Following Georgia Tech’s loss to N.C. State Tuesday night at McCamish Pavilion, coach Josh Pastner laid out what he believed to be the requirements for the Yellow Jackets to get into the NCAA tournament – win two out of the final three regular-season games against No. 21 Notre Dame on Sunday, Pittsburgh on Tuesday and then at Syracuse in two Saturdays (March 4).
That would put Tech at 18-13 overall going into the ACC tournament and 9-9 in the ACC.
“If we get to nine wins (in ACC play), I truly believe we’re in,” Pastner said.
He also surmised that finishing 8-10 “should get you in the NCAA tournament in this league, but we’re probably going to have to do some damage in the ACC tournament – at least (win) one or two games.”
Pastner may be right (I’m not quite as convinced), but it explains why the loss to N.C. State was so costly. As CBS Sports bracketologist Jerry Palm explained, Tech is in a position of simply needing wins against anybody, having already racked up impressive victories over North Carolina, Notre Dame, Florida State and VCU. Of the Jackets’ final four regular-season opponents, the Wolfpack on paper looked like the least imposing opponent. Just to avoid adding to the loss pile, Tech really would have helped its cause by getting to 17-11 instead of 16-12. In short, the Jackets wasted a precious loss on the beatable Wolfpack.
Tech is now in a position of having to beat either Notre Dame or Syracuse on the road. A list of reasons why that will be a challenge:
Tech has lost six of its seven ACC road games.
Notre Dame and Syracuse are a combined 28-5 at home.
Both teams lost to Tech earlier this season in the final minute.
Both teams have plenty to play for – Notre Dame, tied for fourth in the ACC, would like to get a double bye in the ACC tournament by finishing in the top four. Syracuse is playing to get into the NCAA tournament.
I’m not convinced that finishing 9-9 in the league and 18-13 overall will be good enough. Going .500 in the ACC is impressive, but my understanding is that league record doesn’t really have much influence among selection committee members.
As former selection committee member Doug Fullerton explained to me, the strength of a conference is already accounted for in a team’s RPI and its strength of schedule. To then weigh a team by its league record, particularly in the case of a team like Tech (“You’ve got to get in if you’re .500 in the strongest league in the country”) is to double weight schedule strength. CBS Sports bracketologist Jerry Palm called conference record “trivia.”
The unbalanced schedule is a significant reason why conference record is allegedly not that important. It hasn’t gotten much attention, but Tech has made out fairly well with its ACC schedule this year. The four teams that it plays home-and-home series against this season – Notre Dame, Clemson, Syracuse and N.C. State – are a combined 26-35 in the league going into Wednesday’s games. By comparison, Pitt’s foursome are Louisville, North Carolina, Syracuse and Virginia. Combined record after Tuesday’s games: 37-21. A conference schedule isn’t as telling an indicator in the ACC as it is in conferences where every team plays every other team twice.
But, more to the point, 18-13 means that, unless Tech were to win the ACC tournament (which would render bubble talk moot), the Jackets would take a 14th loss, which is a lot. According to Palm, in the 23 years that he has studied and written about the selection process, there have been only seven teams with 14 losses that received at-large bids.
As Palm put it, with 14 losses, “you’re at a place that’s historically bad. Not historically zero, but historically bad.”
At 14 losses, Tech would have a number of strong wins to support its case, but its RPI (and probably its KenPom ranking) wouldn’t be convincing, nor would its non-conference strength of schedule. Further, it won’t have many road- or neutral-site wins, another criterion. As I wrote in a story last week, the “we’re a much better team now than in November” argument also doesn’t hold much water with the selection committee.
In the always popular “if the regular season ended today” scenario, Tech would play Boston College in a 10/15 game in the first round of the ACC tournament. The winner would play Virginia, and that winner would play Duke. In a scenario in which Tech were to finish 18-13 and 9-9, it would seem the Jackets would do well to win two rounds at least. And bear in mind, there's a good chance that the Jackets would be playing the second-round game 24 hours after a game in which starters such as Ben Lammers and Quinton Stephens played north of 35 minutes.
A lot obviously depends on how much room is on the bubble and how many teams would remain in contention. There don’t appear to be as many teams holding out hope for a berth this year than there usually are.
The Jackets may have a couple more surprises left in a season rife with them, but Tuesday’s result may prove to have been a crusher.