ATLANTA, GEORGIA — This week may be a relatively short entry in terms of the number of sports featured in the ol’ weekly roundup of non-revenue sports, but what it lacks in length it makes up for in vigor. Given that Volleyball only had one game - we’ll get into that later - but basketball is back in action with three contests, it does mean that there’s plenty to talk about in terms of matchup sports, the pseudo category I just invented right now to draw the line between large invitational-type events seen in golf, track and field, cross country, and sometimes swimming and tennis, and the more focused team vs. team (or team vs. team. vs. team, et al) format of other sports. In the “large invites” world, it’s really only cross country in action, as the rest have transitioned into their winter breaks. First, though, we will take a look at the RECC Composite for the week.
The obvious caveat every week to these updates is that they don’t yet really reflect the weekend’s results until next week, but the more frequent update runs of the computer ranking services (Massey for the men and women’s basketball programs, along with Sagarin and KenPom for the men) does add a bit of a boost for the RECC at the end of the week. Thus, with the upward trend in men and women’s swimming, the overall rating held steady week to week, despite the, uh, happenings on the gridiron.
These leave some legitimate questions for the week ahead. For example, how will volleyball’s loss to Louisville affect their rankings? The short answer is easy - it shouldn’t. Louisville is far and away the best college volleyball team this year, and the Coaches Poll hasn’t respected the ACC nearly the amount they should have this year. The real result will wait until tomorrow. In the meantime, we dive into that question and others below.
Overall: 21-4 / Last Week: 0-1
Polls - AVCA Coaches: 14
Nerd Stuff - RPI: 6 | Massey: 7
Tech had just one game this weekend, rather than the typical two contests split between Friday and Sunday. Given that they were going to play one of their highest-ranked opponents forever, it can be reasonably understood that this single contest carried a lot of weight, as if to make up for the lack of volume of contests. Much as Tech had played Louisville close in their first meeting of the season against the Cardinals at home earlier in the season, Friday’s match was not too different. Tech may have gotten swept, sure, but they were highly competitive in all three sets, and were able to force extra volleyball in the third set, i.e. they did not go down without a fight. The set scores were 25-21, 25-21, and 27-25.
In all three sets, the Cardinals outhit Tech by a modest margin, with the third set, unsurprisingly, being the most evenly matched, as the lead bounced between the two teams several times. However, what is more surprising was that the third set was also a bit sloppy, as both teams hit under .200 and Louisville committed 8 errors, which matched Tech, but had made the margin in the previous sets off of their slight advantage at minimizing errors, posting 3 in each of the first two sets to Tech’s 7. Quite literally, the difference between the two teams was that Louisville, the clear best team in the nation, was able to both capitalize on Tech errors and make fewer errors of their own.
It’s silly to have to say this, but Georgia Tech should not be looked on as a lesser team because of this past weekend. They came out and fought a fantastic team that, much as Tech has bitterly fought to claim its rightful spot in the national volleyball perspective, and are still likely underrated, has struggled its way to the top of the mountain, really only claiming the number one spot in the poll by default of being the last undefeated team, rather than the coaches making the correct decision in a vacuum to name them the country’s best squad. At the end of the year, the ACC will absolutely be able to give a postmortem of this year and deem it the most successful in the history of the conference, regardless of what happens in the postseason. There likely will not be a repeat of the 2019 debacle where the conference’s second best team gets left out of the NCAA tournament, but there could very well be a case where a team is underrated like Miami or Florida State (RPI top 20, not ranked in the poll) or North Carolina (RPI top 30, not receiving votes in the poll), or are on the fringes like Notre Dame and Syracuse (RPI top 50) and are left out because of the existing bias that favors the Big 12 and Big 10.
I’m not here to tear any conference or program down. No, all these student-athletes and teams work very hard and are great at what they do. All that should be asked, though, is to give the ACC a fair shake. What this really exists to serve, though, is as a pre-rant in case the poll doesn’t shake out in Tech’s favor later this afternoon.
Tech gets #3 Pitt again this Friday for a 4:00 PM game on ACC Network. Tech defeated the Panthers in 5 sets in Pittsburgh earlier in the year, and a second win would help cement Tech’s claim for the second-best team in the conference behind Louisville. Given the nature of the ACC schedule, Tech does suffer a bit compared to Miami, who they beat 3-1 a few weeks back, in that they play four games against the top three teams in the nation, while the ‘Canes catch them just twice, but, regardless, the game is already sold out, despite being still at the tail end of the workday, and should make for great television for those that can’t make it to the Flats in person.
Overall: 3-0 / Last Week: 3-0
Polls - AP Poll: 17
Nerd Stuff - Massey: 18
There are three games to talk about this week, which means we’ll likely have to cut through the extraneous details a bit in order to hone in on the main points we can delve from the various results. For those who may have missed out, Tech starts their season ranked #17 in the AP Poll and #20 in the Coaches Poll, and didn’t disappoint either ranking this week, as they swept an even 3-0 through their opening slate of Central Michigan on the road and Kennesaw State and Belmont at home.
