Bulldogs aim for 20th win

semerson@macon.comMarch 18, 2014 

SEC Kentucky Georgia Basketball

Georgia guard Charles Mann (4) waits for the ball to be played in the closing seconds of the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Kentucky in the semifinal round of the Southeastern Conference men's tournament, Saturday, March 15, 2014, in Atlanta. Kentucky won 70-58. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

JOHN BAZEMORE — AP

ATHENS -- Charles Mann didn’t watch the NCAA selection show Sunday night. And a few hours later he didn’t watch the NIT selection show, either.

“I just wanted to take a break, clear my mind off of basketball and just enjoy my night,” said Mann, the leading scorer for the Georgia basketball team.

Now it’s time to see if Mann and his teammates, having missed out on the big tournament, will be motivated enough for the next best thing. That’s the eternal question when it comes to the NIT.

For Georgia, which hosts Vermont in the first round Wednesday night, there are some legitimate reasons to think the Bulldogs will be up for it:

Another benchmark

Georgia (19-13) can reach the 20-win mark for just the 11th time in program history. The last time was three years ago, the last time the Bulldogs played in the NCAA tournament.

Several Georgia players mentioned the 20-win mark Tuesday.

“It definitely does speak volumes,” Georgia guard Kenny Gaines said. “It’s been awhile since we had a 20-win season. Twenty wins kind of marks a good season for a team, so it would be a great accomplishment to hit that mark.”

Springboard to next season

There’s only one senior on Georgia’s team, and so far the recruiting class is empty. So the team that takes the court Wednesday essentially will be the same one that starts next season.

The team’s run in SEC play -- going 12-6 and reaching the semifinals of the tournament -- already have given the team some hope for next season. A good run in the NIT wouldn’t hurt, either. Baylor and Iowa, last year’s NIT finalists, are getting ready to play in this year’s NCAA tournament, while Virginia is a No. 1 seed in that tournament after being a No. 1 seed in the NIT last year.

“We want to win it all,” Mann said, his voice rising in emphasis. “Just to get the fans happy and real excited.”

Gaines pointed out that the team begins next season by playing in the Preseason NIT, which ends at New York’s Madison Square Garden -- just as the postseason NIT does. So the Bulldogs have a chance to end this season and play early next season at the iconic home of the New York Knicks.

Pride

Head coach Mark Fox described his team as “one game short” of the NCAA tournament, still expressing the belief his team would have been an at-large by beating Kentucky in the conference tournament semifinals.

“But we didn’t. But there’s one-third of the teams, or less than 30 percent of the teams, that are in a significant tournament,” Fox said. “So I think we should consider it a success.”

Fox is doing his best to keep the team’s approach unchanged. That approach worked during SEC play, when the mantra before each game was just talking about that game, and afterwards, it was all about forgetting the game -- win or lose.

Still, Fox said he wasn’t sure yet how his team would fare under new circumstances.

“Our guys are no different,” Fox said. “They were disappointed with the loss Saturday and still a little bit down on Sunday. But I think they’re still excited to be playing with each other. And so I think that’s an issue that we have to address.”

Fox, who has coached in the NIT and CBI, thinks the hardest part for any team is playing in the first game. Some players are overexcited to be playing, and others aren’t motivated enough.

“Of course we wanted to go to the dance this year, but we came up short. We had some slip-ups, and we realize what we can do in order to make it there,” Mann said. “But this is a great opportunity.”

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