Overachieving Tech finally hits the wall. What’s next for Pastner?

NEW YORK — It sounds cruel to say, but Georgia Tech wound up looking pretty much like we thought it would. After losing to Pittsburgh 61-59 in the first round of the ACC Tournament, the Yellow Jackets have an RPI of 105. They’re 84th in Ken Pomeroy’s rankings. They’re 79th in Dr. Joel Sokol’s LRMC ratings. They’re 94th in ESPN’s basketball power index.

In sum, they’re not an NCAA tournament team. To their lasting credit, there were several moments this season when they looked the part. Then such moments stopped coming. Since beating Notre Dame on Jan. 28, Tech is 4-7. One of those victories was over Division II Tusculum. The Jackets closed by losing four of five, Tuesday’s loss to Pitt canceling the victory over this same Pitt at McCamish Pavilion seven days earlier. And here’s the real stinger, if you will:

Going by Vegas, Tuesday’s result wasn’t an upset. Pitt, which finished where Tech was supposed to finish in the ACC (meaning next-to-last), was favored. The Jackets have won two games away from McCamish. One was at North Carolina State, which fired Mark Gottfried a while ago. The other was at VCU, marking the Rams’ only home loss of the season.

That was Tech in a nutshell — good enough to surprise people, not quite good enough to sustain the surprises. For the thousandth time: In the grand scheme, this season was a roaring success. Tech beat three teams (four if you count VCU) it had no business beating. Josh Pastner was named ACC coach of the year on merit. Still, this bears repeating: In Year 1 under Pastner, Tech is 17-15, having gone 8-10 in league play; this time a year ago, Tech was 19-14, having gone 8-10 in league play.

For his work, Pastner gets a trophy. For his, Brian Gregory got fired. The intent here isn’t to revisit that decision, made by an athletic director now working at Purdue. (Heck, I thought Mike Bobinski should have fired Gregory a year earlier.) Going 8-10 against the ACC was the best Gregory was going to do. Pastner’s first season makes us believe he’s capable of much more.

One and done in Brooklyn. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

That said, he needs better players. He admitted as much Tuesday night. He needs shooters. Tech finished last among ACC teams in field-goal percentage and 3-point percentage, next-to-last in free-throw percentage and scoring. These Jackets couldn’t have played harder or guarded better. Pastner took four holdovers who had appeared substandard ACC players under Gregory and one 3-star Gregory signee and rendered this dodgy assemblage the sort of team nobody wanted to play.

Pitt coach Kevin Stallings spoke last night of the “beauty” in the Jackets’ prosaic approach. Tech uglied up games because it had no recourse. After scoring 78 points in the Jan. 25 upset of Florida State, the Jackets broke 70 against ACC opposition only once. They’ve held a halftime lead only one time since beating Notre Dame three days later — against Tusculum, which Pastner scheduled because he feared his team might start the conference season 0-11.

Watching Tuesday’s game, the feeling persisted that Tech’s opponent was, man for man, superior. Still, you thought Tech might just find a way to win. That had to do with Pastner’s defenses. He used all manner of them — man-to-man, 1-3-1 and some other stuff, too — to level the field. Per KenPom’s ratings, Pastner’s team is 270th among 351 Division I teams in offensive efficiency; in defensive efficiency, it’s eighth.

The teams rated ahead of Tech on defense: Virginia, South Carolina, Gonzaga, Florida, West Virginia, Louisville and Cincinnati. All are headed to the NCAA tournament, not one as a double-digit seed. That’s what Pastner did: He took a team that coulda/shoulda gone 10-22 and had it dancing with wolves. Which doesn’t, alas, mean it belongs in the Big Dance.

We saw Tuesday the difference between talent and the relative lack thereof. Pitt has had a terrible season under Vanderbilt export Kevin Stallings, who has been at odds with the players inherited from Jamie Dixon, but some of those players are pretty good. Midway through the second half, Tech’s defense had clamped down on the Panthers to the extent that nearly every possession ended in a bad shot. But then, just after the Jackets took a four-point lead, Pitt up and hit two 3-pointers. That can happen when you play a lot of zone.

Then, after the Jackets overrode a seven-point deficit to forge a tie inside the final four minutes, Pitt’s Jamel Artis hoisted another trey. It looked awful when he let fly — on the night, most of his shots did — but it sailed home. Of the eight 3-pointers Artis tried, this was his only make. Sometimes a defense induces the shot it wants and the darn thing goes in.

Driven by desperation, Tech scored eight points in the final 34 seconds. It had scored 10 over the preceding 10 minutes and 54 seconds, which is where the game was lost. Afterward Pastner spoke of the need to recruit, and that’s where games of the next few years will be won or lost. In a banner year for Georgia high school talent, the Jackets have been shut out on the local front.

They still have a chance at M.J. Walker of Jonesboro, also sought by Kansas, UCLA, Florida State and Maryland. They’re tracking Jordan Tucker of Wheeler, who’s thought to be leaning toward Indiana. (Though the Hoosiers could fire Tom Crean any moment, which could change the dynamics.) Both are, according to Rivals, ranked among the nation’s top 54 players. Tech needs at least one.

The question regarding Pastner is the one that still hangs over Mark Fox at Georgia: Can a Georgia-based coach keep enough good players at home to stock a Top 25 program? Fox hasn’t yet, and he has been in Athens since 2009. Pastner arrived last April and has made a great first impression, but even inspired coaching — as we just saw — cannot carry a team into the ACC’s upper half. Better players are required. Getting better players is part of coaching, too.

