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Dawgs finding themselves back in the conversation for NCAA tourney

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It appears Turtle Jackson and Georgia may not be out of the NCAA conversation quite yet.
Radi Nabulsi

It’s that time of year again - trying to figure out what college basketball teams will receive an invitation to March Madness. Over the next two weeks, numerous teams will be vying for the remaining NCAA Tournament bids, and amazingly enough Georgia is remains in the middle of the discussion.

It once seemed like a long shot for the Bulldogs ater losing five consecutive conference games and not holding many résumé wins. Shortly thereafter, Georgia’s leading scorer Yante Maten – 19.4 points per game before suffering a sprained knee – and it looked like the team had plenty of potential to fall flat in the season’s final stages.

However, after claiming a significant win at Alabama (60-55) and then staving off a major upset against LSU (winning 82-80) in the span of 48 hours, the Bulldogs now present a solid tournament case, resembling that of Georgia’s tournament bid in 2015.

Check out the comparison to the 2015 Bulldog squad, which earned a bid to the NCAA's before falling to Michigan State in the first round:

                     Georgia NCAA Tournament resume comparison:                            2015 (regular season) vs. 2017 (through 29 games
2015 2017

Record:

20-10

17-12

Conference

11-7

8-8

Home

12-4

11-5

Road

8-4

5-6

Neutral

0-2

1-1

Strength of Schedule

42

23

RPI

44

55

vs RPI - 0-50

0-6

1-7

vs RPI - 51-100

8-3

7-4

vs RPI - 101-200+

8-3

6-1

Aside from a few more road wins and a slightly lower RPI, Georgia can nearly the same case to make the tournament as it did in 2015, earning a 10-seed and drawing Michigan State.

In 2017, the conference schedule has been significantly more difficult than it was in the previous tournament appearance as the Bulldogs have played each of the league’s top-three teams twice, and nearly beating each one – Kentucky, Florida and South Carolina.

With two more regular-season games remaining, Georgia(17-12, 8-8) has placed itself onto the tournament radar. CBS Sports bracketologist Jerry Palm has the Bulldogs as the first team listed in his “first four out” category, while ESPN’s Joe Lunardi places them as the fourth team in that category. Prior to Thursday’s action, Georgia wasn’t close to being placed on those lists.

Shelby Mast, the bracketologist for USA Today and BracketWAG.com, has drastically shifted his view on Georgia’s tournament chances. Prior to the game in Tuscaloosa, he had the Bulldogs “on life support,” and now has them as his second team out just a few days later. The change came from his Friday night “bracket scrub,” in which he takes a closer look at each bubble team.

Mast, who has been in the business of bracketology since 2005 and has an accuracy rating of 98 percent, cites the amount of wins against teams which hold RPIs between 51 and 100. Along with that, the numerous close calls against top teams will give the committee plenty of thought on whether to include the Bulldogs.

“(The big jump on the bubble) happens, because you have teams that fall off,” he said. “Kansas State and TCU have totally shot any chance that they have, and that gives other teams chances to move up. With Georgia, I wonder how the committee will look at all of the close loses they’ve had. I think they’ll give them a bit of a break, especially in the (Texas) A&M one where the clock malfunctioned.”

In a conference slate that has been up-and-down for Georgia, with losses to top-tier teams but answered by some solid wins, Georgia now has a clear path as the campaign draws to a close.

“The ugliest loss is a home loss to Alabama, then they redeemed themselves and won at Alabama,” Mast said. “Had they lost yesterday, they’re probably done. But now they have two winnable games left. Beat Auburn, who is kind of going the wrong way.”

Georgia beat Auburn on Dec. 29 by a 96-84 tally at Auburn Arena. The victory is a solid one for the Bulldogs, but now a loss in the rematch in Athens this Wednesday could be detrimental to their tournament chances. Auburn now has an RPI of 83 and has struggled with a young roster throughout conference play.

If J.J. Frazier is able to piece together another win without his star counterpart, the biggest opportunity against Arkansas on the road. The Razorbacks are solidly in the field, according to Mast, and hold a 31 RPI. Georgia’s only victory against top-50 teams is a home victory against Vanderbiit (48). A win in Fayetteville might put the Bulldogs in their most secure tournament position in quite a while.

“If Georgia wins at Arkansas, I think I’m moving them in,” Mast said. “I won’t say safely, but maybe above a play-in game, we’ll have to see how other things play out.”

For Georgia, rattling off these late wins – and playing Kentucky close – without Maten could play to its advantage.

“I think the committee will look at it, at least they should,” Mast said. “They look closer at those things when it comes to teams that may be in or out. Georgia, a team that’s right on the bubble, they’ll look at it. How much stock they’ll put into it? I don’t know.”

Mast also gives Georgia fans an idea who they need to root against. California, USC, Seton Hall, Marquette and Providence are ahead of the Bulldogs.

As the regular season concludes, Arkansas would be a nice win for Georgia, but not a make-or-break game. Regardless of the result, Georgia will still have an opportunity to play for an at-large bid in Nashville.

“Arkansas is about as close as you can get without being a lock, so it wouldn’t be a “bad loss,” Mast said. “In terms of wins needed in conference tournament, you have to wait and see how the bracket stacks up. The SEC has a lot of middle-of-the-pack teams with decent enough RPIs. If Georgia can get to the semifinals, and beat one or two of Auburn, Tennessee, Mississippi or Alabama along the way, I think they’ll be OK.”

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