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Copyright 2014 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution


The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Doug Roberson; Staff

With teams representing the ACC, SEC, Sun Belt, Atlantic Sun and Southern conferences, it's difficult to know which college men's basketball team rules Georgia. Though they sometimes play each other during the season, they have never faced off in any kind of statewide tournament-style format.

Coaches or athletic directors at Georgia, Georgia State, Mercer and Kennesaw State are preliminarily interested in the possibility of facing each other in an annual in-state event.

Georgia Athletic Director Greg McGarity said he would like to see a proposal.

Georgia Tech coach Brian Gregory isn't sure such an event would fit into his team's crowded nonconference schedule, but said, "Let's revisit that down the road."

The benefits of such a tournament would go beyond bragging rights for fans. It could also enhance the profile of college basketball in the state and create a set of meaningful games in December when schools customarily struggle for attendance.

"I love the idea!" Kennesaw State Athletic Director Vaughn Williams said in an email. "(Coach) Lewis (Preston) and I have talked about this since the day we got here. And now with all of us going to be in different conferences, I think it works even better."

One of the bigger issues, as Gregory noted, would be fitting the event into each team's schedule. Georgia Tech, for example, already participates in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. The Yellow Jackets also already have several home-and-home nonconference games set.

Working around final exams and conference games also impacts the scheduling puzzle.

"It's a solid concept. The challenge would be finding dates that would work for all of the schools," Georgia State Athletic Director Cheryl Levick said.

Other issues --- a site, a TV partner, a title sponsor --- have potential answers.

Trey Feazell, senior vice president and general manager of Philips Arena, said the arena would be interested in exploring the event as a possible host.

TV might also pursue such an event.

"Fox Sports South would be very interested in discussing television coverage opportunities for a college basketball tournament consisting of the major colleges and universities throughout Georgia," according to Jeff Genthner, senior vice president and general manager of Fox Sports South.

Dan Corso, executive director of the Atlanta Sports Council, said his organization also would be interested.

He said the council could assist companies that are curious about title sponsorship.

"Georgia has some of the most passionate basketball fans anywhere, and this would create an even higher level of excitement for the sport, especially early in the season," Corso said. "There are a number of factors that go into planning such an event and we would have to assess its feasibility.

"But if the interest is there among the schools, we would welcome the opportunity to participate in a discussion."

December appears to be the logical time for such an event, since drawing crowds that month is historically difficult.

Georgia Tech hosted three games in December this season with an average announced attendance of 6,125 in 8,600-seat McCamish Pavilion. Georgia hosted four games in December with an average announced attendance of 5,906 in 10,523-seat Stegeman Coliseum.

Numbers like those is one of the reasons Mercer coach Bob Hoffman said an in-state tournament would help everyone.

"I think it would be huge in Atlanta just for promoting basketball," he said. "I know it's hard for Georgia Tech and Georgia around Christmas to get big games. If they all paraded the rest of us through, playing in Philips Arena ..."

An in-state event is hardly a new concept.

Philadelphia's Big Five (Temple, La Salle, Villanova, St. Joseph's and Penn) work their schedules so that each team faces the others at least once per season. Rivals Xavier and Cincinnati play each other in the "Crosstown Classic." Indiana, Butler, Purdue and Notre Dame have recently started to participate in a doubleheader in Indianapolis called the "Crossroads Classic."

Some of Georgia's teams play each other, but most meetings are inconsistently scheduled.

Georgia and Georgia Tech have faced each yearly since 1923, usually playing in December the past four decades.

Georgia Tech defeated Kennesaw State this year in their first meeting since the Owls famously defeated them in 2010. The Bulldogs last played Kennesaw State five seasons ago and lead the series 2-0.

Georgia Tech hasn't played Georgia State since 2008-09 and leads the series 17-2. Georgia last played Georgia State in 2005-06 and leads the series 5-2.

The Yellow Jackets last played Mercer two years ago and lead the series 28-17. Georgia played Mercer last season and leads the series 54-23.

If anything, Georgia's basketball hierarchy has been in flux in recent years.

The state's two flagship programs, Georgia and Georgia Tech, haven't been able to win with any consistency and have only one NCAA tournament appearance each since the 2009-10 season.

The best team over the past five years has arguably been Mercer, but few fans around the state might know. The Bears haven't been able to win the Atlantic Sun tournament, which would guarantee a place in the NCAA tournament.

The best team right now may be Georgia State, which is riding a school-record 14-game winning streak. But its lack of history has made it difficult for the Panthers to earn the media spotlight.

As long as the Panthers and Bears can sustain their success, it might behoove the Bulldogs and Yellow Jackets to play their in-state foes with greater frequency to strengthen their nonconference schedules.

The Bears have the highest RPI (67) of any state team entering Monday's play. Mercer ranks ahead of Georgia State (tied at 90), Georgia (114), Georgia Tech (t-142) and Kennesaw State (t-324).

"You have enough mid-majors and high-majors to make (a tournament) interesting," Kennesaw State interim coach Jimmy Lallathin said. "We're kind of already doing it in ways, but it would be nice to consolidate it."

The conference carousel won't clarify the situation with more changes to come next season. Georgia Southern, another interesting candidate, will move from the Southern Conference into the Sun Belt, joining Georgia State. Mercer will leave the Atlantic Sun for the Southern Conference.

In the new alignment, the state's largest schools will still be spread over five conferences, which does little to settle a hoops water-cooler argument. If only there were an in-state tournament.

"There's no reason teams in this state shouldn't play each other," Georgia State coach Ron Hunter said.

 

February 11, 2014

 

 
 

 

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