The final game before the NCAA tournament brackets were unveiled was perhaps the most improbable conference tournament climax in recent memory. Coming into the SEC tournament with a sub-.500 overall record, Georgia stunned Arkansas 66-57 to win both the SEC championship and plane tickets to a March Madness game.
Now, I've never felt any kind of remorse for University of Georgia athletics. After all, they're one of the more dominant teams in the SEC. They really don't need anyone's pity.
Not even when football coach Mark Richt made the rounds back in December saying his team should have had the opportunity to play for the BCS championship, even though they didn't qualify for their conference title game. And not when former basketball coach Jim Harrick gave his teams ridiculously easy quizzes for college credit.
And not even this weekend, when nasty weather caused the SEC mens basketball tournament to change venues from the state-of-the-art 71,000-seat Georgia Dome in Atlanta to the cozy 9,200-seat Alexander Memorial Coliseum (Georgia Tech's home court). Tornadoes in the area caused damage to the Georgia Dome, halting the Alabama-Mississippi State game and delaying Georgia's quarterfinal match against Kentucky from Friday night to Saturday afternoon.
Nope, no reason to feel sorry for Georgia.
The Bulldogs pulled off an overtime upset of Kentucky, 60-56. Six hours later, the 'Dawgs had to play Mississippi State, which was unfair because this was their second game on the day, while State's last game was the previous night.
Still no pity.
Georgia somehow won that game, 64-60. (It's probably best to point out now that Georgia was the second-to-last seed in the SEC championship, going 4-12 in the conference and 13-16 overall, entering the tournament.) The next afternoon was the championship game against Arkansas, who not only didn't play two games on Saturday, their most recent game was earlier than Georgia's.
And the Rodney Dangerfield complex still hadn't kicked in.
Nor did Georgia head coach Dennis Felton ever let the tantrum mentality set in. Indeed, life was unfair to the Georgia Bulldogs, because those tornadoes were the reason the team had to play two games between sunrises. But those tornadoes also were unfair to others in the Atlanta area, two of whom lost their lives in the storms. The weather is uncontrollable, whereas a single basketball game was within the power of this team. (Although, well, judging by that 13-16 record, they had difficulty with that as well.)
At one point in the first half, the 'Dawgs had a 30-11 lead. The miraculous run looked to be over as the Hogs cut that deficit to 56-53 with under 4 minutes remaining, but again, Georgia didn't whine and moan that the insurmountable lead they built had been practically overcome. They'd clearly been through enough to blow it at this juncture, and they hung on down the stretch to win the trophy.
Besides, the tournament wasn't completely unfair to them. They were in their home state and had a noticeable majority of the fans were wearing red and black.
So after a whirlwind of storms and emotions, Georgia was rewarded with a 14 seed in the NCAA championship tournament, joining the ranks of mid-tier conference champs Cal State Fullerton, Boise State, and Cornell. Their first opponent will be Atlantic 10 alpha delegate Xavier — no easy task. Again, a win is stacked against their odds, because like the Colorado Rockies bullrush through the National League, the team now must sleep for multiple days before playing a game again. If the game was tomorrow, I might say Georgia could ride the adrenaline and beat the Musketeers.
Of course, perhaps that's not being fair to them. But, given what we learned this weekend, it's not like it would affect them either way.