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Mailbag 3/17

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Surprisingly, it’s a whole lot of basketball talk

ACC Men’s Basketball Tournament - Georgia Tech v Florida State Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

With our 9th seed placement: Where do you think we would have been ranked if we lost to FSU? Miami? With a loss to the U do you think we are left out of the dance? - Notwima13

Ben: I don’t know that it would have made a huge difference, given how Tech finished the season.

Carter: If beating FSU and winning the conference tournament only got MBB a 9 seed, I can’t imagine losing would have changed much — a 10 at worst. Losing to Miami would have been really bad and may have pushed the team to the First Four.

Akshay: What Carter said — we were in the Last Four Byes before the ACC tournament, and a quarterfinal loss to Miami probably brings us down one peg to the Last Four In.

Jake: Echoing those two. Wouldn’t have been catastrophic, but clearly there’s not a lot of love (or credit) being given to Tech by the selection committee.

How weird is to be winning? Like as a fan of Atlanta sports teams this makes me almost afraid to believe. How are y’all handling this? - Notwima13

Ben: You know, it’s weird, and I don’t know how I feel about it.

Akshay: Winning is fun, but it’s the hope that kills you. Just try to go into all of these games with low or limited expectations; it’ll help you sleep easier.

Jake: I enjoyed the Florida State game because I went “it’s all gravy.” That’s what all of this is - bonus basketball.

What is going on in the article photo? - SullyGT

Ben: You can’t tell?

Carter: It’s a Rorsach test — tell me what YOU see.

Akshay: What isn’t going on in that photo?

How do you like our chances Friday? How well do we match up with the Ramblers? Did the committee give us a 9 seed just so they could have the Ramblers vs the Ramblin Wreck? - SullyGT

Ben: In the battle between the Ramblin’ Reck and Sister Jean, give me the car over the 100-something year old lady.

Akshay: Lucky for y’all, we talked (read: complained) about this matchup on the podcast this week. TL;DR: it’ll be...interesting. Loyola is very acutely under-seeded and has a solid Virginia-esque defense. Tech is going to have to find ways to stretch the Ramblers’ defense and ensure its shooters get and stay hot.

Jake: Loyola is quite good at being big and boxy. I think the gameplan for them looks, quite honestly, similar to the one from Florida State. They probably deserve a higher seed than they got - as high as a three or four - but much as the committee doesn’t give Tech (in my opinion) enough credit, similar things could be said about their respect for mid-major basketball.

If we do pull the upset, is there any hope at all for a sweet 16 appearance? What would be the key against Illinois (presumably)? Or should we just bask in the fun that was this season since CJP replaced his face shield? - SullyGT

Akshay: I strongly recommend you bask — as they say in NOLA, “laissez les bon temps rouler.”

Jake: Ayo vs. Pastner in the battle of the odd masks? ACC vs. B1G champion? I was personally disappointed for a lot of reasons in the seeding, but the chief among them is that Illinois is pretty darn good. But, to win you have to beat the best, and Illinois could very well be the very best right now, the way they’re playing. Just have to play Pastnerball and see what happens.

College Baseball games should only be 7 innings long...discuss - BuzzForPresident

Ben: I don’t hate it.

Carter: Well, since we’re talking about baseball, I have some thoughts — //is immediately tackled and removed by security

Akshay: Not necessarily opposed — Tech has been into too many four-hour, full-bullpen marathons already this season.

Jake: The games have been so long this year, and the thought has definitely crossed my mind before. I’m sure this take would give certain folks an absolute aneurysm, though. My one reservation is that we’d lose the flow of the game a little bit, though that fear may be unfounded.

Now, favorite TOM HANKS role? - DressHerInWhiteAndGold

Ben: Looking through his filmography, I’m a little surprised how few of his movies I have seen, so I will go with Woody from Toy Story 2, which is the best of the four, and I will not hear your arguments otherwise.

