Stuck in the back of the pack early this Southeastern Conference season, the Georgia men’s basketball team now finds itself in the muddled middle of the league standings following its first road win of the season.
The Bulldogs have plenty of company.
Entering Tuesday night’s games, half of the league’s teams — seven — were tied with 2-4 records, a game behind sixth-place Arkansas (3-3) and a game ahead of last-place LSU (1-5).
Georgia and Auburn meet tonight in Stegeman Coliseum with identical records overall and in the SEC at 8-11 and 2-4.
“If we keep competing and just keep playing hard, I think we can keep climbing way up,” junior forward Donte’ Williams said.
Florida and Ole Miss look headed for a battle for the regular-season title, and Missouri, Kentucky and Alabama are in the next tier.
Georgia has won two of its last three, including a 59-52 win at Texas A&M Saturday. That followed a 64-47 loss to Florida in a game that Georgia led at the half.
“I think the thing that they see is in the last six halves of basketball, they’ve played pretty good,” Georgia coach Mark Fox said of his team. “Especially in five of them, they’ve played well enough to win. They have been a little bit more consistent, but you still need
the rewards of a good victory like that.”
The Bulldogs’ first road win of the season called for singing an abbreviated version of the fight song in the locker room in College Station, Texas.
“We had freshman Kenny Gaines sing it for us, and we had (freshman) Houston Kessler do a little beat box mixed with it,” guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope said. “We just mixed it up. It was fun.”
Coming off its first top-100 RPI win of the season, a Georgia team that lost at home earlier this month to Mississippi State can’t afford to take anything for granted in the SEC.
“I think there’s a lot of parity, but I would say that there’s also some inconsistency as you would expect with an inexperienced team,” Fox said. “I wouldn’t write it all off on parity. I think there’s a lot of parity in college basketball and in the SEC. I think there’s some inconsistency there with our performance.”
Georgia ranks 147th in the NCAA’s official RPI. That’s up from 184 last week and ranks 10th in the SEC, ahead of LSU (150), South Carolina (193), Auburn (210) and Mississippi State (222).
The Bulldogs played three of their first five games against the two highest-rated SEC teams in the RPI — two with Florida and one with Missouri — and the schedule has now softened.
After Auburn, Georgia travels to South Carolina and Tennessee before returning home to play Texas A&M again. All of those opponents entered the week 2-4 in the SEC.
“At the beginning of the SEC, we played probably the two top teams,” Donte’ Williams said. “A lot of teams got to play against Florida, a lot of teams got to play against Missouri. We kind of got like the hard part out of the way.”
The first three weeks of SEC play certainly haven’t created much separation among many of the teams in the league.
“It’s great to get the last win,” point guard Charles Mann said, “but we’ve just got to keep on playing like we’re capable of playing, keep playing hard and try to win the next one.”
Auburn at Georgia
When: 7 p.m. Wednesday
Where: Stegeman Coliseum
Radio: WRFC 960-AM.
Records: Auburn is 8-11, 2-4 SEC; Georgia is 8-11, 2-4 SEC;
Season at a glance: Auburn enters on a four-game losing streak but pushed then-No. 23 Ole Miss before falling 63-61 on Saturday night. Chris Denson came off the bench to score a game-high 18 points. The Tigers began SEC play with wins against LSU and South Carolina and then lost to Arkansas (in double overtime), Kentucky, Vanderbilt and the Rebels. Georgia is coming off its most pivotal win of the season, 59-52, at Texas A&M, the Bulldogs’ first road win of the season and a game it led by 17 in the second half. After starting SEC play 0-3, the Bulldogs have won two of their last three games. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope was the only player for Georgia to hit double figures in scoring with 22 points.
Probable starting lineups: Auburn: G Josh Wallace (5-10, 170, Sr., 3.8 ppg, 3.5 apg); G Shaquille Johnson (6-5, 210, Fr., 4.8 ppg, 3.1 rpg); G Frankie Sullivan (6-1, 206, Sr, 16.9 ppg, 4.5 rpg.); F Allen Payne (6-8, 215, Jr., 8.2 ppg, 4.7 rpg); C Rob Chubb (6-10, 250, Sr., 9.8 ppg. 7.9 rpg). Georgia: G Vincent Williams (6-0, 165, Sr., 4.9 ppg, 2.4 apg); G Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (6-5, 205, So., 17.3 ppg, 6.4 rpg ); F: Brandon Morris (6-7, 205, Fr., 4.2 ppg, 2.1 rpg); F Donte’ Williams (6-9, 225, Jr., 5.5 ppg, 4.8 rpg); C John Florveus (6-11, 240, Sr., 2.8 ppg, 3.1 rpg).
Series record: Georgia holds an 89-88 edge. The Bulldogs are 59-22 in Athens, including 25-11 in Stegeman Coliseum.
Last meeting: Auburn won 59-51 last season in Auburn Arena on Feb. 1. The Bulldogs were held to 25 percent shooting from the field.
Noteworthy: Two of the SEC’s top three scorers will be in action. Caldwell-Pope is up to second in the SEC in scoring at 17.3 points per game, behind only Ole Miss’ Marshall Henderson. Caldwell-Pope is shooting 35.9 percent from 3-point range. Sullivan is third at 16.9 points per game. …Tony Barbee is 34-47 in his third season at Auburn. … Auburn has five players from Georgia on its team: starters Johnson and Chubb and top reserves Denson, Jordan Price and Noel Johnson. Johnson and Georgia’s Charles Mann were teammates on Milton’s Class AAAAA state title team last season. They played AAU basketball together for three years and Mann said they’ve kept in touch during the season, but not this week. …Price tied an SEC record with 11 consecutive 3-pointers earlier this season, but his minutes have been limited recently by a stress fracture in his left foot. … Auburn is 2-3 in true road games this season, with wins at College of Charleston and South Carolina. Georgia is 1-2 at home in SEC play. …Wallace is 31st in the nation in assist/turnover ratio at 2.54. …Georgia ranks 325th in the nation in scoring offense (59.4 ppg) but 84th in scoring defense (62.3 ppg).
— Marc Weiszer