The seeding suggests that Georgia enters the Southeastern Conference men’s basketball tournament as a middle-of-the-pack team compared to others in the league.
Coach Mark Fox said he doesn’t exactly see it that way as the eighth-seeded Bulldogs play No. 9 seed LSU at 1 p.m. today at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tenn.
“Everyone outside of Florida is in the middle of the pack in our league — everybody,” Fox said. “There’s probably a group of us that could all be second place with a break or two here.”
Georgia finished three games behind second-place Kentucky, Ole Miss and Alabama in the SEC standings and two back of Tennessee and Missouri, but LSU coach Johnny Jones termed the Bulldogs a “really hot team” on Wednesday.
“We’ve proven to ourselves and we’ve proven to everyone that we can play with everyone,” Georgia sophomore forward Nemanja Djurisic said.
Georgia (15-16, 9-9 SEC) dealt Tennessee its only loss in its final nine games, beat Kentucky a week ago by 10 and lost to Alabama on Saturday on a halfcourt heave at the buzzer.
“We like how we’ve been playing for the last month and a half,” Fox said. “I think we feel like we’ve played pretty consistent. I think our team has a confidence level that when they play the game the right way that they’ll have chances to win.”
Fox said he sees his team playing with confidence entering the tournament, but when Georgia and LSU met the only other time this season on Jan. 19, it was a duel of 0-3 teams. The Bulldogs won 67-58.
“It was a hard start, we started off slow,” said Georgia guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, named the SEC Player of the Year this week. “Towards the end of the season we picked it up and kept getting better. Going into the tournament, we are where we are and we know we can compete with anybody. We’ve got to go out there and just do it.”
Fox said he told his staff before watching video of the first game against the Tigers (18-11, 9-9) that “both teams certainly have evolved a great deal since then.”
Said LSU guard Charles Carmouche: “It was just a learning experience for us, a new team, new coach, just trying to jell. … Feel a lot more comfortable playing them this time.”
The winner gets top-seeded Florida on Friday at 1 p.m.. The Gators, 24-6 overall but only 9-6 outside of Gainesville, Fla., get a double-bye into the quarterfinals. The Gators are the favorite but aren’t viewed as invincible.
Georgia has completed paperwork for the NIT, but probably needs a deep SEC tournament run to get into that field.
The Bulldogs of course would love to win it all and earn the SEC’s automatic NCAA tournament bid. To do that, they would have to win four games in as many days.
The Bulldogs won the tornado-interrupted SEC tournament in 2008 — which was chronicled in a recent ESPN documentary — but Fox sees that team as different than his group this year, though with toughness that his team can emulate. He mentioned instead Western Kentucky (he has a good friend on staff there) winning the Sun Belt tournament by winning four games for the second consecutive year.
Georgia has relied on its depth this year, which should help if it gets to the weekend. The Bulldogs’ bench has been outscored once in SEC play.
“If everyone contributes like we did lately,” Djurisic said, “we have a good chance to manage our players well and use our depth to our advantage.”
Georgia has played with a “range of emotions from anger to pride” after some road losses that included some calls that went against them.
Alabama’s Trevor Releford hit the halfcourt shot to deal Georgia a 61-58 loss last Saturday.vAsked this week about the trauma of that loss, Fox said: “It’s not trauma. We didn’t have to go to the ER.”
He said it’s part of the game, citing Caldwell-Pope hitting a late 3-pointer in a win against South Carolina to send that game to overtime.
“If we’re not having the best night, we’re going to manage fight back and get it to the last possession and have the chance to win,” Djurisic said. “We’re that kind of team right now. We know that we can beat anyone.”
Georgia vs. LSU
When: 1 p.m. Thursday
Where: Bridgestone Arena, Nashville, Tenn.
What: Southeastern Conference second-round game
Radio: WGAU 1340 -AM.
Records: Georgia is 15-16, 9-9 SEC; LSU is 18-11, 9-9 SEC.
Season at a glance: Georgia enters the SEC tournament as the No. 8 seed, a spot it certainly would have taken after a 1-4 start, but the Bulldogs could have been a few spots higher if not for some heartbreaking road losses in the last few weeks. That includes a 61-58 defeat at Alabama on Saturday when the Crimson Tide won on a halfcourt buzzer beater. LSU is further along than coach Johnny Jones thought they would be in his first year after taking over for Trent Johnson, good friends with Georgia’s Mark Fox. The Tigers won eight of their final 12 games, but lost 81-67 at home to Ole Miss last Saturday.
Probable starting lineups: Georgia: G Vincent Williams (6-0, 165, Sr., 5.1 ppg, 2.2 apg); G Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (6-5, 205, So., 18.0 ppg, 6.9 rpg ); F: Brandon Morris (6-7, 205, Fr., 4.2 ppg, 2.4 rpg); F Donte’ Williams (6-9, 225, Jr., 5.3 ppg, 4.9 rpg); C John Florveus (6-11, 240, Sr., 2.6 ppg, 3.1 rpg).
LSU: G Charles Carmouche (6-4, 187, Sr., 10.8 ppg, 3.6 apg); G Anthony Hickey (5-11, 178, So., 12.3 ppg, 3.3 rpg); G Andre Stringer (5-10, 182, Jr, 10.3 ppg, 1.9 rpg.); F Johnny O’Bryant (6-9, 256, So., 13.8 ppg, 8.8 rpg); C Andrew Del Piero (7-3, 254, Sr., 4.4 ppg. 3.1 rpg).
Series record: LSU leads 61-42, including four of the last six. The Tigers lead 7-4 in neutral site games.
Last meeting: Georgia earned its first SEC win of the season with a 67-58 win against LSU on Jan. 19 in Athens. The Bulldogs outscored LSU 13-4 to end the game. LSU shot 36 percent and had 21 turnovers. Caldwell-Pope scored 22 for the Bulldogs.
Noteworthy: LSU is ranked No. 90 in the NCAA’s official RPI this week. Georgia is No. 126. … Georgia has won the SEC tournament twice—in 1983 and 2008. The Bulldogs are 39-49 all-time in the tournament and have won one game in the tournament each of the last three seasons under coach Mark Fox. … Georgia ranks 18th in the nation in field goal percentage defense (38.6). … Carmouche, who did not play against Georgia earlier this season due to tendonitis, has scored 20 or more points in the last four games. … Hickey leads the nation in steals at 3.1 per game. The Tigers are second in the SEC and 14th nationally with 9.2 steals per game. … The Tigers set a school record with 216 3-pointers this year. … Georgia is 3-5 against LSU in SEC tournament play, but the teams haven’t met in the tourney since 2002. …The Tigers haven’t reached the SEC tournament finals since 1993 and have won just once in 1980. … O’Bryant is tied for the SEC lead with 14 double-doubles. He is fourth in the SEC in rebounding at 8.8 per game. … Morris scored 11 points against Alabama, his most in an SEC game this season.