Want to know the weird part? At this moment, Georgia Tech is — or was — closer to making the NCAA tournament than at any time this season.
It’s 15-14, having won four of five. It’s in a five-way tie for fifth in the ACC. It had all but accomplished one of Josh Pastner’s goals, which was to play its way off the Tuesday opening round at the ACC tournament. But now that’s gone, and we have to say it’s for the best.
Because being close to the NCAA tournament, in Tech’s case, wasn’t close enough. Should the Yellow Jackets beat Pittsburgh and Clemson this week, they’ll be 17-14. They’d still have needed two more victories in Greensboro over NCAA-caliber opposition — meaning Duke, Florida State, Louisville or Virginia — to have had any chance of an at-large bid. And the selection committee has, over time, shown little sympathy for off-bubble teams that go on a tournament run without winning that tournament.
Tech entered March knowing it had one realistic chance to make the Big Dance — by winning the ACC tournament. Given the risk of failure, that would have been the all-time sucker’s bet. The worst-case scenario for Pastner and his program would have been to miss the NCAA and see its postseason ban upheld, which would have meant nothing for next year, either. Which would have meant Pastner, who took the job in April 2016, would have been eyeing 2022 as his first dip into March Madness.
By dropping its appeal, Tech clears the deck. It can start next season knowing its destination will rest in its hands, not those of the infractions committee. It’s a bit sad that a team playing its best basketball will be done come Friday night — conferences don’t allow a banned team to play in league tournaments for fear it might win and the conference thereby forfeit its automatic bid — but that’s what happens when you get caught breaking NCAA rules.
This was the last possible week for Tech to decide. The ACC tournament starts next Tuesday. Had the denial of the appeal been announced, say, Monday, the league would have been scrambling to reset its bracket, and no league wants such aggravation on the literal eve of its showcase event. That said, Tech could have made this easier on everybody by not appealing at all.
We’ll never know whether the Jackets would have won their appeal, but the odds were never good. This is an athletic program that, in the NCAA’s eyes, has become a serial offender. It was slapped with two Level 1 violations. That’s not nothing. The postseason ban seemed unduly harsh only to Tech, and the appeal only served to thrust two postseasons into question. Moot point now, though.
It would have been fascinating to see if the Institute would have come to the same decision had the Jackets been 57th in the NCAA’s NET rankings, as opposed to 77th. The cruel part about Monday’s announcement was that the Jackets had begun to resemble the sort of team that might have a closing burst in it. It has four good players — Jose Alvarado, James Banks, Michael Devoe and Moses Wright — and can defend. It can play a little.
This surely is the best of Pastner’s four Tech teams, but it lost too many close games — Arkansas’ last-second banked-in 3-pointer still resonates — for school elders to invest any more in this season at the peril of the next. Said Pastner in a Tech statement: “I support the decision of our administration to withdraw the appeal of the competition penalty and am happy to know that we'll have this penalty behind us as we go into 2020-21.”
Alvarado, Devoe and Wright have eligibility remaining beyond this year. That’s a nucleus, but more will be required. Even in a season where uncertainty reigned, the Jackets missed a chance. There was no reason to get swept by Notre Dame and Syracuse, teams that won’t make the NCAA field, no reason to lose to Ball State (117th in NET) at McCamish Pavilion. That only four teams are above .500 in ACC play tells us that the ACC’s middle is was soft. Tech is part of that spongy midriff.
The postseason ban will be served this spring. Next season figures to tell the tale on Pastner. If he can’t take Tech dancing then, he mightn’t get another try.
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.