March 1, 2018
By Andy Demetra
– In the world of 24/7 recruiting news, the so-called “diamond in the rough” has become an increasingly rare species in high-major basketball.
Moses Wright might just fit the bill.
The 6-9 freshman played on a home-school team his junior year of high school. He logged just one year of varsity basketball at Enloe High in Raleigh, N.C., his skills raw but his athleticism intriguing.
That doesn’t seem like a typical career arc for a major-conference basketball player, let alone a freshman starting in the ACC. Yet there was Wright one year later, starting (and dunking) for Georgia Tech against the No. 1-ranked team in the country on the road.
Wright followed that six-point, seven-rebound performance against Virginia with an eight-point, five-rebound effort at No. 15 Clemson Saturday. He’ll now get a crack at his hometown school when Georgia Tech (11-18, 4-12 ACC) faces NC State (20-9, 10-6 ACC) at McCamish Pavilion. Wright fouled out on just 2-of-10 field shooting against the Tigers, but his -1 plus-minus was the best on the Jackets among those who played at least 20 minutes. The matchup also carries weight for frontcourt mate Evan Cole: the freshman originally committed to UNCW before head coach Kevin Keatts took over at NC State.
As you get ready for tip-off, here are the top five notes from my chart as Georgia Tech looks to build some late-season momentum heading into the ACC Tournament (8 p.m. EST, Georgia Tech IMG Sports Network):
Keatts served as an assistant to Rick Pitino at Louisville before embarking on his head coaching career at UNCW. That influence can be seen in tempo and turnovers: the Wolfpack lead the ACC in possessions per game and rank second in the league in turnover percentage defense (19.2 pct.) in conference play.
NC State – ACC rankings (conference games)
Tempo: 71.3 (#1 ACC)
TO% Defense: 19.2% (#2 ACC)
Keatts will utilize some run-and-jump, full-court pressure in a manner similar to Louisville. If teams can break it, however, they’ll have numbers on the other end: NC State ranks last in the ACC in two-point field goal percentage defense in league play (56.9 pct.).
It presents a bit of a conundrum for Georgia Tech. Do they take advantage of those broken-floor opportunities, even if it pulls them out of their tempo comfort zone? Or do they throttle back and slow the pace down, even if it means passing up on tempting looks? Pay attention to that dynamic Thursday. NC State is 0-5 this year when scoring fewer than 70 points.
Look at the bottom six teams in tempo in league play and how they’ve fared against NC State:
10. Clemson – L 78-62
11. Notre Dame – L 88-58, W 76-58
12. Pittsburgh – W 72-68
13. Georgia Tech – Thursday
14. Syracuse – W 74-70
15. Virginia – L 68-51
The Virginia and Clemson losses might be understandable considering both teams are ranked. But Syracuse led by as many as six in the second half. Pitt, which just completed an 0-18 conference season, led by 11 in the second half. Notre Dame’s win was when they still had Bonzie Colson.
Remember the North Carolina A&T game? The one that nearly gave you a heart attack last year? The game Josh Pastner often cited when talking up the unexpected accomplishments of his team? The Aggies were led that night by guard Sam Hunt, who scored 16 of his team-high 20 points in the second half. He’s now a graduate transfer at NC State with one of the quirkier stat lines in the ACC.
Sam Hunt – ACC games
2-point FGA – 2
3-point FGA – 46
Hunt has made eight straight three-pointers over his last two games.
Offensively, Pastner compared NC State to a team that might unnerve Yellow Jacket fans. With its pace, pick-and-roll isolations and penchant for transition threes, Pastner says the Wolfpack bear more than a passing resemblance to Virginia Tech.
The Hokies, of course, shot 52 percent en route to a 76-56 blowout win over Georgia Tech last month. And NC State enters McCamish on a streak of five straight games shooting 50 percent or better. The Wolfpack’s offense starts with point guard Markell Johnson (8.9 ppg, 7.7 apg), a slippery, 165-pound sophomore who’s adept at finding cracks around ball screens. A staggering 42 percent of the Wolfpack’s assists come from Johnson (No. 4 in NCAA), but at 44.6 percent from three-point range, teams can’t go underneath him on screens, either.
It all results in a high volume of spot-up threes compared to NC State’s ACC peers – the Wolfpack drilled 13 of 22 from long range in a rout of Florida State Sunday. On the wings, Torin Dorn, Jr. (13.6 ppg) and Allerik Freeman (15.1 ppg), the reigning ACC Player of the Week, can punish late close-outs with drives.
Josh Pastner talks often about his players “guarding their yard.” The Yellow Jackets need to make sure their first step is lateral, not backwards, when cutting off NC State’s dribble-drives. Also, with Ben Lammers down low, can that allow the Yellow Jackets to stay home on their help when Johnson looks to create on pick-on-rolls?
NC State center Omer Yurtseven has the distinction of being the youngest player ever to appear in an NBA preseason game. The 7-footer logged a few minutes as a 15 year-old in Turkish club Fenerbahce’s exhibition game against the Brooklyn Nets in October of 2015. When he subbed in, former Yellow Jackets Jarrett Jack and Thaddeus Young were on the floor for the Nets. Now a sophomore, Yurtseven (13.6 ppg, 6.8 rpg) can both pick-and-pop and roll to the rim off NC State’s ball screens.
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–