The Georgia Bulldogs enter the 2021 SEC Tournament as the 10th seed, where they will face the No. 7 seed Missouri Tigers. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. Thursday night in Nashville, Tennessee at Bridgestone Arena. The Bulldogs come in with a 14-11 record on the year after going 7-11 in conference play. After dropping their last two games, it will take a tournament championship run for the Bulldogs to make the NCAA Tournament.
Georgia defeated then-ranked No. 20 Missouri 80-70 in Athens on February 16. Granted, the Tigers were without star Jeremiah Tilmon, but the Bulldogs played with confidence and resilience that night to come back from a 13-point deficit in the second half on their way to victory. Tillman will be playing Thursday night though and should pose a matchup problem against Georgia’s lack of size.
“It will have a tremendous impact,” said Georgia head coach Tom Crean on Tilmon. “He’s as difficult of a matchup as there is in the entire league. Because of his size, his mobility, his strength, I’m sure they are going to try to establish him right away. So, we’ve got to be up for that challenge.”
Georgia’s P.J. Horne said on Wednesday that the team, “just needs to be the best version of us that we can be.” Horne is right at this point in the season. Georgia knows what they do well at this point; they also know the areas that they are deficient in. But trying to reinvent the wheel right before the biggest game of the year for the Bulldogs would not be a recipe for success.
Georgia is a team that wants to play fast, start its transition offense immediately and space the floor. When Sahvir Wheeler is in control of the offense, while playing at a high level, the Bulldogs are fully capable of beating any team in the SEC. Inconsistency has plagued Georgia this year though, oftentimes appearing as a different team on a game-to-game basis.
The Bulldogs will need to control Tilman in the paint, who is currently fifth in the SEC in rebounds per game (7.4 per game). They will also have to beware of guard Dru Smith, who can make an impact on both sides of the ball. Smith is averaging 14.1 points per game, and also leads the SEC with two steals per game. Most importantly, Georgia will need to avoid turnovers, which has been its biggest weakness this season.
Georgia enters Thursday’s contest ranked 334th out of 340 Division I teams in turnovers per game, averaging 16.8. If the Bulldogs start to turn the ball over in their possessions on Thursday, look for the Tigers to seriously slow their tempo on offense in hopes of controlling the pace of play.
Sahvir Wheeler has established himself as the leader of this year’s Georgia squad. The sophomore guard was recently named second-team All-SEC, as he led the Bulldogs in points (14 PPG) and led the conference in assists (7.2 APG). Wheeler spoke about the team’s mindset heading into the tournament.
“We understand what we have to do to win,” said Wheeler. “But at the end of the day, it’s a win or go home. So, they’re going to come out hungry, desperate to win a game, but so are we.”
Although Georgia comes in as the 10th seed out of 13 teams, Wheeler made it clear that he hopes for all the best, including a potential run to the NCAA Tournament. Thursday’s game will be broadcast on SEC Network. If Georgia beats Missouri, they will then play Arkansas on Friday night. If the Bulldogs lose, their season is almost guaranteed to be over.
“Our goal is to win the SEC Tournament,” said Wheeler. “I think that would be a successful run for me and I know all my teammates have those same goals and aspirations.”