NIT a bonus for Georgia Tech, a bitter downer for Georgia
ATLANTA (AP) — For Georgia Tech first-year coach Josh Pastner, the National Invitation Tournament is a “great accomplishment.”
For Georgia eighth-year coach Mark Fox, failing to land a NCAA bid is a bitter disappointment.
Georgia Tech (17-15) will play Indiana (18-15) in a home game on Tuesday night. Georgia (19-14) also drew a first-round home game and will play Belmont (22-6) on Wednesday night. If Georgia Tech and Georgia win the first-round games, the state rivals would meet in the second round.
Bolstered by the experienced duo of J.J. Frazier and Yante Maten, Georgia was expected to have the talent to make the NCAA field this season. Instead, the Bulldogs lost to No. 8 Kentucky 71-60 in the quarterfinals of the SEC Tournament. Georgia failed to gain the signature win over a Top 25 team that it needed to boost its NCAA hopes.
It’s not even clear the Bulldogs were squarely on the bubble for a NCAA bid. Georgia is one of four No. 2 seeds in the NIT, prompting Fox to note at least four teams were ahead of the Bulldogs in the NCAA Tournament pecking order.
“If we could have notched a Top 25 win, I think that could have helped us,” Fox said Sunday night in a telephone interview. “If seeding in NIT meant we were not one of first four out, then we probably needed a couple of those.”
Questions about Fox’s job status included a Yahoo Sports report that Georgia already was considering candidates to replace Fox. Athletic director Greg McGarity took the unusual step of issuing a vote of confidence for Fox before the SEC Tournament.
“We look forward to Mark leading our program next year and all of our efforts are centered on postseason play,” McGarity said.
The game against Belmont is a rematch. Georgia beat Belmont 93-84 in a NIT first-round game last season.
This is Georgia’s third NIT appearance in the last four years. Georgia has made only two NCAA appearances under Fox, losing in the first round in 2015 and 2008.
“Obviously, our team was disappointed that they didn’t make the NCAA Tournament,” Fox said, adding it’s still a privilege to play in the NIT.
Georgia Tech was picked to finish 14th in the Atlantic Coast Conference. The Yellow Jackets finished 11th in the league at 8-10, including wins over North Carolina, Florida State and Notre Dame.
Georgia Tech’s NCAA hopes ended with a 61-59 loss to Pitt in the first round of the ACC Tournament. Even so, the Yellow Jackets have reason to consider the season a success.
“To get a postseason bid in this first year of a major rebuild is a great accomplishment for this program,” Pastner said. “The way we overachieved and played this season, our players deserve this, and it gives us something to fight for. I thought we deserved the right based on our numbers and our wins, but we’re fortunate to get in, and we don’t take it for granted.”