Akshay: Forrest Gump.

Jake: The conductor from the Polar Express.

What’s your 2021 Home Plate Walk Up music? - DressHerInWhiteAndGold

Ben: Let me go with You May Be Right, by Billy Joel.

Jake: I maintain that Walk on Water is a pretty good walkup song, so as to not steal from other great walk up song-havers (looking at you, Joey Bart, Anthony Rizzo, Jake Holland).

Over/Under 5.5 steals; Alvarado, King of Thieves on Friday? - DressHerInWhiteAndGold

Ben: I’ll play it safe and take the under.

Akshay: He’s averaging 2.96 steals/game, so I’m statistically inclined to take the under, but I wouldn’t be opposed at all to the over happening.

Jake: Under, but I think he’ll be above his average still. There’s no way this man doesn’t play out of his mind, i.e. winning > breathing comments and such.

I know it’s great that we won the ACC and all, but how many years did this buy Pastner? If we suck again next year how many years does he still have to prove it again? - DiffusedAcorn & Do you think AD Todd Stansbury’s longer term strategy is to get off the fire-the-coach-if-X doesn’t happen merry-go-round and recognize that the coach is an important role but still a cog in the overall machine? That building the infrastructure, core competencies and brand is the focus of GT athletics going forward. - Yeller Bug

Ben: I think with these last two seasons, Josh Pastner is sufficiently off the hot seat. I think it is still a little warm, but I am very inclined to say that I think Pastner will be here for at least the next few years.

Akshay: I do think the strategy is to get off the coaching carousel or at least limit the amount of time between trips on it. In this vein, we can apply some lessons from this piece by John Muller analyzing coach hiring effects in European soccer. The short version: hiring a new coach (or manager) contributes to a short-term bump in performance, but the program usually regresses back to its historic mean in the long term. The best clubs in Europe (IE: those who have high historic means) have sustained success because they have invested massively in program infrastructure: mainly in the scouting apparatus, the academy, and facilities, which all ultimately benefit and augment the first-team roster. American college athletics programs that invest in their counterparts of those three things — player evaluation/development, recruiting, and facilities — are typically also successful. But first and foremost, you have to have money in the bank to invest in those areas. AI2020 was a great first step in this regard, but (to finally come back around to answer the first question) firing a coach and paying out yet another large contract buyout would serve only to undermine the financial progress the athletic department has made. Pastner has a couple of years left on his contract, and he’ll probably get a short extension for recruiting purposes soon enough — I wouldn't be surprised if that extension is a little sweeter because of this year’s accomplishments. Even if the team were to seriously regress in 2021-22 and 2022-23 (which, FWIW, I don’t think it will), I think it’s entirely possible that he may complete his contract; in my opinion, the money that would be spent on a buyout would be better spent elsewhere.

Jake: Who needs a buyout when the men’s basketball locker room needs some love and will probably have a more substantial effect on recruits?

Which team (women’s basketball or men’s basketball) has the more favorable first round matchup and why? - Anuj Bhyravabhotla

Ben: WBB.

Carter: WBB and it’s not really a contest.

Akshay: Yeah, it’s WBB. Anything can happen in a knockout tournament, but historically, the women’s tournament has not had the level of randomness and/or parity that the men’s tournament has (due to a variety of program-investment-related reasons).

Jake: WBB.

So, Clemson, richer than Croesus, is cutting men’s track and field. I think they already cut some other sport. Does football’s windfall not get shared? BTW, the coach is threatening to sue for Title IX violation, so it should be fun. For a Tech angle, how virtuous are we for not cutting? - Bill Brockman

Ben: I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of Clemson donors insist that their money goes to football. That’s how it is in most places. You donate the money and say where you want it to go. As far as Tech goes, I would imagine cutting is an absolute last resort.

Akshay: I’m not sure I can comment re: virtue, but Tech is either at or near the absolute minimum number of programs to be D1, so there’s not a lot of wiggle room to cut inside.

