Listening in on the SEC men’s basketball coaches teleconference call this morning, it was clear that a lot of the league’s coaches are impressed with what Georgia did this season and many expect the Bulldogs to make some noise in the conference tournament this week at the Georgia Dome.
The Bulldogs (18-12, 12-6 SEC) won eight of their last 10 games – including 69-61 over LSU in Baton Rouge on Saturday – to finish in a tie for second with Kentucky. They’ll enter the SEC tournament as the No. 3 seed and open play late Friday night against Ole Miss, Mississippi State or Vanderbilt, depending on which advances out of that side of the bracket.
“Georgia’s in great position,” Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said, and he should know.
The Rebels were in a remarkably similar situation last season when the SEC tournament was played at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville. They finished in a three-way tie for second in the SEC during the regular season and got the No. 3 seed based on losing a tiebreaker with Kentucky and winning one with Alabama.
Ole Miss got the double bye into the quarterfinals and beat Missouri and Vanderbilt on the way to the finals. They knocked off No. 1 Florida 66-63 to claim the tournament championship.
“Last year we can in somewhat of a similar mode,” Kennedy said of Georgia. “They’re playing as well as anybody. With a hard-fought win at LSU in the last game, I’m sure they’ve got a lot of momentum and a lot of confidence. With the tournament being in their home state, I’m sure they’ll be a lot of Bulldogs in the building.”
Regardless of how Georgia fares in the tournament, coaches were lauding the job coach Mark Fox did this season. The outlook was bleak when the Bulldogs, projected to finish 11th in the league, entered SEC play with a 6-6 record.
Here’s what some SEC coaches had to say Monday:
- Kentucky coach John Calipari: “I’ll tell you, what they’ve done, how they’ve played and to go on the road and win a game that matters – that (LSU) game mattered – it just tells you a lot. They struggled early, but it’s a sign of a good coach that’s able to keep his team together and keep them moving in the right direction. Right now, they believe as much as anyone in our league that they have a chance to win this thing.”
- Florida coach Billy Donovan: “Even though we won handily at our place I thought they were gonna have a great year. … I really liked their team because I thought (Charles) Mann had gotten a lot better and (Kenny) Gaines had kind of evolved into a guy that would be a legitimate scorer. (Marcus) Thornton was hurt most of last year and they didn’t get much production from him, if any; he had started to come into his own. Their personnel has gotten better and Mark’s system puts those guys in situations to be very, very successful.”
- South Carolina coach Frank Martin: “I don’t think they get the credit they deserve. Everyone says you need to schedule good in non-conference play. Well, Georgia did that. They went nose-to-nose with Davidson. Last time I checked Davidson was, what, 17-1 in league play. People are raving about Nebraska. Well, Georgia must have done something pretty good to go nose-to-nose with Nebraska.”
- Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy: “I think Mark and his staff did an outstanding job of getting that team to understand who they were. I think they were 6-6 in the non-league. When you do that, people aren’t giving you much hope of moving up the standings once you get into league play. So credit to Mark and his staff. They looked in the mirror and made the necessary adjustments as to who they were and what was their best chance to be successful. They maximized that by having an outstanding run in our league. Last year we came in somewhat of a similar mode.”