ATHENS -- After a major distraction and a major lopsided loss, the Georgia mens basketball team faces what might be an early referendum on its season.
Principally, whether Georgia has a chance to at least be decent -- or whether the wins will be hard to come by.
Mississippi State is one of the few teams in the SEC whose résumé is as poor as Georgia. The other Bulldogs enter Stegeman Coliseum on Saturday with a 6-7 record, after a two-point home win over South Carolina -- one of the SECs other bottom dwellers. Mississippi State has an RPI rank of 271, the worst in the SEC, and new head coach Rick Ray has just seven healthy scholarship players.
So for Georgia, coming off a 33-point loss at No. 11 Florida, this is the kind of game it absolutely needs to win.
Its an important game, as every SEC (game) is, sophomore forward Nemanja Djurisic said. But its important for us to regroup, to focus on them right now and to try to do our best.
Georgia will have back the services of two players who missed the Florida game. Junior forward Donte Williams and freshman guard Kenny Gaines were suspended for the trip.
They didnt do anything malicious; they just behaved in a way that was not acceptable, so I suspended them for a game, head coach Mark Fox said.
Fox said the suspensions were a major distraction for the team as it headed to Florida.
Its very disappointing to have to do that. But right is right. And were trying to make men out of young men. It was distracting, but its behind us, and were gonna move forward, Fox said. The commitment is always first to your players. Youre trying to win, certainly, but the most important thing in your program is helping your young men grow.
Georgia (6-8) is struggling now, but during the game it will get a reminder of the programs glory days.
The team that made it to the Final Four in 1983 will be honored, with head coach Hugh Durham and star player Vern Fleming expected to attend.
One of the first things I did when I came to Georgia was put up pictures of the previous players and teams, because there werent any, Fox said. So we put up pictures of that team. I think its great that they come back, and hopefully our guys will play in a way that those guys will be proud of.
Still, the major question for Fox is whether his team will be able to flush Wednesdays result and move on.
Win or lose, you dont take the last game into the next game, Fox said.
Then Fox smiled.
Are we mature enough to be able to do that? Im not sure, we wont know that until we play, he said.