The good news about Georgia Tech’s loss to Grambling State on Friday night is that it hasn’t necessarily killed the Yellow Jackets’ NCAA Tournament hopes less than a month into the season.
“Nothing’s fatal December 1,” CBS Sports bracketologist Jerry Palm told the AJC. “Nothing’s fatal. In terms of how it’s really going to impact them, we won’t know that till March.”
That said, Palm did acknowledge that it’s a pretty significant smudge on the Jackets’ résumé, one that will matter should Tech be a bubble team at the end of the season.
“It’s a huge negative unless Grambling State is something we don’t think they are,” he said. “If Georgia Tech is in position to be judged by the (tournament selection) committee, then it’ll be the worst loss on the board (among all bubble teams).”
Tech has already compromised its chances to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2010 by putting together a rather weak non-conference schedule. Out of 13 non-conference games, six are against teams that finished last season with RPI rankings between 315th and 349th, third from the bottom. Another three are against opponents that had RPI rankings between 100 and 200. (Tech’s non-conference schedule does also include UCLA, Northwestern and Georgia, all inside last year’s final top 55.)
The decision to schedule soft may have been deemed necessary for a team relying on so many young players, and the experience gained stands to prove valuable this season and beyond. However, beyond not impressing the selection committee, those games carried the risk of actually losing (at home, no less).
Tech’s vulnerability only increased when guards Josh Okogie and Tadric Jackson were suspended six and three games, respectively, for violating NCAA rules. Friday was Okogie’s final game of his suspension. Coach Josh Pastner has said he may not be ready to play until the start of the ACC schedule on December 30 due to an infection in the finger he dislocated.
Friday, that risk of defeat was realized. According to ESPN, Grambling State had lost 63 games against power-conference competition by an average of 34.7 points.
“You don’t want to be a team on the bubble when you’ve got that on your resumé,” Palm said. “You have to understand you’re judged on 35, 34 games or however many it is, not just one. But that’s going to be pretty ugly.”
Regarding the defeat, the best-case scenario is that Grambling State turns out to be much better than expected. Texas Southern was the highest-ranked team out of the SWAC last year, finishing with an RPI of 103. However, the next highest-rated team was 227 and the third-highest rated team was 306. And Grambling State was picked to finish seventh in the 10-team league and was 1-5 before Friday.
Perhaps what Tech has to do, given its non-conference schedule and its Grambling State loss, is to win enough games to be securely in the field when the NCAA Tournament selection arrives. That might mean winning the final seven non-conference games, starting with a home game against Tennessee Sunday, and then perhaps going 11-7 in the ACC for a record of 22-9 going into the ACC Tournament.
It's a lot to ask. But the Jackets have a lot to overcome after Friday. Pastner said there was no denying that it was a bad loss for the Jackets.
“We’re going to have to find a way to pick up one or two for this loss (Friday),” he said.