Fox, Dawgs' Path Forward to NCAAs

ATHENS - Here’s Georgia entering league play with its best pre-conference schedule since 2011.

So, to some degree, the difficult part of the season is over for Mark Fox and company. Much like last season and a few before then, Georgia got off to a difficult start - going 3-3 to start the season with losses to Georgia Tech, Gonzaga and Minnesota.

But this time the Dawgs rebounded (literally) and ripped off six wins in a row. The only three that the NCAA committee will really care about are the wins over Colorado, at Kansas State and Seton Hall (the Pirates’ RPI sits at No. 10 right now; that win alone might get the Dawgs in), which is the win that looks the best right now.

Critics will say, correctly, that Georgia went 3-3 against teams that they are in the same category as. But none of Georgia’s losses are at home, and none have come since November. In the past the Dawgs have mixed in a dumb loss to the likes of Mercer or Stony Brook, but not this season.

Which means this team has a real shot to get to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2011. This isn’t a great team - don’t confuse yourself. But it is a program that should be able to win at least ten games in a lukewarm SEC. It remains to be seen if 19 wins is enough to get Georgia into the NCAAs. I think it is probably not enough to get in, but Georgia will still get a chance to get a win or two in the SECs in Nashville this March.

For me, and probably for the committee, getting to 20 wins is the minimum for the Dawgs. The wins are probably there, but let’s go through the games pretty quick as it stands right now to get a good view of what the Dawgs need to do.

vs. Arkansas (RPI: 33)
Tues, Jan. 6; ESPN - 7PM
Legge: Dawgs win; 10-3 (1-0, SEC)

The Hogs are one of the better teams in the SEC and one of the few ones with a legit chance to make it into the Dance. They’ve only lost twice, but both times have been away from home. This would be a huge win and would solidify people talking about the Dawgs making it in. Losing isn’t the end of the world, but the start of the SEC schedule is tough, so getting a home win over the Hogs is pretty big.

at LSU (RPI: 36)
Sat, Jan. 10; ESPNU - 9PM
Legge: Dawgs win; 11-3 (2-0, SEC)

Tough to say Georgia should win this game. Mark Fox has struggled to win on the road in conference play over his time in Athens. The Tigers, too, are going to try to fight their way into the NCAAs and are 11-2 with their only losses coming in November.

at Vanderbilt (RPI: 82)
Wed, Jan. 14; SECN - 9PM
Legge: Dawgs lose; 11-4 (2-1, SEC)

Another difficult road game - not because Vanderbilt is good (they are not great, but they are 10-3), but playing up there is a difficult chore all of the time. The odd nature of Vandy’s playing surface makes this game a real challenge, but a winnable game to be sure.

vs. Florida (RPI: 144)
Sat, Jan. 17; CBS - 2PM
Legge: Dawgs win; 12-4 (3-1, SEC)

That Florida was going to be worse was expected. That the Gators would be this much worse was not. In many ways this is a trick game. Florida may get it together before they come to Athens, but they are one game over .500 heading into SEC play. That’s hardly a great mark.

vs. Ole Miss (RPI: 93)
Tue, Jan. 20; SECN - 7PM
Legge: Dawgs win; 13-4 (4-1, SEC)

Quick turnaround game; this is one the Dawgs need to watch. Playing an emotional game against the Gators is going to take a lot out of Georgia. But Ole Miss is a game Georgia should win at home.

at Mississippi State (RPI: 219)
Sat, Jan. 24; Fox Sports South - 3PM
Legge: Dawgs win; 14-4 (5-1, SEC)

State is bad. Georgia can’t lose this game and won’t.

vs. Vanderbilt (RPI: 82)
Tues, Jan. 27; SECN - 7PM
Legge: Dawgs win; 15-4 (6-1, SEC)

Georgia should win a home rematch with Vanderbilt with no real issue. At this point I’ve got the Dawgs at 6-1 in the SEC and 15-4 overall. They should be ranked, but the road is about to get difficult.

