March 4, 2017
By Andy Demetra | Georgia Tech Radio
– For the past couple weeks, Josh Pastner has imparted a simple piece of advice to his Georgia Tech basketball team, one that fits completely with the 39-year-old’s personality yet feels completely incongruous given this time of year.
Will there be pressure when Georgia Tech (17-13, 8-9 ACC) heads to frigid Syracuse Saturday for its regular season finale? Of course. Despite Pastner’s insistence that eight ACC wins should earn a team automatic inclusion into the NCAA Tournament, most analysts view the Yellow Jackets as squarely on the bubble – if not a little right of center on it. On top of that, they head to the Carrier Dome facing a Syracuse team (17-13, 9-8 ACC) that will be celebrating Senior Day, looking for revenge after a tight loss last month, and seeking its own expulsion from bubble-land.
But who ever thought the Yellow Jackets would be entering March with a chance at an at-large berth in the first place? What’s a must-win when so many looked at Tech and said “won’t win”?
That’s why, despite the ever-growing stakes, Pastner has tried to keep his players loose these last few weeks. Leave the pressure to the teams that had high preseason expectations, only to find themselves teetering on the bubble (like Syracuse).
Throughout the year, Pastner has preached three E’s: energy, effort and execution. He’s now thrown a fourth into the mix: enjoyment.
He’ll see if it can add up one last improbable victory on Saturday.
Here are my five key notes from my chart in preparation for Saturday’s tip at the Carrier Dome (4 p.m. EST, Georgia Tech IMG Sports Network):
Based on the first five minutes, last month’s game had the makings of an ugly one. The Yellow Jackets, jarred by the length of Syracuse’s 2-3 zone, missed 10 of their first 13 shots from the field.
Slowly, though, that started to change. By game’s end, the Yellow Jackets assisted on 19 of their made 26 field goals, among their highest percentages of the season, in a 71-65 win. Pastner urged his team to be “poised, confident and patient” when getting into the middle of the Orange’s 2-3 zone. Quinton Stephens (career-high eight assists) traded good shots for himself for great shots for others; Ben Lammers and Josh Heath each handled their high-post touches with aplomb. That decision-making also kept Syracuse from getting run-out turnovers (the Yellow Jackets outscored the Orange by a season-high 20-5 in fast-break points). Can Tech continue to “meet the ball” on passes, and play with the same pace and poise that helped them at McCamish?
The Bosh-ening might be upon us Saturday. Freshman Josh Okogie leads Tech with 15.5 points per game, the highest average by a Tech freshman since Bosh’s 15.6 in 2003. Junior Ben Lammers has all but locked up the ACC’s blocks title, which would make him the first Yellow Jacket to lead the league in that category since Bosh. And in 2003, Bosh played at the Carrier Dome in an early-season showdown against fellow future lottery pick Carmelo Anthony.
One area the Jackets will be looking to improve upon Saturday: defensive rebounding. The Orange gobbled up an offensive rebound on 19 of their 35 missed shots, a season high allowed by Tech. Both Taurean Thompson (12 rebounds) and Tyler Lydon (15 rebounds) recorded career highs. Offensive rebounds often lead to kickout threes, and with John Gillon (42.1 percent), Lydon (41.1 percent) and Andrew White III (38.0 percent) all ready to redeem themselves following a collective 5-for-21 performance last month, the Jackets must guard against those momentum-stealing, possession-extending boards.
Look for White III (17.1 ppg) in particular to try and regain his scoring form. The Nebraska transfer leads the ACC in three-pointers per game, but has only made eight of his last 36 from long range (22 percent). Pastner said his team’s “active hands,” particularly from Stephens, helped fluster Syracuse’s three-point shooters.
Point guard John Gillon earned the Georgia Tech student section’s, ahem, attention with an early errant shot last month. But did you know: Gillon began his career at Arkansas-Little Rock, where he was teammates for a year with eventual Georgia Tech transfer James White. Gillon struggled in Atlanta, shooting 2-of-10 from the field, but he’s a swift, shifty guard who maneuvers around screens well and can create off the dribble (White III prefers shooting off the catch).
On the bubble, every resume is an ink blot test. Data can be interpreted differently. Historical comparisons – for or against – can be cherry picked easily. A strong resume to one person might be a shaky one to another.
By most accounts, Georgia Tech’s resume needs some degree of polish. But consider this: Tech enters the weekend ranked fifth in the nation in defensive efficiency, allowing 90.1 points per 100 possessions. That puts them in the company of such defensive stalwarts as South Carolina, Virginia, Gonzaga, Louisville, West Virginia, and Baylor. In the last 10 years, only four times has a major-conference team finished in the top 10 nationally in defensive efficiency, but not received an NCAA Tournament bid.
Year Team Conference RPI Rank2015 Florida 52011 Alabama 72010 USC 62007 UCONN 5(Excludes Louisville in 2016, which was serving a self-imposed postseason ban)
In each case, those teams played in the worst or second-worst RPI-rated major conference in the country.
The ACC ranks second in conference RPI this year.
“Defense travels,” as Josh Pastner likes to say. Can it travel all the way to the Big Dance? A win at the Carrier Dome could go a long way.
Now that we’re prepared, we hope you are as well. Our pregame coverage starts at 3:30 p.m. EST on the Georgia Tech IMG Sports Network. See you at Syracuse.