The Georgia Bulldogs, viewed by many as being on the outside looking in, not only got invited Sunday to the NCAA basketball tournament but will be a 10 seed playing three hours from campus.
Georgia, an at-large selection from the Southeastern Conference, will open NCAA play Friday night in the East Region at Charlotte against seventh-seeded Washington, an automatic qualifier after winning the Pac-10 tournament. The Bulldogs are 21-11 overall, but their 9-9 record after a 12-2 start had the numerous analysts pegging them squarely on the proverbial bubble.
"When you compared our body of work to some of the other teams supposedly on the bubble, I felt confident," second-year Georgia coach Mark Fox said Sunday night. "This is about a four-month marathon and not a four-day postseason tournament, and I think sometimes people forget that. I had a good feeling, but you never know."
CBS will televise the Georgia-Washington game Friday night, with tip-off around 9:45.
The Bulldogs have never faced Washington but have opened NCAA play in Charlotte before, getting stunned as a 3 seed in 1997 by the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. They have not advanced in the NCAA tournament since 2002 and last won two games to reach the Sweet 16 in 1996.
ESPN's Joe Lunardi, the most recognized prognosticator when it comes to the NCAA tournament, had Georgia and Alabama among his first four teams out of the 68-team field before the selections were made. The Bulldogs had a far superior RPI compared to the Crimson Tide but lost to Alabama twice this month.
Alabama did not make the NCAA tournament, a subject NCAA committee chairman Gene Smith addressed on CBS.
"A lot of people put head-to-head as a high priority in their criteria for different situations, but there were things with Alabama that did not stack up compared to the other teams that became blemishes," Smith said. "All these teams have blemishes and assets and things of that nature that we paid attention to as far as what their total resume is. At the end of the day, they just didn't get enough votes."
Former Auburn and longtime NBA standout Charles Barkley believes Georgia's placement was arguably the most intriguing aspect in the tournament's revealing.
"People may have had them in their last four in or in their first four out, but nobody had them as a 10," Barkley said.
While the Bulldogs are led by the junior trio of 6-10 forward Trey Thompkins (16.1 points per game), 6-4 guard Travis Leslie (14.5) and 6-1 guard Gerald Robinson (12.2), the 23-10 Huskies also have three players who average in double figures. Leading the way is 5-9 junior guard Isaiah Thomas and his 16.8-point clip.
According to Washington's website, Thomas was named after former Indiana University and Detroit Pistons guard Isaiah Thomas when his father, James, lost a friendly wager on a Lakers-Pistons playoff game in 1989. The name was approved by his mother, who desired a biblical name.