Last Saturday, after Georgia's win at Auburn, Bulldogs head coach Mark Fox received a message. It was from Greg Shaheen, the former NCAA tournament guru who now serves as an SEC adviser.
Shaheen was brought in two years ago by the SEC to hammer home the importance of good scheduling in order to build an NCAA tournament resume'. Georgia probably assured itself a bid with the win at Auburn, so Shaheen congratulated Fox, and complimenting him on being serious about the things they’re doing.
Of course, Georgia had already been doing it, according to Shaheen.
“I think coach Fox and (athletics director) Greg McGarity deserve a good amount of credit that they were ahead of the game," Shaheen said this week. "They were playing some good schools before the conversations even took place. They were closer last year than most people understand to getting in the deal. And this year I think they’ve demonstrated in both the conference and the non-conference that there’s a lot to be proud of."
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Georgia (20-10 overall, 11-7 in the SEC, with an RPI rank of 41) is safe in regards to an NCAA bid, assuming Shaheen and every bracketologist out there is right.
"So now the fans should feel good. Now it’s just a matter of seeding,” Shaheen said.
Shaheen advised the NCAA tournament selection committee for a decade, and was in the room over that period while teams were selected. In an interview, he offered up a few other tidbits related to how the field is selected:
- A team's road record is one of the key factors, which is one reason Georgia (8-4 in true road games this year) is in good shape.
“You have to win at least six, and sometimes seven away from home if you are going to win the national championship," Shaheen said. "So the committee wants to know that you’re able to put it all together when you’re away from home.”
- Here's something else that aids Georgia's cause: The committee will take into account injuries, and will have all the information on games missed by key players this season. They will know, according to Shaheen, that Georgia didn't have Marcus Thornton for two losses (South Carolina and Kentucky), J.J. Frazier for the other South Carolina loss, Juwan Parker and Kenny Paul Geno for most of the SEC schedule, and so on.
That doesn't mean that losses with key players will be thrown out, or forgiven. But the committee will know about Georgia's situation, as well as every team's injuries, and will take it into account.
“They have the date of when it happened," Shaheen said. "They can see that a 13-point contributor was out for these four games, or whatever.”
- What about the importance of conference tournament games? That may depend from person to person. The only guiding principle is that the committee shouldn't "over-emphasize" the importance of the conference tournament over the totality of the regular season. But individual members are free to place a certain amount of importance on tournament games.
- When it comes to the RPI, Shaheen says that a team's actual RPI rank is less important than its record against where teams are ranked in the RPI. A team's performance against the RPI top 50 and top 100 are particularly crucial. In Georgia's case, for now it is 2-4 against the RPI top 50 (Ole Miss is ranked No. 50, Texas A&M is 54), and 9-7 against the RPI top 100.
The RPI rank itself is more of an "organizing principle," Shaheen said.
“I witnessed it. I can tell people with a clear conscience that doesn’t drive it,” he said.
- When it comes to Georgia's record against the top 50 and top 100, that will be a very fluid situation. Not only are Ole Miss and Texas A&M straddling the top 50 fence, but a bunch of other past Georgia opponents are straddling the top 100 fence. (South Carolina and Tennessee especially.)
The selection committee will take those fluid rankings into account, thanks to instant computer updates. It will thus evaluate a team's resume' in real time.
- Shaheen isn't exactly an impartial observer, as he's worked for the SEC, but he does believe the conference is in good shape as the selection process begins. Kentucky and Arkansas are locks, Georgia and LSU seem in good shape, while Ole Miss and Texas A&M are on the bubble, but can move back to the good side of it quickly.
“The focus and commitment the schools have shown has them positioned well to be evaluated over the next several days," Shaheen said. "(The NCAA selection committee has) seen some really good quality. You have to remember that fully half the conference this year has improved their RPI and strength of schedule. They’re better than they have been in at least two years. In some cases their RPI and strength of schedule is better than its’ been in 20 years. I think the SEC is well-positioned at this point in time, mindful of the fact that there are still 13 games to be played.”