NIT picks up Dawgs

ATHENS – In the end, Georgia knew. Dennis Felton gathered his Bulldog basketball team together Sunday evening to watch the selection show for the NCAA Tournament, but no one in the room really expected to see Georgia's name on the screen.

"The last thing I told them before we watched the show was what I thought to be the case, and that was that we weren't going to be included," Felton said. "They weren't surprised that we did not make the NCAA Tournament, I don't think."

At that point, Felton dismissed his team and promised to call when he knew what was next. That information came shortly after 9 p.m., when the National Invitation Tournament selected the Bulldogs (18-13).

Georgia, the No. 4 seed in the NIT's West Region, will play No. 5 seed Fresno State on Wednesday at 7 p.m. in Stegeman Coliseum. The game will be televised by ESPN2. It will be the team's second national postseason game under Felton, who is in his fourth year.

"I'm thrilled to be in the postseason, thrilled to be in the NIT," he said. "I would be under normal circumstances as we climb and build our program, but it's even more meaningful now because it's even more difficult now to make the NIT."

In the 32-team NIT field, three wins means a trip to Madison Square Garden in New York for the semifinals. (The tournament trimmed its field from 48 to 32 this year.)

If Georgia wins Wednesday, it likely would face West Region No. 1 seed, Air Force, in Colorado Springs, Colo., on March 19. (The higher seeded team hosts games through the first three rounds.) Air Force plays No. 9 seed Austin Peay on Wednesday.

Kansas State is the No. 2 seed in Georgia's region, while DePaul is the No. 3 seed.

The trip to Athens will be a pseudo-homecoming for Fresno State junior center Shawn Taylor, a product of Perry and Dooly County high schools. Taylor spent his first three prep years at Dooly County and then averaged 18 points, 11 rebounds and 10 blocks per game as a senior at Perry.

He spent one season at Alabama and one season at Chipola Junior College in Florida before joining Fresno State. He has started one game this year for the Bulldogs and averages 2.2 points and 1.8 rebounds per game.

The Fresno State Bulldogs finished the season 22-9 overall and 10-6 in the Western Athletic Conference. They are led by senior swing man Quinton Hosley (14.1 ppg, 8.9 rpg) and junior forward Dominic McGuire (13.5 ppg, 9.8 rpg).

"I'm just starting the process of trying to get familiar with them now, and it's going to be a challenge," Felton said. "We tape everything all throughout the season, but they weren't on television over here so we don't have tape of them, and it's going to be a challenge to get tape on them in a timely fashion."

Georgia is 1-2 all-time against Fresno State. The teams last meeting was Dec. 23, 2000, when a Jim Harrick-coached team lost to Fresno State 80-61. Georgia's only win over the other Bulldogs (95-79) came in the consolation game of the 1998 NIT final four.

Mississippi State, Ole Miss and Alabama also were selected to the NIT from the SEC.

The conference got five teams into the NCAA Tournament – Florida (a No. 1 seed), Tennessee (No. 5), Vanderbilt (No. 6), Kentucky (No. 8) and Arkansas (No. 12). Georgia beat the Razorbacks 67-64 in Fayetteville on Jan. 17. The Bulldogs also beat Kentucky and Vanderbilt once each (both wins at home).

"I wasn't surprised, but I'm still disappointed," Felton said of the fact that more SEC teams didn't make the NCAA tournament. "We're the best league in the country, and it seems we're penalized because we're so strong from bottom to top."

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