Photo by Casey Miles

Can Tech basketball make it to March Madness?

As the ACC and NCAA Tournaments draw closer, one question remains for the Tech men’s basketball team: will they compete in March Madness? While the last few games have been tough on the Jackets, their résumé is hardly anything to scoff at. Following their win against D-II Tusculum College Tuesday, Tech is now at a respectable 14-10.

In Joe Lunardi’s Bracketology post on Feb. 6, his main reason lies in the Jackets’ last two road games, two big losses to Clemson and Wake Forest, respectively. Both teams were behind Tech in the ACC standings heading into those games; losing to teams like those does little to boost a team’s chances.

To really understand Tech’s odds of making the big dance, one must consider their strength of schedule (SOS), rating percentage index (RPI), and quality wins versus bad losses. RPI is the ranking of a team’s performance, with reference to their SOS. The stats are intertwined and easy to look at, since both are simply rankings. Currently, Tech sits at No. 42 in the country in SOS and No. 75 in RPI.

The SOS ranking for Tech is a good indication of their chances of making the tournament; their RPI, however, must be examined more closely to see if they truly fit. It is where quality wins and bad losses comes into play.

When taking into account opponent RPI, one can determine if a win or loss was an expected or unexpected result, based on rankings alone.

Tech’s quality wins come against teams that are in the top 50 in the nation in terms of RPI: these wins are against VCU, UNC, Clemson, Florida State and Notre Dame. On the other hand, Tech’s worst loss is against RPI No. 118 Ohio in an early season home loss, but a positive recency bias could mitigate the sting of that result.

Considering those factors, Tech should make the tournament. However, the season is not over yet. Tech’s remaining seven games include five match ups with better RPI ranked opponents. Furthermore, three of those seven games are on the road, a place where Tech has struggled this season. The Jackets’ record, on the road, this season is 2-7 with their only road wins against NC State and VCU. If Tech wants to have a shot at getting into the tournament, regardless of their results in the ACC tournament, they would most likely have to win five to six of their next seven games, with must-wins against Boston College and NC State.

If Tech doesn’t manage that, they will have to rely on a strong ACC tournament performance. Based on last year’s bracket, if Tech can enter the tournament with a 10-8 ACC record, they will most likely end up with a six or seven seed, placing them immediately into the second round. A 10-8 ACC record would require a 5-2 record to finish off the season. If Tech finished the season with a 4-3 record, resulting in a 9-9 ACC record, they would still enter the second round immediately. However, if they were to win the 8-seed versus 9-seed matchup that they would most likely be placed in, they would have to face the No. 1 seed in the quarterfinal round. Right now that spot is up for grabs between UNC, Florida State and the University of Virginia.

While Tech has beaten two of those three teams, it was with the Thrillerdome behind them. This year’s ACC basketball tournament takes place in New York and knowing Tech’s experiences away from the energy of McCamish
Pavilion, the matchup will be quite different than the regular season games.

Finally, perhaps the best look at whether Tech will make the tournament is comparing them to Power 5 (ACC, SEC, Big 10, Big 12) conference teams from the past few years with similar records. Three of those teams come from the 2015-2016 season: Pittsburgh, USC and Michigan.

The three teams respectively finished with 20-10, 20-11 and 20-10 regular season win-loss totals. Pittsburgh and USC finished the season with 9-9 conference records and Michigan finished with a 10-8 conference record. The teams combined for five wins against Top 25 teams with no team having more than two; Tech currently has wins against three Top 25 teams. The most important thing for these teams was that each made it at least to the quarterfinals of their respective conference tournament.

Unfortunately for Tech, there is one thing that differs between these three teams and the Jackets: their records entering the end of the season. Entering their final seven games, each team had a least 17 wins and no more than 7 losses. Tech enters its final seven games with a 14-10 record and is projected to most likely finish with a 17-13 or 18-12 record.

The main factor currently dictating whether or not Tech makes the tournament is whether their quality wins can carry their record. But these last seven games hold considerable potential to push the team’s case for tournament inclusion one way or
another.

Running the table virtually guarantees a spot in the NCAA Tournament. Much less will force college basketball intelligentsia to make difficult decisions leading up to the fateful Selection Sunday.