Georgia can achieve a modest goal at Vanderbilt

semerson@macon.comFebruary 26, 2013 

ATHENS -- It’s a modest goal, and not one the members of the Georgia men’s basketball team want to adopt as a rallying cry. Still, it’s a relevant one, especially since the SEC tournament -- now two weeks ago -- is probably the only postseason the Bulldogs will participate in this year.

The format of the tournament was altered this year, thanks to expansion, and now includes an additional layer of games. So teams that finish in the bottom four of the conference must now win five games in order to pull off a run akin to what Georgia did in 2008.

This year’s Georgia team is currently tied for ninth in the conference. By beating Vanderbilt on Wednesday night, Georgia can clinch one of the top 10 seeds -- in other words, a bye in the tournament.

Of course, head coach Mark Fox isn’t ready to settle for just that.

“We can get two of them,” he said Tuesday, before adding, “The breaks the last two weeks have made that more challenging.”

By that, he meant losses at Mississippi and Arkansas, when the Bulldogs played well enough to win. Of course they also nearly lost at home to South Carolina, before forcing overtime and running away with it there.

The result is a 7-7 conference record, which is actually as close to fourth place (which would earn that double-bye into the SEC quarterfinals) as it is to Vanderbilt in 11th place.

But since Georgia lost to fourth-place Ole Miss, it is effectively three games behind the race to finish in the top four. So realistically the goal now is to finish among the middle six teams.

It would still mean having to win four in a row at the SEC tournament to win a championship. But it would also avoid the stigma of being one of those bottom four teams playing on the lonely opening night in Nashville.

“We’re just going to try and win as many as we can and win the next game. But that tournament will be very, very important,” Fox said. “Obviously, getting in the best position going into it is going to have some importance to it.”

So how much is an advantage to play four, instead of five? Vanderbilt head coach Kevin Stallings isn’t so sure, pointing out that since the Big East went to a similar format, two teams have won five in a row.

“If you can hold up from a stamina standpoint and you can get on a bit of a roll and start playing well, and get hot at the right time, I’m not sure there’s a big difference between four and five,” Stallings said. “Nevertheless, if you have to play four, and we’ve done this, by the third or fourth day, you feel like you’re on fumes. So I’m sure everybody would like to avoid having to play five.”

Georgia’s final four regular-season games are all winnable, but not easy:

• at Vanderbilt: Memorial Gym is a tough place to play, and Georgia last won there in 2006.

• Tennessee: While Georgia won in Knoxville three weeks ago, the Volunteers have played a lot better lately.

• Kentucky: The Wildcats initially struggled when star center Nerlens Noel was injured, but they still have a lot of talent.

• at Alabama: The Crimson Tide won the first matchup, in Athens on Feb. 12.

“We’ve had our shares of ups and downs,” Fox said. “But if you look at the progression, we’ve been playing better basketball the last couple weeks, and we’ve learned from those experiences. Hopefully if it continues to where we win a few in a row, lose in a few in a row, hopefully we get hot in the league tournament.”

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