Jan. 31, 2018
By Andy Demetra
– Conventional wisdom says a player’s numbers are bound to drop in conference play when the competition gets tougher.
Abdoulaye Gueye has made a mockery of that logic.
The 6-9 junior entered ACC play averaging only 4.7 points per game. After his 14-point, 8-rebound outing against Clemson Sunday, Gueye has now more than doubled his scoring average in conference play (9.8). His shooting percentages have also taken jumps across the board:
Scoring 4.7 9.8
Rebounding 4.0 6.0
FG% 37% 61%
FT% 54% 70%
It begs an intriguing, if exasperating, question: given Gueye’s rise in production, what type of team might Georgia Tech have if Ben Lammers played closer to his junior year self? Or if Tadric Jackson shook his recent scoring malaise? Or if Curtis Haywood didn’t have his rhythm interrupted by a seven-game injury absence?
For now, Georgia Tech (10-11, 3-5 ACC) will continue to seek its most complete offensive game of ACC play. It may not come easy Wednesday: the Yellow Jackets’ opponent, Syracuse (15-6, 4-4 ACC), ranks fourth nationally in field goal percentage defense.
The Yellow Jackets, meanwhile, will hope another sellout crowd can spur them to a win. Here are the top five notes from my chart to prepare you for tip-off at McCamish (8 p.m. EST, Georgia Tech IMG Sports Network):
When Tech and Syracuse split their two meetings last year, the line of demarcation was clear. In their win at McCamish, the Yellow Jackets held the Orange to 8-of-30 shooting from three-point range (including one infamous, and now t-shirt-inspired, air ball). When they met at the Carrier Dome two weeks later, Syracuse buried Tech under 15-of-24 shooting from long range.
The good news is, Syracuse doesn’t rely on the three-pointer nearly as much this year. The Orange rank 14th in the ACC in three-point percentage (32.0 percent) and only collect 24% of their points from three-pointers, a steep decline from a year ago.
Syracuse % of points from three-pointers
Last year: #65 NCAA
This year: #319 NCAA
The Orange score more of their points off the dribble, but after allowing Clemson to drain 10 of 21 threes on them Sunday, Georgia Tech shouldn’t take anything for granted. The Jackets will need to continue to play with active hands in hopes of bothering Syracuse’s shooters. Junior Frank Howard (15.2 ppg) has cooled off of late, but made 14 of 24 three-pointers to begin ACC play. Sophomore Tyus Battle, the ACC’s second-leading scorer (19.7 ppg) complements him as a downhill driver and deft step-back artist.
And you thought Georgia Tech had a short bench: Syracuse plays the lowest percentage of bench minutes in the nation according to KenPom. In fact, the Yellow Jackets rank ninth in the ACC in bench minutes behind Louisville, Notre Dame, Clemson, Duke, Boston College and Syracuse. The Orange could pad their national lead even more Wednesday, as forward Matthew Moyer and guard Howard Washington are expected to miss the game with injuries. Syracuse will likely have just six scholarship players available against Tech.
They weren’t often, but they were inopportune Sunday. Even though the Yellow Jackets committed just nine turnovers against Clemson, Josh Pastner said back-to-back “pick-sixes” swung the momentum irretrievably in the Tigers’ favor. The Yellow Jackets now have to avoid turnovers against Syracuse’s famed 2-3 zone, which has helped the Orange lead the ACC in steals. Thanks to its length, Syracuse can rack up tons of deflections (watch for 6-5 Frank Howard, who is particularly active shooting into gaps).
Can the Yellow Jackets toe the line between pace and patience Wednesday – moving the ball assertively and driving gaps in the zone, but also taking the time to study it and make the right pass? Pastner has pined for Ben Lammers to play a game that’s reminiscent of his All-ACC season from a year ago. Even with the presence of 7-2 center Paschal Chukwu, who ranks seventh in the nation in blocks, Lammers’ ability to both face up and facilitate from the high post could be key. Gueye, meanwhile, will have to contend with 6-8 freshman Oshae Brissett (14.5 ppg, 9.2 rpg), a springy, shifty forward who attacks the rim hard.
Chukwu, a transfer from Providence, only scored two points in 17 minutes in a win over Pittsburgh Saturday. Among those he dueled with in the post was Pitt freshman Kene Chukwuka, creating the rare Chukwu-Chukwuka low-post matchup.
Chukwu grabbed 10 offensive rebounds against Virginia earlier this month. As a team, Syracuse ranks fifth nationally in offensive rebounding percentage (37.4 percent). Statistically, the Orange’s closest analogue is North Carolina – the same team that roughed up the Yellow Jackets for 23 offensive rebounds in Chapel Hill. Can Tech follow Josh Okogie’s high-motor lead and crash the defensive boards with abandon?
Syracuse might stir up some nostalgia for sophomore guard Justin Moore. When the Yellow Jackets faced the Orange in Syracuse last year, it marked the first time that Moore, a San Diego native, touched snow.
Now that we’re prepared, we hope you are as well. Join us for pregame coverage starting at 7:30 p.m. EST on the Georgia Tech IMG Sports Network. See you at McCamish. –AD–