How the 6 non-conference teams to beat Georgia Tech turned out

As the NCAA Tournament begins, if you’re looking for some hollow consolation for Georgia Tech’s disastrous season, you’ve come to the right place. If you care to remember back to the non-conference schedule, when it seemed as though the Yellow Jackets were collecting losses to no-name teams on a weekly basis and seeing their NCAA Tournament hopes vanish before the new year, those defeats don’t look quite so egregious in the light that can be shed by a full season of play.

(There are, perhaps, degrees of egregiousness. Grambling State had lost 63 consecutive games to power-conference teams prior to its win over Georgia Tech December 1. The Tigers proved far better than expected, but it’s still a tough loss to explain away, although perhaps it says a little bit about where Tech was at that point, still without Josh Okogie and getting little help from hobbled Ben Lammers.)

Of Tech’s six non-conference losses, two were to teams that went on to finish first in their league in the regular season and a third won its conference championship. Two teams (Tennessee and Wofford) were led by their leagues’ players of the year. You could add a third if you include Georgia’s Yante Maten, named SEC player of the year by the Associated Press.

Three of the six were led by coaches who were eventually honored as their league’s coaches of the year.

Three of the six earned a spot in the NCAA Tournament, though one of them (UCLA) is already out. The other two (Tennessee and Wright State) will face off in a first-round game Thursday at 12:40 in Dallas.

A recap of the six non-conference teams who dealt the Jackets losses in November and December.

UCLA

The Bruins, winners over the Jackets in the season opener in Shanghai, earned an at-large berth for the NCAA Tournament despite the suspension of three players for the entire season for their shoplifting arrests in China (although one, LiAngelo Ball, withdrew from school before the suspension was extended to the whole season).

UCLA got into the tournament at 21-11 before losing Tuesday to St. Bonaventure on Tuesday in Dayton, Ohio. Interesting to note: The 63 points that the Bruins scored against Tech was tied for its lowest scoring output of the season before its 65-58 loss to the Bonnies.

Grambling State

The Tigers were doing nothing to validate their historic win over Tech through the first week of January, which they ended 4-12 and 0-3 in the SWAC. But then Grambling won 11 games in a row and finished 13-5 in the SWAC (17-14 overall) to win the regular-season title, the first time it won the conference regular-season title outright since the 1988-89 season.

It was also Grambling’s first winning season in 12 years. It was one of the more remarkable coaching jobs of the season, as coach Donte Jackson took over in July and lost his leading returning scorer to transfer. He was rightfully named the SWAC coach of the year for his efforts. Unfortunately for the Tigers, they were ineligible for postseason play because their APR score was too low. Its RPI is 249, more than 70 slots higher than last season.

Tennessee

Picked 13th in the 14-team SEC, Tennessee finished first in the SEC in the regular season, and the Volunteers earned a No. 3 seed in the South region. Coach Rick Barnes was named SEC coach of the year. Grant Williams, named the SEC player of the year, scored 11 points with six rebounds in the Volunteers’ 77-70 win at McCamish Pavilion December 3. Notably, Lamonte Turner, who came off the bench to score 24 points on 12 field-goal attempts, was named co-sixth man of the year.

Tennessee will play Wright State (another team that beat Tech) in a Thursday game in Dallas.

Tech’s loss to Tennessee proved something of a foretaste of what was to come. The Volunteers closed the first half on an 18-9 run to take a nine-point lead at the half only to see Tech fight back to trail 58-57 with 2:58 to play before succumbing. Had the Jackets managed to successfully rally, it would have proven their best win of the season. Tennessee goes into the tournament No. 8 in RPI.

It was one of seven games that Tech played against RPI top-11 teams, all of which the Jackets lost.

Wofford

The Terriers beat two ACC teams, including North Carolina on its home court, but finished tied for fourth in the Southern Conference at 11-7 – 21-12 overall. Wofford will play Central Michigan Friday in the CIT. Guard Fletcher Magee, who lit up Tech for 36 points in a 63-60 win for the Terriers in Spartanburg, S.C., on December 6, was named the SoCon player of the year, averaging 21.6 points per game and shooting 43.3 percent from 3-point range. His 4.24 3-pointers per game are second nationally.

You may remember that the defeat to Wofford gave coach Josh Pastner his third consecutive defeat, a first in his head-coaching career. As things would turn out, he would experience that ignominy twice more, losing four in a row and then seven in a row.

Georgia

You probably know about what happened to Georgia. By record, the Bulldogs had the poorest winning percentage of any non-conference team to beat the Jackets. Georgia, which beat the Jackets 80-59 December 19 in Athens in the team’s most decisive loss of the season, finished the season 18-15 and fired coach Mark Fox after nine seasons. Still, the Bulldogs have won three in a row over Tech.

Wright State

For better or worse, it’s perhaps the non-conference loss that is perhaps the most palatable (relatively speaking) as NCAA Tournament play begins.

Wright State is 25-9, finished second in the Horizon League in the regular season and won the conference tournament for the league’s automatic bid. Center Loudon Love, who was redshirted in his first year on campus as he was overweight and recovering from a high-school ACL tear and then dinged Tech for 16 points and 12 rebounds in the 13th game of his career, was named freshman of the year and second-team all-conference in the Horizon.

Wright State coach Scott Nagy was named coach of the year in the league. Guard Grant Benzinger, who hit up Tech for 22 points, was named first-team all-conference. The Raiders’ RPI is 99, 62 slots higher than the Jackets’. They play Tennessee Thursday at 12:40 p.m.