As we get ready for Georgia’s game against Vermont on Wednesday, I got to thinking about the Dawgs’ previous invitations to the NIT. Like the NCAA Tournament, Georgia’s appearances in the NIT have been infrequent; especially in recent years as the rise of many smaller conferences has made getting a bid to the tournament tougher.
Georgia has played in the NIT eleven times. The Bulldogs made their first appearance in 1981, beating Old Dominion before losing in the second round to South Alabama. The following year (1982), the Dominique Wilkins led Dawgs beat Temple, Maryland, and Virginia Tech to reach the NIT final four, but lost a 61-60 heart breaker to Purdue.
It would be sixteen years before we would see a similar NIT run (though the 1982-83 team had a pretty good year). UGA appeared in the tournament in 1984, 1986, 1988, 1993 and 1995, failing to advance beyond the second round all five times.
After back to back NCAA Tournaments in 1996 and 1997 (damn you Tubby Smith for leaving!) the Dawgs returned to the NIT in 1998 under new coach Ron Jirsa. Jumaine Jones and G.G. Smith led Georgia to wins over Iowa, North Carolina State, and Vanderbilt to reach the final four for just the second time. Unfortunately the Dawgs fell to Penn State 66-60, before beating Fresno State in the 3rd place game.
Since a first round exit from the tournament in 1999, Georgia has been back to the NIT only twice; losing in the opening round to Iowa State in 2004 and being crushed by Air Force in the second round in 2007, both under coach Dennis Felton.
That 2007 team showed great promise for the future (much like this year’s team); improving from just eight wins in 2005 to 5 in ’06 to 19 in ’07. But they backslid in 2008, finishing with a record of just 13-16 (though there was a little tornado-altered run through the SEC Tournament at the end of the year). In 2009 the team went just 12-20, and Felton was fired.
Hopefully the 2013-14 team can build upon its strong finish to the regular season and go on a run in the NIT. A little postseason success would be a good springboard to 2014-15. My bold prediction: UGA will not participate in the NIT next season. I have a feeling the Dawgs will be otherwise occupied.