Jan. 10, 2018
By Andy Demetra
– An unusually short turnaround – 12 days – separates Georgia Tech’s two regular-season meetings with Notre Dame this year. The Irish, though, will look drastically different when they step onto the McCamish Pavilion floor for the return bout tonight.
One day before his 22-point, 17-rebound performance against the Yellow Jackets Dec. 30, senior forward Bonzie Colson (21.4 ppg), the ACC’s preseason player of the year, fractured a bone in his left foot. He missed the next game versus N.C. State and is expected to be out eight weeks. In the first half of that NC State game, senior guard Matt Farrell (15.9 ppg) sprained his ankle and is expected to miss two weeks.
Poof. 37 points per game, vanished from the Irish’s rotation.
And yet, Notre Dame (13-3, 3-0 ACC) heads to Atlanta still unbeaten in conference play, a formidable challenge for a Georgia Tech team (8-7, 1-1 ACC) looking to move above .500 in the league. To prepare you for tip-off, here are the top five notes from my chart for tonight’s matchup with Notre Dame (7 p.m. EST, Georgia Tech IMG Sports Network):
Colson and Farrell might be out, but the Irish still have weapons. Notre Dame cuts hard and moves well off the ball, with three or four three-point shooters orbiting the perimeter on a given possession.
Among those who could carry the scoring load:
• Sophomore T.J. Gibbs (14.8 ppg, 44.4 percent 3pt.) has a hair-trigger release and is Notre Dame’s most effective driver. He earned ACC Player of the Week honors after averaging 20.0 points in wins over N.C. State and Syracuse.
• Rex Pflueger (9.5 ppg) has increased his scoring load the last two games, a 6-6 pick-and-pop threat with the size to get off his own shot.
• 6-6 freshman D.J. Harvey, though he slogged through a 1-of-14 shooting night against Syracuse, was a top-50 national recruit who is athletic and capable of hitting the midrange jumper.
• 6-10 Martinas Geben may not have the mobility of Colson, but he’s a cinderblock screener and rugged offensive rebounder. Geben in particular was a handful in South Bend, scoring 12 points while showing a deft touch off pick-and-rolls.
In the absence of Colson and Farrell, the Irish have also tapped into another area of scoring: offensive rebounding. They first gave a glimpse of that in South Bend, outscoring Georgia Tech 16-0 in second-chance points en route to a 68-59 win (you might not have known it, but Notre Dame entered the game ranked last in the ACC in offensive rebounding percentage).
The Fighting Irish followed that up by dive-bombing for 21 boards on 39 missed shots in their 51-49 win over Syracuse, including Pflueger’s game-winning tip-in with two seconds to play. Pastner remarked that it looked like Notre Dame was playing volleyball sometimes. Can the Yellow Jackets locate their box out man, rebound well out of their area, grab loose balls with two hands, and deny the Irish those momentum-robbing stickbacks? More than most teams, Notre Dame’s offensive rebounding can lead to lethal kickouts for threes.
Freshman point guard Jose Alvarado chatted with a special visitor after practice Tuesday: former Yellow Jacket All-American and NBA All-Star Mark Price.
— Andy Demetra (@AndyDemetra) January 9, 2018
Alvarado might want to emulate Price’s career on the Flats, but when describing him last season after he signed his letter-of-intent, Pastner compared Alvarado to another clever, cagey, competitive ACC point guard: Notre Dame’s Matt Farrell. Alvarado tied a career high and didn’t commit a turnover in his 23-point outing against Yale.
Notre Dame has played 52 games since the beginning of last season.
In that span, Georgia Tech is responsible for three of the Irish’s six lowest efficiency games of the year.
That’s noteworthy considering Notre Dame ranked 18th nationally in offensive efficiency last season, and again ranks 18th this year. Pastner says his team has done a good job keeping the Irish off-balance with its switching defenses, denying the Irish clean looks within their system.
Clearly Georgia Tech has the defensive chops to give themselves a chance. Now comes the hard part: cashing in on the easy ones. Much attention will be paid to the free throw line, where Tech only made 7 of 18 foul shots in its loss Dec. 30. But equally damaging in that loss: Georgia Tech made just 6 of 16 shots (37.5%) within five feet of the rim according to shot-tracking software Hoops IQ. Can the Yellow Jackets convert the close-range looks that fell frustratingly short in South Bend?
Mike Brey surpassed Digger Phelps as the all-time winningest coach in Notre Dame history last week, recording his 394th in a rout over N.C. State. Brey first tied the record against Georgia Tech.
Phelps was in attendance at Purcell Pavilion that day, and paid Pastner a visit before the game. Joked Pastner: “I’m going to do everything I can to prolong your record.”
Georgia Tech welcomed Curtis Haywood II back against Yale after missing the previous six games with a shin injury. For the first time all season, that meant the Yellow Jackets had a full, healthy roster.
Coincidence or not, Georgia Tech also had its most efficient offensive game of the season against the Bulldogs (127.6 points per 100 possessions).
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. –AD–