The number to watch on Georgia Tech is losses. The Yellow Jackets are at 12 with two difficult road games remaining. If they lose at Notre Dame and Syracuse, they’ll have to win the ACC tournament to keep from having 15 losses on Selection Sunday, and 15 would surely be too many for a Big Dance invite.
That’s what losing to North Carolina State at McCamish Pavilion on Tuesday did: It reduced the margin of error to zero for the team that Josh Pastner keeps saying has no margin of error. Should it split its road games and beat Pittsburgh here next Tuesday, Tech would enter the ACC tournament with 13 losses; no team has ever made the field of 68 with more than 14. (When Syracuse gained admission last season with an RPI of 71, it had 13 losses.)
Tech’s RPI — it will surely slip from 76, which is where it was before Tuesday’s game — cannot stand any more reversals. (Update: It slipped to 89. Yikes.) The Jackets need not to lose again until Brooklyn, and that won’t be easy. For all the giddiness ongoing along North Avenue, the cold truth is that Tech is 7-8 since beating North Carolina on New Year’s Eve. One of those victories was over Division II Tusculum, which the NCAA committee doesn’t count.
The nice part about this season is that Tech and Pastner have given us reason to calculate NCAA tournament odds, something we haven’t had to do much since 2010. (To be fair, Brian Gregory’s final team made a spirited run late last season.) But here’s where we recall the pre-conference losses to Ohio U. and Penn State and Tennessee and even Georgia — all now outside the RPI top 50. Reversing even one of those games would be huge now.
The NCAA door isn’t completely shut for Tech, but it’s close. As much fun as it has been to calculate Dance possibilities, this was always — even with the massive victories over Carolina and Florida State and Notre Dame — going to be a hairbreadth thing. That hair thinned considerably Tuesday night. Pastner, who has lots of hair, might have lost a strand or two himself.
Further reading: Tech’s NCAA case isn’t closed; Georgia’s is.