If you’re Georgia Tech, this is the ACC you’d awaited. Mike Krzyzewski: gone. Roy Williams: gone. Jim Boeheim: hanging on just to spite his critics, of which there are many. Florida State: having its worst season in 20 years. Louisville: having its worst season ever. Notre Dame: so bad Mike Brey is quitting.
The highest-rated ACC representative in Ken Pomeroy’s rankings is No. 34 Duke. Only two ACC teams are among the Associated Press Top 25, neither in the first 15. Pittsburgh is tied for the league lead with five conference losses, the latest coming Wednesday against Notre Dame, 3-16 in ACC play. ESPN’s Joe Lunardi has Duke as a No. 7 seed in his Bracketology; he has North Carolina missing the field of 68.
If you’re Georgia Tech, this is what you’ve wanted since the conference grew to include more Big East expatriates (seven) than charter ACC members (six). You wanted a season where the bluebloods weren’t their usual selves. You wanted a season that would remove all doubt about Josh Pastner. This could have been that season. It hasn’t been.
Under Pastner, Tech won the ACC tournament in 2021, a COVID-compromised time. It’s 10-29 in ACC play since. It has gotten better of late, winning four of its past six conference games. Still, when you start 1-12 in the league, it’s hard to get worse. (Also, the aggregate league record of Tech’s four recent victims is 21-55 – though, to be fair, the Jackets did beat Miami, now tied for first, on Jan. 4.)
Pastner is 106-113 over seven Tech seasons, 52-78 in regular-season ACC play, 2-4 in ACC tournament games. He has taken Tech to the Big Dance once. Not many coaches with that worksheet get seven seasons. It would be surprising if he gets an eighth.
Pastner got caught short on talent this season. That’s no excuse. His job is to attract talent. Tech’s leading scorer, Miles Kelly, ranks 24th in the ACC. Tech’s 2022 recruiting class was ranked last in the ACC by 247 Sports. It included transfers Lance Terry and Ja’von Franklin, who have become the Jackets’ second- and third-leading scorers. Not to sound cruel, but Tech has assembled a roster of complementary players – minus the star such players could complement.
Pastner has coached players up. Moses Wright, the zero-star recruit, became ACC player of the year. Jose Alvarado, 3-star recruit, became the ACC’s defensive player of the year and has created an NBA niche. Those two exited in the spring of 2021, leaving the Jackets to backslide into sub-mediocrity. They were the 14th seed (of 15) in last year’s ACC tournament. They’ll be the 13th seed next week in Greensboro.
Seven years is a long time. Georgia and Georgia State are on their third coaches since 2016-17. The 2021 ACC championship was a shining moment, but its impact was momentary. Wright tested positive for COVID after Tech beat Florida State in the title game. The Jackets lost to Loyola in Round 1 of the NCAA.
Angel Cabrera wasn’t Tech’s president when Pastner was hired. J Batt wasn’t its athletic director. It’s possible Cabrera/Batt would favor keeping Pastner because they like him – he’s famously likable – but Cabrera was dispassionate enough to dump AD Todd Stansbury and football coach Geoff Collins last fall.
Odd though it sounds, Tech’s 2021 success works against its architect. If Pastner could build an ACC champion, why have subsequent seasons gone so wrong? How many coaches lug a losing record into Year 8? If a coach hasn’t built a consistent winner in seven seasons, what’s the chance he will?
As nice as winning the ACC tournament was, it was one week – and two games; owing to COVID, Virginia forfeited the semifinal – in Greensboro. That’s one golden week in seven years. In the grand scheme, that’s not enough.
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