To keep its season alive with an NCAA Tournament berth, Georgia Tech has no choice but to win the ACC Tournament that begins Tuesday in Louisville, Ky. Unfortunately for the Yellow Jackets, the tournament’s format puts the odds against them, to say nothing of their standing with the field’s other 11 teams.
With the ACC Tournament expanding this year to 12 teams from 10, the teams will be divided into four three-team pools, with the pool winners advancing to the tournament semifinals. The seeding will be the tiebreaker, meaning Tech, as the No. 10 seed, can’t win a tiebreaker against either team in its pool, No. 3 seed Wake Forest and No. 6 seed Miami.
Starting with the opening game of the tournament, against Miami at 11 a.m. Tuesday at Louisville Slugger Field, the Jackets will essentially be playing a single-elimination tournament.
“We have to win that game or we’re done,” coach Danny Hall said.
At 27-26, Tech has no shot at an NCAA at-large berth. The Jackets have been in similar position recently and found a way to the championship trophy. In 2012 and 2014, Tech was on the NCAA Tournament bubble but erased all doubt by winning the conference championship, Hall’s fourth and fifth ACC Tournament titles.
Further, the Jackets will have to do it without first baseman/designated hitter Kel Johnson and most likely catcher Joey Bart, as well. Johnson is out with a dislocated shoulder and Bart is probably out with a thumb injury. They are responsible for 26 percent of the team’s RBI and 32 percent of its home runs.
Hall was encouraged that, with the two out of the lineup in the final regular-season series against Virginia, the Jackets scored 26 runs in three games.
“So it can happen, but we’ve got to make it happen,” Hall said.
To this point, Tech’s winning percentage (.509) is the lowest in Hall’s 24 seasons at Tech. Injuries and inconsistent play have been the downfall. Tech is second to last in the ACC in ERA (5.41) and has given up the most walks and the third most hits. At the plate, the Jackets are third in home runs and doubles but ninth in runs.
Asked what he could count on in Louisville, Hall replied, “Just us playing hard.”
Against Miami, Tech will start Jake Lee, who has a 5.51 ERA but has pitched effectively in his past two starts. The second pool-play game is Wednesday at 7 p.m. vs. Wake Forest. Xzavion Curry is scheduled to make that start.
“We’ve had moments where we’ve pitched well, played well,” Hall said. “We’ve had moments where we haven’t. We don’t have to play perfect, but we’ve got to play good.”
If not, Tech will miss the NCAA Tournament for the fourth time in Hall’s tenure but the second time in the past three seasons.
The format was changed this season to give more teams a chance to get into the ACC Tournament and enhance their NCAA Tournament resumes, and also to give every team a chance to play two games. The most recent format placed the bottom four teams in play-in games. The tiebreaker format was instituted to reward the teams that did the best in the regular season, although it has created games that will be effectively meaningless. The two lower-seeded teams in the three-team pools are basically playing single elimination and the top-seeded team double-elimination.
“In my opinion, the team that plays well throughout the year, that’s their reward, and everybody else just kind of has to deal with it,” Hall said.