A few days ago, all we heard here in Bulldog Nation was "Take care of business at home, avoid bad losses and you'll be in the tournament". Following the win against LSU, many media folks had the Dawgs penciled into brackets anywhere from the nine to the twelve seed. Most people expected Alabama to hold serve against Georgia at home (where they're undefeated this year), and they did. Why, then, did many of the talking heads suddenly switch to this whole idea that Georgia vs. Alabama in the SEC Tournament is a play in game for the NCAA Tournament? Aside from final record (which is a wash) and SEC record (which goes to Alabama), is Georgia's hand really equal with Alabama's? What other bits of information can we use to compare the two teams? Well, I'm glad you asked. Let's take a look at those "other bits" a little more closely, shall we?
First, let's look within the conference. Alabama's SEC wins include the entire SEC West, as well as Kentucky, Tennessee, South Carolina and Georgia. Interestingly, Georgia has wins against every team on that list, too. Georgia has beaten the two teams that defeated Alabama in the West, but Alabama has beaten two teams that defeated Georgia in the East. The Dawgs and the 'Phants both lost to Florida and Vanderbilt, so it's hard to really say much on that front. My bias calls this a push, but for objectivity's sake, we'll go with: Slight Advantage: Bama
Alabama's out of conference schedule includes notable wins over...well, no one. No, really, I'm not even being biased here, they haven't beaten anyone of any importance outside of the SEC this entire year. To put that more clearly, Alabama's best out of conference win came against Lipscomb, a team with an RPI of 132. Georgia, on the other hand, has carded out of conference victories against Colorado (RPI 76) and UAB (RPI 28). While I wouldn't exactly say that Georgia is holding a Royal Flush by any means, when your opponent is holding a bust of a hand, he's pretty envious of a pair, now, isn't he? Advantage: Georgia
Now, let's move to the metrics used by the national media guys who do this sort of thing for a living. First up is RPI, which is a national rating used to compare teams across conferences based on their winning percentage, their opponents' winning percentage, and their opponents' opponents' winning percentage. Georgia's current RPI rank is 39th, while Alabama sits at 79th. As a point of reference, since RPI started being used in 1981, no team with an RPI lower than 74th has ever received an at-large bid to the tournament. Next is strength of schedule (SOS). Analysts like to take SOS into account because it prevents a team from playing a cupcake schedule, padding their record and getting into the field of 68 teams unfairly. A good strength of schedule is generally in the top fifty in the country. Georgia's strength of schedule is currently 36th, a full 89 spots better than the Tide, who boast an SOS of 125th. Major Advantage: Georgia
Finally, let's take a look at the ever popular Road Wins and Bad Losses category. I don't think there's much need to explain either of these measurements...teams with poor road records and teams that lose to bad teams tend to get punished by the selection committee for it...it's as simple as that. For reference's sake, a bad loss would be considered any loss to a team with an RPI ranking outside of the top 100 (if anyone would like to quibble with this classification, feel free). Alabama's road record is 4-6. Georgia, on the other hand, is 7-4 on the road. What about bad losses, you ask? Well, frankly, Georgia doesn't have any. Georgia hasn't lost to a single team outside the RPI Top 100, and they've only lost to one team outside of the RPI Top 50. That team? Alabama. Alabama, on the other hand, has lost to such powerhouses as: Iowa (RPI 168), St. Peter's (101), Providence (146), and Arkansas (120). That's quite a resume, there, guys. Roll Tide, indeed. Major Advantage: Georgia
In summation, it's fairly clear that the idea that the possible Georgia/Alabama matchup in the SEC Tournament on Friday should be a play-in game for the NCAA Tournament is a joke. Georgia holds an advantage in every major metric used by the national media with the exception of Conference Record and Overall Record (and that's a draw), and on more than one occasion, Georgia holds those advantages by a landslide margin. If, however, I were Mark Fox, trying to plead my case to the selection committee, and I were only going to focus on one comparison point between Georgia and Alabama, I think I would have to highlight the Bad Losses Category: Bama has four terrible losses. What does Georgia have on their list in that category? Nothin'. In the words of Dragline and Luke in the great Paul Newman film "Cool Hand Luke", I think we should put it this way:
[Luke won a game of poker on a bluff]
Dragline: Nothin'. A handful of nothin'. You stupid mullet head. He beat you with nothin'. Just like today when he kept comin' back at me - with nothin'.
Luke: Yeah, well, sometimes nothin' can be a real cool hand.