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Georgia enters SEC tournament with no margin for error

NCAA Basketball: Georgia at Arkansas Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

Georgia made it’s already treacherous path to the NCAA Tournament that much steeper with Saturday’s 85-67 road loss to Arkansas.

A win by the Hoop Hounds would have meant a #6 seed in the SEC Tournament beginning Wednesday. But the Bulldog loss combined with Vandy completing a season sweep of Florida and Ole Miss’s victory over South Carolina dropped the ‘Dawgs all the way to the #8 seed. That means an opening matchup with #9 seed Tennessee at 1:00 eastern on Thursday. Ole Miss will now open as the #6 against the winner of #11 seed Auburn and #14 Mizzou.

The real problem for Mark Fox’s squad arrives in round two. The winner of Thursday’s UGA/UT matchup gets a rested #1 seeded Kentucky squad at 1:00 on Friday. Assuming Ole Miss wins its opener, the Rebels would get South Carolina in the last game Friday night (probably starting around 9:15-9:30 p.m. eastern). While Georgia has played the Wildcats tough in both meetings this season, there’s no arguing that the Classic City Canines wouldn’t rather have the Gamecocks waiting in game two.

The main relevance of all this is that Georgia has gone from squarely on the NCAA Tournament bubble with a win over the Razorbacks to hanging on by the tips of their fingernails with that loss. ESPN’s Joe Lunardi removed the ‘Dawgs from the ranks of the “last four out” and only barely in consideration for an at-large bid. USA Today/BracketWag’s Shelby Mast still has Georgia with Iowa, Illinois State, and Rhode Island among the last four teams out of the bracket. SB Nation’s own Chris Dobbertean is more skeptical, noting that Georgia’s loss to Arkansas “virtually knocked the Bulldogs out.” In short, Georgia needs a run for the ages in Nashville to have a prayer of going dancing.

Oh, what might have been. It’s looking more like that disastrous stretch which began with forgetting how inbounding the ball works against Texas A&M may be the margin that sends a talented, veteran team to the NIT. A twenty win Georgia squad with a victory over Kentucky in the SEC Tournament has to get a long look from the committee. A twenty-two or twenty-three win Georgia team that played three competitive games against the Wildcats however would have been really hard to keep out. Georgia now needs a deep SEC Tournament run, likely all the way to the tournament final, to really have a shot at the Big Dance.

If there’s an argument in Georgia’s favor, it may be that the ‘Dawgs would be a 20+ win team right now but for a schedule among the twenty or so hardest in the country. Georgia finished the year playing nine games against teams in the RPI top fifty.

The problem is that they only won one of those (against Vandy). Close losses to RPI top thirty teams Kansas, Florida (twice), Kentucky (dos), and South Carolina (how do you say “twce” in French?) could also be viewed as haunting this squad. You have to win the ones you’re supposed to in January and February to get to the tournament in March. But if this Georgia team had stolen just a couple of the ones they shouldn’t have, we’d also have a very different story.

In short, there’s a whole lotta woulda, coulda, shoulda to this 2016-17 Georgia Bulldog basketball season. And while the ‘Dawgs could still go dancing, the chances have moved from “iffy” to “slim” and are knocking on the door of “remote.” What that means for Mark Fox’s tenure in Athens is another discussion for another day. Until later...

Go ‘Dawgs!!!