On Sunday, Georgia was rewarded for finishing atop the division by landing a surprisingly high No. 3 seed in the East Regional of the NCAA tournament.
With that seed, the NCAA selection committee placed Georgia — ranked No. 17 — as one of the top 12 teams in the nation.
Georgia (21-9) will open against Murray State (19-12) Friday in the first-round game at Chicago's United Center.
As was the case a year ago, when Georgia was much-discussed as a bubble team that made the tournament with only 16 wins, the high No. 3 seed again made the Bulldogs a hot topic Sunday.
"I didn't have them quite that high,'' said CBS college basketball analyst Clark Kellogg. Most tournament projections had Georgia no higher than a No. 4 seed.
But the Bulldogs, who watched the NCAA tournament selection show with a crowd of several hundred fans at Stegeman Coliseum, applauded the reward that overlooked the team's early loss to Louisiana State in the SEC tournament.
"I think they recognize what you do over the course of the year and not just three days,'' said Coach Jim Harrick.
When asked about the talk that Georgia didn't deserve such a high seed, Harrick said: "Well, that's how much the analysts know.''
Added Harrick: "We were the champions of the East, we got the No. 1 seed (in the SEC tournament) from the East. They gave us a better (NCAA) seed than Florida or Kentucky.''
Added Harrick: "You've got to play it. You play your way in or play your way out.''
The last time Georgia was a No. 3 seed, it suffered a first-round loss to Tennessee-Chattanooga in 1997.
"Hopefully, that won't happen again,'' said forward Jarvis Hayes. "We've just got to stay focused.''
Hayes noted that the Bulldogs played with more focus at the beginning of the season, when expectations were so low.
"We had a killer instinct at the beginning of the year and hopefully we can get it back,'' Hayes said. "We've slipped a little bit.''
If Georgia can regain its top form, the bracket is favorable for a strong NCAA tournament showing. The Georgia-Murray State winner will play the winner of the game between No. 6 seed Texas Tech, coached by Bobby Knight, and local favorite and No. 11 seed Southern Illinois. The second-round game in Chicago will be played Sunday.
Asked about the possibility of coaching against Bobby Knight, Harrick said "That would mean we won our game, so I'd be happy. It would be an honor to play him, because I respect him so much.''
Harrick said Knight should win national coach of the year honors.
Murray State is coached by former Auburn and Georgia assistant coach Tevester Anderson.
"I'm very familiar with Murray State; I talk with Tevester quite often,'' Harrick said. "It will be quite interesting with two old friends going at it.''
Including play in the SEC tournament, Georgia has suffered six straight postseason losses since winning two National Invitation Tournament games under Ron Jirsa in 1998.
Georgia has not won an NCAA tournament game since 1996, but that didn't stop the selection committee from crediting the Bulldogs for their strong regular season.
Said Hayes: "I was a little surprised, but I'll take it. ... It makes a lot of difference. It means you don't have to play a No. 1 seed until the Elite Eight. It's a heck of a difference (from a lower seed) and we deserve it.''
Charles Odum can be reached at CEOdum@aol.com.