On Wednesday night in New York, the Georgia Bulldogs will play the Gonzaga Bulldogs inside Madison Square Garden as part of the preseason NIT. This game represents an opportunity for both teams to secure an out of conference win against a worthy opponent. For Georgia though, this contest is a chance for Coach Mark Fox’s team to prove its relevance in the college basketball world in prime time on a national stage.
Here are a few reasons as to why I believe that Georgia must win this game:
1. UGA has to prove being a good SEC team means something
Last season Georgia went 12-6 in the Southeastern Conference, and they were barely in the NCAA Bubble discussion. Most pundits felt that the Dawgs had to win the SEC tournament to get in, giving them the same scenario that they basically face towards the end of every season. For several years now, the SEC has been routinely sending just 3 or 4 teams to the Big Dance, making it pretty clear what the NCAA selection committee thinks about the quality of basketball played in this league. Having another successful conference season just isn’t going to do it for Coach Fox this year (and I do think they will be a top 5 SEC team). Fox scheduled games against Gonzaga, Colorado and Kansas State to bolster the RPI, which was an achilles heel for this team a year ago. Playing in these games is not enough, though; UGA must show that they can beat high caliber teams outside of their own conference, and they’ve already blown one opportunity against their in-state rivals (whether Tech is high caliber or not remains to be seen). Only winning the games against the Troy’s and Florida Atlantic’s of the world will earn Georgia another trip back to the postseason NIT, at best.
2. Mark Fox is due
The Georgia Bulldogs haven’t beaten a ranked opponent outside of the SEC since Fox’s initial team took down the then-ranked #20 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets 73-66 in Athens. Matter of fact, CMF’s teams have only won two games against ranked opponents since the departures of Trey Thompkins and Travis Leslie. In that same span of games, UGA has yet to beat a team ranked lower than 20th. In Gonzaga, Georgia will be competing with a team that recently landed inside of the top 10 in both the AP and USA Polls. The Zags, who are 4-0, have already beaten #22 SMU by more than 10 points. They have destroyed their other three opponents, winning all of the games by 40+ points. Gonzaga is off to a great start this year, and more than likely they will go on to have a strong season. When March rolls around, a win against the Zags could really serve to enhance an NCAA tournament resume, considering Gonzaga themselves will surely be dancing.
Make no doubt about, the Zags are incredibly talented. Through 4 games, they are averaging almost 95 points a night (7th in the country), with nearly 7 players scoring in double-figures. UGA needs its best game of the year out of junior Charles Mann, who could significantly impact this game should he manage to get some of the Zags’ starters in foul trouble. Georgia cannot go toe-to-toe with Gonzaga’s firepower for 40 minutes; but, if they could manage to get to the free throw line and slow the game down, the Dawgs could have a chance.
Here is Seth Greenberg’s take: