It’s old hat at this point, but at the beginning of the season, nobody could have predicted that Tech men’s basketball would find itself where it currently is. However, those opinions gradually changed over the season and when the team narrowly missed the NCAA Tournament, there was a sour taste left everyone’s mouths.
That includes mine. Like head coach Josh Pastner, I was convinced that our quality wins and improvement over the course of the season would be enough to put the Yellow Jackets in the tourney, particularly considering the strength of the ACC. However, the committee made the choice to put plenty of other qualified teams in over us. I understand that, and at this point I’m happy we didn’t make the tournament. This year wasn’t the year we needed to go to the NCAA tournament; it wasn’t even supposed to be a year where we qualified for any postseason tournament.
With that being said, I think the NIT was perhaps the perfect tournament for us to make this year. First, the games aren’t played at a neutral site until the semifinals. Lucky for us, this meant that we got to see two more home games in McCamish. These home games served as the perfect spring board for Tech to build momentum heading into the tournament. Had we made the NCAA tournament we most likely would’ve had our first game a decent way away from Atlanta, against quite the high seeded team. Particularly for a team inexperienced in such situations, that would have been a difficult experience indeed.
Second, it allowed the crowds to continue to build at McCamish. With Josh Pastner trying to reignite the idea of the Thrillerdome, a couple hyped up postseason games simply added fuel to a fire that was just beginning to burn. As the regular season wore on, a combination of giveaways and an unexpected influx of wins contributed to an increased fan turnout. Particularly in games such as the Indiana contest, which was nationally televised, commentators consistently noticed the size and vigor of Tech crowds. That is the perfect antidote for the tepid image we had earned in the Brian Gregory years. And it might make the difference on the recruiting trail. Highly-touted forward Jordan Tucker, who was leaning towards Indiana over Tech, might think twice after watching the McCamish crowd rattle the Hoosiers (and the team thoroughly outplay now-unemployed coach Tom Crean’s bunch.)
I could talk for hours about the future of Tech basketball under Coach Pastner, because it is a lot brighter (and clearer) than it was under Coach Gregory. He has demonstrated a willingness to reach out that is difficult not to admire. But more specifically, these feats have been possible thanks in large part to fans.
Earlier this season, the Technique interviewed freshman guard Josh Okogie. Okogie took the opportunity to plead for more fan support. And whether it’s thanks to the Krispy Kreme donuts or free T-shirts or raffles or just their style of play, that support has come in spades.
So if you have shown up to a Tech basketball game, rumbled the bleachers and chanted, “Airball!” with the rest of the student section, pat yourself on the back. You have been part of the first season of what may well be a legendary turnaround. And whether Tech won their NIT championship game against TCU or not, that is something to relish.