Josh Pastner seeking fresh start for Georgia Tech: ‘We’re starting 0-0′

Georgia Tech head coach Josh Pastner directs his team during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Duke in Durham, N.C., Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2022. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
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Georgia Tech head coach Josh Pastner directs his team during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Duke in Durham, N.C., Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2022. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

Credit: AP

Josh Pastner wants to hit the reset button. After 13 games in which Georgia Tech was without a key piece in guard Bubba Parham for most of that time as he returned from knee surgery, and then went through a COVID-19 pause, the Yellow Jackets coach wants to look at the remaining 16 scheduled games through a different lens.

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“I really like our team,” Pastner told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “I think we’re really close. The way I look at it, Saturday, we’re starting 0-0. We’ve obviously had the COVID pause, we’re still a work in progress. But I think now that we got through the pause, got two games under our belt (since the pause), I look at it as we’re 0-0 starting Saturday.”

Adopting that perspective won’t, of course, erase the Jackets’ 6-7 record, with six of those losses in the past seven games. Five of those six have been to teams that were in the top 45 of the NCAA’s NET rankings going into Thursday’s games. At 0-3 in the ACC, the defending conference champions share last place with Pittsburgh and Virginia Tech. Saturday’s assignment, at home against Notre Dame, could be pernicious. The Fighting Irish have won five of their past six, including wins over No. 16 Kentucky and North Carolina.

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An at-large NCAA Tournament berth seems highly unlikely. Given the weakness of the conference this year – Duke was the only team in the top 35 of the NET rankings after Wednesday’s games – the Jackets would probably have to come close to winning nearly all of their remaining games to make a strong case for an at-large berth. And while Tech appears to be improving, it’s not quite to the point where it could produce that sort of dominant play. The weakness of the conference also means that, while the Jackets can expect to be more competitive, there aren’t many remaining opportunities for wins to impress the tournament selection committee. The Jackets missed that opportunity over the previous seven games.

Given that the Jackets potentially have two All-ACC candidates in guard Michael Devoe and forward Jordan Usher, it’s a disappointing position to be in as the league schedule is just starting. But, given the team’s inexperience at other positions and the injury to Parham, perhaps it’s not entirely surprising.

But, if they are indeed close, as Pastner said, then it might be time for the results to reflect it, and that might make reframing the remaining schedule a useful exercise for his team.

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If the tournament is likely out of play, Tech can pursue another significant, albeit less meaningful, marker of success. If the Jackets finish their remaining 16 games (there also are postponed games against Syracuse and Alabama A&M that the team is trying to make up) at 10-6, they would secure a winning record in ACC play for a third consecutive season. That has been accomplished only once in team history, 1988-90. (Were Tech to fit in its postponed game at Syracuse, the Jackets also would need to win that game to have a winning league record.)

Ever optimistic and believing in his team, Pastner saw that as feasible.

“Are we capable of making that happen?” he asked. “Absolutely. But it’s got to be one possession at a time, through defense, through winning 50/50 balls, through winning toughness plays. In order for us to achieve that, our way to get that is going to be through that.”

Pastner took encouragement from the Jackets’ play in their 69-57 loss at No. 2 Duke on Tuesday in demonstrating the effort and focus that he said will be necessary to have a shot at a winning record in the league.

“I felt the best we did it was (Tuesday),” Pastner said. “I felt like we did it in some other areas throughout the season, but it hasn’t been as consistent. I thought (Tuesday) was the best we’ve done it in a 40-minute time period.”

A 13-2 run to close the first half lifted the Blue Devils to a 35-23 halftime lead and removed almost all possibility of an upset. Still, the Jackets cut Duke’s lead to six points on three different occasions in the second half, the last time with 3:18 to play. While Duke had rust as it came off its COVID-19 pause, the Blue Devils’ 37.3% field-goal percentage was its lowest of the season.

“They played hard the whole 40,” Duke forward Paolo Banchero said. “We couldn’t really pull away. They made it difficult for us.”

Pastner’s team has thwarted itself in its slide with minutes-long scoring droughts. For five games in a row before the Duke game, the Jackets endured a second-half segment of at least four minutes in which they failed to score. Tech ended that streak against Duke, but scored two only points in the final 5:31 of the first half.

To Pastner, who often describes basketball as a “make-or-miss game” in which good shots sometimes don’t go in, avoiding those droughts is beyond players’ control. But the principles he preaches, such as diving on the floor for loose balls and executing the defense properly, are not.

“If we can be really good at those, we will have a chance (to have a winning ACC record for a third consecutive season),” Pastner said. “And as it’s shown by the past, it’s not easy to do that here at Georgia Tech.”

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