Still, with one week left in the regular season, the only really meaningful measure of progress in college basketball – invitation into the 65-team NCAA Tournament – remains just ahead of Georgia's grasp.
The Bulldogs (17-10, 8-6 SEC) can change that starting tonight with an 8 p.m. game against Kentucky (19-9, 8-6) in Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky. A win tonight and another Saturday at home against Tennessee almost certainly would earn the Bulldogs that coveted bid. Even a split this week, coupled with a win or two in next week's SEC Tournament in Atlanta, might accomplish the task.
For now, the Bulldogs are trying to concentrate only on the Wildcats, who represent an opportunity to get an attention-grabbing road win against a traditional power.
"We try to take it one game at a time of course, but of course (the NCAA Tournament) is in our mind," Georgia sophomore Billy Humphrey said. "We don't want to go to the NIT if we don't have to. We definitely want an NCAA berth. We know these last two are critical for us. If we win out and win a couple games in the SEC Tournament, then we'll be in. We don't say, ‘If we win one of two,' you know what I mean. It's time to win."
Georgia, which still could finish anywhere from second to fifth in the SEC's Eastern Division, has an RPI ranking of No. 52, with a schedule ranked the nation's 20th toughest by the RPI. (For NCAA selection purposes, the Bulldogs have 16 victories because wins over non Division-I opponents such as Valdosta State aren't counted.)
If the season ended today, the Bulldogs wouldn't be in, according to Joe Lunardi, ESPN's expert in what it has coined "bracketology." They're close, though, and are listed in his "last four out" category. Lunardi projects only four SEC teams making the NCAA Tournament -- Florida, Vanderbilt, Tennessee and Kentucky – despite the fact that the conference is considered one of the nation's three toughest in most rankings.
"Going into the season people said (the SEC might get) seven even eight teams in, but now it seems like the critics are saying even less, but they just don't understand," Georgia senior Steve Newman said. "Yeah, teams don't have the best SEC records, but that's just because everybody is so good that everybody can beat everybody. I've heard a lot of different things from the media. You never really know so you just want to win as many games as possible to give yourself the best chance."
A 9-7 SEC record, coupled with Georgia's strength of schedule, should get the Bulldogs into the tournament, Coach Dennis Felton said. Ten of the last 11 teams to finish 9-7 or better in the SEC have received NCAA invites. Tennessee's 2003 team (17-12 overall, 9-7 SEC) is the only conference team since 1996 to fall into that category and not get invited.
However, Felton is uncertain exactly what the NCAA Selection Committee is looking for,despite that organization's attempt this year to make its process more transparent.
Earlier this month, the NCAA invited 20 members of the U.S. Basketball Writers Association to conduct a mock selection process in hopes of educating media members, and thereby fans, about what goes into picking the field.
Still, Felton said, "When the decisions are made, it's still behind closed doors with no observation. I don't know why it has to be shrouded in secrecy. There might be some good reasons that I just haven't taken the time to come up with, but I'm not sure why there would be a good reason to put it all behind closed doors. You can say what you want about the process, but once you go behind closed doors, what actually happens? Nobody knows other than the people in the room."
Two factors believed to be weighed heavily by the selection committee are a team's record against opponents ranked in the top 50 and top 100 of the RPI.
The bad news for the Bulldogs in that regard is they are 2-7 against top 50 teams this year, but they have a chance to make big strides in that category because the Wildcats are No. 10 and Tennessee is No. 11 in the RPI.
Georgia is 9-8 this year against top 100 RPI teams.
"There are a lot of people saying different things, but I don't think you ever really know for sure or ever feel comfortable," junior center Dave Bliss said. "You just have to get as many wins as you can and hopefully that's enough at the end of the season."