This marks the third time in 11 seasons Georgia Tech has lost five non-conference games before Christmas under Paul Hewitt. This is significant because Tech under Hewitt has only once done better than 8-8 in ACC play.
Simple math: Five non-league losses plus eight conference losses plus another in the ACC tournament — the Jackets have never won that event under Hewitt — and you’ve got 14. Fourteen is too many to get a team into the NCAA field. (Yeah, I know the field has expanded this season — by three. Same difference.) And Hewitt has said he believes this team is good enough to be an NCAA team.
More history: The two other times Tech under Hewitt has lost five non-league games before Christmas, it hasn’t just missed the NCAA — it has finished with a losing record. (The Jackets were 15-16 in 2000-2001, 15-17 in 2007-2008.) Should Tech have a losing season in 2010-2011, that would make three in the past four tries. That would be enough under ordinary circumstances to find a new coach, but the circumstances at the Flats aren’t ordinary. Hewitt has that perpetual rollover and his $7 million buyout.
On Wednesday the Jackets lost at Siena, where Hewitt used to coach. The Associated Press used the word “stun” to describe what the Saints had done to Tech, but why should anybody be stunned? Tech’s first loss of the season was by 17 points at Kennesaw State, which has gone 0-9 since. Its third loss came by 21 points at Northwestern, which just lost to St. John’s, which was so desperate for a new coach it spoke with Hewitt in March. (Against Tech, Northwestern scored 55 points in the first 20 minutes.)
Now Siena. The Saints played a zone and dared Tech to shoot from the perimeter, something the Jackets had done well in a loss against Syracuse, which plays the nation’s best zone. Tech made eight second-half baskets against Siena, only three of them on jump shots. When you have a team laden with guards, you should be able to make jump shots. Not this night, alas.
Oh, and here’s the really depressing part: Siena’s second-leading scorer on the season didn’t play (bad ankle), and its leading scorer played sick. (Also hurt. Ryan Rossiter caught an elbow in the first half. Still scored 19 points.) And while there have been good Siena teams in years past — the Saints have reached the past three NCAA tournaments — this wouldn’t appear to be one. The victory improved the Saints’ record to 4-6.
As for Tech, it was Loss No. 5 against a schedule that hasn’t been terribly imposing. The Jackets have faced one ranked opponent. The aggregate record of the six teams they’ve beaten is 35-39. Only one ACC team has lost as many as five games already, and at least Wake Forest has the excuse of playing under a new coach. Tech, as we know, is working under the same coach.
By Mark Bradley