One year ago, Georgia men’s basketball defeated Ole Miss in the first round of the SEC Tournament. The Bulldogs were slated to play No. 5 seed Florida in round two before the tournament was canceled due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
Georgia is seeded three places higher than last season at No. 10 and is matched up with a Missouri team it took down already once this season. The Bulldogs do take a two-game losing streak into the conference tournament, but head coach Tom Crean maintains they are ready.
“I think they have gotten better,” Crean said. “I think they were definitely dejected after the Alabama game. It took us a little bit of time to get through that but we have really worked to prepare and improve.”
Georgia last played Missouri on Feb. 16, when it came away with an 80-70 win. The Bulldogs came out of the game with a rare rebounding advantage against a Missouri team without its most dominant paint presence, Jeremiah Tilmon. He will play this time around.
“It gives us a lot of confidence going up against a team you previously beat,” said sophomore guard Sahvir Wheeler. “Especially when you beat them at home. But also we understand that it is going to be a new game with having one of their best players back with Jeremiah Tilmon.”
Rebounding has been an issue for Georgia throughout conference play and the addition of Tilmon into the matchup certainly adds pressure for Toumani Camara and Andrew Garcia to hold their own in the paint.
“It will have a tremendous impact,” Crean said. “He is as difficult a matchup as there is in the entire league bar none because of his size, his mobility, his strength and I am as sure as I am standing here that they are going to try to establish him in this game.”
Despite finishing with a 7-11 SEC record this season, the Bulldogs believe they can make a run in the conference tournament. They had a nice start last year with the 18-point victory over Ole Miss, but that team had something this one does not: the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft, Anthony Edwards.
Wheeler has played a major role in filling the void the Minnesota Timberwolves rookie left after only one year, even registering the first triple-double in Georgia basketball history earlier this season.
“Our goal is to win the SEC Tournament,” Wheeler said. “A successful run is getting there. Hopefully, us winning a couple of games here and getting to the championship, we could maybe sneak into the NCAA Tournament. That would be a successful run for me and I know all my teammates have those same goals and aspirations.”
The Bulldogs showed they can hang with nearly any team after bouncing back from a blowout to a close loss to Alabama, one of the SEC’s best. Georgia’s latest win came against another strong team in LSU where the Bulldogs thoroughly dominated a Tigers team with a legitimate tournament bid.
Wheeler said there is a new level of urgency at Georgia practices with each game having the possibility of being this season’s last.
“It is a win or go home,” Wheeler said. “They are going to come out desperate to win and so are we. It is going to be a dogfight.”