Georgia Tech fans — Kenny Anderson shares your lament.
After the Yellow Jackets lost to Virginia Tech on Saturday, the Tech legend praised the team for its effort and acknowledged the difficulty of playing in the ACC. He said he has no issues with coach Brian Gregory. But as former Tech players milled about the McCamish Pavilion court following the annual letterwinner’s game, Anderson’s frustration was obvious, too.
“I want my school to make the tournament,” Anderson said. “Just one year. Come on, man.”
With no mid-week game this week, Tech has extra time to ready itself for No. 17 Louisville, its opponent Saturday at McCamish Pavilion. The Jackets are 11-7 overall and 1-4 in the conference.
There are more pressing matters for Tech than its postseason chances, namely how to keep opponents from taking two dozen free throws in the second half. And even bracketologist Jerry Palm of CBS Sports won’t venture a guess for a win total that would secure the Jackets a spot in the NCAA tournament’s 68-team field.
“I can’t tell you, short of just going out and dominating the next two months, what it’s going to take because there’s 150 other teams in the same boat,” Palm said.
Regardless, it’s imperative for the Jackets to start picking up wins quickly. At the least, it would appear that Tech needs to reach 19 wins by the end of the regular season to be in the conversation, which would mean winning eight of the next 13 games to finish 19-12 overall and 9-9 in the league.
“Get hot, stay hot,” was Palm’s recommendation, followed by a sobering analysis of the Jackets. “But that doesn’t seem to be in the range of possible outcomes for this team.”
Since 2011, when the NCAA tournament field expanded to 68 teams, the selection committee has twice invited ACC teams that won 19 games in the regular season and were .500 in league play or better (N.C. State in 2014 and 2015). That is no guaranteed threshold, however. The committee also has turned down five teams that won between 19 and 21 regular-season games and were .500 or better in the league.
Of Tech’s final 13 games, seven are at home: Louisville, Duke, Miami, Wake Forest, Notre Dame, Clemson and Pittsburgh. The six road games: N.C. State, Syracuse, Clemson, Florida State, Boston College, Louisville. Most of what appear to be Tech’s toughest games — Louisville, Duke, Miami, Notre Dame and Pittsburgh — will be at McCamish.
For a team that is significantly improved on offense and still strong on defense, it wouldn’t seem an outlandish possibility to find eight wins, which still would put the Jackets only on the tournament precipice. The loss to Virginia Tech, however, unnecessarily reduced the Jackets’ margin for error. Tech led 74-64 with 4:32 remaining, but lost 78-77 when it shot 1-for-6 and turned the ball over four times in the final 10 possessions. The defeat suggested that the Jackets, despite the win over Virginia, still haven’t graduated from the late-game foibles that vexed them last season.
Further, Virginia Tech took 27 free throws in the second half to Georgia Tech’s nine. In the Jackets’ four ACC losses — to North Carolina, Pittsburgh, Notre Dame and Virginia Tech, all by eight points or fewer — Tech’s opponents were a combined 80-for-93 from the free-throw line after halftime. Tech was 15-for-29 in the second half of the four losses.
After the game Saturday, Gregory said he and his staff would have to “really come up with something to figure that out or something that you can do outside of your normal coverage” to avoid the barrage of fouls.
The week of preparation that Tech will have for the Cardinals will be the longest that the Jackets will have for any ACC opponent. It’s not a bad time for it. The calendar says that it’s probably too early for must-win games, and the schedule eases up after the Cardinals, but a team with NCAA tournament aspirations can’t pass up too many opportunities to earn meaningful wins, particularly at home.
“It’d be tough, but I hope they make the tournament,” Anderson said.
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.