There is a subtext to these final four games on the Georgia Tech schedule. Sure, the Yellow Jackets need to win as many games as possible to improve their chances to get into the NCAA Tournament, but they also need to find a way to avoid a first-round game in the ACC Tournament.
The Yellow Jackets, who host N.C. State at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, would be seeded 10th in the ACC Tournament if the season ended today. That would mean a first-round game against a team like Clemson, Pitt or N.C. State.
Georgia Tech (16-11, 7-7 ACC) is currently tied for ninth place with Virginia Tech but would lose that tiebreaker and finish 10th based on its regular-season loss to the Hokies. The No. 9 team gets a first-round bye. The No. 10 team must suit up on that first day.
When asked about the mission to avoid the first-round game, Georgia Tech head coach Josh Pastner refused to look ahead.
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“We’ve still got a long way to go, and wherever the chips fall and however we end up playing hopefully will work itself out, and wherever they fall is wherever they fall,” Pastner said. “If we have to play on the first day, we’ll have to play on the first day, and if we have to play on the second day, we’ll play on the second day. We just have to take care of what we have to do.”
After Tuesday, the Yellow Jackets travel to Notre Dame on Saturday, have a home game against Pittsburgh on Feb. 28 and travel to Syracuse on March 4. The ACC Tournament is March 8-12 in Brooklyn, New York.
“We could win all four, or we could lose all four,” Pastner said.
Georgia Tech hasn’t been .500 in the ACC this late in the season since the 2009-10 season, and that team finished 7-9. The last time it finished .500 in the conference was the 2006-07 team that went 8-8.
One statistic that Pastner often cites for his team’s success is the assist-to-made field goal ratio. In a 71-65 win over Syracuse on Sunday, the Yellow Jackets had 19 assists on 26 made baskets. They average 63.99 percent for the season, eighth-best in the nation and 67.7 percent in ACC games. Pastner’s goal is 60 percent.
Another numerical goal is to make more free throws than the opponent attempts. Against Syracuse, the Yellow Jackets made 15 free throws, while the Orange shot only 12. Conversely, Georgia Tech shot only three free throws in last week’s loss to Miami.
Georgia Tech beat N.C. State 86-76 on Jan. 15 in Raleigh, North Carolina. It was the highest point production of the season for Georgia Tech against an ACC opponent with Josh Okogie scoring 27 and Quinton Stephens 20. Freshman Dennis Smith, who is averaging 18.9 points and 6.6 assists and is considered an NBA lottery pick, scored 31 for the Wolfpack.
A lot has happened since then. N.C. State (14-14, 3-12) has lost seven straight games and head coach Mark Gottfried was notified last week that he will be replaced at the end of the season. The Wolfpack likely will fail to make it to the NCAA Tournament for the second straight season after getting into the tournament the first four years of Gottfried’s tenure.
“You can’t enjoy the win (against Syracuse) because 48 hours later you’ve got to play an N.C. State team that’s as talented as any team in the country,” Pastner said. “They’re a dangerous team, they’ve got good players, they run good stuff, and they’re well-coached. This league is so darned hard. It’s unforgiving.”
N.C. State has suffered on defense. The Wolfpack are dead last in the ACC in defense (80.5 points), and teams are shooting 45.3 percent from the field against them. They have lost their past four games by an average of 21 points.
The Georgia Tech-N.C. State series historically has been loaded with close games as 18 of the past 22 meetings have been decided by 10 or fewer points, with three of those going into overtime.