Georgia’s emergence may help doom the SEC to only two or three NCAA bids

The most pressing question entering the start of the conference play in the SEC was which team would emerge as the third-best in the league behind favorites Florida and Kentucky.

Was it Missouri and its stable of high-scoring guards? Or perhaps Tennessee and its two bruising big men? Or maybe an LSU team led by high-scoring forwards Johnny O'Bryant and Jordan Mickey?

Two months later, one team has finally emerged from the pack but it's not any of the ones listed above. It's Georgia, which is both a remarkable accomplishment by coach Mark Fox and a crushing development for the SEC's hopes of putting more than two or three teams in the NCAA tournament.

Although Georgia (16-11, 10-5) tightened its grip on third place in the SEC with a 71-56 win over visiting Missouri on Tuesday night, the Bulldogs still have slim hope of securing an NCAA tournament bid. Their RPI is a bloated No. 82, they lost to Davidson, Georgia Tech, Temple and Auburn in non-league play and their lone RPI top 50 victories both came at the expense of No. 49 Missouri.

Opportunities for decent wins at Arkansas and LSU remain for Georgia, but even a 13-5 SEC record may not be enough for the Bulldogs. Unless Georgia can parlay a stifling defense and a knack for getting to the foul line into three more regular season victories and an upset of either Florida or Kentucky in the SEC tournament, it's tough to imagine the Bulldogs getting on the Selection Committee's radar.

What Georgia has really accomplished with its recent surge is playing its way into the NIT and playing spoiler for the rest of the SEC's bubble teams.

Finishing behind Georgia in the SEC won't doom Tennessee, Missouri, LSU or Arkansas since the committee doesn't consider conference standings as a criteria, but taking losses to the Bulldogs certainly hasn't helped the resumés of those teams. Besides sweeping the season series with Missouri, Georgia has beaten LSU by 13, Ole Miss by 1 and Arkansas in overtime.

Those losses have contributed to the SEC having no surefire NCAA tournament teams besides Florida and Kentucky.

Tennessee (16-11, 7-7) still has a shot despite dropping four of its last six. So does Missouri (19-9, 7-8) in spite of road losses to Georgia and Alabama in its past two games. Neither Arkansas nor LSU are dead yet either, but both might need to win out to close the regular season and win a game or two in the SEC tournament to have a realistic chance of securing an at-large bid.

So, yes, it's not the NCAA tournament picture the SEC was hoping for what it encouraged its teams to schedule smarter last offseason after only receiving three bids a year ago.

Blame Georgia for some of those woes. By floundering in non-league play but rebounding in time for the start of the SEC season, the Bulldogs have turned into college basketball's ultimate spoiler.

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