Georgia’s SEC Tournament run proves anything can happen in March

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 20, 2008

March 20, 2008

We could learn a lot from the Georgia Bulldogs basketball team.

We may not have wanted to see the Georgia, in a span of three days, knock Ole Miss from any chance at an NCAA bid and send Mississippi State to a No. 8 berth, but how they did it is instructive.

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It was a testament to perseverance. The tornado-rocked Southeastern Conference Tournament will be talked about for generations.

Georgia is not very good. The Bulldogs won four regular season conference games, had no winning streak longer than three games and entered the conference tournament as a No. 6 — and last — seed with little chance of advancing anywhere. Georgia lost to East Tennessee State by 18 points in December, for goodness sake.

But then Thursday came and the Bulldogs played deep into the night before notching a 97-95 overtime victory over Ole Miss. On Friday, a tornado ripped through Atlanta and tore off pieces of the Georgia Dome. Georgia’s game scheduled for Friday night against perennial power Kentucky was bumped to Saturday morning. The winner would then have to play again that night against SEC West champion Mississippi State. Not only that, but the games were moved to the home gym of Georgia’s biggest rival — Georgia Tech.

Georgia beat Kentucky and Mississippi State with only a short nap in between games. On Sunday, Georgia beat Arkansas for the Southeastern Conference championship and won a bid into the NCAA Tournament, which began this morning.

Can Georgia continue the magic? Likely not, but stories such as Georgia’s are what put the madness in March Madness.

This year’s field is as open as ever. Florida and Ohio State, last year’s championship teams, are nowhere to be found. The last time the final two didn’t make it back to the next NCAA Tournament was in 1980 when Michigan State and Indiana State failed to repeat.

This much is known: Mississippi Valley State better enjoy its trip to California to play UCLA because it won’t last long. No 16th-seeded team has ever beaten a No. 1 seed and the SWAC Tournament champs won’t be the first.

Mississippi State is a dangerous No. 8 seed and, provided the Bulldogs beat Oregon, they’ll get a second-round matchup against mighty Memphis. Many are downplaying Memphis’ chances because of the league in which they played. The Tigers are the only representatives from Conference USA and the weak conference schedule could come back to haunt them.

Mississippi State will be a tough draw for anyone. Jamont Gordon is a point guard in a forward’s body. Charles Rhodes can be as dominant as any player in the country. Jarvis Varnado could block a Tiger Woods’ tee-shot. They are dangerous and dare I say a Sweet 16 team this year.

Ole Miss began its quest on Wednesday in the Not Invited to the Tournament with a victory over UC-Santa Barbara. The Rebels have the ability to win the NIT, whatever that is worth.

Ole Miss fans should not feel too bad, though. Southern Miss, which returned four sophomore starters, didn’t qualify for the big dance or the little dance. There are 97 teams playing in the postseason and USM is not one of them, proving again Southern Miss basketball has a long, long way to go.


Sean P. Murphy is sports editor of The Vicksburg Post. E-mail him at