This year, unlike last year, we all knew that, when SB Nation released its printable NCAA Tournament bracket and the NIT selections were announced, Mark Fox’s Georgia Bulldogs would appear in neither postseason field. A 15-17 final record stranded them one game below .500 and, hence, one million miles from the Big Dance.
Lest we get down on the young Fox Hounds, however, we should take a moment to look at the slate the Red and Black faced, which I would wager is a good deal more impressive than you might expect. Consider:
- Georgia faced seven NCAA Tournament teams once each: Alabama Crimson Tide (Midwest No. 9 seed), California Golden Bears (Midwest No. 12 seed play-in), Cincinnati Bearcats (East No. 6 seed), Colorado Buffaloes (South No. 11 seed), Notre Dame Fighting Irish (South No. 7 seed), South Dakota St. Jackrabbits (South No. 14 seed), and Xavier Musketeers (South No. 10 seed).
- Georgia faced two NCAA Tournament teams twice each: Florida Gators (West No. 7 seed) and Kentucky Wildcats (South No. 1 seed).
- Georgia faced one NCAA Tournament team thrice: Vanderbilt Commodores (East No. 5 seed).
- Georgia faced two NIT teams once each: LSU Tigers (Region One No. 6 seed) and Mississippi Rebels (Region Four No. 2 seed).
- Georgia faced two NIT teams twice each: Mississippi St. Bulldogs (Region Three No. 4 seed) and Tennessee Volunteers (Region Two No. 1 seed).
For the benefit of those of you who were told there would be no math, that means that, in a 32-game campaign, the Hoop Dogs played 14 contests against NCAA Tournament-bound teams, plus another six against NIT-bound teams. That means five-eighths of the Athenians’ slate was made up of opponents whose names appear on the brackets linked to above. Against that caliber of competition, it’s not too shabby that a young team matured in the course of the campaign, following up a 1-7 SEC start with a 5-5 concluding run.
What, then, about the College Basketball Invitational, brought to you by the same Gazelle Group that will be bringing you the Legends Classic in which the Bulldogs will appear next year? The 16-team CBI, to which Coach Fox took his last two Nevada Wolf Pack teams before making the move from Reno to Athens, was quickly dismissed as an option two years ago for a Georgia outfit that finished 14-17 after a 1-1 run in the SEC Tournament, and indications are that Georgia (like, e.g., Duquesne) opted out of the chance to play in that tourney.
While I understand the argument against “pay-to-play” tournaments like the CBI and the CIT, the powers that be in Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall aren’t exactly strapped for cash, and an underclassmen-laden Georgia squad could benefit from the extra playing (and practice) time. Also, frankly, given our historically weak men’s basketball tradition, the Bulldogs declining a bid to the CBI because it isn’t the NIT or the NCAA Tournament is somewhat akin to Vanderbilt turning down an invitation to the Independence Bowl because it isn’t the Chick-fil-A Bowl or the Sugar Bowl. Besides, if it’s good enough for a hoops program as respectable as Pitt, it ought to be good enough for the Red and Black, as well.
For the record, the CBI field includes the Wofford Terriers, who appeared on the Fox Hounds’ 2011-2012 schedule, and the CollegeInsider.com Tournament, which is open exclusively to mid-majors, will feature two Georgia regular-season opponents, the Bowling Green Falcons and the Mercer Bears. Of the 32 games played by the Bulldogs this season, only nine were against opponents who, like Georgia, will be spending March watching basketball on television rather than playing it on the hardwood.
Four of those nine games, incidentally, were against the Auburn Tigers, the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, and the South Carolina Gamecocks, against whom Georgia went 1-3. Those four games were the difference between 15-17 and 18-14, which probably was the difference between the NIT and counting down to spring football practice, and that, my friends, is a darned shame.