After losing on a last-second shot at Maryland Saturday, Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt said his team is “starting to play our best basketball at the right time of the year,” which probably would instill a lot more confidence in the masses if the Jackets weren’t in seventh place in the ACC — or least what remains of it — and threatening to become one of the most talented teams ever to miss the NCAA Tournament.
The calendar turns to March next week. Once again, “Madness” has taken on the wrong meaning in the state of Georgia.
This is one of the most talent-rich states in the land. But we’re starting to look like paupers peering through the gates at the NCAA Tournament again. The Jackets may yet get in. But at 6-7 in the ACC — which has only one team ranked in the nation’s top 22 — and with two wins over North Carolina suddenly looking just slightly more significant than the ones over Chattanooga and Arkansas-Pine Bluff, should anybody really feel that confident?
Seriously, how many teams should the ACC qualify? There are six teams ahead of the Jackets in the ACC with winning conference records. What has the conference done to deserve more than, say, four getting in?
According to various websites, the ACC’s collective RPI, which is an index combining winning percentage, opponents’ winning percentage, etc., ranks third nationally. That’s behind the Big 12 and Big East. The SEC is fourth. In strength-of-schedule RPI rankings, the SEC actually is ahead of the ACC.
The SEC also has three teams (Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Tennessee) to the ACC’s one (Duke) in the top 20 in RPI. Tobacco Road and Hoops dominance just don’t intersect this season.
As Georgia coach Mark Fox said Saturday after his team rallied to defeat Alabama, “It’s not like the ACC is running away with anything this year.”
Fox would not get into a which-conference-is-better argument. But he said, “If you just look at our [SEC East] division, Florida, Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Kentucky all deserve to be in it. I don’t think you can even say they’re on the bubble. In the upper half of the ACC, I don’t know if they are as strong as we are, just in our division. I’d have to really look at that.”
What you don’t want to look at is how Georgia schools rank in RPI among the nation’s 347 Division I basketball programs. According to the most up-to-date numbers in teamrankings.com, Georgia Tech is 31st in RPI among state teams. The Yellow Jackets are followed by Georgia (94), Mercer (229), Georgia State (245), Georgia Southern (279), Kennesaw State (294) and Savannah State (316).
(Off on a tangent: We wish Bill Curry and Georgia State good luck in this new venture called football. But it’s a lot easier to build a winning program quicker in college basketball, just because of the sheer numbers in recruiting. If Georgia State suddenly is committed to athletics, here’s the question: How much time does coach Rod Barnes get? His seasons so far: 9-21, 12-20, 12-17, including 5-13, 8-10 and 5-11 in conference.)
The team rankings’ website also spits out a daily projection of the NCAA Tournament bracket. Those projections are being kind to the ACC. As of early Sunday, the site is putting seven ACC teams into the postseason bracket, including the Jackets, and only four SEC schools in. But the projected ACC seeds are low: Tech would be in as a 12th seed in the South, according to the site, Virginia Tech and FSU as 10th seeds and Clemson as a ninth.
Georgia forward Travis Leslie, who was recruited by Tech, North Carolina and Clemson in the ACC, said, “We have a lot of good teams in this conference. But I guess we still don’t get a lot of respect or attention. Hopefully we can get some more teams into the tournament. I know it seems like the ACC is falling apart.”