Georgia in NCAA Tournament for first time since 2011

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

Chicago — Michigan State holds the better seed, but it won't be facing a slouch when it takes on No. 10 Georgia in its opening game of the NCAA Tournament on Friday.

Michigan State is the No. 7 seed in the East Region and will play in Charlotte, N.C., against a Bulldogs team that is making its first appearance in the tournament since 2011. The last time Georgia played in the NCAA Tournament, it was the 10th-seeded team in Charlotte.

This time around coach Mark Fox will be bringing in a team that won 20 games and finished tied for third place in the Southeastern Conference for the second straight season.

Georgia relies on a stifling man-to-man defense and teams have to be patient to beat the Bulldogs. They've had their share of solid wins this season — Colorado, Seton Hall, Kansas State, Ole Miss (twice) — and played No. 1 and unbeaten Kentucky as well as anyone in the conference.

Kentucky was outrebounded just five times during the regular season and Georgia accomplished that in both meetings — a 69-58 loss on the road and a 72-64 setback at home that was close until the final minutes.

Forward Marcus Thornton is Georgia's top player. Healthy this season, Thornton led the Bulldogs by averaging 12.2 points and seven rebounds. He earned second-team All-SEC honors and was also named to the league's all-defensive team.

J.J. Frazier is a guard who is capable of having an offensive outburst, scoring 37 points in a game against Mississippi State, a game in which he made all seven of his 3-pointers.

There are also plenty of interesting connections between Georgia and Michigan State.

Fox, who was the coach at Nevada before coming to Georgia, was an assistant at Nevada when it upset Michigan State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in 2004. The seedings were the same then, as well, with Michigan State a seven and Nevada a No. 10.

Also, Georgia's operations coordinator and former walk-on guard Matt Bucklin is the nephew of Spartans head coach Tom Izzo.

And Bulldogs freshman Yante Maten from Bloomfield Hills was offered a scholarship last season from the Spartans. The 6-foot-8 forward had his two best conference games against Kentucky, scoring 13 points and grabbing nine rebounds in the first meeting before scoring eight points, pulling down seven rebounds and recording three blocks in the second game.

Georgia Bulldogs

2014-15 season: 21-11 overall, 11-7 Southeastern Conference (tied 3rd)

Coach: Mark Fox (208-120 overall in 10 seasons, 85-77 in 5 seasons at Georgia)

NCAA Tournament record: 7-11 (last appearance in 2011)

Record vs. 2015 tourney teams: 2-6

Record vs. MSU: This will be the first meeting between the two teams

Top players: Marcus Thornton (12.3 ppg, 7.2 rpg), Kenny Gaines (11.6 ppg, 54 3-pointers), Charles Mann (10.9 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 3.7 apg)

Of note: Former Bloomfield Hills High star Yante Maten is a freshman. He played in 31 games, including two starts, and averaged 5.1 points and 4.3 rebounds per game.