The Poorly Lit Path

ATHENS – The path may seem nearly impossible, but there is still a path.

The entire point of playing college basketball is to get into the NCAA Tournament. The sport is predicated on tournament play, but in order to do that you have to get into the tournament to begin with.

And believe it or not, Georgia still has a darkly lit path into the NCAAs – but it is clear the Dawgs have a long-shot chance to get into the Big Dance right now. That's what you get when you lose to Davidson, Georgia Tech, Auburn, Temple and Nebraska – no margin for error.

Option One – Win the last three games of the regular season. That will be a challenge. Georgia struggles on the road – a 25-point loss to Kentucky, a 22-point loss to the Gators, a 19-point loss to the Vols and a loss to lowly Auburn proves that point. So winning at Arkansas and LSU – both struggling to get into the NCAAs themselves – will be a tough task.

The Hogs are 14-2 at home, and the Tigers are 13-2. One thing seems certain – Georgia will thrash Mississippi State at home on March 5th.

If Georgia drops one of the final three games of the season and winds up with a final regular season record of 18-12, there will only be one path to the NCAAs, and I will get to that one in a moment.

If Georgia can sweep the final three games it will enter play at the SEC Tournament a few options open up. Winning the final three games would do two things – clinch the #3 seed in the SECs, and put Georgia at 19-11 and just barely on the wrong side of the bubble. It would keep Georgia away from the Gators until the SEC finals, and would give the Dawgs a shot to play Kentucky at full strength in the semifinals.

But Georgia will have to beat the Cats in order to get into the NCAAs – that's just a reality right now. Georgia should pull hard against whoever plays the Cats on Friday (probably Missouri, Texas A&M, Arkansas or Vanderbilt). Beating Missouri for a third time will do Georgia no good if it loses on Sunday in the finals.

Georgia needs Top 50 wins right now – and the SEC only has two teams in the Top 50… the Gators and the Cats. Beating both would get Georgia into the NCAAs as an automatic qualifier.

If Georgia has closed out the year with three wins and two tournament wins with a loss to the #1 Gators there is a small amount of hope for an automatic bid, but I think I should stress that it is small. It is hard for me to see Georgia getting into the NCAAs without winning at least five more games and losing only one more.

That scenario would put the Dawgs at 21-12.

But even then they would need help. Georgia doesn't have the sort of wins that gets you into the NCAAs. One win over the Cats with two wins over Missouri doesn't get you into the NCAAs. Georgia will need some other teams to lose, and keep losing. Here is a list of teams to pull against:

Colorado
SMU
Kansas State
Xavier
Missouri
Saint Joseph's
BYU
St. John's
Providence
Tennessee
Oklahoma State
Minnesota
Richmond
Dayton
Florida State
Oregon
Georgetown
Nebraska
Southern Miss
Arkansas

Notice anything about that list? Georgia has already lost head-to-head matchups with three of those teams (Colorado, Tennessee and Nebraska) and beaten one of those teams twice (Missouri) and one of them once (Arkansas). Two of those losses were on the road, but they were losses nonetheless. If any of those teams win their conference tournament Georgia will have to win the SECs to get in – that's how small the margin of error is right now… Georgia needs everything to go its way, and right now it looks like only three SEC teams will get into the NCAAs.

The point? Just keep winning and hope everyone else falls.

Option Two – The best part about college basketball is that you can literally lose every game you play in your year, but you are still eligible to win the national title. All you have to do is win about 12 games in a row.

Ha! Easier said than done.

All Georgia will have to do is likely win three games in a row to get to the NCAAs. That's if Georgia remains the #3 seed, or even if it drops to #4. Staying at the third spot makes things a little easier, however. Georgia is more likely to beat Kentucky than it is likely to beat the Gators. Florida hasn't lost in the SEC this season – Kentucky has.

Also, avoiding the Gators until the very end is the best way to give two other teams the chance to knock Florida out before Georgia even gets there. If there is one team Georgia would lose to it is Florida. In sports everyone has a shot any time the ball is in play, but I find it hard to believe Georgia can beat the Gators (or than anyone not named Kentucky can, either), so the best thing for Georgia is avoiding Florida until the end.

In the end, however, Georgia's tournament life is going to depend on if it gets to the SEC finals and wins. If Georgia has won enough to be able to lose in the finals we will know it ahead of time, but that's asking a lot.

The only certain path for Georgia right now is to win three games in a row in Atlanta – this time hopefully winning the SECs without the drama of getting hit with a tornado.


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