As you may have noticed, Mark Fox’s Georgia Bulldogs are on a bit of a roll, having won five in a row in conference play for the first time since 2001. The Red and Black are over .500, both overall (12-11) and in SEC outings (6-4), with eight regular-season games and only one fairly well guaranteed loss (at Ole Miss next Saturday) remaining on the slate. This recent run is reason enough for you to show up early, loud, and proud tomorrow. Is it also reason for fans of the Hoop Dogs, who will represent the SEC at next November’s Charleston Classic, to believe this might be the year the Athenians make the twelfth NIT appearance in program history?
First, let’s start with the bad news. The postseason National Invitational Tournament isn’t as easy to get into today as it was when Georgia went to the NIT five times in the 1980s. In 2005, the NCAA purchased the rights to the NIT as part of the settlement of an antitrust action, causing the selection process to be overhauled in 2006. Currently, these are the criteria for inclusion, with emphasis added:
The NIT Selection Committee will conduct selections for the 2013 Postseason NIT, March 15-17. Any regular-season champion of an NCAA Division I conference (as determined by the conference’s tie-break protocol) not otherwise selected to the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship will secure an automatic qualification into the NIT. The committee will then select the best available teams to fill the 32-team NIT field. Once selected teams are seeded and placed into one of four eight-team regions.
Though the requirement of a .500 record has been eliminated and ESPN’s influence on the selection process has been reduced---both of which are changes that benefit the Bulldogs---any team that won a regular-season conference title but did not make the Big Dance is assured of an invitation to the NIT. Remember that if Georgia is still in the mix come league tourney time, and root for all the top-seeded mid-majors to prevail. Conference tournament upsets (other than in the SEC, of course) are not in the Red and Black’s interests, nor was the reduction of the NIT field to 32 teams in 2007.
The Bulldogs’ last two trips to the NIT, in 2004 and in 2007, came in seasons in which Dennis Felton’s teams finished with regular-season records of 15-12 and 17-12, respectively, which shows how little margin for error this year’s Athenians have, and how critical it is for Georgia to position itself well heading into the SEC Tournament. For purposes of comparison, it ought to be noted that the non-Big East major-conference participants in the 2012 NIT were the Arizona Wildcats (23-11), Iowa Hawkeyes (17-16), LSU Tigers (18-14), Miami Hurricanes (19-12), Minnesota Golden Gophers (19-14), Mississippi Rebels (20-13), Mississippi St. Bulldogs (21-11), Northwestern Wildcats (18-13), Oregon Ducks (22-9), Stanford Cardinal (21-11), Tennessee Volunteers (18-14), and Washington Huskies (21-10). Seven of those twelve teams had RPIs between 60 and 76; eleven of them had RPIs in the top 100. Currently, Georgia has an RPI of 108. The Fox Hounds are getting there, but they aren’t there yet.
Ordinarily, I would be somewhat hopeful that the Bulldogs’ SEC affiliation would carry some weight---after all, five of the last dozen NIT championship games have featured an SEC team---but, particularly after the Florida Gators’ Will Yeguete was lost for the remainder of the regular season, the SEC’s stock is way down.
So, is Georgia really in the mix for an NIT bid? The Red and Black were not in a January 27 bracket projection for the National Invitational Tournament, but that forecast was made the day after the Bulldogs began their surprising winning streak. Notice which teams made the field in that January 27 NIT bracketology, though; the invitees included the seventh-seeded Arkansas Razorbacks, the fourth-seeded Texas A&M Aggies, the second-seeded Tennessee Volunteers, and the top-seeded Alabama Crimson Tide.
So far this season, the Red and Black are a combined 3-0 against those four teams, with half of their remaining eight games coming against that quartet, starting tomorrow night. The Fox Hounds will have ample opportunity to prove their worthiness for a bid to the Little Dance, and the possibility of a strong finish and a postseason berth warrants your attention and deserves your support.