The unthinkable has entered, at the least, the realm of remote possibility – Georgia Tech in the NCAA tournament.
With two wins over RPI top-10 teams (Florida State and North Carolina) and a total of four against RPI top-50 teams (add VCU and Clemson), the Yellow Jackets are putting together a resume that at least merits consideration. In fact, CBS Sports bracketologist Jerry Palm put Tech in his updated bracket after Tech’s 78-56 win over No. 6 Florida State on Wednesday night.
He noted that Tech’s 12-8 record is the “bare minimum” to be considered at this point and that its 6-8 record against RPI top-200 teams is not good but that its biggest wins have it in the field for now.
“So, while those big wins have pushed Georgia Tech into the field for now, its margin for error is very small,” Palm wrote.
One big challenge – and let’s acknowledge that it’s kind of bananas that this conversation is even taking place – is that Tech’s overall resume is a little weak. As is repeated every March, the selection committee likes to reward teams that have challenged themselves in the non-conference.
Compare Tech with Wake Forest, which is 12-8 overall, same as Tech, and Georgia, which is 12-8 and beat Tech at home.
What is hugely in Tech’s favor is its record against RPI 1-50 teams. What is strongly against it is the number of games it played against RPI 201-plus teams and, consequently, its non-conference strength of schedule and RPI. According to Palm, the lowest RPI to get into the tournament since 2005 as an at-large bid was 67. Since 2005 through the 2015 NCAA tournament, only four teams have gotten in with an RPI of 63 or lower.
Compared against Wake Forest and Georgia, a Tech supporter could say, clearly Tech is the better team. Neither Wake nor Georgia has beaten anyone in the top 50. However, a Georgia fan could point to the convincing head-to-head win (at McCamish Pavilion, no less) and say that the Bulldogs have challenged themselves out of conference. The Wake argument is similar, with easily the best RPI of the three.
As a starting point, for the remainder of the schedule, let’s say Tech wins all of its remaining home games, starting with a huge upset of No. 14 Notre Dame Saturday – that’s Notre Dame, Boston College, Syracuse, N.C. State and Pittsburgh. And then the Jackets lose its remaining five road games – Clemson, Wake Forest, Miami, Notre Dame and Syracuse.
Tech would go into the ACC tournament 17-13 overall (not counting a highly likely win over Division II Tusculum, which the committee won’t) and 9-9 in league play. According to rpiwizard.com, Tech’s RPI would be 69. Tech would make a good case to be the outlier team to get in with a high 60’s RPI – in this scenario, it would be 6-6 against teams in the RPI top 50 and 2-1 against teams in the top 10 (assuming everything remains static, which it won’t).
However, the non-conference strength of schedule would still be weak, as would Tech’s road record (in this scenario, 2-10). Give Tech two wins in the ACC tournament (the way the standings are now, Miami and Florida State) and the RPI only improves to 61.
I think the Jackets would be a classic bubble team in that case – some great wins, some bad losses, a weak non-conference schedule and bad road record. That Palm put Tech in his bracket – as an 11 seed – does give Tech’s chances credence. The website teamrankings.com gives Tech a 7 percent chance to make it into the tournament. The Jackets’ probability was 0 before they beat N.C. State four games ago. I'd call it an outside chance. But, if the Jackets can continue to be the team that hammered Florida State, then I'd say the chances aren't bad at all.
A couple final things to note: One, as Palm noted, to have a chance, Tech can’t take any more “bad losses.” Home games against Boston College and – who would have guessed this in October – Syracuse would be two. Two, also as noted earlier, it’s crazy that this is even a possibility.