The SEC tournament begins next week, and that marks a new beginning for Mark Fox's crew. In the meantime, tonight's game at LSU won't make much different in Georgia's postseason profile or generate any serious buzz for the Bulldogs as they prepare for the conference tournament.
And yet, the game still means a lot for Fox and his team for any number of reasons that go beyond the standings, which makes wrapping up the regular season with a win a high priority.
"The tournament is a new season for all of us and a new beginning for a lot of people," Fox said. "We need to finish the regular season as best we can and then get ready for a new season."
For Fox, this game has plenty of personal meaning. LSU head coach Trent Johnson is a close friend, and the two coached together at Nevada before both ending up in the SEC. Johnson was crucial in helping Fox's career develop, and now that the two are facing off for the first time, it's a bit of a strange feeling.
"He's family to me," Fox said of his counterpart at LSU. "I watched his kids grow up, and he's watched mine. So it's not something I look forward to because I'm not here today without him."
Fox said he talks to Johnson a few times a week – although rarely about their experiences against other SEC foes – and that their families will be spending time together while Georgia is in Baton Rouge, La. for the game.
But while the relationship between the two coaches has been a topic of conversation in the locker room, Fox said he wants to make sure the game is about the players on the court and not the men drawing up the plays on the sideline.
"This game is about our two teams, and we don't – either one of us – want it to be about the two coaches," Fox said.
And in that respect, there's still much Georgia (13-15, 5-10 SEC) wants to accomplish as a team, starting with finally earning a win on the road.
The Bulldogs have won just one game in an opponent's arena in the past two years, and that came at Kentucky in Georgia's final regular-season road game last year. This season has included plenty of close calls – including a two-point loss in overtime to Vanderbilt most recently – but the Bulldogs haven't been able to get over the hump. That's a barrier Fox hopes his team will overcome tonight.
"I've told these guys that you're so close," Fox said. "You really have to step back and see how much they've helped our program, they've brought our fans back and given us some momentum. But there's a lot of things this team had to do, and they've accomplished some of those things and moved forward. But one more step we need to take is to win away from home."
While the outcome of the game won't matter much in setting the SEC standings for the tournament – that will be determined by whether South Carolina beats Vanderbilt earlier in the day – earning the No. 5 seed rather than officially finishing in last also provides a bit of drama for the Bulldogs on the regular season's final day.
"This team was given every vote for last place and they have a chance to prove everybody wrong," Fox said. "That's a step that unfortunately we have to take, but I think it would be important for us to say that we weren't that team."