(Author’s Note: Depressive Kyle is on duty. You have been warned.)
Richard: He isn't going to see me beg. He'll get no satisfaction out of me.
Geoffrey: Why, you chivalric fool---as if the way one fell down mattered.
Richard: When the fall is all there is, it matters.
The Lion in Winter (Act II, Scene 3)
All right, let’s get one thing straight right off the bat. As much as I hate to say it, and with all due respect to Seth Emerson’s arguments and Mark Fox’s tweets, the Georgia Bulldogs will not be going to the NCAA Tournament this year. I have great faith in our head coach and in the future of our men’s basketball program, but, after Tuesday night’s disgraceful loss to the Xavier Musketeers, a tourney bid simply isn’t happening this year.
Before a national television audience, and with a tournament selection committee member in attendance, the Hoop Dogs fell apart, fouling out and losing control. If you’re thinking ahead to the postseason, you need to quit worrying about the bracketology and start concentrating on the NIT/CBI/CIT-ology. Nevertheless, I co-author a sports weblog devoted to University of Georgia athletics, and, since the Gym Dogs are tanking and the Diamond Dogs have to wait another week to play thanks to those damned dirty communists in the Big Ten, I am contractually obligated to write about this, bad mood and all, so here we go:
This weekend will see the Fox Hounds in Columbia to face the South Carolina Gamecocks in a battle of Aaron versus Job. The Palmetto State Poultry are ranked eighth in the latest SEC Hoops Power Poll, which bodes well for the Classic City Canines: Georgia, ranked sixth in the league, is 1-4 against the squads ranked first through fifth and 4-0 against the clubs ranked in the bottom half of the conference.
The two teams’ common opponents all are SEC foes. The Gamecocks’ 4-5 league ledger was compiled with wins over Vanderbilt at home, Florida on the road, and Arkansas at home, and losses to Kentucky at home, Auburn at home, Vanderbilt on the road, and Florida at home. The Garnet and Black’s 13-9 overall ledger includes a 10-4 mark at home; no other Eastern Division outfit except Tennessee has lost more than three games on its own court this season, which represents an encouraging sign for a Red and Black unit whose 5-2 record in true away games is second only to the Gators’ 6-1 road mark as the best in the conference.
South Carolina is the only SEC East team Georgia hasn’t played this season, which is another way of saying South Carolina is the only SEC East team to whom Georgia hasn’t lost this season. The Bulldogs and the Gamecocks had been meeting on the hardwood for 70 years by the time they became conference rivals, and, if you count all 94 clashes between them, the rivalry is tied 47-47. The NCAA, however, does not count all 94 series meetings---Jim Harrick strikes again!---so the Garnet and Black hold a 47-44 edge in the record book. In Coach Fox’s first season at the helm in the Classic City, the Bulldogs lost by one in Columbia and won by five in Athens.
Through Wednesday morning, South Carolina trailed Georgia in both scoring offense and scoring defense, and the Palmetto State Poultry ranked tenth in the SEC in field goal percentage (41.5%) and rebounds allowed per game (37.5), eleventh in assist/turnover ratio (0.8), and twelfth in free throw percentage (63.1%). However, the Gamecocks were fourth in the conference in three-point percentage (33.6%) in their first 21 games, whereas the Red and Black were eleventh in the league in defending shots from beyond the arc (34.6%) in their first 23 outings. After Georgia’s showdown with Xavier but before the Gamecocks’ game with the Gators, the Athenians led the SEC in assists (15.6 per game) and the South Carolinians led the conference in blocked shots (6.8 per game).
This game will be won and lost on the glass. Through 21 games, the Palmetto State Poultry averaged 14.4 offensive rebounds per outing, better than anyone in the league except the Tennessee Volunteers. Through 23 games, the Classic City Canines averaged 25.9 defensive rebounds per contest, good for fourth in the conference. Georgia’s .695 defensive rebound percentage is the SEC’s third-best, while South Carolina’s .660 defensive rebound percentage is the SEC’s third-worst. Second chances, vel non, will be the difference this weekend.
If you’re still retaining a glimmer of hope regarding the NCAA Tournament, then (a) stop, but (b) the Red and Black need very much to beat the Garnet and Black. Currently, the Bulldogs are in third place in the East; if they remain there at season’s end, they will open the SEC Tournament against the sixth-place team in the West, which almost assuredly will be Auburn. The winner of that first-round game will advance to play the second-place finisher in the West, which almost assuredly will be a team Georgia defeated during the regular season. If the Athenians finish in fourth place in the division, their road to two conference tourney wins becomes much more difficult, as an opening-round victory over the fifth-best club in the West most likely would earn the Fox Hounds the right to square off with the Western Division champion Alabama Crimson Tide, who currently boast the league’s best record in conference play.
The Bulldogs’ loss on Tuesday made a win on Saturday absolutely mission-critical. On the heels of a narrow escape against the Arkansas Razorbacks and an overtime victory over the woeful Auburn Tigers, a second straight setback would be a sign that the wheels were coming off of the wagon. It is doubtful that this team has much more to play for now than pride, but pride still counts for something. Because the fall may be all there is, it matters how this team falls down.
On a busy day for Georgia sports (the swimming and diving, track, softball, men’s and women’s tennis, and equestrian teams all will be in action, as well), Saturday afternoon’s game will begin at 4:00, the same time the No. 4-ranked Gym Dogs will begin their meet with No. 1-ranked Florida in Stegeman Coliseum. Television coverage of the Fox Hounds will be provided by the SEC Network.