Georgia Tech fans holding hope that the Yellow Jackets can make a late-season run to a postseason berth might do well to heed the analysis of CBS bracketologist Jerry Palm.
Interviewed for a story for Tuesday’s paper about Tech’s NCAA chances, Palm suspected that Tech needed to win the rest of its regular-season games to get to 19-12 just to get in the conversation. There’s a school of thought that the Jackets need to just get to 20 wins by selection Sunday, but it would appear that it’s not the magic number that it may once have been (if it ever was).
Since 2011, when the NCAA tournament expanded to 68 teams, the selection committee has turned down three ACC teams that had reached 20 wins after the ACC tournament:
2015: Miami – 20-11 overall, 10-8 ACC
2013: Virginia – 21-10, 11-7; Maryland – 20-11, 8-10
(Note: All three teams’ RPI rankings were higher than Tech’s would be at 20 wins, I’m fairly sure.)
Palm pointed out something else that wouldn’t be in Tech’s favor were the Jackets to finish 2-1 against Boston Clemson, Louisville and Pittsburgh and end the regular season at 18-13. Since he began tracking RPI in the 1993-94 season, Palm said that only 16 teams have earned at-large bids with 14 losses. The last were in 2011, when the field expanded to 68. If Tech were to finish 18-13 and then lose in the ACC tournament at any point, that scenario would obviously give the Jackets a 14th loss.
I don’t know that 14 is a magic number any more than 20 is (or isn’t), but it’s just a lot of losses.
Tech has a number of “good losses” and its strength of schedule will also play in its favor. But, Palm said, “If all you have is good losses, you don’t have much. You don’t have anything. Obviously, that’s not all they have, but they don’t have much more than that.”
Another regular-season loss wouldn’t do the Jackets’ RPI ranking any favors, either, obviously. According to Warren Nolan of warrennolan.com, finishing 3-0 would improve Tech’s RPI to about 50. Finishing 2-1 with a loss at Louisville would only get the Jackets to about 65. Again, there’s no magic RPI number, either but I think you want to be in the 50’s or lower as an at-large team.
If the Jackets finish 18-13 and then win two games in the ACC tournament, they would only get to about 60, according to Nolan.
This isn’t exactly a shocker, but I would think that Tech at 20-14 with an RPI of about 60 has a considerably different candidacy than it would at 21-13 and an RPI of 45 and a road win over an RPI top 20 team (Louisville).
The selection committee did take N.C. State in both 2014 and 2015 at 19-12 but the Wolfpack had an RPI after the ACC tournament of 39 in 2015 and 55 in 2014.
As for the NIT, the Jackets still need to finish strong. Since 2011, the 12 ACC teams that went to the NIT had an average record of 18.8-11.7. Tech has already surpassed the average loss total and unless it wins the ACC tournament (which would render the NIT moot, obviously), it’ll take on at least a 13th loss. That said, I think getting to 19 wins would seem like fairly safe territory for an NIT bid.
All this to say that the Jackets would do well to finish out 3-0 to get to 19-12. Remember, the NIT takes teams that fall off the bubble, not that just any power-conference team that finishes above .500. (The NIT changed format in 2006 to give automatic bids to any team that won its regular-season conference championship but didn’t win its tournament, which can lock up many of the 32 spots.)
Tech has won its past three games and four of its last five and has a chance to pen a remarkable late-season rally. But there’s a lot more that the Jackets still need to write.