After a lackluster 2022 season and the departure of Michael Devoe, Jordan Usher, Khalid Moore, and Bubba Parham, projections for this year’s Georgia Tech Men’s Basketball team were bearish, to say the least. Head coach Josh Pastner, however, remained optimistic throughout the offseason. Constructing an ensemble cast of veteran transfers and promising underclassmen, Pastner hinted towards a perimeter-centric and team-first brand of basketball for his 7th season on the flats. “The star of the team is the team.” This refrain was beaten into the minds of the Tech faithful during the offseason. I, myself, began to believe it. Perhaps this would be a case of addition by subtraction, with the departure of a prolific yet ball-dominant scorer catalyzing the development of a young and talented group of guards and wings. So, with my gold-tinted glasses firmly fastened to my nose, I looked ahead to what I believed would be a bounce-back season for the Yellow Jackets.
The beginning of this season stands as one of the least debilitating in the tenure of coach Pastner. The team won the games they should have won, and lost the games they should have lost. For perhaps the first season since he took the reins, Pastner’s squad did not suffer any truly embarrassing or confounding losses in non-conference play. They even managed to pull out close wins against in-state rivals Georgia and Georgia State. It seemed as though my blind optimism had been proven right, and the team was heading into ACC play with positive momentum. Never mind the completely uncompetitive losses to Marquette and Iowa, those were merely the result of a young team finding its identity. Surely, this was a team poised to turn some heads in a conference that was looking wide open for the taking.
My hope was not crushed after a blowout loss at the hands of preseason favorites North Carolina to begin conference play. However, the equally embarrassing losses to Clemson and Virginia certainly had me questioning all that I had come to believe about this team. With three straight losses in league play and an ensuing matchup against the #12 ranked Miami Hurricanes, the Yellow Jacket faithful had all but given up on this team and their coach. Then, the unthinkable happened. A season-defining win against one of the best teams in the ACC. It was just what the doctor ordered. All of my optimism had returned. If this team could beat Miami convincingly, then surely they would make quick work of a woeful Florida State squad. Alas, quick work was not made of Florida State. In fact, the Yellow Jackets lost by double digits. Thus began one of the worst stretches of basketball I have ever witnessed – from any team.
For an entire month, the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets did not win a single basketball game. The average margin of defeat was nearly 15 points. However, I don’t think that adequately portrays just how terrible some of these games were. If we really want to understand the depths to which this team sank, we will have to venture into the wonderful world of *analytics*.
One of my favorite stats for quantifying how a team performed in a particular game is called “game score.” It is essentially a 0-100 grading scale for how well a team played, regardless of the outcome. The average game score is, you guessed it, 50. A game score above 75 indicates a good performance, one that would realistically win most games. On the flip side, a game score of 25 or less is indicative of a terrible performance. You will rarely see a team win with a game score below 25 unless something went terribly wrong. During their nine-game losing streak, the Yellow Jackets strung together four sub-25 game score performances in a row. One of these performances, a 43-point home loss to Duke, received a game score of 1. It was arguably the worst loss in program history. Then, the Yellow Jackets lost to, perhaps, the worst Louisville team of all time. Just when we thought we had hit rock bottom, we found out that rock bottom had a basement. The only caveat was that there was truly nowhere to go but up. It really could not get any worse.
With all of the negativity I have poured out in the last few paragraphs, this next statement I am about to make might seem a bit odd, but I truly believe that the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets are playing their best basketball right now. In their last four games, the Yellow Jackets have posted game scores of 79, 52, 82, and 91. For all of you visual learners, here is a lovely chart that shows just how absurd this sudden improvement really is:
Plotted on this chart is every game that the Yellow Jackets have played this season. They are sorted chronologically on the x-axis and according to game score on the y-axis. Green points are wins, and red points are losses. But, what I really want you to look at here is the dotted line which snakes across the center of the chart. This is the five-game trend line, it simply represents the average game score across any five-game stretch. I believe that this is the one of the best indicators of how a team is performing at any given point within the season. This trend line hit its lowest point just four games ago, bottoming out at an abysmal average game score of 20. Since then, the Yellow Jackets have been nothing short of fantastic, prompting an unprecedented 43-point increase in their game score trend line. If we were to shorten that arbitrary five-game average to, say, four games, that increase would be an even more staggering 65 points!
I know that all of this talk about game score and advanced stats might sound like nothing more than moral victories to a lot of you. After all, despite how great those stats have been over the last four games, they have only yielded two wins. However, what I want to make abundantly clear is that these are not just meaningless numbers. Game score correlates very closely to wins and losses. In their two losses during this four-game stretch, the Yellow Jackets posted game scores of 79 and 82. So far this season, there have been 2,329 instances in which a team has posted a game score of 79 or higher. Only 205 of those performances resulted in a loss. That is a 92% win rate. To put it simply, the Yellow Jackets got extremely unlucky, twice. Those are games that you will win nine times out of ten, and they just happened to lose both. I am not willing to concede that those two losses were the same as the losses to Duke and Louisville. They simply are not, and the statistics prove that. Sometimes, wins and losses do not tell the full story. This Georgia Tech team is currently playing like one of the better teams in this conference, and yet they only have three wins to show for it.
Now, I am not going to debase myself and say that this team has a chance to make any kind of postseason appearance. We all know that will not be happening. What I will do, however, is stick my neck out for this team and this coaching staff. They lost nine games in a row, many of them in embarrassing fashion. Yet, they refused to throw in the towel. They kept working and are now showing the fruits of that work. Is it all too little, too late? Yeah, probably. However, I am thrilled that this team is beginning to realize its potential. They are playing exciting, competitive basketball, and I want to encourage anyone reading this article to tune into the remaining games on the schedule. If possible, show up to McCamish Pavilion and cheer these guys on. They absolutely deserve it.