WASHINGTON – Georgia Tech began the season with two goals – win the ACC championship and make an NCAA tournament run.
In order to achieve the latter, the Yellow Jackets may need to take care of the former. The odds aren’t in Tech’s favor to win the ACC tournament, and history doesn’t favor such unlikely results at this tradition-bound event. The Jackets are unswayed.
“It’s right in front of us,” guard Marcus Georges-Hunt said. “Our story is still to be written. We’re still writing our story, we’ve still got our pen in our hand. We can still do it.”
The No. 10 seed Jackets begin with No. 7 seed Clemson Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the Verizon Center. Tech split with the Tigers this season, with each team winning on its home court. The Jackets rallied from 13 points down early in the second half to defeat Clemson 75-73 Feb. 23 at McCamish Pavilion.
“You fix what you did wrong, but you duplicate the things you did in both games you did right,” Georges-Hunt said.
In the second game, the Jackets played wretched defense in the first half, permitting Clemson to shoot 52.9 percent from the field and falling behind 44-35 at halftime. However, Adam Smith unloaded 15 points in the second half and Georges-Hunt tossed in 12, and the Jackets secured their third victory in a row with last-second free throws by Georges-Hunt.
Should Tech advance past Clemson, the Jackets will play No. 2 seed Virginia on Thursday. Since the Jackets stunned the Cavaliers at McCamish Jan. 9, Virginia has won 11 of 14 and is projected as a No. 1 or 2 seed in the NCAA tournament. And if the Jackets somehow advance past the Cavaliers, the likely matchup is with No. 3 seed Miami in the semifinals.
The lowest seed to win the tournament, in its 63rd year, is No. 6, which has been done five times, including by Tech in 1993. That said, the league was between seven and nine teams until 2005, when it expanded to 11, then 12 in 2006 and 15 in 2014.
Since 2005, the lowest seed to win has been the No. 3 seed, on four occasions. There have been only three instances when a team seeded lower than fifth has made the final, including Tech as a No. 7 seed in 2010 (the last year the Jackets made the NCAA tournament).
The No. 10 seed has made it once (N.C. State in 2007). Further, No. 10 seeds have not done so well. They’ve lost to the No. 7 seed nine times in 11 years.
Can Tech beat Clemson, Virginia and the rest of the field? The Jackets’ performance over 18 leagues, and particularly their 6-2 finish, would suggest so. But it would be a historic achievement.
Most likely, Tech will need to at least reach the finals to gain the attention of the NCAA tournament selection committee. Winning on Saturday night, obviously, would earn the automatic bid and remove all doubt. Otherwise, the Jackets appear to be a possibility for the NIT.
“Let that be what it is,” forward Nick Jacobs said of the lack of faith. “Outside people are always going to have something to say. As a program, we sort of just ignore that and just focus on each other.”