NASHVILLE, Tenn. – It’s time to talk about Georgia and the NCAA Tournament.
Yes, that Georgia team that lost to Auburn just a few weeks ago. But that same Georgia team has now gone on to win five consecutive games and advance to the SEC Tournament semifinals with a 65-64 win over South Carolina on Friday.
The case against Georgia seems obvious at a surface level. It doesn’t have one top 25 win. It hasn’t beaten anyone considered to be an upper-tier opponent. It’s overall record is 19-12 and it finished 10-8 in the SEC. The eye test in games earlier this season could have thrown some people off. It lost to freakin' Auburn.
But this is where it gets tricky.
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South Carolina – at least according to ESPN’s NCAA Tournament analyst Joe Lunardi – is still comfortably in the field. Perhaps that changes in the next 24 hours or so. But the team Georgia’s beaten three times this year is in yet the Bulldogs are out. On top of that, Georgia’s non-conference strength of schedule is incredibly greater compared to South Carolina’s.
Georgia ranks fifth in the nation in this department, according to the ESPN RPI. South Carolina checks in at 300 out of 351. When evaluating both of these teams, that alone should raise some eyebrows.
Before I state why or why not Georgia should be in the big dance after its fifth consecutive win, I’ll let Georgia head coach Mark Fox state his case for an invite. Here’s his quote, in its entirety.
"I think what I will say about the NCAA Tournament is that there’s a lot of teams who have not – didn’t challenge themselves with a schedule, and I think our non-conference strength of schedule is in the top-five in America,” Fox said. "And there’s a lot of teams across the country who have played one-third of their schedule versus teams outside of the top 200. We could have easily said, OK, we want to go rack up some wins and play a bunch of cupcakes, but we didn’t do that.
"We’ve now won, what, 12 SEC games I think. Ten in the regular season and a couple here in the tournament. And I got dear friends at some of those other places, but if this win doesn’t put us squarely in the conversation or in the (NCAA) Tournament with 19 wins and the schedule we played, what would do it? I don’t know. We couldn’t play a harder schedule.
"So I think that we deserve some very, very serious consideration for the NCAA Tournament, and I know the selection committee will do their due diligence."
Here’s the thing about this wacky season of college basketball. There are two teams, at the moment, that have separated themselves from everyone else in Kansas and Michigan State. From there, there are about 12-15 teams that have been fairly consistent throughout the entire season. After that, it's a crapshoot.
A lot of these mid-major teams that have received love in the past have simply not performed as well this year. Wichita State didn’t win its conference tournament and has eight losses to only one quality win over Utah. While Monmouth boasts wins over USC and Notre Dame, it has the 127th-ranked non-conference strength of schedule and lost to Iona twice, as well as once each to Manhattan, Army and Canisius.
The lone team of note Saint Mary’s played in its non-conference schedule (which ranks 163rd) was California and the Gaels lost. Similar cases can be made for teams such as Valparaiso and St. Bonaventure.
At the moment, Lunardi seems to favor the aforementioned teams over Georgia.
It’s an interesting position for the NCAA selection committee to be in with the Bulldogs. It’s also interesting for South Carolina since its non-conference strength of schedule has all of a sudden raised some questions with the Gamecocks going 9-8 after a 15-0 start.
South Carolina head coach Frank Martin, much like Fox, stated his case for an NCAA Tournament invite, given the criticism.
"If the third-place team that set a school record for regular-season wins, that won 11 league games, didn’t lose a single game in non-conference play, whose opponents had the seventh-toughest schedule in the country is not worthy of the NCAA, then we’ve got a problem in our business," Martin said. "I don’t care what anyone else has to say. I don’t care what their opinions are. That’s a fact. I’d like to see a lot of these so-called teams that got better-looking numbers than us play in our league 18 games and see what their record would be at the end of the year."
What Martin had to say brings me to this:
If South Carolina is in, Georgia should be in. It’s as simple as that. Georgia played a non-conference schedule 295 places higher than South Carolina and beat the Gamecocks three times. The Bulldogs have 19 wins and are in the SEC Tournament semifinals. They’ve also gotten hot, having won five consecutive games. I'll concede that beating Kentucky on Saturday, after a 34-point loss earlier this year, is unlikely to happen. But even with a loss, Georgia would have still posted six wins in its final 10 games, with five coming in its final six contests.
If Georgia is out, South Carolina should be out. It’s also as simple as that. You can’t include the Gamecocks in the field of 68 with how they've stacked up against Georgia head-to-head and with how they decided to schedule non-conference opponents. I understand Georgia doesn't have a win over a team like Texas A&M, which South Carolina does. But again, Georgia has proven to be a better team than South Carolina. Its three best wins this season all came against the Gamecocks.
To me, Georgia and South Carolina are joined at the hip. Either they’re both in or they’re both out. While I think it's fairly simple, it may not be the same with the selection committee. But with a lot of people thinking South Carolina is in, it makes no sense not to include Georgia at this point – especially with the incredible inconsistencies we’ve all seen the below-top-25 teams endure this year.
Of course, Georgia can end the debate with a win over Kentucky on Saturday. If that happens, Georgia could be in safely. If not, the Bulldogs still have an excellent argument to make as it pertains to South Carolina gaining admission or not.