Or play-in game?
Georgia Tech's coach and players say Saturday's game against Virginia Tech must be won for several reasons.
Not only will a win likely secure a berth in the NCAA tournament. It will also send at least two players -- Zachery Peacock and D'Andre Bell -- out with happy memories on senior day. Junior Gani Lawal and freshman Derrick Favors, both projected as first-round NBA draft picks should they leave school after this season, said they will decide after the season if returning to Alexander Memorial Coliseum remains in their plans.
Lawal said it may sounds like a cliche, but all they want to do is focus on winning and improving their standing in the eyes of the NCAA tournament selection committee. Tuesday's loss to Clemson not only dropped the Yellow Jackets' conference record to 7-8, but it also dropped their projected seed from a nine to 10, which is the beginning of bubble territory for at-large teams. Tech coach Paul Hewitt said he hasn't spent a lot of time wondering if defeating the Hokies will help his team's credentials.
"Lets put it this way; if we win, it makes things much better," Hewitt said. "Nobody knows what's happening in the committee's mind. All the projections I see still have us in the field. The bottom line is we have a game on Saturday. If we win -- and we've been playing well -- it will take care of itself."
A loss, barring Tech's winning the ACC tournament and earning an automatic berth, may send the seniors out with just one NCAA tournament appearance during their time at Tech.
"They [the Jackets] are fighting for an at-large bid now," ESPN.com bracket analyst Joe Lunardi said Wednesday.
The game almost amounts to a play-in for the Yellow Jackets (19-10) and the Hokies (22-7, 9-6). Though Virginia Tech is tied for third in the ACC, it's projected as an 11th seed, one spot higher than the Jackets.
The game will come down to how well Tech can defend the Hokies' three-guard attack, led at the point by Malcolm Delaney. The ACC's leading scorer (20.5 points per game), the offense almost exclusively goes through him.
"They put a lot in his hands and I can see why watching tape," Hewitt said.
To win, Lawal said Tech must do the things it has tried to do all season: contest every shot and dominate the inside, something that the Jackets had trouble doing in the second half of Tuesday's 91-80 loss at Clemson.
The Tigers shot 59 percent in the second half, including 40 percent of their 3-pointers, in scorching Tech for a season-high in points allowed. But none of the 3's was more damaging than Andre Young's with two seconds remaining in the first half. It affected the momentum and Hewitt said that it affected the team's spirit, as well. The shot was reminiscent of the off-balance, game-winning 3-pointer by Maryland's Cliff Tucker three games before.
"Just keep telling our guys to keep battling, put yourself in position," Hewitt said. "It'll come back around."
Now might be a good time for that, not only for Tech's seniors, but for their chances of making the NCAA's.
“Honestly, my tenure here, [I] don’t have much to show for it,” Bell said. “You walk into the arena and look up at all the banners. I really want to put one up, one or two. That’s all our goal.”
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