Bubble Watch: Georgia Tech

William Howard/Icon Sportswire

With the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee throwing us a bone last Saturday with the seeding of the top 16 teams, we are now in the middle of bubble talk, all the way to Selection Sunday.

For the next few weeks we’re about to discuss a lot of numbers (RPI, BPI, etc.), key wins and strength of schedule. These figures will be dissected and juxtaposed ad nauseam. For a few teams scratching and clawing to get into the Big Dance, these next four weeks will be critical.

One such team facing that level of scrutiny: the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets.

Let’s first look at some essential facts and numbers before we discuss what they need to do in order to go back to the NCAA Tournament.

2016-17 record: 15-11 (6-7 in the ACC)

KenPom.com RPI: 80

Key Wins: at VCU, Notre Dame, Florida State and Clemson

Bad losses: Ohio

The inspired play of the Yellow Jackets has no doubt been one of college basketball’s feel-good stories this season.

In the first season under new coach Josh Pastner, Georgia Tech has gone above and beyond all expectations. Just the fact that the Yellow Jackets have a winning record after being predicted to finish in 14th place by ACC coaches is a testament to the job Pastner has done.

No one in their right mind thought that they could contend for NCAA Tournament bid. Not after the Yellow Jackets lost their top four scorers from last season. If you show me someone who thought that Georgia Tech could contend for a bid, I’ll show you a liar.

Think of the talent discrepancy between Georgia Tech and other ACC teams, say, North Carolina State, and you’ll begin to really appreciate the job Pastner is doing. If he can get this rag-tag team of projects and castoffs to play to nearly .500 basketball in the loaded ACC, just imagine what the future will look like when Pastner starts bringing in elite recruits.

What is working in Georgia Tech’s favor:

key wins.

Beating Notre Dame and Florida State will look extra impressive when the NCAA Tournament committee examines their resume in March. The Irish and the Seminoles represent two top-25 wins. That will prove to be huge.

A top-50 road win at VCU (KenPom RPI 45) will also look great in March. That win got Pastner’s team to believe in itself; the Jackets showed a lot of grit to escape with an overtime win. In essence, that moment set a tone for the season.

What is working against Georgia Tech:

The Yellow Jackets’ middling non-conference showing.

First of all, one of the Yellow Jackets’ wins came against a Division II team, Tusculum. Scratch that from the record, since the committee does not count wins that don’t come against Division I teams.

Six other wins came against sub-200 teams in KenPom’s ratings, including five coming against teams ranked 269 or lower. Hence, this is the reason for Georgia Tech’s sub-optimal RPI.

Plus, Georgia Tech’s loss to Ohio may not dreadful—the Bobcats have a respectable 104 RPI—but considering it came at home, the committee may frown upon it.

With five regular-season games left for the Yellow Jackets, they really have to play their best basketball at the most opportune time. They probably have to win at least three games or at least have a win of significance.

Their next five games look like this: vs. Syracuse (Sunday), vs. North Carolina State (February 21), at Notre Dame (February 28), vs. Pittsburgh (February 28) and at Syracuse (March 4).

Tech realistically needs to split with Syracuse and beat N.C. State and Pittsburgh. If it does, it can concede a loss to Notre Dame. After that, Georgia Tech can win another game in the ACC Tournament and then say it has done enough to garner an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2010.

Make no mistake, though, the margin for error is razor thin. ESPN’s Joe Lunardi, as well as our own Adam Zdroik, have Georgia Tech on the outside looking in, while CBS’ Jerry Palm has the Yellow Jackets among his last four teams in.

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