Win and In for Dawgs? Probably

ATLANTA - It started to hit the pair of Georgia seniors when they walked out Thursday afternoon for a shootaround.

This wasn't the first time Jeremy Price and Chris Barnes had been at the Georgia Dome. They just have yet to play a game here.

Three years ago the Bulldog men's basketball team pulled off its shocking run to the SEC tournament title, winning four games on Georgia Tech's home floor – after a tornado moved the games away from the Georgia Dome.

This is the first time the tournament has been back in Atlanta.

"Me and JP just started laughing about it and telling the whole team, that those events were just so crazy," Barnes said Wednesday. "It's something out of a movie. It happens once in a lifetime for us to win the SEC championship as the last seed, and for a tornado to hit in Atlanta. It's something that will always be stuck with us."

Georgia's path to an NCAA tournament bid is a bit easier this time around. The Bulldogs (20-10 overall, 9-7 in the SEC) probably need to win just one or two games to secure an at-large bid, although that remains up for plenty of debate.

Most bracket projections have the Bulldogs safely in, depending on what happens among other at-large candidates. But the most visible analyst, ESPN's Joe Lunardi, has been more down on Georgia's chances. He said on a conference call Wednesday that the potential quarterfinal game between Georgia and Alabama would be a play-in game for the tournament.

Georgia head coach Mark Fox said he hasn't been talking to his team about the NCAA, only beating Auburn in Thursday's first round. The players reiterated the same point, although star forward Trey Thompkins admitted to a bit of curiosity about the famous Lunardi.

"Everybody always tells me about it," Thompkins said. "I've never been able to catch it. I feel horrible about it because I always get asked. Everybody always asks me, have I ever seen Joe Lunardi talking about the tournament. I'm never in front of the TV in time to see it."

First, of course, Georgia has to beat Auburn. That isn't quite the automatic win many would perceive, given that the Tigers enter having two in a row, and took Georgia to overtime in Athens last month.

The winner on Thursday gets Alabama, the top seed out of the West. No matter the perceived importance of that game for Georgia, if it gets that far, the Bulldogs insisted their thoughts were more focused.

"We've gotta win probably one or two games," Barnes said. "But we're not really focusing on the NCAA tournament right now. That's something that's in the back of our minds, but we're really focusing on playing Auburn."

Thompkins put it this way when asked what he thought the Bulldogs needed to do in the tournament:

"We've gotta win. That's the most important thing," he said. "We can't leave our fate in anybody else's hands."

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