March 11, 2009

Will history repeat?

Georgia interim coach Pete Herrmann checked the Weather Channel before heading down to Tampa, Fla. for the SEC Basketball Tournament. No hurricane warnings have been issued.

Of course, Herrmann was joking.

But considering how the Bulldogs withstood the tornado that hit the Georgia Dome during the 2008 tourney in Atlanta to shock the college basketball world, one can't blame him for clinging to the memory of last season.

"We can't have a hurricane I guess, so I guess we're out of luck in that regard," Herrmann said. "I know the people in Tampa don't want that, but last year was crazy, and when I write my book about my 40 years in coaching, then that's going to be one of the highlights."

When Georgia challenges Mississippi State in Thursday's opening round game of the SEC Tournament being held at the St. Pete Times Forum, few people are giving Herrmann and his Bulldogs much of a chance.

Just like last year, the Bulldogs come into the tourney as barely an afterthought after finishing the season 12-19, 3-19 in the SEC, albeit with one major exception.

Dennis Felton is no longer the head coach after being let go in midseason and replaced by Herrmann, who has led the Bulldogs to a 3-4 record over their past seven games.

While the memory of last year's postseason miracle remains relatively fresh, Herrmann said the Bulldogs haven't given it a moment's thought. They have, however, talked in depth about walking into the Forum with a particular sense of purpose and resolve.

"We have not talked about last year at all. All we've talked about is going to Tampa and act like the defending champions that we are," he said. "We've practiced that way and we're getting ready for Thursday's game with the idea that we are the defending champions of the SEC Tournament. That's the way we've got to do it."

Senior Terrance Woodbury said he and his teammates just have to believe, even if nobody else will.

"We're going in thinking we can win," Woodbury said. "We did it last year, so why not again? If we go in thinking we're going to lose, what's the use in going at all?"

That's just the kind of attitude Herrmann hopes to see from all his players.

"That's what I mean by practicing and carrying yourself like champions," Herrmann said. "I don't mean acting boisterous or flaunting anything. It just means going out with the idea that you are the defending champion, the idea that you can win four games in three days if you have do. Going in you've got to act that way and feel that way. If that builds confidence in your players, then that's a good thing."

Herrmann hopes it's the Georgia team that came back strong in the second half against Mississippi State during the team's 67-61 loss in Athens that shows up this second time around.

Mississippi State (19-12, 9-7) jumped out to a 36-24 lead, which included a 15-2 run to open the game while Georgia turned the ball over 16 times and allowed Ravern Johnson to score 21 points in the first 20 minutes of play.

A different Georgia team took the floor the second half, outscoring MSU 37-31, at one point cutting the margin to two points before the Starkville Bulldogs pulled away sending UGA to what at the time was its sixth consecutive defeat.

Mississippi State isn't looking past Herrmann's squad.

The two teams met in last year's tornado-displaced semifinals at Georgia Tech when Georgia staked a 64-60 stunner to continue its miraculous run toward the title.

Thursday also marks the 11th meeting between MSU and the Bulldogs in the SEC Tournament, with Georgia holding an 8-2 advantage.

Mississippi State (19-12, 9-7) enters postseason play led in scoring (13.0) and rebounding (9.0) by the two-time defending SEC Defensive Player of the Year, Jarvis Varnado. Dee Bost, who was named to the SEC's All-Freshman team earlier this week, leads MSU with 135 assists and is averaging 11.5 points.

"We're certainly not overlooking Georgia," MSU assistant Phil Cunningham said. "We remember what they did to us last year, and you look at the fact they've gone 3-4 over their past seven games, we know it's going to be a challenge."

Herrmann is just hoping for the best.

"It's obvious when they're (Mississippi State) has got it clicking, they're very good," he said. "Dee Bost has been a real catalyst for them. They've got the potential to be as dangerous as anybody."

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