Dawgs fighting for wins in SECs

ATHENS – The bad news for Dennis Felton is Florida has its swagger back, but that's at least one day down the road for Georgia's basketball team.

The immediate issue for the Bulldogs is Auburn and the first day of the SEC Tournament, which begins today in the Georgia Dome. Georgia, the fifth seed from the Eastern Division, and the Tigers, the fourth seed from the West, play the third game of the day, at 7:30 p.m.

Both teams enter the game having fallen short of realistically being able to expect an at-large berth into the NCAA Tournament. That means the only options are win the conference tournament or pack their bags for the fly-by-night travels of the National Invitation Tournament.

"I'm not so ready to agree that we're out of the picture for an at-large, but it doesn't change anything," Felton said. "We would have gone to Atlanta determined to win the SEC Tournament regardless."

Even if Felton isn't willing to acknowledge his team's dire position, junior forward Takais Brown is. The Bulldogs are No. 63 in the RPI rankings after losing three of their last four.

"They were already talking about we were on the bubble," Brown said, "and now we're off the board."

Georgia has won the conference tournament only once (1983), and it has won just one tournament game in the last eight years. This year, though, is the year of hope for the group of teams needing to make a run. Save the Gators, there is no team in the league to be feared.

Last week, even Florida seemed vulnerable. The Gators, who await the winner of today's game, had lost three of four in ugly fashion heading into Sunday's game against Kentucky.

That was when Felton said this: "Florida is not playing with quite the swagger that they have been playing with throughout the course of the season, so you don't know how things are going to turn out for them."

On Sunday, the Gators beat Kentucky 85-72 by shooting 64 percent from the field, the best against the Wildcats in 14 years. Felton's comment may appear on their bulletin board if the teams meet Friday.

Florida, Kentucky, Vanderbilt and Tennessee are the only teams who enter the tournament feeling good about their NCAA positioning regardless of what happens this week.

"I think there are four that are locks and after that I just don't know what's going to happen," Auburn coach Jeff Lebo said. "I think a lot is going to have to play out, especially in the West. Somebody in the West is going to have to win at least a couple games to lock up something."

The Tigers, Alabama, Mississippi State, Ole Miss and Arkansas all are in the same situation as Georgia, having posted respectable records but not reaching projected at-large status.

Earlier this week, Felton began the usual pandering for his conference and how many teams it should get into the NCAA Tournament.

"This conversation about four or five teams going from the SEC I think is utterly ridiculous," he said. "I'd be very disappointed if that were to be how it turns out. I don't see how you have the strongest league in the country and (a league) so much more competitive than any other conference out there, I don't see how in the world that should decrease the number of teams who earn a spot in the national tournament. That flies in the face of any kind of logic."

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