Georgia Tech’s faint hopes on making the NCAA tournament rest on a deep run into the ACC tournament that will start Tuesday in Brooklyn, N.Y.
The odds are against them, but the No. 11 seed Yellow Jackets’ course could be worse. Tech will start Tuesday with a 7 p.m. matchup against No. 14 seed Pitt, a team that the Jackets came from behind to beat this past Tuesday. If the Jackets advance, they would play No. 6 seed Virginia on Wednesday.
And, should they upset the Cavaliers, the Jackets would then take on No. 3 seed Notre Dame on Thursday night in the quarterfinals. In order, that’s a team that appears to be reeling that the Jackets beat by controlling down the stretch (Pitt), a team whose shooting has run hot-and-cold that Tech lost to in January but is likely not afraid of (Virginia) and a team that the Jackets split with and that might have been their preferred opponent among the top four seeds (No. 1 North Carolina, No. 2 Florida State and No. 4 Louisville are the others).
“We saw our last game against Pitt as a Super Bowl,” forward Quinton Stephens said. “We knew it was a must win. This is even more of a must win in order to get to where we want to go to. We’re locked in.”
Would winning three games in Brooklyn be enough? It depends on who is being asked. The question was put to three bracket experts following Tech’s loss at Syracuse Saturday – Jerry Palm of CBS Sports, ESPN’s Joe Lunardi and Andy Bottoms of the blog Assembly Call, judged to be the most accurate bracket projector of the past five years by a website that has filled society’s need for bracketologist rankings.
In a text message, Palm said that Tech needs to win the ACC tournament to get in. Lunardi responded by e-mail that Tech needs two wins to be in the conversation and three for legitimate consideration. An e-mail from Bottoms said that the Jackets need to win three games at an absolute minimum.
For his part, Tech coach Josh Pastner said that Tech is “a lock” if it wins two games in Brooklyn.
While Tech boasts an abundance of big wins, with four wins over RPI top-25 teams (North Carolina, Florida State, VCU and Notre Dame), the Jackets are 2-10 away from McCamish Pavilion (Tech gave VCU its only home loss of the season). Record in road- and neutral-site venues is weighed heavily by the NCAA selection committee. The Jackets’ non-conference strength of schedule is 271st, a major strike against.
Pitt has lost four games in a row, including a 61-52 defeat to the Jackets at McCamish Pavilion last Tuesday. At the end of a frustrating season, the Panthers might be a candidate to back down if Tech can overwhelm them early on.
The winner’s second-round opponent, Virginia, has been more vulnerable than in years past. The Cavaliers lost four in a row in February (two in overtime), the longest UVA losing streak since coach Tony Bennett’s first season in 2009-10, and endured a prolonged shooting slump.
Notre Dame would be fresh and playing a Tech team that had played two games in as many days and, if form holds, will have given six or even five players nearly all the minutes. But Tech matches up well with the Irish; their games invariably end up being decided late.
And should Tech somehow upset Notre Dame, the most likely opponent would be No. 2 seed Florida State, which the Jackets hammered 78-56 Jan. 25.
The Jackets will pay none of it no mind for now.
“You have no chance to get to Wednesday if you don’t take care of business on Tuesday,” Pastner said. “Our only focus has to be Tuesday. It’s do or die.”