UGA Basketball

Believe it or not, Georgia's game vs. Miss. State has become crucial for NCAA Tourney hopes

Georgia guard Juwan Parker celebrates during his team's win over Florida.
Georgia guard Juwan Parker celebrates during his team's win over Florida. AP

In the past two seasons, Georgia's NCAA Tournament hopes were dashed by the lack of RPI top-50 wins.

While the Bulldogs enter Saturday's game at Mississippi State firmly on the bubble, again, the resume is much more favorable than in previous years. At the moment, Georgia has four top-50 wins. If Georgia had four top-50 wins on its resume last season, it probably would have earned entry into the big dance.

But the old way of evaluating NCAA Tournament teams has changed. In December, the NCAA selection committee announced changes to the team sheets it will use to evaluate the programs it invites to its postseason tournament.

Georgia has already built a solid résumé of wins. But under this change, road and neutral-site wins are emphasized. And that could benefit the Bulldogs, especially with Saturday's game against Mississippi State coming in Starkville.

Instead of looking at how many top-50 wins a team has accrued, the committee is breaking down wins into four RPI quadrants.

Quadrant 1: Home vs. Nos. 1-30; neutral-site vs. Nos. 1-50; away vs. Nos. 1-75

Quadrant 2: Home vs. Nos. 31-75; neutral-site vs. Nos. 51-100; away vs. Nos. 76-135

Quadrant 3: Home vs. Nos. 76-160; neutral-site vs. Nos. 101-200; away vs. Nos. 136-240

Quadrant 4: Home vs. Nos. 161-plus; neutral-site vs. 201-plus; away vs. Nos. 241-plus.

While Georgia has four top-50 wins, it actually has only two victories in Quadrant 1 — RPI No. 27 Saint Mary's on a neutral floor and RPI No. 55 Marquette on the road. But it also has five Quadrant 2 wins by beating No. 37 Temple (home), No. 40 Alabama (home), No. 41 Florida (home), No. 82 LSU (away) and No. 115 Cal State Fullerton (away).

While Mississippi State has spent the conference season in the bottom half, it has an RPI ranking of No. 61. Since this game is on the road, a win would put another notch in Georgia's Quadrant 1 column. In an interesting twist, defeating Mississippi State on the road is more important to Georgia than its win over Florida at home Tuesday.

"It's about trying to get quality wins," Georgia head coach Mark Fox said. "Ten people go into a room and figure out your fate. The last two years we've been right on the bubble and we didn't have enough top-50 wins. One year we had a top-10 schedule but not enough (wins). Now I think we have four or five of them."

It is obvious that Quadrant 1 wins will be valued first and foremost. How the committee approaches Quadrant 2 victories remains to be seen. Of the teams ranked in the RPI from 41-60, only Florida has more combined Quadrant 1 (six) and Quadrant 2 (two) wins than Georgia with eight.

While Georgia stands to benefit under this new team sheet system, the SEC, as a whole, should, too. Eleven SEC teams are in the RPI top 75, the most of any conference in the country. This also means that on any given night, one of these teams could be another's Quadrant 1 victory, as long as these teams remain in the top 75. Two teams. Mississippi and LSU, are in the top 100, which makes them potential Quadrant 2 wins for others in the conference.

Only Vanderbilt, the RPI's No. 135 team, would be considered a bad loss in the conference.

While the ACC has four top-10 RPI teams, it has 10 in the top 75. The Big East, Big 12 and Pac-12 are next in line with seven.

With that in mind, Kentucky head coach John Calipari said, via the Louisville Courier Journal, that "maybe 10" SEC teams should be included in the NCAA Tournament at this pace. The likelihood of that happening is probably slim. But given where most of the teams are posited, the SEC beating up on each other appears to be its greatest strength compared to previous years.

"In this league, there are going to be some losses because the league is so stinkin' good," Fox said. "The league is so good that there are going to be some losses along the way. You just have to win your share and keep grinding because this is as good as this league has been in a long, long time."