With its big win over Syracuse on Sunday evening, Tech was once again able to preserve those volatile NCAA Tournament hopes by securing a 16th win (or 15th, depending on whether or not you count Tusculum) with four regular season games remaining. Though the Jackets could technically lose out and still make it in by winning the ACC Tournament, the best bet would be to do enough during the regular season to earn an at-large bid. No one knows for sure what “enough” would be, but it’s a safe bet that 19-20 wins would get Tech in pretty comfortably. Win this evening and the road looks much more navigable. Otherwise, get your church clothes on.
Tonight’s basketball game promises to be a battle between two of the ACC’s finest freshmen when Tech’s Josh Okogie and NC State’s Dennis Smith, Jr. face off for the second and likely final time. Okogie and the Jackets got the better of Smith and the Wolfpack back in January when Tech came away with an 86-76 victory up in Raleigh, and things have only gone south for the Pack since then. This is a game that Tech absolutely must win to feel even a little bit comfortable about its NCAA Tournament chances; a loss would force the team to win either at Notre Dame or at Syracuse in addition to beating Pitt at home. Going up against a team with a lame duck coach like NC State will end one of two ways: with a victory against a deflated team or a loss to an angry one. We’ll soon know which NC State showed up.
One of the other teams contending for a spot in the NCAA Tournament will be Wichita State, one of the few mid-major schools that has become a consistent part of the Big Dance over the years. The Shockers, coached by the well-regarded (and well-paid) Gregg Marshall, are firmly on the bubble this season despite holding a 25-4 overall record. Their issue is the same one that’s faced by other mid-major programs: no margin of victory is very impressive in the Missouri Valley Conference, and every loss hurts tremendously. It’s possible (likely, even) that the Shockers will make it in by winning the MVC Tournament, but in the meantime it’s hard to pit their strength of schedule against the likes of Georgia Tech and others.