Tech women’s basketball near top of ACC

Lorela Cubaj (13) leads a huddle before their January 24 home game against Florida State. The 66-58 win was highlighted by 17 points and eight rebounds from Lotta-Maj Lahtinen (31) and Kierra Fletcher’s 18 points and seven rebounds. // Photo courtesy of GT Athletics

Tech women’s basketball is in the middle of a hot streak, with only one loss since the new year and a six game win streak at time of writing. A number of recent games have been canceled or postponed, but the Jackets have been a strong team when they play, tallying a 10-3 mark to start the season.

Led by junior Lotta-Maj Lahtinen and senior Lorela Cubaj, Tech has fought their way to 3rd in the ACC with a 8-2 conference mark. The only conference losses are to NC State, who are currently 11-1 and ranked fourth in the country, and a two-point loss to a Notre Dame squad that sits only a couple spots behind the Jackets in the ACC. Tech’s remaining eight ACC games have all been won by an average of about 14 points.

Four games across two separate stretches were postponed for Tech, leading to some choppiness in the middle of the season. Back to back home tilts with Miami and UCF were postponed on Dec. 17 and 21 respectively, and with the ACC moving into conference play it seems the UCF game may have just been canceled. After a couple of weeks back on the court, a jump in cases within the Institute caused a postponement of the Jan. 14 matchup with Syracuse and a cancellation of the Jan. 17 trip to Charlottesville to face Virginia.

The season opened with just three non-conference games before entering ACC play. A blowout win over Georgia State and a close win against Tulane sandwiched a tough overtime loss to UGA. The Jackets would move to 4-1 (2-0 ACC) before their December 31 loss to NC State.

Following a second ACC loss against Notre Dame on January 3, the Jackets have been unstoppable. Clemson and Virginia Tech both fell the next week. Tech beat the Tigers by 12 and won a nail-biter over the Hokies 56-54. After a two-week break due to COVID-19 issues, there could have been rust to overcome when the Jackets got back on the court. A 29-point win in Winston-Salem over Wake Forest dispelled any such worry, and three further wins against FSU, Miami and Syracuse pushed Tech toward the top of the ACC.

Team defense has been key to their success. Tech ranks around the top of the ACC and in the top-75 nationally in opponent points per game, and their rebound margin is nearly in the top-40 nationally at +6.8 per game. Their offense is respectable, not a juggernaut but in the top half of the nation by points per game. Lahtinen is good for about 16 points per game, Kierra Fletcher has added another 13 points per game in the seven games she has played, and Cubaj is a walking double-double with around 13 points and 12 rebounds per contest.

The rating percentage index (RPI) for women’s basketball has Tech in the top 20 in the country, ahead of U(sic)ga and ahead of a number of teams ranked in major polls. Their strength of schedule is rated as 14th, so the team’s accomplishments so far have come against some of the nation’s best talent.

The Jackets have begun receiving votes in the AP poll, receiving the second most votes among unranked teams in the most recent iteration. In or near the top 25 for all advanced metrics and polls, Tech women’s basketball is beginning to get the recognition it deserves.

The Jackets play around two games per week the rest of the season, fairly split between McCamish and the road.

Besides a game at Louisville on February 11, every remaining matchup is against a team behind Tech in the ACC standings, putting a top-four finish well within reach.

The final three games of the season are against teams in the bottom half of the conference, so the Jackets could build momentum heading into the ACC tournament in March.

Charlie Creme’s bracketology has Tech as a six-seed in his January 26 bracket, signaling that the odds of a NCAA tournament bid are high barring any major collapse.

Current projections show a matchup with a lower tier at-large team or mid-major conference champion. A streak to end the year and a deep ACC tournament run could result in a higher seed and thus easier matchup in the big dance.