Brooklyn musings:

Tech’s bubble bursts, but in no way was this team a bust.

A bridge too far — the ACC Tournament in Brooklyn.

Reader Comments 0

25 comments
GTBob
GTBob

"Still, this bears repeating: In Year 1 under Pastner, Tech is 17-15, having gone 8-10 in league play; this time a year ago, Tech was 19-14, having gone 8-10 in league play."


One of those teams had Marcus Georges-Hunt, Adam Smith, Nick Jacobs, and Charles Mitchell. The other relied on an incredibly improved Ben Lammers and a freshman which isn't sustainable game to game. Comparing them is ridiculous. Gregory underachieved with his roster. Pastner overachieved. We aren't a tournament team yet, but we aren't far off which is a bit of a miracle considering the team we had coming into this year.

GTroller
GTroller

@GTBob

Pastner looks promising.  Retrospectively it looks like Bobinski made the right call.  Although I supported Gregory and think he would have turned it around this year, too.

TOJacket
TOJacket

If we hit a few more of those lay ups and FT's we missed we would be dancing with the other stars.

xpuctaqpgt
xpuctaqpgt

I think we had a solid season this year.  Next year we'll get to see what Pastner can do with more of his recruits in the system.  We also get to see if he can motivate them to do well in the NIT this year.  I'd give this season a solid "B".

GTBee
GTBee

Over achieving ? Not really. We were average to almost good. College basketball is funny. It's more about what happened to the team the game they played b efore playing you? UNC? My guess they had a big emotional win and came to Atl and lost. Duke? Got upset the game before we played them and smashed us by 50 I think. I predicted it would be a huge loss and I was right. NC St? I think they announced their coach was history after this year right before they came to Atl and put on an inspiring show for him. Pitt? We beat them the last time. They got their revenge this time. We won 8 in the ACC but we were really a bottom, cellar team. Coach needs to spin it positively and I do believe in a couple years we will be back in the Big Dance - not next year sorry. We need to be patient. We'll get there.

LOGS1973
LOGS1973

GT finished much, much better than you wanted Bardley.

You are SEC and can't appreciate battle in the

mighty ACC.. Stick with your dogs as GT takes 8 wins in the

ACC and " coach of the year" for CJP

GTroller
GTroller

He's going to take a little time off and go watch The Masters.

khd713
khd713

Good analysis of a surprisingly good season that, unfortunately, kind of fizzled out at the end. There is no question Tech needs better players. Heck, even one better player – one who can shoot a three – would have made a huge difference this season. Quinton Stephens turned out to be a significant liability, especially in the last few games of the season when his shooting and overall play went off a cliff. I have no idea why Pastner continued to play him so many minutes. I hate to put the burden on just one player, but he literally cost Tech a couple of those games with poor shot selection, ugly misses, missed free throws, and he clanked what would have been a huge three late in yesterday's game that sank the Jackets' last gasp. Pastner has got to find a shooter and strong defender to take his place in the lineup, and a point guard (probably Moore) who can replace Heath. Many credit Lammers as the most-improved player in the conference this year, and he was tremendous, but I also think Heath's maturation as a ball-handler and the reduction in crucial turnovers was almost as important. Heath took a huge step forward this year and looked like a totally different player from the out-of-control turnover machine he was last year, and I wish he could stick around for one more season. A lot of Tech's future depends on how quickly Moore is able to assume the role of confident, mature, in-control point guard the Jackets desperately need. Every great Tech team from the past was led by a great point guard, and next year Moore had better be ready to take care of the ball, feed Lammers, and put Okogie in position to get to the rim.

RamblinWrecked
RamblinWrecked

@khd713 Don't forget we have Jose Alvarado coming in from NYC to run the point as well.

Ddragon
Ddragon

You obviously know very little about this game. The main reason this team was successful was the way they played defense. There defensive efforts over came their the offensive short comings. The 2 players to lead that effort were Lammers and Stephens. It was Lammers shot blocking and Stephens leadership talking on defense, making sure teammates were in position, and length on the perimeter that lead to tech having one defense in the ACC and country this season. Not to mention they I believe the best tandem of double double in the ACC. The biggest reason they didn't get further is that they ran out of gas in the end . When Guaye got hurt pastner played them both to many minutes. At end of games they both were gased lastly if you really knew anything about this game you would know that it was bad shot selection, by some on the team (one on three drives) which to a team struggling to score at times is just like a turnover is what largely contributed to those loses

FauxNewsAJC
FauxNewsAJC

Just remember GT fans, Memphis kicked Pastner to the curb. His, "I love you, but you have to play better" approach gets old quick. Look at the bright side, at least you didn't finish dead last in the ACC. 8-11th place is as good as Pastner will ever be. 

GTBee
GTBee

Not next year but the year after I think.

LOGS1973
LOGS1973

@FauxNewsAJC Dear FauxPoster... GT and coach

Pastner will compete for ACC championship next year.

You will be done with your FAUX posts as they get old

quick!!

Ychromosome
Ychromosome

Crazy fans at Memphis decided Pastner wasn't good enough. That's what happens when you follow Calipari and his wild Wes (Worldwide Wes, for the insiders) recruiting show. After a year of Tubby Smith, some are wondering about the decision, but once a certain sized core of fans turn against you, it's better to leave.

DawgNole
DawgNole

@TOJacket

Is that a better percentage and larger sample size than 13-3?

Duh!