It’s a crazy scenario when you think about it. Could Georgia have been better off losing to South Carolina in the SEC Tournament quarterfinals, based on the fact that top-50 wins became such an important part in this year’s NCAA Tournament selection process?
It’s an interesting thought and one Georgia head coach Mark Fox posed, with his team preparing to take on Belmont in the NIT opener on Wednesday.
During the season and SEC Tournament, Georgia defeated South Carolina three times, which turned out to be its best three wins.
The only problem is that those three wins may have been what knocked South Carolina from the NCAA Tournament field. At one point the Gamecocks were a top-30 RPI team. By the time the NCAA selection committee started to fill out its bracket, South Carolina, at least according to ESPN’s RPI, had fallen to No. 57.
"If we would have lost to South Carolina then we could have had a couple of top-40 wins," Fox said. "By beating them we knock them out. So what should we do? Lay down and get beat so we help that number? Or go ahead and get another win? I can’t say the system is broken because I don’t know what the system is."
If South Carolina would have won and then played Kentucky, there’s at least a chance it would have been a top-50 program to close the year. Then Georgia would have notched two wins in that department. Instead, Georgia finished 0-5 against top-50 programs.
Tulsa, which hasn’t played good basketball of late and lost to South Carolina in November, earned admission to the field of 68 due to its four top-50 wins. One of Tulsa’s top-50 wins came against Connecticut, which didn’t enter the top 50 until its American Athletic Conference Tournament championship run.
"I know we had 19 wins, a winning record in this league and we had the same thing a couple of years ago," Fox said. "For decades, that would get you in the NCAA Tournament. Now it’s not. I think that’s a league issue we have to evaluate and see if we can figure out a change of course."
The SEC only received three bids (Kentucky, Texas A&M and Vanderbilt) to the NCAA Tournament, with South Carolina, Florida and Georgia all being left out. The Gamecocks had the biggest gripe of the three schools. Florida probably didn’t due to how it finished the season.
The case against Georgia was stronger than the case for it. But compared to tournament teams such as Tulsa and Syracuse, Georgia can at least make an argument based on factors such as non-conference strength of schedule and how each team was playing down the stretch of the regular season and in their respective conference tournaments.
The problem, as Fox sees it, is that the selection committee’s requirements seem to change every year. It’s the same argument Kentucky head coach John Calipari made during an interview on ESPN after the bracket was revealed, in that there hasn’t been any year-to-year consistency.
"If we wait until the spring meetings to figure this out then shame on us," Fox said. "Obviously, the committee has to help us with some targets or some standards, some boxes we need to check and targets we need to hit. Nobody knows. That can be frustrating. With our league, we’re disappointed more teams didn’t get in. Is it strength of schedule? What is it? It seems like it’s a little different for every team. That’s the frustrating part."
The SEC hired former Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese to serve as a special advisor for basketball to the conference on Tuesday. The goal, according to the league’s news release, is for Tranghese to enhance “the overall quality of men’s basketball competition in the SEC.”
Fox said he’d like for the selection committee to give teams a better focus when it comes to what’s most important in building a tournament-caliber resume.
"We do need some transparency and definition," Fox said. "It’s too subjective right now. There’s always going to be opinions because at the end of the day it’s going to be a popularity vote. Some transparency would help so we know what the target is."