Reassessing Georgia and LSU’s NCAA Tournament Prospects

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on November 28th, 2014

Georgia entered this season with hopes of making its first NCAA tournament appearance since 2010-11. That expectation didn’t seem far-fetched since the Bulldogs are coming off a 20-win campaign in 2013-14 and return most of their core contributors. LSU entered this season with similar expectations, largely because of the NBA potential of Jordan Mickey and Jarell Martin. Two weeks in both teams are already saddled with two losses, which begs the question, should we re-adjust our expectations for the Bulldogs and the Tigers?

LSU has been unable to overcome off-nights from either Jordan Mickey or Jarell Martin (

LSU has been unable to overcome off-nights from either Jordan Mickey or Jarell Martin (

To me, LSU has been the most disappointing team in the SEC. Missouri and South Carolina have more losses, but neither was expected to finish in the top quarter of the league. The Tigers dropped neutral site games to Old Dominion (KenPom #100) and Clemson (#93), and needed a late rally to beat Texas Tech (#114) at home. Early season losses to power conference teams and historically-respectable mid-majors (like ODU) are not a sin. But the simple fact is that these are games the Tigers should be winning if they are the team many thought they could be.

It’s frustrating from a resume standpoint, but it’s also frustrating because it leads to questions over whether LSU can actually be good enough to be in the tournament discussion. Mickey is rebounding and blocking shots as expected, and has the sixth-best effective field goal percentage (56.2%) in the SEC despite all the defensive attention. Aside from a rough game against ODU, which was mostly due to foul trouble, he’s been fine. Martin has been a force on the glass and a consistent source of offense, but he struggled to score (3-of-10, 7 points) in the loss to Clemson. The problem is that right now the Tigers can’t afford an off-night from either of their stars. Johnny Jones has gotten precious little from his freshmen class – Aaron Epps, Elbert Robinson, Jalyn Patterson – and that’s been killer for a team that already had depth concerns. I still think that the ceiling is there for the Tigers but the freshmen need to take a step forward, and it’s not always fair to expect freshmen to do that. We may sometimes forget that in the era of one-and-done Kentucky super teams.

Georgia, on the other hand, seems to have a little bit more life. Their opening night loss to Georgia Tech (#90) wasn’t ideal but it’s understandable: playing a major conference team right out of the gate isn’t easy. The Bulldogs also missed an opportunity against Gonzaga Wednesday night, but the way they competed is encouraging. After falling into a 12-2 hole Georgia was more or less even the rest of the game, eventually losing 88-76. No one could stop Kyle Wiltjer, but the Bulldogs stayed in the game against KenPom’s 23rd ranked defense and 7th ranked offense. They also did this without getting much from Kenny Gaines and fell victim to a monumental free throw shooting display by the Zags (32-of-35). I’m always hesitant to talk about moral victories but the Zags look like an elite team and Georgia went toe-to-toe with them for a majority of that game.

At the end of the day neither Georgia nor LSU is completely out of the NCAA picture. But they entered the season with a small margin for error given the SEC’s flimsy reputation and have done nothing to change that perception thus far. The Tigers have a chance to wash away the negativity next week with a home game against UMass and a road game against a ranked West Virginia team. Sweep that week and they probably negate the damage that has already been done. For its part Georgia has games left against Minnesota, Seton Hall, Colorado and Kansas State, and winning three of those four without any other slip ups should position them nicely entering SEC play. The paths are there for both teams to bounce back from disappointing starts, the question is whether they can take advantage of them.

Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) (231 Posts)

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