Mark Fox tried to lobby for his team on Saturday. After Georgia was beaten 70-58 by Kentucky in Saturday’s SEC semis, Fox said the Bulldogs “deserved consideration” for an NCAA tournament bid. He stopped short of saying he believed the Bulldogs should make it, although he did make a pitch to get more basketball-savvy people on the NCAA tournament committee.
“If this is just going to be a math thing (meaning the famous RPI), why not just use a computer and save a lot of money?” Fox said. “And why not do the same for the football championship?”
Fox’s point: Georgia is, at this moment, among the 68 best teams in the land. That’s a valid argument. But Georgia wasn’t one of the 200 best teams in the country before SEC play began in January, and a body of work is supposed to be just that — a full body of work.
Yes, the Bulldogs finished 12-6 and tied for second in the SEC. But the SEC was the nation’s seventh-best league according to the dreaded RPI, and Georgia will awake on Selection Sunday with a record of 19-13, which for some teams in some seasons would be good enough but isn’t good enough for this team in this season.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but Georgia didn’t beat anybody of real consequence. They were 2-7 against teams ranked in the RPI top 50, and both the victories were over No. 47 Missouri, which probably won’t make the NCAA field. The Bulldogs’ 6-6 record in non-conference play — especially the losses to No. 180 Temple and No. 155 Georgia Tech — put them in a position that even a rousing 2 1/2 months couldn’t override.
If the committee has emphasized one thing over time, it’s that strength of schedule matters. Georgia’s non-conference strength of schedule was 125th, and the Bulldogs couldn’t even break .500 against it. Those games count, too, and they count against Georgia.
By way of contrast, the one thing the committee has habitually disregarded is conference record. In 2011, Alabama went 12-4 in league play and won the SEC West — this was when the league was divided into divisions — by three games and beat Georgia in its regular-season finale and again in the SEC tournament. The Bulldogs made the NCAA field; owing to a tepid non-conference schedule, the Tide did not.
Even as we credit Georgia for a stirring run, we note that Kentucky and Alabama were likewise 12-6 and tied for second in the SEC last year — and neither was invited to the Big Dance. (Yes, Kentucky was omitted.) The Bulldogs pulled themselves up by the bootstraps in January and made something of a season going wrong.
Fox did a splendid job in fitting what talent he had to the new hands-off college rules, which is how Georgia wound up shooting more free throws in league play than any other SEC team. But the Bulldogs, off their full body of work, probably belong where they’re going, and that’s the NIT.
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