out”. (It is important to consider that each of these bracketologists have struggled to accurately project the field according to Bracket Matrix.)
Suddenly, a program that has been on the wrong side of the bubble far too often finds itself back on the wrong side of the bubble again. While UGA should not be satisfied with being a bubble team, being on the bubble is a big step up from where this team was headed just one short week ago. How did this happen, you might ask? Pretty much every team on the bubble lost: Clemson, Marquette, TCU, Kansas State, Alabama, and Pitt all went down this weekend. UGA got a lot of help.
So here we are once again. The Hoop Dawgs are in the all too familiar position of hoping that closing the regular season strong and winning 2+ games in the SEC Tournament will be enough to squeeze into the Big Dance. If the Dawgs can win at home against Auburn on Wednesday, Saturday becomes a HUGE game at Arkansas (RPI: 29). It will be yet another opportunity for the Dawgs to pick up that elusive signature win.
There will be many twists and turns over the next couple of weeks, as March Madness comes upon us. Even if you believe that UGA Basketball is capable of more than being a perennial bubble team, it feels like a small miracle that the Hoop Dawgs have made it back into the bubble discussion. Personally, I can’t imagine a senior being more deserving of showcasing his talents in the Big Dance than JJ Frazier. It is great to see him playing his best basketball of the year, and maybe his career, at the right time. Yante Maten will be out for the remainder of the regular season, but, if he can return for the SEC Tournament, look out. (While it would be great to get Maten back, we here at the GBB are not holding our breath.) The NCAA Selection Committee would certainly take that into account if he is able to return healthy.
In the meantime, let’s just soak in JJ Frazier’s final few games in a UGA uniform and see how far he can carry the rest of the Hoop Dawgs on his back. Whether it be a run to the NCAA Tournament or another trip to the NIT, the Georgia Basketball Blog will have you covered. Stay tuned in for updates in the coming days…