Feb. 8, 2018
By Andy Demetra
– They’ve lost three straight for the first time in five years, sending them teetering toward the NCAA Tournament bubble. The local papers have tossed around phrases like “free fall” and “pivotal” to describe their current state. They’ll be playing at home, urged on by their notoriously noisy fans.
Yet Josh Pastner doesn’t buy the notion that Georgia Tech’s next opponent, the Louisville Cardinals (16-8, 6-5 ACC) will be the angrier, hungrier team Thursday.
“We should be the ones angry going into the game on Thursday, not Louisville,” the Yellow Jackets’ head coach said. “We blew the game [Sunday]. You’re up, you’ve got to find a way to get it done. We should be the ones who are angry going into the Yum! Center on Thursday.”
Pastner’s agitation is well earned: for the third time this season, Tech shot better than 50 percent and lost. On the heels of an 80-72 overtime loss to Boston College, the Yellow Jackets (11-12, 4-6 ACC) will look to get mad – and get even – when they face a Cardinals squad that defeated them last season.
Pre-tip reads before Georgia Tech and Louisville square off at the KFC Yum! Center (7 p.m. EST, Georgia Tech IMG Sports Network):
Work trip to Louisville 🏀🐝🛫
— GT Men’s Basketball (@GTMBB) February 8, 2018
If watching the Boston College game felt like pulling teeth, Pastner could relate. He had a dentist’s appointment the following morning.
Surely he gritted his teeth Sunday as Boston College rained 11 of 23 three-pointers, an ACC high by a Tech opponent. It also continued a curious paradox for the Jackets in ACC play. Georgia Tech now has four conference games in which it averaged better than 1.00 points per possession. They’re 1-3 in those games.
A big reason why? Tech has allowed 45.0 percent three-point shooting in those games.
Most efficient games of ACC play
Opponent PPP Opp. 3pt. shooting
Clemson 1.14 10-21
Pittsburgh 1.13 6-14
Florida St. 1.07 5-13
Boston College 1.02 11-23
Contrast that with last year, when Georgia Tech never lost – in ACC play (4-0) or overall (15-0) – in which it topped 1.00 points per possession.
Louisville only made 5-of-21 threes in a 78-73 loss to Syracuse Monday. The Cardinals run plenty of ball screens in the halfcourt, looking to unleash their guards for attacks to the rim or drive-and-kicks. Leading scorers Deng Adel (15.5 ppg), a versatile small forward, and Quentin Snider (12.6 ppg), a crafty pick-and-roller, shot a combined 1-for-11 from long range against the Orange. Look for both to get re-engaged early. The Cardinals also have a pair of efficient roll men in 7-footer Anas Mahmoud (7.7 ppg) and bouncy power forward Ray Spalding (11.6 ppg, 9.2 rpg), whom Pastner compared to Abdoulaye Gueye for his touch around the rim.
Can the Yellow Jackets not “open the gate” – Pastner’s term for a defender turning his hips – and allow the Cardinals to get straight-line drives, thus forcing Tech to get broken down in the halfcourt? Worth noting: Georgia Tech held Louisville to 31.8-percent shooting from two-point range last season, the Cardinals’ worst percentage in ACC play.
It doesn’t seem possible for a man who just turned 40 in September, but Josh Pastner will celebrate an old-coach milestone Thursday. For the first time in his career, he’ll coach against someone he recruited as a player.
As an assistant at Arizona, Pastner recalls making several trips to Reno High School in Reno, Nev., to recruit highly decorated center David Padgett. He vaguely remembers paying Padgett and his family an in-home visit. Pastner’s overtures went unheeded: Padgett spurned Arizona for the University of Kansas. He later transferred to Louisville, where he finished his career as a unanimous first team All-Big East selection. **
Stifling defense has long been a staple at Louisville, but it’s gone dormant during the Cardinals’ recent 1-4 stretch. Padgett has criticized his team’s defense on dribble-penetration, and the Cardinals have only blocked eight shots in their last three games (they still rank second nationally in blocks behind Michigan State).
Turnovers, meanwhile, continue to gnaw at the Jackets. So what’s the number to watch Thursday?
Louisville’s ACC record when opponent’s turnover percentage is…
Less than 18.5%: 6-0
18.5% or lower: 0-5
Georgia Tech’s turnover percentage in ACC play? 18.5 percent on the nose.
The Cardinals may not press as relentlessly as they have in years past, but their defense is still designed to wilt opponents. Can the Jackets handle the initial trap that Louisville likes to send on inbounds? Once in the halfcourt, can they find angles against a Cardinals defense that will be looking to regain its teeth? Can Ben Lammers (24 points, nine rebounds vs. Louisville last year), with his scoring and facilitating from the high post, clear out Louisville’s bigs and give his teammates daylight at the rim?
Winning on the road usually requires a solid start. In that case, the Yellow Jackets should be well prepared: they’ve only trailed for 1:12 in the first half of their last three games.
Louisville guard Ryan McMahon leads the team in three-point percentage (40.6 percent) and provides the Cards with a reliable catch-and-shoot presence off the bench. He also drew an interesting comparison from former head coach Rick Pitino, who recruited him out of Sarasota, Fla.
Said McMahon in an article on 247Sports: “He said I reminded him of Mark Price when he was in high school. That’s a very big compliment. At first, he said someone told him I was like Billy Donovan, but when he watched me he said, ‘That’s not Billy Donovan, that’s a young Mark Price.’”
Now that we’re prepared, we hope you are as well. Join us for pregame coverage starting at 6:30 p.m. EST on the Georgia Tech IMG Sports Network. See you in Louisville. –AD–