at South Carolina (RPI: 86)
Sat, Jan. 31; ESPNU - 4PM
Legge: Dawgs lose; 15-5 (6-2, SEC)

Cocks are not great, but Columbia has always been a tough place to play for Georgia. That South Carolina is a slightly surprising 9-3 right now is one thing, but that their only home loss this season was to ranked Baylor is another. I see this one as a loss… for now.

at Kentucky (RPI: 1)
Tues, Feb. 3; ESPNU - 7PM
Legge: Dawgs lose; 15-6 (6-3, SEC)


vs. Tennessee (RPI: 75)
Sat., Feb. 7; ESPN or ESPN2 - Noon
Legge: Dawgs win; 16-6 (7-3, SEC)

Vols have had a decent, but not spectacular start to the year. This game should be a win, but the Vols have been very up and down this winter. We will see which Big Orange shows up, but I will take the Dawgs.

at Texas A&M (RPI: 48)
Wed., Feb. 11; SECN - 7PM
Legge: Dawgs lose; 16-7 (7-4, SEC)

A&M hasn’t lost at home yet, and have a decent record coming into SEC play. The Aggies are not world beaters, but they will be good enough to trip up the Dawgs during a mid-week trip midway across the country.

vs. Auburn (RPI: 120)
Sat., Feb. 14; Fox Sports South - 2PM
Legge: Dawgs win; 17-7 (8-4, SEC)

Bruce Pearl may be a heck of a coach, but Auburn isn’t there yet - not on the road. Dawgs win.

at South Carolina (RPI: 86)
Tues., Feb. 17; SECN - 7PM
Legge: Dawgs win; 18-7 (9-4, SEC)

This is a game Georgia should win. I can’t remember the last time South Carolina beat Georgia in Athens in basketball (actually, I can’t remember the last time they were competitive).

at Alabama (RPI: 53)
Sat., Feb. 21; ESPN2 - 9PM
Legge: Dawgs lose; 18-8 (9-5, SEC)

Again, winning on the road is a difficult thing in any basketball conference. Going with that notion here. Certainly possible that, like any game, this one could go different than I expect, but winning on the road - particularly in a prime-time contest is difficult.

at Ole Miss (RPI: 93)
Wed., Feb. 25; SECN - 9PM
Legge: Dawgs lose; 18-9 (9-6, SEC)

I just don’t like the back-to-back road games - particularly so late at night midweek. Rebels are not great, but if Georgia is going to lose this is where that’s going to happen - a win is hardly out of the question.

vs. Missouri (RPI: 177)
Sat., Feb. 28; ESPNU - Noon
Legge: Dawgs win; 19-9 (10-6, SEC)

This game feels like the biggest lock of the year. Missouri is horrible. Their best win came over Valparaiso in the second game of the year. Yuck.

vs. Kentucky (RPI: 1)
Tues., March 3; ESPN - 9PM
Legge: Dawgs lose; 19-10 (10-7, SEC)

Nope. (Look, I will lay out the scenario, but I don’t believe it. Here it goes… this is a quick-turnaround game; Cats could be looking forward to Gators. I just don’t see it, but Kentucky will lose a conference game.)

vs. Auburn (RPI: 120)
Sat., March 7; SECN - 4PM
Legge: Dawgs lose; 19-11 (10-8, SEC)

This will be a sellout for Auburn, and the Tigers will close the season out with a win over Georgia. The narrative will be that Bruce Pearl is “turning Auburn around”. Whatever, I’m sure he is, but in this case one conference team is going on the road to play another. That’s the issue.

That means Georgia will almost certainly have to get one if not two wins in the SEC Tournament to get in. If, and this isn’t a stretch either way, Georgia gets off to a hot 4-0 start or a difficult 1-3 start the season might swing one way or the other. But sitting here today it certainly feels like Georgia should get into the NCAAs, and that is a massive step forward for a program that’s only gone twice in the last 12 years.

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