Mark Bradley

Mark Bradley is a sports columnist and blogger for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Two awful losses put UGA on the highway to the danger zone

Mark Fox is not pleased. (AP photo/Athens Banner-Herald/AJ Reynolds.)

It was just the other day -- heck, it was just yesterday -- that some guy -- OK, this guy -- was saying the Georgia Bulldogs were still in good stead, NCAA tournament-wise. After further review ...

The Georgia Bulldogs aren't in good stead. They're in decent stead, but at the rate they're dropping they could play their way into the NIT, which would be a major reversal.

On Feb. 7, the Bulldogs' RPI was 24. They beat Tennessee that day and then won at Texas A&M to nose up to 20. Then then lost at home to Auburn, the SEC's second-worst team, and saw their RPI number slide to 30. Last night they fell, again at home, to South Carolina, which is the league's third-worst team. Their RPI is now 40, which means it has doubled in the span of four days.

Rule of thumb: You don't want your RPI doubling in February.

To borrow from "Better Call Saul," which was borrowing from a song from "Top Gun," Georgia is on a highway to the danger zone. Five regular-season games remain: Alabama, Ole Miss and Auburn on the road; Kentucky and Missouri at home. If the Bulldogs go 1-4 in those and the "1" isn't Kentucky, they could well miss the Big Dance.

Reality check: Georgia isn't apt to go 1-4 over these next five games. It will almost certainly beat Missouri, which is the SEC's doormat, and should beat Auburn. (I know. The Bulldogs should have beaten Auburn on Saturday but didn't.) Ole Miss in Oxford won't be easy. Kentucky will be a long shot.

The swing game on Georgia's schedule is, conveniently, the next one -- Alabama in Coleman Coliseum on Saturday. Bama isn't anything special and, with an RPI of 69, will provide no numerical boost should the Bulldogs win. But another loss would hurt badly. It would mean the Bulldogs had lost five of seven at time you shouldn't be losing five of seven.

When I saw the Bulldogs against Tennessee, I was under the impression that they weren't any better than they were at this time a year ago . Difference was, they hadn't gone 6-6 in non-conference play. They'd gone 9-3 against an upgraded schedule, which is why their RPI was so impressive. Having dipped to 7-6 in the SEC, it's less impressive.

Even with the emergence of Marcus Thornton, this remains a drive-and-kick -- mostly a drive-and-get-fouled -- team. Mark Fox's adoption of this offense caught SEC teams by surprise last season, but the novelty has faded. Teams are making the Bulldogs beat them from the perimeter, and it wasn't until J.J. Frazier hit three late treys over the Tennessee zone that what Fox called "a quality win" was assured.

But the bigger problem is focus, which should be a given: Three days after falling behind Auburn 14-6, Georgia fell behind South Carolina 34-13. Both games were at home against opponents that have no NCAA tournament chance, and there's no way these Bulldogs should be bored: Only Thornton was around in 2010-11, the only time Georgia has made the Big Dance under Fox.

A week, another such trip figured to be a fait accompli. Two unthinkable home losses have changed the dynamics. Nothing is assured now.

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About the Author

Mark Bradley is a sports columnist and blogger for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He has been with the AJC since 1984.