Pastner said he studied the selection process during his seven years as head coach at Memphis and back to his time as an assistant at Arizona. He has discerned a win total that he thinks will be good enough to get into the tournament, but declined to reveal it.
“To even be considered at this point is a modern miracle, but Sunday’s not do-or-die,” Pastner said. “We need to win multiple games if we want to be in the NCAA tournament. It’s as simple as that.”
CBS Sports bracketologist Jerry Palm said last week that finishing the regular season at 19-12 would put Tech in solid position but that 18-13 would be dangerous territory. After Sunday, the Jackets finish with N.C. State, a road game at Notre Dame, home against Pitt and finally at Syracuse.
“I’m telling you, we can play well and go 0-5,” Pastner said. “We weren’t horrible against Miami (in a loss Wednesday). It is what it is. So we also can be 5-0 in this next five.”
Coached by Hall of Famer Jim Boeheim, Syracuse (16-11, 8-6) has lost two in a row and hasn’t played since Monday. The Orange excel at making 3-pointers (fourth in the ACC at 3-point percentage at 38.4 percent), taking care of the ball (26th nationally in assists per field goal, according to KenPom) and disrupting offenses (first in the ACC in steals and fourth in blocked shots). Guard Andrew White has scored 20 or more points in the past seven games, playing every minute of each of those games.
As has been the case this season across the conference, the Orange have had a tough time on the road; they’re 2-5 in ACC games away from Syracuse.
Tech will play before its third sellout crowd of the season. The Jackets have not had three sellouts of McCamish Pavilion since the arena’s opening season, 2012-13. The game is being marketed as a whiteout. Further, Lethal Weapon 3, Tech’s famed trio of Kenny Anderson, Brian Oliver and Dennis Scott, will be on hand to sign autographs and to be honored during the game.
“I think it’ll be intense,” Heyward said. “We’ll see how these practices go, but sellout (crowd) — we get our energy from our fans, so it’ll be fun.”
After both forward Quinton Stephens and center Ben Lammers missed practice with ankle injuries and then were limited in the team’s loss to Miami, both were expected to take part in practice and be in better health for Sunday.
The Jackets will play Syracuse again in the final regular-season game March 4. The games will likely weigh heavily in both teams’ NCAA fates. That would have been incongruent thinking in October, when Tech was picked to finish 14th in the ACC.
The season has so enveloped Pastner that he said he needs to be reminded by his wife, father and others of what the team has accomplished.
“But when you really step back, to even be sitting here on Feb. 17 and we’re talking about that if we win multiple games down the stretch, we’ve got a chance to be in the NCAA tournament — from where we started from, what people had said — is nothing short of amazing, and I really mean that,” he said.
The Jackets have the opportunity to kick up the amazement another notch Sunday.