Georgia Bulldogs hope for NIT bid as roster decisions loom

Georgia center Russel Tchewa (54) battles Florida's Micah Handlogten (3) and Will Richard (5) for a loose ball during a game at the SEC tournament Thursday, March 14, 2024, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Georgia center Russel Tchewa (54) battles Florida's Micah Handlogten (3) and Will Richard (5) for a loose ball during a game at the SEC tournament Thursday, March 14, 2024, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

NASHVILLE — Following their second-round loss to Florida on Thursday night in the SEC tournament, the Georgia Bulldogs made it clear they would happily accept an NIT bid, should one be forthcoming. But regardless of whether there will be a postseason for them, personnel decisions already are having to be made.

In the age of the transfer portal, rosters are forever in flux. That’s especially been the case for Georgia. The Bulldogs have underclassmen and upperclassmen who must decide whether to continue their careers at UGA or take their talents elsewhere.

Likewise, Georgia’s coaching staff must decide whether to proceed with certain players or seek to replace them via the transfer portal. Chances are the Bulldogs’ roster will look markedly different than the one that lost to the Gators 85-80 at Bridgestone Arena on Thursday night.

For basketball, the 45-day transfer portal window opens Monday.

“It’s a two-way street, right?” Georgia second-year coach Mike White said as Thursday night became Friday morning. “What’s the expectation? What are you looking for? What are your other options? Staffs have options and players have options. It’s just what it is.”

The Bulldogs have a strong core of young players around which to build should they choose to stick together. That was evident Thursday night as freshmen Silas Demary Jr., Blue Cain and Dylan James each started, as they all did down the stretch this season. Mari Jordan, another freshman, redshirted because of injuries.

Demary, a 6-foot-5 point guard from Raleigh, North Carolina, was named to the SEC All-Freshman team after starting every game but one. That was to allow Justin Hill to start on Senior Night.

“After the season, guys will have to look into what they want to do,” said Demary, who led the Bulldogs with 14 points Thursday night. “Obviously, me, Dylan and Blue, Mari, we talk about it here and there. But everybody has their own decision to make. I’ll just get with my family, and we’ll just look at what’s best for me.

“Obviously, I love it here. I feel like all the guys do. We’re just going to take our time and not rush anything.”

Seniors such as Hill, Jabri Abdur-Rahim, Frank Anselem-Ibe and Matthew-Alexander Moncrieffe have eligibility remaining. Likewise, decisions have to made regarding juniors RJ Melendez and Jalen DeLoach. Graduate students such as Noah Thomasson, Russel Tchewa and RJ Sunahara must move on.

“For me, this is it,” said Thomasson, Georgia’s leading scorer with 13 points per game. “Hopefully, Sunday we will hear our name called so we can play again. If not, I’m forever thankful for this opportunity. I thank coach White for the chance to play in the SEC, which is a dream come true for a guy who had zero opportunities coming out of high school and went to junior college. I’m forever thankful for this opportunity, and I’m glad to be able to say I’m forever a Georgia Bulldog.”

Regardless of their futures, odds are better than most realize this group may have an opportunity to play again. The NIT selection process is different this year. The 32-team has changed its selection criteria to include two teams each from the Power 6 conferences, which includes the Big East.

According to noted ESPN “bracketologist” Joe Lunardi, Mississippi State (20-12) and Texas A&M (19-13) have clinched spots in the NCAA field. That leaves LSU (17-14), Ole Miss (20-11) and Georgia (17-16) as the SEC teams under consideration for the NIT.

There have been numerous published reports indicating that the Rebels, in their first season under Chris Beard, informed the NIT selection committee they’re not interested in playing. That would leave LSU and the Bulldogs as the likely participants.

NIT bids will be announced at 9:30 p.m. Sunday night, well after the NCAA Tournament’s selection show. The Bulldogs would be thrilled to keep playing.

“I feel like we’ve got some big-time Quad-1 wins, wins over some teams that will be in the NCAA Tournament on Sunday. So, I feel like we deserve to be in the NIT,” Demary said. “A win tonight would have stamped us into it, but I feel like we’ve done well enough to be in that conversation.”

The Bulldogs checked out of their hotel Friday morning to fly back to Athens. White said he’ll conduct exit interviews with all the players, as per usual, but not until the season definitely is over.

Behind the scenes, some decisions already have been made.

“You recruit to a certain extent, but you also want guys that really want to be where they are,” White said. “You want guys who really want to be a part of your program. We’ll figure that out.”

In due time.