Tom Crean said that when the SEC portion of Georgia's schedule was released Friday, he thought it might be a prank.
The Bulldogs' first-year head coach was only half-kidding.
Georgia opens SEC play with successive Saturday games at defending SEC co-champions Tennessee (Jan. 5) and Auburn (Jan. 12), a home game with Vanderbilt sandwiched in between.
“That was a reality jolt,” Crean told reporters Friday in the Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall.
“You almost think when the first copy comes somebody sent you a prank, and then you realize that’s not true, that’s the way it’s going to be.”
Home games with Kentucky (Jan. 15) and Florida (Jan. 19) follow Georgia's trip to Auburn.
The Bulldogs have one of the more top-heavy schedules in the league, if early projections hold true.
“We have to make sure we don’t lose confidence going through a schedule like that; my first initial fear would be that,” Crean said. “We have to understand how little margin for error we have with an opening like that.”
Georgia has made one NCAA Tournament appearance the past seven years, in 2015.
The road to the Big Dance doesn’t figure to get any easier with SEC men’s basketball on the upswing. An SEC-record eight teams played in last season’s NCAA Tournament.
“If this was a stock, it would have already split, when you look at what’s going on with the league,” Crean said at SEC Spring Meeting in Destin, Fla., earlier this summer. “Three years ago, three teams (get in NCAA tourney), two years ago, five teams. This past year it was eight teams.”
The Bulldogs did catch a break from the league with a favorable placement of games early in the season. Georgia plays five consecutive Saturday home games between Jan. 19 and Feb. 16.
That stretch includes: Florida (Jan. 19), Texas (Jan. 26), South Carolina (Feb. 2), Ole Miss (Feb. 9) and LSU (Feb. 16).
“It’s paramount because it gives us opportunities to get a lot of people to sell out the building,” Crean said, “and certainly we don’t just want to sell it out on the weekends, we want to be able to do it on the weeknights.”
Georgia also has the good fortune of not having any back-to-back SEC basketball road games, though Crean hadn’t noticed even hours after the release.
“I haven’t studied the whole February part of it yet, going into March,” Crean said “I kinda got stuck on those first five games.
“We just have to keep getting better. I know it sounds like coachspeak, but it’s true.”
Georgia plays an exhibition games Nov. 1 at Stegeman Coliseum. The regular season begins Nov. 9 against Savannah State in Athens.
The Bulldogs finish the regular season at South Carolina on March 9 leading into the SEC Tournament, which runs March 13-17 in Nashville at Bridgestone Arena.
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