Feb. 21, 2018
By Andy Demetra
– Josh Pastner sees more than an opponent. He sees a blueprint.
Georgia Tech (11-16, 4-10 ACC) has a daunting task Wednesday when it heads to Charlottesville to face #1 Virginia (24-2, 13-1 ACC) at John Paul Jones Arena. The Cavaliers, playing their first home game as a top-ranked team since Ralph Sampson roamed The Lawn in 1982, can clinch the No. 1 seed in the ACC Tournament with a win. They’ve also had eight days to rest since a 59-50 win over Miami last Tuesday.
A mighty challenge, to be sure. But the Cavaliers also represent an aspiration for Pastner. The Yellow Jackets’ head coach has repeatedly invoked Virginia as the team he wants to emulate in building his program. The Cavs have “gotten old and stayed old.” They make free throws and abstain from turnovers. They haven’t chased five-stars and one-and-dones on the recruiting trail, excelling instead in developing talented players who fit their system.
For the moment, though, Pastner’s only aspiration is to lead the Yellow Jackets to their first win over a No. 1-ranked team since 2003. What blueprint might he need to follow to pull it off? Enjoy the top five notes from my chart in preparation for Wednesday’s matchup at John Paul Jones Arena (7 p.m. EST, Georgia Tech IMG Sports Network):
Pastner’s main takeaway from Tech’s first meeting with Virginia? Takeaways.
“We played well. I mean, their guards took over, but if you look at their three-point percentage, we guarded great from three-point range. We had 18 turnovers. That was the difference,” he said Monday.
Beyond cutting down on turnovers, Pastner also sees room for growth in the post. Too infrequently, he said, Tech’s forwards didn’t “hold their seal” and carve out deep post position on their duck-ins and rolls to the rim. Ben Lammers and Abdoulaye Gueye only combined for eight of the Yellow Jackets’ 42 field goal attempts – at 19.0 percent, it was Tech’s lowest percentage of shots to come from the “4” and “5” spots in an ACC game this season.
% of FGA from “4” and “5” men – ACC games
1. Virginia – 19.0% (8 of 42)
2. Florida State – 20.7% (12 of 58)
3. Syracuse – 25.4% (16 of 63)
Those deep catches also make double-teams less effective; Virginia likes to send extra defenders to the post.
Also, no one would call the absence of Jose Alvarado a strategic advantage against the nation’s No. 1 team. However, pay attention to Josh Okogie’s ballhandling at point guard. Virginia loves to hedge hard on screens, which can often envelop smaller guards. At 6-4, Okogie may have the strength to handle those hedges. If he can maneuver around them and rotate the ball quickly, he could create more 4-on-3 backside opportunities for the Jackets.
As Virginia Tech’s Nickeil Alexander-Walker said following their 61-60 overtime upset of Virginia this month: “Against the number one defensive team in the country, everything matters.” The Jackets need to be resourceful in how they manufacture points Wednesday. Can better execution in those areas lead to more consistent offense against the nation’s top-ranked scoring defense?
Georgia Tech will play its first game against a No. 1 team since 2008, when it narrowly lost to North Carolina 83-82. The Tar Heels went to the Final Four that year, dropping a Washington State team in the Sweet Sixteen led by now-Virginia head coach Tony Bennett.
The oddest stat from that Jan. 18 game? Virginia, using its clinical Pack Line defense, ranks fifth in the nation in three-point percentage defense (29.7 percent). Georgia Tech ranks 332nd nationally in three-point shooting (31.2 percent).
The Yellow Jackets converted 5-of-11 three-pointers against the Cavaliers… the highest percentage the Cavaliers have allowed all season.
Georgia Tech: #332 NCAA 3pt.%
Virginia: #5 NCAA 3pt.% defense
Georgia Tech vs. UVa: 5-11 3pt.
Offensively, keep an eye on guards Kyle Guy, Ty Jerome and Devon Hall, all of whom average better than 38 percent from three. Guy leads the Cavaliers in three-pointers, but has gone 1-for-11 in his last two games against Tech. Jerome has gone 1-for-12 over his last two games as he shakes the effects of a sprained thumb.
How’s this for perspective: with one more block, Ben Lammers will surpass John Salley for third place on Georgia Tech’s all-time blocks list.
Virginia senior Isaiah Wilkins – the stepson of Dominique – also ranks third in school history in career blocks.
Lammers has 111 more career blocks than Wilkins.
Last month, Tony Bennett made the tactical decision to swap out Jack Salt, his rugged 6-10 center, and put the 6-7 Wilkins on Lammers. Bennett opted for more athleticism on the Yellow Jackets’ center, and the gambit paid off. Wilkins’ agility agitated Lammers, especially in the high post, resulting in a season-high five turnovers for the senior. Defensively, the Cavaliers also isolated and attacked Lammers on blow-bys from the elbow, with redshirt freshman De’Andre Hunter particularly effective there (team-high 17 points).
An elbow injury will rob them of a rematch, but Virginia point guard Ty Jerome and Georgia Tech point guard Jose Alvarado played against each other several times in high school in New York City. Jerome’s father once ran the Riverside Church AAU program in New York City, which produced former Tech star Kenny Anderson.
Now that we’re prepared, we hope you are as well. Join us for pregame coverage starting at 6:30 p.m. EST on the Georgia Tech IMG Sports Network. A daunting challenge but a great opportunity awaits the Yellow Jackets. See you in Charlottesville. –AD–