Josh Pastner’s wallet may feel lighter this week.
The first-year Georgia Tech coach is reaching into his bank account to pay for student tickets to Tuesday’s National Invitation Tournament first-round game against Indiana. After IU’s athletic department decided hosting the NCAA’s secondary tournament wasn’t worth the trouble with students and faculty on spring break this week, Pastner and the Yellow Jackets are going all-in to create a big-game environment and keep their tourney hopes alive.
“I’m buying tickets for all the students,” Pastner said. “I’m buying the tickets myself, out of my own money, out of my own pocket. I’m buying the tickets. I’m gonna buy it. If I gotta go broke to buy the tickets for everybody, I’m doing it.”
This NIT opener represents something different to both teams. For Indiana, it’s consolation at the end of a long, disappointing season. For Georgia Tech, the opportunity to continue playing represents a small reward at the end of a promising rebuilding season under Pastner’s guidance.
“It’s a good opportunity for us to have validation for the type of year we had and be able to continue to play,” Pastner said.
The Yellow Jackets certainly wanted more than the 17 wins, including eight in conference, that they earned, but looking at this year through a big-picture lens, the season was still a success.
Georgia Tech beat then-No. 9 North Carolina to open a tough Atlantic Coast Conference slate and engineered the seventh-most efficient defense in the country, according to basketball statistics web site KenPom.com.
Pastner’s team topped the ACC in field goal percentage defense (40.7) against conference opponents, held league teams to an ACC-best two-point field goal percentage of 44.2 and led the league in block percentage (14.5).
“Georgia Tech has gotten better all year long,” IU coach Tom Crean said. “Their defense is outstanding in the way they switch defense and put pressure on passing lanes and force you into tough spots. We have to have great ball movement and cutting because last thing that you want to do is stand around on offense.”
The Yellow Jackets have also been at their best on their home floor. They’re 15-4 at McCamish Pavilion this season, with wins over three ranked teams — North Carolina, No. 6 Florida State and No. 14 Notre Dame.
On the other side, taking the game out of Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall puts Indiana at a competitive disadvantage. The Hoosiers are merely 4-11 away from Bloomington and have won only two true road games in the conference this season.
“It’s gonna be great for people in Atlanta,” Pastner said. “It’s Indiana. It is Indiana, so we’ll have an opportunity to get a good crowd.”
As long as the Hoosiers remain alive in the NIT, they — and everyone else — will be playing under new experimental rules approved by the NCAA last month.
The most notable change will be the resetting of team fouls to zero at the end of 10-minute segments of each half. The first 10-minute segment will begin when the ball goes live to begin the half and ends at the 10:00 mark. The second segment will begin at the 9:59 mark and close when the half ends.
Normally, teams shoot one-and-one free throws beginning with the seventh foul of the half. Two free throws are awarded at the 10th foul. Under the new NIT rules, teams will get two free throws at the fourth foul of the 10-minute segment.
In another notable rule change, the shot clock will be reset to 20 seconds instead of 30 seconds when the ball is inbounded in the frontcourt. The NCAA Men’s Basketball Rules Committee wants to see if this move increases the number of possessions during the game, and by extension, leads to an increase in scoring.
This will be Indiana’s fifth appearance in the NIT, following earlier appearances in 1972, 1979, 1985 and 2005. The Hoosiers won the event in 1979 and finished as the runners-up in 1985. They lost their NIT openers in 1972 and 2005.
When it takes the floor tonight in an unfamiliar arena, Indiana hopes its fortunes will be closer to the former years than the latter ones.
“It doesn’t matter what tournament it is,” IU guard Robert Johnson said. “We just have to focus on what is next and keep on getting better.”