Previewing Georgia Tech's regular-season finale, against Syracuse at the Carrier Dome at 4 p.m. The game will be broadcast on the ACC Network (Peachtree TV in metro Atlanta).
What this game means
This game appears to be extremely important for Tech’s NCAA tournament hopes. One, it’s just another win. The Jackets' chances will be in really tough shape going into the ACC tournament with 14 losses. As I’ve noted previously, in the 23 years that CBS Sports bracketologist Jerry Palm has charted the selection process, the committee has never given an at-large bid to a team with 15 losses, which the Jackets would take unless they won the championship in Brooklyn, which, obviously, would put them in the field.
Palm had another gem that was reported in this morning’s Syracuse Post-Standard. In that same time span, the committee has never granted an at-large bid to a team that had fewer than three wins away from its home arena. Tech is 2-7 away from McCamish Pavilion. Success in road and neutral-site environments is a big criterion for the committee, and, while the win at VCU was big – it’s the Rams’ only loss of the season (“Make sure you put that in there” Pastner told me) – the only other one was against N.C. State, whose performance since that point has devalued that win considerably.
A win would improve Tech’s RPI from 92 to about 80, which isn’t great at all, but puts them in position to keep improving it in Brooklyn. Pastner's belief is that a win at Syracuse punches the Jackets' ticket, which is possible. If Tech were to beat Syracuse to get the No. 9 seed, then beat any of its three potential opponents (Miami, Virginia or Virginia Tech) and then lose to top-seeded North Carolina in the quarterfinals, the Jackets would finish at 19-14 with an RPI around 70. It’s hard to judge right now what the bubble will look like in a week, but it continues to look a bit flat, which helps Tech’s cause. But that (beat Syracuse, win first tournamen game, lose to UNC) outcome would seem pretty favorable.
Need to hit 3-pointers
Tech was 4-for-12 from 3-point range in the 71-65 win over the Orange in the first meeting Feb. 19. Georgia Tech coach Pastner was insistent Friday that the Jackets will have to score more from 3-point range than that to have a chance to win. Interesting data, from one of my favorite sites, sports-reference.com . Going back to the 2010-11 season, Syracuse has lost only 10 games (out of 67 defeats total) when the opponent has scored four or fewer 3-pointers, and only twice in the Carrier Dome. The Orange are 22-2 in that time at home when the opposition hits four or fewer 3-pointers.
Actually, though, one of those wins was by Tech, three years ago to the date Saturday, a game I remember quite well. (or at least I think I do. see the last item.) Daniel Miller and Robert Carter played an exceptional high-low game for the Jackets.
Regardless, the point is that the Jackets are going to need to generate more offense than normal with easy (relatively speaking) scores.
The problem for Tech is that it takes fewer 3-pointers per game than all but one team in Division I (Evansville, if you’re wondering) at 13.1 per game.
“That’s not who we are,” Pastner said of 3-point extravagance. “That’s not the system that we designed to be built for this year.”
Their reticence is due to the fact that the Jackets don’t make very many of them. Tech’s 3-point average is 33 percent, 266th in Division I. The Jackets have scored more than four 3-pointers just five times in 17 ACC games (N.C. State, Virginia Tech, Florida State, Wake Forest, Miami). They were 2-3 in those games. Interestingly, four of they were on the road.
So, not much sure what to draw from that information. Pastner joked after the win over Pitt that maybe the different shooting background in the Carrier Dome (where the stands are set back farther from the floor) might help because his team clearly wasn’t being helped by shooting against familiar backgrounds.
(In my interview for the linked story above, he was talking about the difficulty of missing classes, and I mentioned to him that, with Tech going directly to Brooklyn from Syracuse, he might miss the entire next week of classes. His whispered response, "Oh, god.")
Tech won 71-65 in front of a sellout crowd at McCamish in which center Ben Lammers played one of his best games of the season – 23 points on 11-for-18 shooting with seven rebounds, seven blocks (one shy of the school record for an ACC game) and three steals playing the full 40 minutes.
Tech was helped by a poor game by Syracuse guard John Gillon (1-for-7 from 3-point range, one of the misses the infamous airball ), a so-so game by guard Andrew White (17 points on 6-for-16 shooting) and a forgettable effort by forward Taurean Thompson, who was hounded by Lammers into an 8-for-21 performance from the field. Also, the Jackets got a pretty big break on an illegal screen foul on Tyler Roberson in the final minute that cost Syracuse the chance to take the lead after being down eight points with 1:33 to play.
Pastner’s last game there
This will not be Pastner’s first trip to the Carrier Dome. In his first season at Memphis, the Orange bested the Tigers 74-57 on Jan. 6, 2010.
“We were winning the game late in the second half, and (Memphis guard) Elliot Williams, who was drafted in the first round by the Trail Blazers, we were up four, dunked the ball, and the ball went out – he put it in and it went out, and they didn’t count it – and it came out -- and the kid from Canada – I forget his name – hit a 3 and the place went berserk,” Pastner said. “They went on, like, an 11-0 run.”
It was seven years ago, and Pastner has coached hundreds of games since, so he can be forgiven for not remembering the details of this game at all, but he conflated different parts of the game. Williams did indeed miss a dunk, and it was indeed critical. Runs of 9-1 and 32-16 followed. However, the dunk attempt was at the 14:04 mark of the second half and Memphis was down three points, and the next Syracuse points were a pair of free throws. Further, Memphis never led in the second half.
Syracuse guard Andy Rautins, a Canadian citizen, did hit three 3-pointers, but they were all in the first 21 minutes of the game. He did hit a 3-pointer at the end of the first half following a Williams turnover that tied the game after the Tigers had led for most of the half.
It’s remarkable how the memory can betray. I found a New Yorker article from 2015 on the topic, and it starts with an experiment that an Emory psychology professor did in 1988 on the day of the Challenger explosion. He gave students a questionnaire about what the events of the day, such as where they were when they learned the news and who they were with. Two and a half years later, the professor gave the same questionnaire to those students, and, despite rating their confidence in their memories highly, most had flawed recollections of the day’s events.
To his credit, Pastner did get the part about Williams being a first-round pick right.