Jan. 25, 2017
By Andy Demetra | Georgia Tech Radio
– Josh Pastner admits he’s never had a season like this.
Not in a bad way, of course. But the Yellow Jackets’ head coach has always prided himself on having high-scoring, gifted offensive teams.
Through seven league games, though, Georgia Tech has branded itself as something else: a plucky, stubborn defensive team.
Thanks to its scrambling, switching defenses, Tech has frustrated opponents into shooting 41.5 percent in ACC play, lowest in the league. Even more impressive: five of their seven opponents (Virginia Tech, Virginia, Duke, N.C. State, and North Carolina) rank in the top half of the ACC in field goal percentage in league play.
Translation: the Jackets have stymied teams that have otherwise shot the ball well.
That effort is necessary, of course, because of Tech’s own limitations on offense. But defense doesn’t spoil easily, and the Yellow Jackets (11-8, 3-4 ACC) will now try to slow down one of the most weaponized offenses in the ACC in sixth-ranked Florida State (18-2, 6-1 ACC). With depth, high-level athletes and daunting size, Florida State has turned into a team “capable of winning the national championship” according to Pastner.
In a season unlike any he’s ever had, Pastner will try to add one more unlikely outcome to his résumé.
Here are my five favorite notes from my chart in preparation for tonight’s matchup (7 p.m. EST, Georgia Tech IMG Sports Network):
Virginia’s pack-line defense makes it difficult for teams to get inside the lane. That wasn’t the case for Georgia Tech: the Yellow Jackets attempted 73.8 percent of their shots around the rim (31 of 42) against the Cavaliers, according to Synergy (Synergy defines “around the rim” as an approximately 10-foot radius around the basket). Conversely, according to the website hoop-math.com, Virginia only allows 35.7 percent of opponents’ shots to come “at the rim.”
% of opponents’ FGA at rim
Virginia – 35.7%
GT Saturday – 73.8% of shots around rim
Even if Synergy’s “around the rim” and hoop-math’s “at the rim” have differing definitions, it’s clear Georgia Tech found success getting inside the lane. As Pastner explained, the issue wasn’t creating those shots, but converting them.
Florida State has smothering length and the second tallest team in the nation according to KenPom (79.2”). Still, can the Yellow Jackets find success getting into the paint like they did against Virginia? And more importantly, can they finish once they get there?
Another area to watch: Ben Lammers had no offensive rebounds against Virginia Tech and Virginia after beginning the week ranked in the top 15 nationally in that category (3.6 OR/g). Despite its mammoth size, Florida State ranks a surprising 11th in the ACC in offensive rebound percentage defense in league play. In its two losses this year, to Temple and North Carolina, FSU allowed a whopping – and unbecoming – 50.7 percent OR%.
“It’s the energy factor. Q, when he first started last April, he just wanted to shoot corner threes. His floor game has improved and has totally changed to where he’s more than just a guy that’s just a stand-still three-point shooter.”
That was Josh Pastner on Monday’s call-in show, explaining why he believes Quinton Stephens’ rebounding has led to his improved shooting. In the last four games, Stephens is averaging 44.8 percent from three-point range (13 of 29) while also pulling down 10.0 rebounds per game.
Binge rebounding, by the way, runs in Stephens’ family: his father, Bob “Sweeper” Stephens, graduated from Drexel as that school’s all-time leading rebounder. He still ranks fifth in NCAA history in rebounding average for a freshman (13.3).
So how did Florida State rocket from a preseason eighth-place pick in the ACC to sixth in this week’s AP poll, its highest ranking in 25 years? The Seminoles are dangerously deep – head coach Leonard Hamilton has 12 players averaging 10 or more minutes per game – and uncommonly balanced. The Seminoles rank 22nd in the nation in offensive efficiency according to KenPom, 23rd in defensive efficiency. They also feature a pair of future pros in 6-7 sophomore guard Dwayne Bacon (17.4 ppg) and 6-10 freshman/Kevin Durant cosplayer Jonathan Isaac (13.3 ppg, 7.8 rpg), who has drawn NBA lottery buzz. Bacon is a strong slasher who can finish through contact; Isaac is fluid, light on his feet and capable of shooting from long range.
Key for Georgia Tech: hold Florida State to one-shot possessions and fend off their height on the defensive glass. Virginia outscored Tech 9-0 in second-chance points on Saturday.
Josh Heath has scored 28 points in his last three games.
He scored 29 points total in ACC play last year.
Point guard scoring has been an unsung development in the last two weeks, especially after Pastner lamented the lack of it earlier this year. In addition to his 10 points against Virginia, freshman Justin Moore hasn’t committed a turnover in his last two games (45 minutes played). Can Georgia Tech continue to get production from the “1,” especially against an FSU team that can score in bunches? Also important for Georgia Tech’s guards Wednesday: pass well against FSU’s denials and bang down some threes. Florida State ranks last in the ACC in three-point defense in league play (43.0 percent).
The lone Yellow Jacket who’s not awash in Falcons fever? Graduate transfer Jodan Price, a proud fan of the New England Patriots — even though he grew up in the anti-Brady stronghold of Indianapolis, Ind.
Now that we’re prepared, we hope you are as well. Our pregame coverage starts at 6:30 p.m. EST on the Georgia Tech IMG Sports Network. See you at McCamish.