Georgia Tech finishes strong. This means ... what?

Break out the air guitar, Georgia Tech guard Jose Alvarado enjoys himself against North Carolina State in January. (AP Photo/Danny Karnik)

Credit: Danny Karnik

Credit: Danny Karnik

Maybe this is how Georgia Tech’s season should end – with six victories over seven games; with a fifth-place finish in the 15-team ACC; with its first winning record since 2017; with, for a change, a smile. Then again …

Maybe the school's elders whiffed in dropping the appeal of the NCAA's postseason ban. As is, Tech would have had the chance to grab two notable victories en route to the ACC tournament final. Once in the final, anything can happen, especially if you don't have to play four games just to get there, which is why being No. 5, as opposed to the starting-on-Tuesday seedings of Josh Pastner's first three seasons, would have been a big deal. And really, what ACC team is hotter than Tech? Then again …

Maybe Tech would have gone to Greensboro and been one and done, as has happened every previous season under Pastner, and the smile would have dimmed. Not many teams get to feel good about being 17-14. Maybe it’s best to take this finishing kick and try to carry it into next season, when there’ll be no ban, no appeal, nothing but blue skies for the white and gold. Then again …

Tech’s 11 conference wins marked its most since 1996, when it topped the ACC. That marked the one time over Bobby Cremins’ final seven seasons that his team made the NCAA. It featured the only college season of Stephon Marbury, and it wasn’t the smoothest of glides. The Yellow Jackets entered ACC play 6-7, having lost to Georgetown by 22, to Kentucky by 23 and to Georgia by 24. They’d been beaten by Bradley, Santa Clara and Mount St. Mary’s. They closed the regular season with seven wins. They also benefited from down seasons by Duke (18-13) and North Carolina (21-11). Then again …

Marbury was gone to the NBA after Tech lost to Cincinnati in the Sweet 16. This season, James Banks has completed his eligibility, but everyone else is scheduled to return. The only Jacket listed among NBAdraft.net's top 100 prospects is Michael Devoe, who's 95th. (Only 60 guys get drafted.) Next season's team stands to be the one Pastner has in mind when he says – and he says this often – "We need to get old and stay old." Then again …

If this was Pastner's best Tech team, how good was it? From Dec. 18, when the Jackets lost at home to Ball State, through Feb. 28, they spent every day at/below .500. Yes, Jose Alvarado missed much of the non-conference season. Yes, Devoe missed the home loss to Notre Dame. Tech also faced North Carolina without Cole Anthony and N.C. State without Markell Johnson. Against the four ACC teams apt to make the NCAA tournament, the Jackets were 1-4. Of their 11 conference victories, 10 came against opponents that will finish at/below .500 in league play. Of their 17 overall victories, only one – over Louisville on Feb. 13 – was over a team projected to crack the field of 68. In the NCAA's NET rankings, Tech is 72nd nationally, eighth among ACC teams. Then again …

Even if the ACC was tepid, Tech still won 11 league games. Aside from Shembari Phillips' cameo on Senior Night, seven of the eight Jackets who started a game this season have eligibility remaining. Given that few teams, owing to one-and-dones and especially transfers, ever get and stay old, any team that does should start the next season with a leg up. Back in January, this correspondent suggested that Tech was among the ACC's half-dozen best. The Jackets didn't rush to prove the point – they lost five of their next eight ACC games – but they got there in the end. They're teed up for 2020-21. Then again …

In Pastner’s first season, the Jackets -- who weren’t expected to win 10 games -- beat No. 9 North Carolina, No. 6 Florida State and No. 14 Notre Dame. They reached the NIT final. They had their top three scorers returning. They had Alvarado incoming. It was possible to envision this program reclaiming a prominent place in the nation’s most renowned conference. Didn’t happen, at least not then. Ben Lammers was hurt much of the next season. Josh Okogie and Tadric Jackson served early Ron Bell-related suspensions. Alvarado broke his elbow against Duke. Not to say that we’ve been here before, but we have, sort of. Then again …

It’s possible that, over these final few weeks, Tech under Pastner finally figured things out. It’s also possible that two closing victories over Clemson and one each over Miami and Pittsburgh will be revealed as fool’s gold. Three of those were home games; none of those three opponents will enter the ACC tournament with a winning record. On the one hand, I really like how the Jackets finished the season. Then again …

If they’d played like this sooner, they’d still be playing. As Pastner said Tuesday, speaking of the tabled appeal: “If we were in the Top 25 and a (NCAA) lock, I would assume it would be a different decision.” Now we await Year 5 under this coach, who’s 65-67 over four. In his fourth season at Tech, Cremins won the ACC tournament. In his fourth season, Paul Hewitt played for the national championship.

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