That’s the basis of Georgia’s season, now that it isn’t going to the NCAA Tournament. The Bulldogs (19-13) were never able to land that marquee win to elevate their status as true contenders to enter the field of 68. Georgia’s best chance came Saturday, when it lost 93-80 to Kentucky in the SEC Tournament semifinals in a game that Georgia was in until the final four minutes.
The Wildcats went on to win the conference tournament championship over Texas A&M on Sunday, proving they’re still the class of the SEC, a place the Bulldogs would like to one day at least contend for.
That wasn’t going to happen this season. But there were so many chances for Georgia to at least be an NCAA Tournament team — tough non-conference schedule or not. For starters, even without Derek Ogbeide to start the year, Georgia let a game against Southern Conference champion Chattanooga slip away in its season opener.
The Bulldogs’ first road game against Seton Hall, the Big East Tournament champion, ended in a seven-point loss. Georgia dropped a home game to Kansas State and a road trip to Baylor, even though it led the Bears at halftime.
In conference play, Georgia lost way too many close games, which is ultimately why it found itself on the outside looking in. The Bulldogs dropped games to Mississippi, LSU, Florida and Auburn by four points or fewer. Just imagine if Georgia found itself on the winning side of those games. The Bulldogs would then hold a 14-4 conference record and have had the No. 1 seed of the SEC Tournament. If they had won two of those, they would have been the No. 3 seed at 12-6. In either scenario, Georgia is probably a tourney team.
And that’s probably the most frustrating aspect about Georgia’s season in hindsight. With how the Bulldogs finished, it’s evident this team could have been better than the 19-13 record it put together. Yes, Mark Fox and company deserve a lot of credit for playing a challenging non-conference schedule. At the same time, Georgia’s best non-conference win was over Georgia Tech.
If Georgia, which accepted an invite to the NIT as a No. 3 seed, would have beaten Chattanooga and Seton Hall, with no change to how the conference season went, the Bulldogs may have found themselves in.
"We didn’t finish enough games in the last five, six or seven minutes this year," Georgia senior guard Charles Mann said after the Kentucky loss. "We just have to learn from that."
Unfortunately for Mann and senior guard Kenny Gaines, their final season will not end with a second consecutive NCAA Tournament berth. Those two players have done a lot to change the perception of Georgia basketball during their four years with the program. But it took the Bulldogs until these past six games to put together the kind of consistency it needed all season long.
The Auburn loss really seemed to be the killer in the equation. Most people wrote off Georgia as an NCAA Tournament team then as a result. Flip that game, and even just one of the Mississippi, LSU and Florida losses, and Georgia probably has enough to earn admission from the NCAA Tournament selection committee.
Even with a non-conference strength of schedule in the top five, Georgia had too many misses. It didn’t play its best basketball until a week or two too late, which is unfortunate since the team that took the court on Saturday against Kentucky looked like the kind of team that could make some noise in March.
"We just came up short this year," Mann said. "There’s nothing else we can do about it. It sucks."