Leaving Duke out of it, since we know most of you would be vastly more satisfied with a Duke championship, but ask yourself this: have you ever witnessed a more satisfying championship than the one Georgia Tech just won?
And we should add: it’s not just that they won it....it’s that they won it. It’s a different shade of meaning. They took it, they seized it, they valiantly overcame a more talented opponent in Florida State.
And they did it the hard way, by playing gut wrenching defense.
The Yellow Jackets forced 25 turnovers. Twenty-five! Against the #2 seed in the ACC - and one that was relatively fresh, too.
And consider this: they forced eight against MJ Walker, Leonard Hamilton’s senior point guard and six against Scottie Barnes, who is widely seen as a brilliant talent and a certain lottery pick.
That’s just incredible.
And then there’s the very great pleasure of watching Jose Alvarado and Moses Wright, both guys who were seen as average prospects at best. Wright, remember, was a 6-9 kid who had barely played basketball when he signed with Georgia Tech as a thin but talented forward, sort of the ultimate project.
Look at what he’s accomplished - ACC Player Of The Year and ACC Champion.
And consider Alvarado, who came to Tech as a four-star point guard, true, but with plenty of doubters. We told you in 2017 what we thought he would become. Here’s what we said about him in his freshman year:
“Six-foot Jose Alvarado, from New York, is likely to be the point guard from day one and could be a four-year player...The skinny on Alvarado is that he’s not wildly athletic but that he’s a tough, gutty kid and a winner. If you want to think of ACC guys who have had that rep, think of Sidney Lowe, Tyus Jones and Steve Blake.
“And he has done something that is incredibly rare on any level: a quadruple double
“We expect him to start from day one.”
We’ve said several times since then that he was becoming better and better and that a senior point guard was a real luxury. We’ve also said that we don’t see him as an NBA-level player and we still don’t, but we will say this: he’s earned enough respect to get a chance. Someone will be interested simply because the guy is clearly such a winner.
Watching him dive on the floor and bat balloons around, overcome, will be an image ACC fans will have for a long time.
It was a bit unfortunate that his coach, Josh Pastner, picked the postgame celebration to showcase his sometimes awkward personality, thanking everyone at ESPN like he had just won an Oscar and that not long after ESPN embarrassed him by playing his odd and extraordinarily long cell phone greeting/motivational message.
That took away from the beauty of Alvarado’s raw emotion which was really too bad.
No one doubts Pastner’s fundamental intelligence.
He went to Arizona as a walk-on because Lute Olson, like most people, saw him as a prodigy with glittering potential. He was essentially a coaching intern, soaking up knowledge and getting ready for his own career.
But as smart as he is, people have noticed his occasional lack of awareness and self-awareness and sometimes, for someone who is remarkably intelligent - he finished his Arizona degree in about two-and-a-half years with basically two full time jobs (a college athlete and a coaching internship) - very poor judgment.
The obvious example is his former friendship with Ron Bell, who nearly brought his Georgia Tech program down, but also by what one of his Memphis players claimed, that Pastner came on the court and complained to him about his relationship with his AD and that he was probably heading towards a firing.
People on the recruiting trail have rolled their eyes at Pastner for various reasons, including his questionable fashion sense and his (related) failure to successfully project power at AAU events.
We would do well to keep in mind that he's still a fairly young coach, just 43. He wouldn't be the first person to mature intellectually before maturing emotionally and maybe he’s grown in Atlanta. In fact, we’re sure he has.
As for the rest, we’ll just have to accept that, as much as any coach in ACC history, Pastner is a nerd.
He’s also now an historic figure: to the best of our recollection, the ACC has had three Jewish head coaches - Seth Greenberg at Virginia Tech, Larry Shyatt at Clemson and now Pastner.
He’s the first Jewish coach to win the ACC Tournament and we think that’s great. Jews have played a major role in building the ACC so it’s especially nice to see a Jewish coach win a championship.
Tech’s victory also continues a recent ACC trend.
When Mike Krzyzewski came to the ACC, he brought a defensive intensity that a lot of people didn’t much like. He forced teams to deal with defense the entire time they had the ball and sped games up as well. Leonard Hamilton kind of built on this with his frequent substitutions and his own constant pressure.
More recently, Virginia’s Tony Bennett, Clemson’s Brad Brownell and Pastner have shown they’re willing to play a slower, more grinding style of defense. Bennett rode his to the last national championship, two years ago, and Pastner made his work well enough to overcome a very fine Florida State team Saturday.
It’s not the most TV friendly style but if you can’t overcome it, it breaks you.
And we should add that we see touches of Olson in Pastner, from printed play cards he has employed to the matchup zone he uses which draws on some of Olson’s tricks.
We’ve said several times that we think this whole season deserves an asterisk and there’s still some truth to that and could be more before the NCAA Tournament is over. Both Tech and Florida State got an easier-than-expected path to the finals. We’re not sure Tech could have performed at such a high level if they'd played Virginia Friday, particularly with a thin roster.
On Saturday, Georgia Tech showed immense heart and character, much of it driven by Alvarado, and we couldn’t be happier for him, his teammates and Pastner, who has answered so many questions.
They earned this and they deserve this title now: ACC Champions.