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Inside The Chart: Georgia Tech at North Carolina

By Andy Demetra | Voice of the Yellow Jackets

Tack on one more exam for the Yellow Jackets this week.

With finals underway, Georgia Tech (6-3, 0-0 ACC) briefly steps away from the grind of exams for … the grind of ACC play, which begins with a stiff test against preseason favorite North Carolina (5-4, 0-1 ACC) at the Dean Smith Center.

Much like their classes, the Jackets have been callousing themselves for this test since September, when they first gathered for preseason practice at the Zelnak Center.  A 79-77 win over Georgia, which saw them close on a 6-0 run, gave them a dose of confidence as they head back on the road.  They’ll now face a (ahem) testy North Carolina team that’s dropped four straight games and became the fastest preseason No. 1-ranked team to drop out of the AP poll in its 74-year history.

Enjoy the top notes, quotes and anecdotes from my chart in preparation for the start of Tech’s 20-game ACC gauntlet (3:15 p.m. ET, Georgia Tech Sports Network from Legends Sports).

Given it flows through his veins, perhaps it’s no surprise Miles Kelly spotted the ice early.

As Kelly tapped out a dribble at the top of the key, his Tech team trailing by one and less than 30 seconds remaining, the sophomore saw the way Georgia stacked its ball screen coverage.

“I saw they were icing the screen,” Kelly said, referring to the way his defender angled his body in hopes of shading Kelly toward the sideline.

“So, I rejected the screen, and I went to the basket.”

Rather than wrap around a Rodney Howard pick toward his strong hand, Kelly darted down the left side of the lane and dropped in a soft runner to pull Tech ahead.  It capped off a terrific second half for the sophomore, who scored all 17 of his points after halftime.

(There was irony in that game-winning shot: head coach Josh Pastner has implored Kelly to play off two feet more.)

With 54 points over his last three games, Kelly will likely draw Leaky Black, North Carolina’s 6-9 senior wing, on defense.  Black almost single-handedly straitjacketed Michael Devoe last year, holding the Yellow Jackets’ leading scorer to two points and six turnovers in Chapel Hill.  If Black draws the assignment on Kelly, can the Jackets find a secondary scorer to keep the floor stretched?  And can the Jackets help him out with more balance beyond the arc?

Last three games:

  • Miles Kelly:  11 of 20  (55.0%)
  • Rest of team:  6 of 38 (15.8%)

Another key for Tech:  avoiding the long, out-of-rhythm shots that can often lead to fast breaks for the opponent.  With North Carolina struggling to find traction on offense, the Tar Heels may scavenge for more transition or early-shot clock looks against the Jackets.


Just how closely contested was Tuesday’s game?  From the 16:54 mark to the 2:12 mark of the second half, neither team held a lead larger than two points.


Expectations were predictably lofty when North Carolina returned four starters from a team that almost won the NCAA championship game last April.  Yet the Tar Heels enter Saturday’s game having lost four straight games, the longest losing streak by a preseason AP No. 1 team in the poll’s 74-year history.

So what gives?  It seems incongruous given they rank 10th nationally in KenPom offensive efficiency, but most of the Tar Heels’ struggles lie on offense.  Their three-point shooting has cratered below 30 percent, with guards R.J. Davis and Caleb Love both battling bouts of inconsistency.  Their offensive rebounding has been uninspiring, especially for a program that takes such pride in it. Their assist rate has dropped off in their isolation-heavy offense; analytically, the Tar Heels are one of the lowest-passing teams in high-major basketball.  And in an 80-72 loss to Virginia Tech Sunday, North Carolina played without preseason ACC Player of the Year Armando Bacot due to a shoulder contusion.

Bacot (16.1 ppg, 11.1 rpg) was a game-time decision in Blacksburg, but with six days to rest, his return seems more likely than not.  At 6-11 and 235 pounds, he gives UNC a bulldozing presence on duck-ins who can also step out and isolate defenders from the elbow.  “One of the best rebounders in the world,” Pastner called him at his press conference Thursday.  The Tar Heels can also post up 6-11 stretch-four Pete Nance, who has double-doubles in back-to-back games.

Bacot mauled the Jackets for 29 points and 12 rebounds in Chapel Hill last year.  Players like Ja’Von Franklin and Jalon Moore will have to wall up, play soundly, and avoid getting out-leveraged in spite of their height mismatch.  The Jackets will need to rotational-rebound well to avoid the kind of offensive rebound-kickouts that can be lethal.  And while Love’s and Davis’ shooting numbers have slipped, they combined to shoot 14 of 24 from three-point range against Tech last season.  Both remain skilled, savvy shot-makers – Davis is especially fond of transition pull-up twos – and Tech didn’t have its best game defending dribble-drives against Georgia.

The most notable statistical jump from last season entering ACC play?  Georgia Tech’s ability to avoid turnovers:

Turnover %

  • Last year:  #233 NCAA (15.2%)
  • This year:  #16 NCAA (18.9%)

North Carolina head coach Hubert Davis hinted that his team may trap more to create turnover and transition opportunities.


UNC guard/forward Donovan “Puff” Johnson was coached at Hillcrest Prep in Phoenix, Ariz., by former NBA point guard Mike Bibby – also known as Josh Pastner’s roommate at the University of Arizona when they won the national championship in 1997.  And because you can find anything on the Internet, you can listen to an on-air prank call that Bibby made to Pastner back in 1997 for a radio station in Tucson.


Now that we’re prepared, we hope you are as well.  Join us for pregame coverage starting at 2:45 p.m. ET on the Georgia Tech Sports Network from Legends Sports.  See you in Chapel Hill.



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