Georgia's whole season is in front of itself and it would be a shame for the Dawgs not to take advantage of the great situation that they are in.
There are only a few games remaining in this year's basketball season. Most observers thought that Georgia would finish at or near the bottom of the SEC East. Instead, Georgia finds itself in a situation that it has not been in since the SEC went to two divisions; they are the number one seed and division champions.
Recently, Georgia has been very disappointing in the SEC and NCAA tournaments. For the most part, the reason for the Dawg's disappointing play has been lack of talent. However, talent is no longer a problem in Athens.
Jarvis Hayes is the best player in the SEC, and he might be one of the top 7 players in the country. Ezra Williams is perhaps the best perimeter shooter in the SEC and Rashad Wright, while not the top point guard in the SEC, has shown his worth with game winning buckets in Georgia's last two wins. Chris Daniels is smooth and steady. He is the rock behind this Georgia team. But the variable on this team and the person whose performance will determine the fate of the Dawgs is Steve Thomas.
Jeff Dantzler, the Georgia Bulldog Radio Network's color commentator, has talked all season about the importance of Thomas. Dantzler is as dead on with his comment about Thomas. Without Thomas, the Dawgs can forget going deep into either the NCAA or the SEC tournaments.
Thomas makes Georgia more than a one-dimensional team. Georgia is an outstanding perimeter team; the Dawgs make sure that everything in their offense runs through the guards almost to a fault. Where Thomas is important is that he makes elite teams like Florida, Kentucky, and Alabama honor Georgia's inside presence.
This in turn allows the guards to roam freely on the perimeter. Thomas' presence also means that Jarvis Hayes can "block attack" or drive the ball and create opportunities for Thomas. When Jarvis beats his defender and Thomas' has to slide to protect the basket, Hayes can dish the ball to Thomas for the easy score.
Even with all of these things established the question remains, can Georgia win it all?
However, it is not out of the realm of possibilities. Georgia has shown that it can play with, and beat, the best teams in the SEC. This means that Georgia can play and beat at least many of the top ten teams in any one game.
Enter the real heavyweights of 2002. Duke, Maryland, and Kansas.
Georgia is not likely to be in the same region as Florida, Kentucky, or Alabama, and even if the Dawgs are, they are not likely to met one of the top SEC teams until the regional finals. Because of the NCAA pairings, the likelihood of Georgia matching up with all three heavyweights (Duke, Maryland, and Kansas) before the championship game is unlikely.
So really the question becomes, can Florida, Kentucky, and Alabama (or teams like them) beat Duke, Maryland, and Kansas before Georgia would ever have to play them? The answer is yes.
With that simplified, and the task becoming slightly less impossible we move on to the next question.
In order for Georgia to win the national title they are going to have to do two very simple things. They must win six games in a row and they must beat at least some top 10 opponents to do that. Can the Dawgs do that?
Can Georgia beat top ten ranked opponents? Yes, there is no doubt about that. But, can Georgia win six games in a row? That is not as clear.
I worry little about Georgia in a one game setting. I worry lots more when I see that they are going to have to pound through six games, with at least (at a minimum two of those games being no closer than Lexington and worst case scenario none of them being near Athens) two of them a far way away from the State of Georgia.
So then you ask, "this sounds hard how are they going to do it?"
They might not. But…
First, the way for Georgia to improve their chances in the NCAAs is to get to at least the SEC title game. That will help with seeding in the NCAAs. The better a team's seeding, the lower tier opponents they will play at the start of the tournament. This means that Georgia can push more difficult games deeper into the tournament, giving the Dawgs a chance to "get on a roll."
Secondly, treat the first round opponent like a highly ranked team. To a certain extent, Georgia plays to the level of its opponent. Georgia has beaten and lost to every team in the SEC East except Kentucky. Therefore the Dawgs can win or lose, it seems, any night. Playing to the level of a lesser opponent is something that is not acceptable when you are trying to win a national title.
Thirdly, get Steve Thomas involved early and often in every game. Without Thomas, there is no way that Georgia can get past the second round of the NCAAs.
Finally, depend on Jim Harrick's experience. Why re-invent the wheel? Harrick has done this before and that means that he knows what it takes to win the NCAAs. Harrick knows how to win games that his team has no business winning. He has developed Rashad Wright into a steady point guard, something that is absolutely necessary for a championship team. Harrick can lead this team to a national title; after all he has done it before.
Can Georgia win the national title? Yes. Will they? Probably not, but they have a much better chance than many other teams. Georgia should hope for upsets to occur to everyone but themselves. Then, deep into the tournament, they should rely on Hayes' ability to score, Ezra's ability to shoot, Wright's seemingly newfound leadership, Daniels' steadiness, Thomas' abilities when involved, the bench's injection of energy when they are playing, and on Harrick's practical experience in big games.
All of these things make Georgia a lethal combination. These things separated are like kryptonite to the Dawgs.