ATLANTA – Georgia Tech is returning to the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament for the first time since 1996, and the Yellow Jackets will face 23rd-ranked St. Joseph’s at 2:42 p.m. Eastern time Thursday, Mar. 15, in the first-round of the West Regional Thursday in San Diego, Calif.
The West Regional first and second round games are being held at the Cox Arena on the campus of San Diego State University. Game times will be announced Monday by CBS, which televises the entire NCAA Tournament. Tech’s games can be seen in Atlanta on WGCL-TV, Ch. 46, and heard on the Georgia Tech/ISP Radio Network.
Tech, which has a 17-12 record and finished fifth in the Atlantic Coast Conference, was made a No. 8 seed on the West. The Hawks, the 9th seed, are 25-6 overall and finished first in the Atlantic 10 Conference regular season race. Both teams were eliminated in the semi-finals of their respective conference tournaments.
The other first-round game on Tech’s side of the bracket pits top-seeded Stanford (28-2), champion of the Pac-10 Conference, against 16th-seed UNC Greensboro (19-11), which won the Southern Conference, 30 minutes following the Tech-St. Joseph’s game.
In the other first-round games in San Diego, Big Ten runner-up Indiana (21-12) meets Mid-American Conference champion Kent State (22-9) at 7:55 p.m., and Cincinnati (23-9) faces Brigham Young (24-8) 30 minutes following. Those two winners will meet at 5:38 p.m. Saturday. The winners of Tech-St. Joseph’s and Stanford-UNCG will face off 30 minutes after.
Orders for tickets in the Tech allotment can be taken beginning at 8 a.m. Monday by calling 888-TECH-TIX. Tickets will not be sold online and will be available to all customers on a first-come, first-served basis. Seat allocation will be based on priority points and season ticket holder status. No tickets will be mailed, and only tickets to the sessions in which Tech participates will be sold.
The two survivors from the San Diego first and second-round games will advance to the West Regional semi-finals in Anaheim, Calif., on Mar. 22 and 24.
The Jackets faced Stanford earlier this year, dropping an 80-66 decision at Maples Pavilion on December. Tech has never faced St. Joseph’s in basketball.
Head coach Paul Hewitt is taking the Yellow Jackets back to the NCAA Tournament in his first year at the helm. The Jackets are making their 12th NCAA Tournament appearance overall, and have a 16-11 record in the tournament. Tech’s last appearance in the NCAA’s was 1996, when the Jackets advanced to the round of 16 and finished with a 24-12 record. Tech made nine straight appearances in the tournament from 1985-93, including a Final Four appearance in 1990, and also earned a bid in 1960.
“I go back to where we started back on Apr. 6 (the day he was hired),” said Hewitt, who is among the 20 finalists for the Naismith College Coach of the Year award. “The guys in that locker room deserve the credit. This is a significant step for our program. But Bobby Cremins put this program on the map, and that’s why these guys came here. The seniors deserve a ton of credit.
“After spending five years in Philly (as an assistant coach at Villanova), I’m familiar with St. Joseph’s and I know (head coach) Phil Martelli very well.”
As they watched the pairings being announced on television in the locker room, the players reacted to receiving the bid with a jubilant yell, but it was taken in stride.
“I liked their reaction,” Hewitt said. “They we’re happy, but it wasn’t like the end of the world. It wasn’t like they were going to the Super Bowl.”
Tech’s chances even to finish with a winning record this season or win many conference games were considered slim by most outsiders. The Atlantic Coast Sportswriters Association picked the Jackets to finish eighth in the league. Tech began turning heads in December by defeating UCLA in Anaheim and Kentucky at Philips Arena in Atlanta. Then came victories over 10th-ranked Virginia on the road and 6th-ranked Wake Forest at home in the same week in January. In February, the Jackets knocked off 13th-ranked Maryland and earned a second victory over Virginia, then ranked 6th, in the same week. Tech then beat Virginia a third time in the first round of the ACC Tournament, the Jackets’ first tournament win since 1996.
