Tom Crean made it clear he wasn’t ready to reflect.
He said there will be a time to talk about Georgia’s rollercoaster season, from its perfect out-of-conference start to inconsistent SEC play and the dramatic tournament loss to Missouri on Thursday. Less than an hour after the Bulldogs’ 73-70 loss in Nashville — where the Tigers didn’t make a single field goal in the last six minutes — wasn’t the time to recap the year.
“I didn't say goodbye to my team in the locker room,” Crean said in a virtual postgame press conference. “And I'm certainly not going to reflect on the season just yet because my mind is not in either one of those places.”
Crean said he’s told the NCAA that Georgia wants to play in the National Invitation Tournament, and he has plenty of arguments to back up why the Bulldogs should be offered a bid. Crean said the Bulldogs’ competitiveness against tournament contenders in the SEC should give them the benefit of a 14-win doubt.
“I would really hope that we deserve it, because I think [the SEC] will have plenty of teams in the NCAA Tournament,” Crean said. “I think the fact we beat teams that are going to be in the NCAA tournament, I think that will hopefully serve us well.”
The NIT has been slashed in half this year, leaving 16 teams with a shot at postseason play outside of the NCAA Tournament.
The benefit? Crean said he wants his players to learn how to play in March — the practices, the game experience and the “value of what March is all about.”
“The last thing I want to do right now is not coach this team,” Crean said. “I told everybody after the game, the biggest thing we can do is take a couple of deep breaths, and let’s just see what happens.”
Crean didn’t reflect on the season broadly, but he praised the fight and passion he saw in the lead up to the SEC Tournament and on the court against Missouri. He said the carpet on the second floor of the Nashville Marriott at Vanderbilt University was worn out after the Bulldogs’ Wednesday night walkthrough.
That type of motivation isn’t something Crean wants to see end after the SEC Tournament.
“There’s teams this time of year that have really no interest in playing,” Crean said. “They’re just going through the motions. It’s passive aggressive, and that is not what this team is.”
In a game where both teams shot an identical 43.3% (26-60), the Tigers found their edge from the line. Georgia’s last 16 points were offset by Missouri’s last nine, all of which were free throws.
That kind of back-and-forth run could sum up the Bulldogs’ season, Wheeler admitted, but he’s not a fan of moral victories. Losses are losses, and this one brought Georgia to 14-12 (7-11 SEC).
“This is a first time experience for everybody, especially playing through a pandemic like COVID-19,” Wheeler said. “But it showed the heart and fight that we have as a team, not to quit and to not to bow down to anyone.”
Wheeler is optimistic for the future. Personally, he’s aiming for the top five of the SEC next year. But like Crean, Wheeler is holding out for the chance at a better ending than the one he suffered in Nashville.
“This group of guys, together, we have good chemistry,” Wheeler said. “We wish we could keep playing. Hopefully, [we are] praying that it's not over just yet.”