Georgia Tech forward Robert Carter put his intuition out for everyone to see.
“I’ve got a feeling we’re going to do pretty good in this tournament,” Carter said Wednesday. “I think everyone’s ready to play.”
Ready or not, the Yellow Jackets will be in the opening game of the ACC tournament Thursday, a first-round matchup between No. 9-seed Tech and eighth-seeded Boston College. It will be a matchup of two of the younger teams in the league.
The Eagles start two freshmen and three sophomores, including ACC all-freshman guard Olivier Hanlan. Tech counters with three freshman starters who in ACC play played 42.7 percent of the team’s minutes. Forwards Marcus Georges-Hunt and Carter and guard Chris Bolden were their top three scorers.
When the Jackets tip off at noon, they will learn, among other things, to what degree having a crew of tournament newbies will be an impediment.
“What do they say, lose and go home?” coach Brian Gregory asked. “I mean, that’s it. And so, you have to play that way. You have to play every possession that way. And if the young guys are able to grasp that and embrace that, then we’ll be in better shape.”
Last year, Boston College took a team that started four freshmen to the ACC tournament. Playing as the No. 12 seed, the Eagles fell behind 14-0 to N.C. State in their first game and lost 78-57.
“I feel like we were completely blind cats, so to speak, coming in here last year,” said forward Ryan Anderson, an ACC all-freshman pick last year. “We really didn’t know what to expect.”
Not only is this new territory for Tech’s three freshman starters and backup point guard Solomon Poole, but Gregory pointed out after his team’s Wednesday morning shootaround at the Greensboro Coliseum that no player on the roster has started in an ACC tournament victory. Guard Mfon Udofia is the only team member who played in Tech’s 2010 run to the ACC finals, playing a total of 20 minutes off the bench in the four games. The Jackets lost 59-43 to Virginia Tech in 2011 in coach Paul Hewitt’s final game and 54-36 to Miami last year.
The Jackets do have a couple of angles working in their favor. One, Tech lost 74-72 at Boston College on Saturday in the final regular-season game. The Jackets led by as many as 10 in the second half before surrendering the lead in the final minutes.
Said Udofia, “We’ve got a little fire in us because they just beat us at their place.”
Two, Carter was a little stung by not making the all-freshman team. Neither Carter, Georges-Hunt nor Bolden earned that honor.
“The good thing about it is, you didn’t make it, now you’ve got a chance to come out again and show you deserved to be on it,” Carter said.
Not that they need more motivation, but the Jackets likely will need at least two wins — against Boston College and then against top-seeded Miami on Friday — to be considered for the NIT. Tech (16-14 overall, 6-12 ACC) would love the opportunity to gain postseason experience, but may have cost itself with the NIT selection committee with its loss Saturday to the Eagles (15-16, 7-11).
“I think at the very best, they’d be a bubble team with us,” said C.M. Newton, the Basketball Hall of Fame former coach who is the chairman of the NIT selection committee.
Tech’s chances also would be enhanced by Virginia and even Maryland playing their way into the NCAA tournament this weekend.
“If they keep winning, they’ve got a chance to really get in our mix, but if they don’t, then forget it,” Newton said.
The long-term utility of more games and more experience is perhaps the greatest benefit that the Jackets can gain this weekend. Whether they’ll be blind or sighted cats Thursday remains to be seen, but an ACC tournament victory would be a worthy prize, if for no other reason than it would lead to a second tournament game.
Tech has broken down a number of doors this season, snapping an 11-game ACC road losing streak and earning noteworthy wins over Virginia and Maryland.
Being able to stick around in Greensboro would be another.
“There has to be some motivation due to the fact that, in some ways, we’ve exceeded some expectations, but this is a new opportunity for us to take another step,” Gregory said.
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