After finishing the pre-conference schedule at 8-3, Tech opened its ACC slate by racing to a 44-32 halftime lead over North Carolina at home. The Tar Heels rallied in the second half to win 84-70, and the Jackets fell to 0-2 in the conference after losing 93-80 at Maryland.
It was that game, however, that Hewitt has called the turning point of Tech’s season. After falling behind by 22 points in the first half and trailing by 19 at intermission, the Jackets came out of the locker room and took the game to the Terps, closing the gap to six at one point and outscoring Maryland 46-40 in the second half.
Tech took its 0-2 mark to Virginia, ranked 10th in the nation, and pulled off the biggest upset of the season, 73-68, which remains the Cavaliers’ lone loss at home this year. After that, the Jackets came home and upset Wake Forest in overtime, 95-89, to even the mark at 2-2, and Tech’s players began to believe.
“I feel like these guys have played to their potential,” said Hewitt, disagreeing with most observers that Tech has been a surprise this season. “They came here to go to the NCAA Tournament, and take advantage of the tradition that Coach Cremins built.”
The Yellow Jackets have played 16 of their 29 games against the Top 30 teams in the CollegeRPI.com rankings, posting a 7-9 record against them. Six of Tech’s 12 losses have come to teams who have held the No. 1 ranking at some point this season, three to North Carolina, two to Duke and one to Stanford.
Other Tech accomplishments this season included its first ACC road wins in two years, at Virginia and Clemson
The Jackets have ridden the backs of its five seniors, including 6-11 center Alvin Jones, 6-7 forward Jon Babul and 6-3 guard Shaun Fein in the starting lineup. The rest of the Tech lineup includes 5-11 junior point guard Tony Akins and 6-3 freshman forward Marvin Lewis.
Akins is Tech’s leading scorer at 14.5 points a game and averages 4.2 assists per game. Jones averages 13.6 points and a team-high 10.3 rebounds per game, while Fein averages 13.6 points. Lewis averages 8.9 points and 4.5 rebounds and Babul 5.7 points and 3.4 rebounds.
Tech goes 10 deep with a solid bench that includes 6-4 freshman forward Halston Lane (6.8 points per game), 5-10 senior guard T.J. Vines (4.0), 6-3 senior guard Darryl LaBarrie (5.7), 6-7 freshman forward Robert Brooks (2.8) and 6-8 junior center Michael Isenhour (0.9).
“When I looked at this roster and did my homework on Georgia Tech,” said Hewitt, “I saw a point guard who averaged in double figures and had over 100 assists his first two years. I saw Alvin Jones, who could become only the fourth guy in ACC history to have 1,000 points, 1,000 rebounds and 400 blocked shots. When you have a great point guard and a great center, that’s a heck of a starting point.”
Jones’ presence inside as an offensive threat opened up the perimeter for a solid group of shooters. Tech has shot 37.7 percent from three-point range, which ranks second in the ACC. Akins leads the group at 42.3 percent, Fein at 40.4 percent, Lewis at 37.5 and Lane at 38.8.
On defense, Jones’ presence allowed the Jackets to employ a pressing, trapping defense that has Tech on a school-record pace of 8.1 steals per game. Jones has 100 blocked shots, and the Jackets have limited opponents to 40.8 percent shooting from the floor and 32.3 from three-point range, both of which rank among the top three of the ACC.
“The more I found out about this team; (assistant coach) Dean Keener told me how Halston Lane could shoot. I knew about Shaun Fein from (former assistant coach) Kevin Cantwell. I knew what kind of shooter Marvin Lewis was. When I started putting pieces together, I realized we had some good ones. The question was, could we get them to work as hard as we want them to work. The kids bought into it, and that’s why we were able to do what we’ve done.”
“These guys have pride,” Hewitt continued. “Tony Akins was a great player in high school. Alvin Jones was a great player in high school. Shaun Fein was the only guy in our locker room who had been to the NCAA Tournament (at Stonehill College). Winning is winning, no matter what the level.”
The Jackets will travel Tuesday to San Diego and practice Wednesday at a time to be determined.
For more information on the 2001 NCAA Tournament, visit FinalFour.net