Xavier comes into Athens with the same record as Georgia (16-6), and the Musketeers have a slightly higher RPI rank (24, vs. 36 for the Bulldogs as of Monday.) And Xavier has built itself into a nationally recognizable program, advancing to three straight Sweet 16s, and nine of the past 10 NCAA tournaments.
So it could prove a crucial result for a Georgia men's basketball team that still has to bolster its NCAA tournament resume', especially when it comes to quality wins.
"It's two teams that may be battling for a spot in the field in five weeks, so it's a big game," said Jerry Palm, a national bracket analyst who runs CollegeRPI.com. "It could be a decider for the winner if it came to that (though some consideration would be given to the fact that it's a Georgia home game)."
Palm has Georgia and Xavier each projected as a No. 8 seed in his projected tournament bracket.
"They're a middle of the bracket team," Palm said of the Bulldogs. "Nothing really horrible, but they don't seem to be able to beat good teams."
That seems to be what most experts are saying about Georgia: No bad losses – every team it's lost to is in the RPI top 50 – but a lack of signature wins.
Georgia head coach Mark Fox blanched a bit at that notion.
"I don't agree with that at all. We went on the road and played on the road when some teams didn't play a road game until January. And we played three. So I don't agree with that theory and I would argue that all day."
Georgia also owns a win over UAB, currently a top 50 RPI team.
There's little argument, at least, that a win against Xavier would go a long way towards bolstering Georgia's case. That's especially true with the SEC having another down year: An 8-8 league record has long since ceased to mean an automatic ticket to the NCAAs.
But in Georgia's case, a win over Xavier would allow the Bulldogs to point out that while much of its league struggled out of conference, it did not.
Fox had the NCAA tournament in mind when he scheduled this game. When he came to Georgia two years ago, SEC commissioner Mike Slive – then the head of the tournament selection committee – told his league's head coaches that they had to strengthen their non-conference slates.
Taking heed, Fox sought a challenging home-and-home matchup. When Xavier agreed, but said it could only come to Athens at this time of year, Fox signed up.
"This'll be like another league game. This will be like a 17th league game," Fox said. "They've got a great team. I think our players understand that."