Georgia Tech has new goal to pursue: ACC tournament double-bye

Georgia Tech guard Jose Alvarado (10) and forward Moses Wright (5) in a game at Georgia Tech's McCamish Pavilion in Atlanta on Tuesday, March 2, 2021. Georgia Tech won 81-77 over Duke in overtime. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Georgia Tech guard Jose Alvarado (10) and forward Moses Wright (5) in a game at Georgia Tech's McCamish Pavilion in Atlanta on Tuesday, March 2, 2021. Georgia Tech won 81-77 over Duke in overtime. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

At the ACC tournament in 2019, following his team’s first-round loss to Notre Dame, Georgia Tech coach Josh Pastner offered a goal for his team.

“The best thing we can do is not put ourselves to be playing on Tuesday,” he said. “If you’re not playing on Tuesday, you’re probably going to be in the (NCAA) tournament. That’s what we’ve got to accomplish.”

In the ACC tournament, Tuesday is reserved for the teams seeded 10th through 15th. Since the league expanded to 15 teams in the 2013-14 season, the Jackets have played on the tournament’s first day five of seven years. Only Wake Forest (seven) and Boston College (six) have started their tournament treks on that humble day more frequently.

However, the Jackets would have escaped Tuesday last year had they not accepted the NCAA’s postseason ban for its impermissible-benefits violations; they would have been seeded fifth. With one game remaining in their season, the Jackets (14-8, 10-6 ACC) now have the chance to do even better.

If Tech wins at Wake Forest on Friday night and Virginia wins on the road at fourth-place Louisville on Saturday, the Jackets will earn fourth place in the ACC. On top of being the highest ACC tournament seed that Tech has earned since 2004, when the Jackets reached the finals of the NCAA tournament, it also would place the Jackets in the optimal position of having a double-bye. Tech would sit out the first two rounds as it awaited its quarterfinal opponent.

“Your goal is to win the league, but at least you’re in the upper echelon if you can continue to win and put yourself in a position (to win the tournament),” Pastner said. “But the best thing about the double-bye, besides where you finish, is you have an extra day of rest and less games you have to win to try to win the ACC tournament.”

In the six years that the tournament has been conducted as a 14- or 15-team event, teams with double-byes are 19-5 in the quarterfinals. Of the 12 finalists, nine were teams that began out of the double-bye. Part of it, certainly, is that the teams with double-byes have proved themselves as the top teams in the league. But the rest is surely an advantage, too.

It would be one more achievement for Tech in a season that has been full of them. In just the win over Duke on Tuesday, the Jackets ended the Blue Devils’ 14-game winning streak in the series and secured, for the first time in program history, back-to-back double-digit wins in ACC play and its first five-game win streak against ACC teams since 1996.

“It’s a great opportunity,” guard Jose Alvarado said. “Getting a double-bye is really awesome. But whether we do get a double-bye or we don’t, we’re going to play Wednesday or Thursday, one of those days, we’ve got to win every game. We’ve got to try to win this ACC championship. Not just get a double-bye and be like, ‘Hey, we got a double-bye. It’s OK.’ No, we’re trying to win the ACC championship.”

It’s been some time since the Jackets last cut down the nets at the ACC tournament – 1993. But the first thing is actually to win a tournament game. The Jackets have lost in their opening game in each of their past three trips.

And before that is beating Wake Forest (6-14, 3-14), which has lost its past six games, the past five by an average of 22.8 points per game.

“We know what they’re capable of, so we’ve got to go out there and play hard and play Georgia Tech basketball,” Alvarado said.

Alvarado is nursing a knee injury, contrary to Pastner’s stating after the Duke game that it was his hamstring. Alvarado said Thursday that it felt fine.

“I promise you, I will play this whole season with a broken foot, a broken toe,” he said. “I’m not sitting out this season at all. We’re going to keep doing the treatment, keep getting better day. But I feel fine. I could go for 40 minutes, 50 minutes. I’ll give you my all.”

It will be Alvarado’s last chance to sway voters in his bid to win ACC defensive player of the year. Alvarado leads the league in steals (2.82 per game).

“It’s all about what everyone else thinks,” he said. “If I don’t get it, it won’t knock me down. I’m still going to play hard every day. I’m going to guard the best player. And whoever gets it, if it’s not me, you’d best believe, when I see him in the game, I’m going to score on him.”

Alvarado also worked to tout the growing campaign for teammate Moses Wright as ACC player of the year. Wright ranks third in the league in scoring (18 points per game), third in rebounding (8.3 rebounds per game), third in field-goal percentage (54.2%), tied for fourth in steals (1.6 steals per game) and sixth in blocked shots (1.7 blocks per game).

He said Pittsburgh’s Justin Champagnie, Louisville’s Carlik Jones and Virginia’s Sam Hauser are viable candidates.

“With Moses Wright, I don’t know what else to say,” Alvarado said. “He’s doing numbers that’s outrageous on a winning team.”