Jake: I’ve lamented the loss of Clemson Swimming here more than is probably necessary, and they’ve had a history in both track and the now long-gone swim program. Meanwhile, they’re adding stuff like women’s golf and softball, so it’s not like there’s no non-football money, too. If Clemson is anything like Tech (and I’m sure it it’s more pronounced than it is here, if I had to guess), football gets the lion share of the attention, the resources, and the swag from the apparel brands, etc. so it would make sense they see a lot of the money. Given that we are near the NCAA minimu, I don’t know how much we can cut, and I like to think there would be some pushback if we tried to cut anything. Tech has always been a place that prides itself on doing things the Right Way and it seems like cutting sports is antithetical to that ethos.

Hello Gentlemen,

Well I wasn’t expecting the weekend to go that way if I’m completely honest, bur I couldn’t be happier for our basketball team winning the ACC championship. Alvarado’s excitement was infectious. You can tell he really wanted that championship, and the validation it gave him after all the hard work he put in over the past three years, don’t know what to compare that to.

I know this wasn’t the matchup people expected in the ACC Championship, but I was a bit insulted with how some commentators were describing it. I believe one ESPN radio show I listened to likened our championship game to “the game after the new year’s six bowls between 2 mid majors you don’t care about.” Tied to that, my question this week is how far do we need to go in the NCAA Tourney to garner some respect for this team? If we win 1 will people not think we’re a joke? If we win 2 will Pastner get some credit for the future, maybe some credit for growing talented players from what people consider to be lower tier recruits? Or will it matter at all, and any wins we have will be chalked up to it being a lucky year for use. I normally ask less serious questions, but felt this was something worth discussing.

I don’t really care about the answer, I’m happy our team won the ACC championship and got some validation for all the effort they’ve put in and the obstacles they’ve overcome. This is a great result for our team and I hope they enjoy the remainder of this season no matter what happens.

Regards,

George P. Burdell (allegedly) (submitted via email)

Ben: If we beat Illinois in the Round of 32, this team will get some respect. This is easily the most successful season Tech has had in a very long time, and even if they aren’t nationally respected, I think it’s something that Pastner should be commended for.

Akshay: Regardless of the COVID-related caveats and the rocky start, I would argue that the 2020-21 season has been a success (I’ll leave other people to debate how much of a success) and validation for Pastner’s player development model (IE: “get old and stay old”). Even if you throw out the ACC Tournament championship because of UVA’s non-participation in the semifinal (FWIW: the tournament champs t-shirt doesn’t have an asterisk and thus I don’t believe in one here), Tech won six straight games when it needed to most and overcame its bad end-of-game luck, and now it’s in its first NCAA tournament in 11 years. Being in this position — a few days away from an NCAA tournament game — is (in and of itself) a success considering where this program has been recently, and in my opinion, anything further is just icing on the cake. My suggestion: don’t worry about the externalities; just enjoy the ride for now.

Jake: We just won the best basketball conference and didn’t even get ranked after that. That is what I call some disrespect. People sell this team short because it hasn’t been a national darling in a while, but they’re talented and they deserve every bit of the championship they just won, and probably a higher seed in the tournament, too. Mainstream ESPN has always described our teams through the lens of the other team when we’re on mainline ESPN/2/U, which drives me bonkers. The pro-Duke slant in the Duke game or for FSU on Saturday is unbelievable. I kind of like being the underdog, though, and I think no one embodies that spirit better than Jose Alvarado. Love watching him play, and he’s a great representative of this school and the passion that sports imbue in all of us. I think that Pastner could go to the Elite Eight and still people would say “oh, they’re having one of those years they have every once in a while,” despite Illinois being, in my opinion, the best team in the country. That’s the thing about narrative - it’s really, really hard to dislodge people from their longstanding prejudices, and, sadly, in basketball, Tech has been fighting that as an uphill battle for a while.