There are only two players left on the Georgia men’s basketball team that have experience playing beyond the Southeastern Conference tournament.
That changes on Wednesday when the Bulldogs take on Vermont in the National Invitation Tournament at 8 p.m. in Stegeman Coliseum. The game will be shown nationally on ESPNU.
It’s the second time Georgia has landed in a postseason tournament in coach Mark Fox’s five seasons.
Senior Donte’ Williams and redshirt junior Marcus Thornton were freshmen on the Bulldogs team that reached the NCAA tournament in 2011.
“I think it’s very important for our guys to get this experience,” Fox said Sunday night. “We only have the one senior. I think it can be a valuable experience for our team. We start our season next year in the preseason NIT. I think for a lot of reasons this could be a really good experience for us. The first challenge, like it is for all teams, when you come just short of your original goal is being able to regroup and get ready to play with the energy and intelligence and effort that you need to against a good team.”
Of course, Georgia (19-13) went to the SEC tournament hoping to play its way to an NCAA tournament berth, but lost in the semifinals Saturday to Kentucky, 70-58.
Afterwards, sophomore guard Charles Mann said: “To continue playing is real important.”
Fox said Saturday that Georgia “should be in the conversation,” for an NCAA tournament at-large bid, but the SEC only got three teams for the second straight year: Florida, Kentucky and Tennessee.
Georgia got respect from the NIT selection committee, which made the Bulldogs a No. 2 seed in the 32-team field. LSU, Arkansas and Missouri from the SEC also are in the NIT.
“I felt like had we won the game (Saturday), we would have been in the NCAA tournament,” Fox said. “If we were that close in that situation, I figured we would be one of the top one or two seeds in the NIT just because I didn’t think we would fall that far losing to a good Kentucky team, but we’re certainly excited to be playing home and just to have a chance to keep playing.”
Vermont (22-10) received an automatic bid to the NIT for winning the America East regular season title.
It has a Georgia connection in former Bulldog player Tom Brennan (1969-71) who was head coach at Vermont from 1986-2005, with NCAA tournament berths in his final two seasons.
Fox got a text from Brennan after the announcement.
“He wants to call the game the Tom Brennan Invitational,” Fox said.
Vermont lost 67-58 to Albany in its conference semifinal game.
Georgia had to wait until nearly the entire bracket was revealed on the selection show before learning it was indeed in the field.
“Cam Forte said that he nearly died because I think we were one of the last teams announced,” Fox said.
The Catmounts lost at Duke 91-90 in November (a game Fox said he caught part of on TV). It doesn’t have a top 100 RPI win, but its best win may have been against Illinois State.
Vermont is fourth in the nation in 3-point field goal percentage (39.9), but ranked just fifth in its conference in 3-pointers made per game.
“They obviously know how to win and shoot the 3 well,” Fox said, “but at this point we have a lot to learn and so we’ll go to work on that as soon as we finish with this call.”
Georgia went 1-7 against teams that made the NCAA tournament. The win was against Wofford.
Georgia, which finished tied for second in the SEC after entering league play just 6-6, wasn’t considered much of a bubble team by those who project the NCAA tournament field. One reason was because it had three losses to teams rated 157 or lower in the RPI.
This is Georgia’s 12th trip to the NIT and first since 2007 when the Bulldogs advanced to the second round and lost at Air Force. Only Tennessee (13) and Alabama (12) have as many NIT trips as the Bulldogs.
Georgia is 11-11 all-time in the NIT and has twice reached the NIT semifinals in 1982 and 1998.
Fox hasn’t coached in the NIT before. His teams have reached four NCAA tournaments and while he was at Nevada twice played in the CBI tournament.
The first three rounds are hosted on campus sites.
Georgia would host Louisiana Tech or Iona in the second round later in the week. The semifinals and finals will be held April 1 and 3 in New York.
General admission tickets for Wednesday’s game are $15.
Georgia and Vermont have played once before in the 1973-74 season. The Bulldogs won 88-55 in Athens.