ATHENS -- The Georgia men’s basketball team’s non-conference resume is impressive.
The Bulldogs (9-4, 0-1 SEC) picked up quality wins over Colorado, Seton Hall and Kansas State early in the season and faced strong competition in losses to Gonzaga and Minnesota.
Now that the conference schedule started, it’s important for Georgia to continue its winning ways against SEC opponents in order to stay on the radar of the NCAA selection committee.
But it won’t be easy.
As opposed to years past, when the SEC was considered weak, the conference seems to be more competitive this year.
“That’s a great part of the SEC being back. Last year, we won 12 games in this league and fell short of the NCAA tournament,” Georgia head coach Mark Fox said. “This year, we wouldn’t have to do that because there are so many good teams, and the RPI numbers are better.”
The Bulldogs dropped their conference opener in a 79-75 loss to No. 23 Arkansas on Tuesday in a game which they led by seven points at halftime. Georgia’s biggest lead was 13 points with about four minutes to play in the first half, but the Bulldogs were outscored by 11 points in the second half.
“We really just felt like we let one go,” junior guard Kenny Gaines said. “We were really up for most of the game, all of the game really and let up defensively in the second half and couldn’t get stops when it mattered.”
Tuesday’s game would have been a big win for the Bulldogs as their SEC schedule is front loaded with some of the conference’s best talent, including games against LSU (11-3, 0-1), Vanderbilt (11-3, 1-0), Florida (8-6, 1-0) and Mississippi (9-5, 0-1) in January.
“The thing about our schedule this year is that we really don’t have any easy games,” Fox said.
Georgia will look for its first SEC victory Saturday when it travels to LSU. The Tigers are coming off a 74-67 overtime loss to Missouri on Thursday but feature two of the best forwards in the conference.
Sophomores Jarell Martin and Jordan Mickey form a consistent duo for the Tigers and could pose some problems for the Bulldogs. Georgia struggled to contain Arkansas forward Bobby Portis, allowing the Razorbacks forward to score 21 points.
The Bulldogs will now have to deal with Martin, who leads the SEC in scoring with 17.5 points per game, and Mickey, who is No. 6 in the conference with 15.8 points per game. The two big men are strong on the boards, as well, with Mickey averaging 10.8 rebounds per game and Martin 8.8 -- good for second and third, respectively, in the SEC in rebounds.
“They are a great duo, one of the greatest in the country, I think,” senior forward Nemanja Djurisic said. “Very physical, very skilled, they can do a lot things, which makes them very hard to guard. We will need to find a way to stop them early and then contain them as much as we can.”
The Bulldogs were successful against the Tigers last season, winning both matchups, but they will have to play without Kenny Paul Geno this time around. Geno broke his left wrist against the Razorbacks, and Fox pointed to junior forward Cam Forte and senior guard Taylor Echols as possible replacements.
The sophomore guard was averaging 9.5 minutes per game coming off the bench and was a solid role player for Georgia.
“At this point, every game is an important game as far a seeding for the conference tournament and trying to get to postseason play,” sophomore guard Juwan Parker said. “You don’t want to look that far ahead, but every game is important in the SEC.”