“I thought the basket Echols made off the bench was key,” Mark Fox told reporters after the game. “We were in serious foul trouble and needed that.”
Tonight’s result clears the way for Georgia to now climb in the minds of the NCAA Tournament committee. Consider that lowly Auburn (3-8) and pitiful South Carolina (3-8) are on the next two games on the docket for Georgia - both of those contests are in Athens. The Bulldogs should have their 18th win of the season by this time next week.
They’ll then have an extra day to get ready for a winnable trip at lukewarm Alabama (5-6).
By respecting the basketball (only seven turnovers - a season low) and out rebounding A&M, Georgia proved that it was the better team tonight during the 62-53 win in College Station. No doubt, the Bulldogs needed to win these last two games - and they’ve done just that. Now Georgia has two wins over teams in the top 50 of the RPI - No. 38 Ole Miss and at No. 39 Texas A&M.
And now these guys can turn it on.
This is the stretch of the season where Georgia can only hurt itself when it gets on the floor. In a way that’s a complement. The game in Tuscaloosa could be a fight because it is on the road, but Georgia is better than Bama and should win. Beating Ole Miss in Oxford and somehow stunning Kentucky seems difficult to imagine, but not nearly as impossible as some would have to believe (keep in mind how out of sorts the Cats looked against Georgia’s zone in Lexington).
Georgia sits with only seven games to play in this SEC season - four of those games come against teams that have combined to win five games total this season.
Missouri, Auburn and Carolina? Bad teams. Yes, Georgia lost to South Carolina, but that was on the road and without Marcus Thornton, who was obviously missed that day. The Cocks are not going to beat Georgia in Athens. It seems hard to imagine that Auburn, which has won exactly one road game this season (81-77 at LSU), will beat Georgia in Athens. Missouri has only left a gym as winners once this conference season.
So we will see if Georgia can string together another run here in February. Certainly the schedule sets up for it, but the team will have to continue to play well defensively. A&M seemed thoroughly confused, as was Kentucky, with Georgia’s zone. Frankly, if Georgia respects the basketball as it did tonight the Bulldogs might only lose once more this regular season - to the Cats.
With that schedule, however, comes a problem of sorts… a lack of opportunity.
Georgia only has two more games on its schedule that can improve its standing with the NCAA Committee - at Ole Miss and vs. Kentucky. Lose both of those games and an eight seed or so is likely. But win one or both, and this team could inch its way up to a six or five seed depending on how well they conclude the season at the SEC Tournament in Nashville.
The other important factor tonight is that by winning, the Bulldogs are now alone in fourth place in the SEC - not 5th. Sure, they could inch higher to third, but avoiding playing on Thursday is what you want. Being able to get to the three seed, and therefore avoiding a possible matchup with the Cats until the SEC finals, is the best outcome Georgia can hope for at this moment considering Arkansas has a 1.5 (essentially a two-game) lead over Georgia right now. Two or three seed - doesn’t matter - one of those two avoids the Cats and gives teams the ability to rack up wins in Nashville without dealing with the Kentucky.
The more wins the better.
Yes, the losses to at South Carolina (No. 108) and at Georgia Tech (No. 100) are pretty bad, but both came on the road and one came without Marcus Thornton - that won’t be overlooked by the NCAA. The other five losses this season are not that bad in RPI terms: at No. 2 Kentucky, vs. No. 8 Gonzaga, vs. No. 23 Arkansas, at No. 51 LSU and vs. No. 91 Minnesota.
This team can work its way higher, but that will likely come down to how they do against Ole Miss and the Cats. Tonight was about Georgia giving itself a chance to get on a run - and that happened when Echols and Forte did their thing.