BOZICH | 5 Good (and Bad) Things about Kentucky playing Georgia, not Missouri
There are pluses -- and minuses -- to Kentucky playing underdog Georgia instead of Missouri in the Wildcats' opener in the SEC Tournament.
ST. LOUIS, Mo. (WDRB) – John Calipari wants you to believe that he cares more about finding the closest cup of Dunkin’ Donuts coffee than he does about winning the Southeastern Conference Tournament. These conference tournaments are the JV tournaments. What matters begins next week.
Calipari laughed and yelled, “Let’s Go! We’re playing in a tournament! Yeah!” as he concluded a short press conference Thursday night to discuss the Wildcats’ opening SEC Tournament assignment.
If Calipari was as disappointed as I was by the news that Kentucky will not see Missouri one-and-done freshman Michael Porter Jr., he did not show it. Georgia upset Missouri, 62-60, at the Scottrade Center, earning a quarterfinal game with Kentucky at 3:30 p.m. Friday.
That positions the Wildcats for a fast start in their push to win the SEC Tournament for the fourth consecutive season and for the sixth time in Calipari’s nine-year reign. Calipari might not be gaga about these parties, but his team wins more than its share.
Here is a look at The Good -- and The Bad – of Kentucky facing Georgia (18-14) instead of Missouri.
THE GOOD: Georgia made its way to the quarterfinals by toppling Vanderbilt and Missouri. That means the Bulldogs will be playing their third game in less than 48 hours, and coach Mark Fox does not have a deep and powerful squad.
It also means Kentucky won’t face the home-state school, which had a solid turnout Thursday. The crowd breakdown Friday is expected to be 17,017 Kentucky fans and nine Georgia friends and family members. Georgia fans are more concerned with how many fish quarterback Jake Fromm caught in his fishing tournament.
THE BAD: Beating Georgia won’t bump Kentucky up the NCAA Tournament seed lines. The Bulldogs are ranked No. 81 in the latest Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) formula. They're not NIT worthy.
On a neutral court that will only translate into a Quad II win for Kentucky. That’s nothing. And it would not be a good loss. The Wildcats are favored by five.
THE GOOD: Kentucky has won 10 straight games against Georgia, including three in the SEC Tournament since 2014.
THE BAD: The Wildcats played the Bulldogs this season, but not this year. Georgia visited Rupp Arena on New Year’s Eve. The visitors led into the final five minutes until a three-pointer by Shai Gilgeous-Alexander pushed Kentucky toward a 66-61 victory on a night when the Wildcats made only 32 percent of their shots.
Georgia front-court player Yante Maten was the best player in the SEC this season. He had 17 points and 12 rebounds in Rupp -- without playing great.
(Full disclaimer: The game was only two days after Kentucky handled Louisville.)
THE GOOD: This is not a great Georgia club. The Bulldogs were seeded 12th in this tournament. They have failed to win more than two consecutive SEC games all season. They lost to Massachusetts. They lost to Vanderbilt. They lost to Missouri.
THE BAD: The Bulldogs avenged the losses to Vanderbilt and Missouri in this tournament. Maten and freshman Rayshaun Hammonds make Georgia dangerous.
THE GOOD: As Georgia tumbled in the SEC standings, Fox rose on the Hot Seat coaching lists. At least one columnist in Georgia has already written it’s time for Georgia to change coaches. Fox has put the Bulldogs in the NCAA Tournament twice in his first eight seasons. Georgia lost a first-round game to Washington in 2011 and another first-round game to Michigan State in 2015.
According to my math, that is zero NCAA Tournament victories for a guy who started at Georgia the same season Calipari started at Kentucky. And you can find a player or two to recruit in Georgia.
THE BAD: The last Georgia coach that everybody put on the hot seat was former Western Kentucky coach Dennis Felton.
That was 2008. Felton had to win and keep winning in the SEC Tournament to keep his job.
Georgia beat Ole Miss in overtime. A horrible storm damaged the Georgia Dome and the SEC party was moved to Georgia Tech.
Energized, Georgia beat Kentucky in overtime. Then the Bulldogs toppled Mississippi State and Arkansas – and won the tournament.
Felton survived one more season – until Fox replaced him.
THE GOOD: Georgia is one of the worst offensive teams in the Southeastern Conference. The Bulldogs rank last in points per game at less than 69 and 12th in points per possession, according to Ken Pomeroy.
THE BAD: Georgia is a terrific defensive team, better than Kentucky. The Wildcats rank 19th nationally, and third in the SEC, in points per possession allowed. Vanderbilt shot 40.3 percent against Georgia. For Missouri, the number tumbled to 34.4 percent
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