Tech may match up against Kennesaw State more or less every year, but the other teams were more unique, though Belmont in particular was a very interesting non-conference opponent to make the Sunday matinee. In the first game, the Jackets started out strong, grabbing a lead they wouldn’t relinquish and cruising to a victory, nearly doubling up their opponents. Syracuse transfer Digna Strautmane led the way with 19 points, while Nerea Hermosa added 18 of her own and Eylia Love poured in 15. Tech struggled mightily from beyond the three point arc, going just 2-14 for 14.3%, but was able to eviscerate their opponents on the boards and in the paint, shooting nearly 50% from inside and reeling in 40 rebounds, 13 of which came on offense. This is a classic Tech drubbing and demolition of an outmatched opponent. Interestingly, nine players saw double digit minutes, which is a larger subsection of the roster than is typical.
In the second contest, Tech had their home opener against the local Owls, who were on hand for the unveiling of the new banners celebrating Tech’s second-ever Sweet Sixteen run last season in the NCAA Tournament. The banners all look wonderful, but there has now been a mismatch in alignment introduced near the American flag in the rafters, as one side has the 1990 Men’s Final Four and the new banner, while the other has just the 2004 Final Four banner. Still, though, the slight change is very pleasant and the logo just hankers for another banner to join it in the rafters come March. As for the game itself, the Jackets allowed single digit points to the Owls in the first three quarters and once again were able to get a significant amount of players into double digit minutes. Tech upped their rebound count to 45, 18 on offense, while the balanced offensive output put the Jackets’ leading scorer at just 12 coming via Lorela Cubaj, though Love added another 11 of her own. Tech was better from three, though not great, but Loyal McQueen was a highlight there, notching 2 of her 5 attempts. All in all, it was a dominant performance again for a very good team.
The third game of the week was also undoubtedly Tech’s most interesting. As we noted last season, weeks with three games were notable for being very exhausting, but Tech had the slight benefit of the latter two games coming on friendly territory in the Thrillerdome. However, it is worth noting that the Belmont faithful really turned out well for the game, and certainly the best for an out of state mid major I’ve seen in my time in the orbit of Tech women’s basketball. Of course, this is no ordinary mid major, as the Ohio Valley (and soon to be Missouri Valley) stalwart did upset Gonzaga in the first round of the NCAA Tournament last spring. The Jackets started slow out of the gate and trailed 15-11 at the end of the first quarter. In the second, though, the defense, which was already playing great by allowing just 15, dialed up the pressure and let up just four points in ten minutes, which has to be the smallest number I can remember seeing on the box score for a quarter of basketball. Tech never gave up the lead after that, though there were times when it was certainly close to happening. Belmont drew within a possession several times late, including as late as 45-43, before Tech pulled away to win 58-45. Most significantly, Cubaj notched her 1000th career point, and the Jackets got very meaningful contributions from Strautmane and Bulane, as both Latvians came off the bench to provide ten critical points and played some pretty good defense. Bulane drew three fouls and each added a critical three pointer in a time when Belmont couldn’t seem to miss from beyond the arc, keeping Tech in front. It was another quiet day from that range for Tech, otherwise, as Sarah Bates and McQueen combined to go 0-8 from three, 1-11 overall. However, the defense played lights-out the entire game, and once again held their opponents under 50 points. It’s extremely disingenuous to nit-pick a win, because basketball is a team sport and the sign of a good team is picking up in other phases of the game when one might be down. In this regard, Tech is quite good.
Overall, on the week, Tech showed it still has the defensive prowess that has always been a trademark, as their opponents averaged about 43 point per game. They struggled from three point range, but were able to dominate the boards and play effective defense. They will hold steady in the ratings in the week to come, or at least they should, and they head back out on the road for a game at ETSU, which isn’t available via streaming, before returning home for their biggest test thus far in the first of two matchups against former schools Coach Fortner has led in the form of the Auburn Tigers visiting for another Sunday matinee, this time on ACC Network.
Tech had a slightly poorer than expected showing this weekend in Huntsville, as they finished 9th overall on the women’s side of the NCAA Regional and 13th overall among the men. Tech’s top performer overall was Nicole Fegans, who earned all region honors, and it was nice to see Mary Kathryn Knott on the course for the first time this year, as Tech had missed her reliable contribution in the lineup this year. As the men seem to typically run 8k races, this one was a bit different at 10k, but their top finisher was similar to previous results this season, as James Cragin crossed first for Tech. The main thing to look for in the coming days, though, is to see if Nicole Fegans will be given one of the at-large spots to participate once more at the NCAA championships.
In the Club House:
Tech headed to Macon this weekend to play a pair of historic rivals in the form of the schools in Auburn and Athens. In the first game, the Jackets did not fair as well, and fell 6-2 to the Tigers. However, in the second game, the tables turned in Tech’s favor and their were able to notch a second win of the season in Clean Cold-Fashioned Hate, winning 4-2. Tech is now 10-5 on the season.
11/20 — at Notre Dame
11/19 — vs. Pittsburgh
11/15 — Lamar
11/19 — at the School in Athens
11/17 — at Eastern Tennessee
11/21 — Auburn
Swimming and Diving:
11/18-20 — Georgia Tech Invite, Atlanta, GA