More March sadness in store for men’s college basketball in the state

None of the six D1 teams likely to make NCAA tournament
Georgia Tech guard Michael Devoe (0) holds his piece of the net as he celebrates his team's 80-75 win over Florida State in the Championship game of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament in Greensboro, N.C., Saturday, March 13, 2021. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

Credit: Gerry Broome

Credit: Gerry Broome

Georgia Tech guard Michael Devoe (0) holds his piece of the net as he celebrates his team's 80-75 win over Florida State in the Championship game of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament in Greensboro, N.C., Saturday, March 13, 2021. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

The chances are high that the best event on the domestic sports calendar will take place without an entry from the state of Georgia. Once again, we’ll watch the best college players from Georgia help schools elsewhere create memories in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.

It seems there’s not much sadness about the lack of March Madness in the state. It feels more like resignation and indifference.

The state’s two Power Five programs, Georgia and Georgia Tech, keep meeting low expectations. The Bulldogs (15-13) and Yellow Jackets (12-16) each have managed only two NCAA tournament appearances since 2009. Kennesaw State (2023) and Georgia State (2022) earned bids to recent tourneys. The Owls (15-14) and Panthers (13-16) aren’t likely to do it again this year.

GSU and KSU have tougher roads to get the Big Dance — they must win one-and-done league tournaments to get a bid — and yet they’ve punched above their weight while UGA and Tech underachieve. Georgia State has made the NCAA tournament three times since 2009. KSU only started playing Division I men’s basketball in 2005-06 and already made the tourney.

Georgia and Georgia Tech play more difficult schedules than GSU and KSU. They also spend a lot more on basketball and can earn at-large tournament bids. The Bulldogs and Jackets have a realistic chance of signing the best recruits from this talent-rich state. The problem is that, for more than 20 years, most of the top prospects from the state have decided to cross the border to play college basketball.

According to the Rivals database, there have been 147 four- and-five star recruits from Georgia in the classes from 2002-24 (including eligible players from Midtown’s Overtime Elite league, which began play in 2022). Georgia Tech and Georgia each signed or got pledges from 11 of those 147 recruits and Georgia State signed one. That means 92% of blue-chip recruits from Georgia over the past 23 years decided to play college basketball outside of the state.

Not as many of those players signed with the usual suspects as you may think. Kentucky, Duke and North Carolina got a combined 10 of the 147 blue-chippers from Georgia from 2002-24. Those programs recruit nationally and can take only so many players.

You’d think the Jackets and Bulldogs would figure out a way to keep more of the state’s best prospects here. That’s especially true when so many of them opt for an equally modest program in another state like, say, Auburn. The Tigers have signed 14 blue-chip players from Georgia since 2002. All but two of them are Bruce Pearl’s recruits.

The Jackets and Bulldogs tried hiring coaches who would attract top recruits and win more games. It just didn’t work out for either program.

Georgia paid Tom Crean a lot of money to come to Athens. He’d guided Marquette and Indiana to nine NCAA tournaments in 18 years. Crean had coached a long list of future NBA players that included Dwyane Wade. He convinced another future NBA star, Anthony Edwards, to play at Georgia.

“Antman” joined a team that already had two former blue-chip recruits from Georgia, Nic Claxton and Rayshaun Hammonds. That 2019-20 Bulldogs team generated a lot of excitement in Athens but finished only 16-16. The Bulldogs hit rock bottom with a 6-26 record in 2021-22. Georgia fired Crean after that season and replaced him with ex-Florida coach Mike White.

Tech’s efforts to reclaim men’s basketball glory led to the hiring of Josh Pastner. He’d coached Memphis to four consecutive NCAA bids before things went sour. At Tech, Pastner managed one tourney bid in seven seasons (it might have been two if not for the canceled 2020 tourney). Tech replaced him with Damon Stoudamire, a long-time starter in the NBA and former coach at Pacific.

There are signs that White and Stoudamire could have success with keeping some of the state’s best players from leaving.

Stoudamire signed one Overtime Elite player from the 2024 class (Jaeden Mustaf) and got a commitment from another (Darrion Sutton). If they enroll at Tech, they’ll be the program’s first blue-chip recruits from the state since Marietta’s Glen Rice Jr. in 2009. Caleb Wilson of Holy Innocents’ in Sandy Springs reportedly visited Tech twice last year. He’s a consensus national top-five recruit for the 2025 class,

Georgia’s White got a commitment from Grayson’s Jacob Wilkins, the No. 31 recruit in the 2025 class, according to 247 Sports. White has done well with signing recruits from Florida. Georgia’s strong 2023 class included two four-star recruits from there and another, five-star forward Asa Newell, signed for 2024.

Maybe those players can help the Bulldogs and Jackets make the NCAA tournament again someday. In the meantime, fans of those programs are left to pine for the glory years. That’s assuming they are old enough to remember them.

The Yellow Jackets won five NCAA tournament games to reach the 2004 championship game. They were conquered by Connecticut’s two future NBA standouts, Emeka Okafor and Ben Gordon. Tech has won two tourney games since then while earning bids in only four of 18 tournaments.

Players from the past five classes recruiting classes weren’t born yet when the Bulldogs last won a tournament game (2002). Their parents might have a hard time remembering the last time Georgia made it past the tourney’s first weekend (1996). High schoolers can ask someone a little older about the time coach Hugh Durham and star player Vern Fleming led the Bulldogs to the 1983 Final Four.

Georgia (SEC) and Georgia Tech (ACC) won’t make the Dance this season unless they pull off an unexpected run to win their league tournaments. The state’s other four Division I men’s teams also need to get lucky: GSU (13-16), KSU (15-14), Georgia Southern (7-23) and Mercer (14-16).

We’ve seen that kind of magic happen before. Who can forget the sub-.500 Bulldogs winning the 2008 SEC tournament after a tornado struck the Georgia Dome? A COVID-19 outbreak forced Virginia to cancel its 2021 ACC semifinal game against Tech. That put the Jackets in their first league final since 2010, and they ended an 18-year drought by winning it.

Depending on natural disasters to intervene isn’t a sustainable model for making the NCAA tournament. The state’s two major programs, Georgia and Tech, haven’t figured out how to do it. The mid-majors fill the March gap sometimes but aren’t likely do it this year.

Once again, America’s best sporting event will feature plenty of players from Georgia but no teams.