I’ve discussed this here repeatedly because I find it the most compelling storyline for Georgia men’s basketball right now: Coach Mark Fox and the NCAA basketball tournament. Sure, Yante Maten living up to the hype as SEC preseason Player of the Year has me excited, too.
The momentum swung, up 40-26, Dawgs at the Jungle. Auburn came in 16-2 with the highest RPI in the SEC, the league with the most teams appearing in the national RPI Top 50. Of course Georgia, because this is Mark Fox, are right on the Mendoza cutline for the tournament. In a coaching tenure slowly approaching a decade at a program, he’s been close to right here most seasons. He’s gone dancing only twice at UGA, after three consecutive qualifiers when he last coached Nevada.
With Maten unable to get enough key touches the Bulldogs went an astounding fifteen minutes of game clock without making a basket Saturday. Even after, though, there was a late section of the rivalry game where it was still in brief contention. That’s a testament to how hot the Dawgs had opened and an albatross of what can happen at worst to this team of one star and a deep rotation of skilled players looking for a role. Juwan Parker as second option doesn’t consistently work at this stage of his long college career due to the number of injuries he has endured and overcome. His mobility isn’t what it once was, but he’s still a nice piece. 6-7 Rayshaun Hammonds appears the most ready of the young guys to me, none yet confident enough to assert himself as a consistent quality college player. The nothing-else-to-do crowd went wild as the then-17th ranked Tigers netted their 17th win. Bruce Pearl, the coach who left a briefly winning Tennessee under scandal has been welcomed with open arms to the prettiest halfway house on the plains. Just like football, when the night spins away from you, 79-65 was a pretty good kicking considering how well our team had played in its last outing at LSU and in the first half. Aubie visits Athens on February 10th, always better to host your old rivals.
After a very solid start to the season, the Hoop Hounds have dropped 3-of-4 on a dip and desperately need the home win over the Hogs Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. The Dawgs have only dropped one game played at home all season and have identical 3-4 league records with Arkansas. We’re 12-6, they’re 13-6. With only 12 wins on our resume, I’m looking over our remaining schedule trying to figure out how we could get to twenty or more wins and get in. Dicey on the bubble. The explosive Razorbacks have had the most high-scoring games in the league; they’ve put up 90+ often and are coming off an invigorating 97-93 home win over Ole Miss. Can we hold them down and score with them enough to win?
Up after, the Big 12/SEC Challenge is a nice midseason spectacle in its third year, Georgia drawing a trip to the Little Apple of Manhattan, Kansas, to play the Kansas State Wildcats (Saturday, 2 p.m.). 14-5 overall, K-State enters the week coming off a win over then-24th ranked TCU and sitting tied for third in a highly-regarded Big 12 Conference. After K-State, the Gators come to the Classic City. It’s a tough stretch for a suddenly struggling team, this latest loss only enhancing the significance of our still huge SEC road win by a point at LSU.
So far, Florida and Auburn appear the cream of the deep league with only one SEC loss apiece, while the bulk of the conference is bottlenecked between two and four losses; only two schools have five league losses. At 7-12, Vandy is all but eliminated from NCAA consideration and every other SEC program is still in realistic contention for March Madness. Should Georgia fail to get in, again, the season would rightly be deemed a bust.
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