Georgia Tech head coach Josh Pastner coaches his team to a 81-78 overtime victory over Boston College in a NCAA college basketball game on Sunday, March 3, 2019, in Atlanta. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

Breaking down Georgia Tech’s ACC schedule

It’s a new era for the ACC – a new network and a new 20-game conference schedule for men’s basketball.

Georgia Tech and coach Josh Pastner will be on the ACC Network plenty, and hope to use the league slate to get in position to earn a berth in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2010. With 73 percent of the team’s scoring back and the addition of transfer guards Bubba Parham and Jordan Usher, Pastner has said his plan is for Tech to improve from 14-18 to being a tournament team.

“If we do win our share of games, we’re going to put ourselves in position to have a chance to play in the postseason,” Pastner said in an interview with the AJC.

Four observations about the schedule for Pastner’s fourth season:

1. Including the 20 league games, the Jackets will face power-conference opponents in 24 out of 31 games, including non-conference road games at Kentucky and Georgia.

“I think our schedule overall is the toughest in the country,” said Pastner, issuing what sounded like a potential favored talking point. “No one can say we’re not challenging ourselves.”

As Pastner has made mention previously, it’s a schedule designed to impress the NCAA tournament selection committee.

With the schedule in order, the Jackets now have to do their part. They received good news with Parham receiving a waiver for immediate eligibility, but will have to play their first eight games without Usher, their other transfer guard. He’ll miss the first two league games (N.C. State and Syracuse) and key non-conference games against Georgia, Arkansas, Nebraska and Kentucky. UGA and Kentucky are on the road.

“It’s a tough ordeal,” Pastner said. “We’ve got to be ready.”

2. The first five league games will be all the test that the Jackets could want. After the season opener at N.C. State, Tech will play a December 8 home game against Syracuse, then will start the bulk of ACC play at Florida State December 31, at North Carolina on January 4 and against Duke on January 8.

By the season-ending KenPom rankings, that’s Nos. 41, 39, 14, 7 and 4 teams, respectively, with three on the road. Pastner did not raise any objections or particular concerns.

“That’s the ACC,” he said. “Whoever you’re going to play is going to be tough.”

The tail end of the schedule, however, has a little more cushion. The final six games are at Wake Forest (KenPom No. 174), at Syracuse (No. 39), Clemson (No. 36), Miami (No. 75), Pittsburgh (No. 101) and at Clemson (No. 36).

3. From a rest/travel perspective, perhaps the two toughest games are road games at Syracuse (February 22) and Clemson (March 6).

The first, on a Saturday, will follow a road game at Wake Forest on Wednesday, meaning a late-night/early-morning return to Atlanta and an abbreviated prep for the Orange. Tech will play at Clemson on a Friday night on the last weekend of the regular season, two days after playing at home against Pitt.

Outside of Tech’s participation in the Diamond Head Classic in Hawaii, it will be the Jackets’ shortest rest between games this season. Syracuse and Clemson will operate on the same rest as Tech.

All told, Tech will have less rest between games for five ACC games, more rest for four games and the same for the other 10. (The 20th game is the November 5 season opener at N.C. State.)

Tech’s games after their open dates (one of which will be filled by a game against Morehouse) are at Notre Dame February 1 and at Wake Forest February 20.

Tech only plays one game against an opponent coming off its open date – Miami on February 29 at McCamish Pavilion.

4. Tech will play seven out of its eight first league games on the new ACC Network and nine total, which includes matchups with N.C. State, Syracuse, North Carolina, Duke and Virginia. The preponderance of early-season games on the network could be interpreted as a maneuver by ESPN to keep pressure on cable providers that have not picked up the ACC Network, notably Comcast Xfinity, which has a significant presence in Atlanta. It could also be seen as a coincidence, as Tech isn’t necessarily a huge TV draw.

“I know they want to get everybody involved to pick up the ACC Network,” Pastner said, speaking generally about ESPN and the ACC.

With nine total ACC Network games – and another two that could also be broadcast there – Tech is tied for the fourth most number of games on the network, following Wake Forest (12), Miami (11) and Boston College (10).

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