Feb. 14, 2018
By Andy Demetra
– He flicked shots in front of the rim, one of the first players on the Zelnak Center practice floor Monday, his right wrist snapping in a soothing, metronomic rhythm.
There was only one problem with the scene: Jose Alvarado’s left arm was in a navy-colored sling, the result of a fractured elbow he suffered in the first half of Georgia Tech’s 80-69 loss to Duke.
Life without Alvarado, the Yellow Jackets’ devil-may-care freshman point guard, started suddenly on Sunday. It continues Wednesday night for Georgia Tech (11-14, 4-8 ACC) as it heads to Winston-Salem to face Wake Forest (9-16, 2-11 ACC).
Throughout the year, head coach Josh Pastner has praised Alvarado’s “competitive excellence.” With two extra days to adjust, the Jackets will try to honor that competitiveness by scoring one more point than the Demon Deacons – and with one less point guard at their disposal.
Here are the top five notes from my chart in preparation for a Valentine’s Day date with the Demon Deacons (9 p.m. EST, Georgia Tech IMG Sports Network):
— GT Men’s Basketball (@GTMBB) February 14, 2018
John Collins may be terrorizing front lines for the Atlanta Hawks, but the Demon Deacons’ offense still revolves around a high-usage player. Six-foot-3 guard Bryant Crawford (16.6 ppg, 5.0 apg) currently leads the ACC in usage rate – essentially, the percentage of a team’s possessions that end with a player making a shot, committing a turnover, or missing a shot that gets rebounded by an opponent. Wake Forest Usage Rates
John Collins (2017) – 29.4% (#2 ACC, #65 NCAA) Bryant Crawford (2018) – 29.7% (#1 ACC, #64 NCAA)
Collins played power forward; Crawford runs the point. So why the similar usage rates? Wake Forest still features a heavy diet of pick-and-rolls – according to Synergy, almost 20 percent of the Demon Deacons’ plays end with the ball-screen dribbler terminating the possession, the highest figure in the ACC.
Crawford, the ACC’s active assists leader, is a twitchy guard with an uncommonly quick burst to get into the lane. He can be turnover-prone – he’s committed nine in two career games against Tech – but if teams over-help on him, he can dish to three-point shooters like Keyshawn Woods (39.8 percent), freshman Chaundee Brown (36.5 percent) and Mitchell Wilbekin (44.0 percent), who roasted Tech for four three-pointers last year. In spite of its 2-11 ACC record, Wake Forest ranks second in the ACC in three-point percentage in league play (38.7 percent). The Deacs will also hunt for lobs with 7-1 center Doral Moore, running him in a style similar to Louisville. Moore comes in to Wednesday’s contest with eight straight double-doubles in ACC play, the longest streak by a Wake player since Tim Duncan.
Pastner compared Wake Forest’s pick-and-roll volume to Florida State. The Jackets struggled to stay in front of FSU and curb their downhill drives in Tallahassee. Can Tech shrink the floor, maneuver through Wake Forest’s pick-and-rolls, and not get sucked in with its help-side defense?
Josh Okogie will see a former ally plotting against him Wednesday. The Yellow Jackets guard was coached last summer in the FIBA U19 World Cup by Wake Forest head coach Danny Manning, who served as an assistant on Team USA. Okogie’s recollections of Manning? “Cool, relatable.”
With 55 points (on 36 field goal attempts) against Duke and Louisville, Okogie is in the midst of the best two-game scoring stretch of his career. Can he maintain that efficiency against the Demon Deacons, even as he assumes more of the point guard duties?
For a team looking to forge ahead without its starting point guard, Tech’s first opponent might give them some cushion. In three of Manning’s four seasons at Wake Forest, the Demon Deacons have ranked last in the ACC in turnover percentage defense in league play. Turnover Percentage – ACC games only
Georgia Tech offense: 19.1% (#14 ACC)
Wake Forest defense: 14.0% (#15 ACC)
Wake won’t extend or deny like Duke or Louisville, preferring instead to stay solid in the halfcourt. The 7-1, 280-pound Moore also gives them a rim protecting presence underneath (2.0 blocks/game). Another thing to consider: check out the splits between Tech’s ACC wins and losses in opposing points off turnovers. Percentage of GT opponents’ points off turnovers
ACC wins: 14.1%
ACC losses: 20.5%
That’s an average of five more points allowed in Tech’s losses. Wipe those out, and how differently would the stretch runs of those games have looked? Pastner has described the Jackets’ last two starts as “timid” and “tentative.” They’ll look to move the ball assertively Wednesday – and their opponent might permit them to.
Wake Forest’s defense might not be designed for risk-taking, but the Demon Deacons still struggle with fouls. In ACC games, opponents have attempted an astonishing 125 more free throws than Wake. The Yellow Jackets are shooting an unflattering 64.9 percent from the foul line in road ACC play. Two prime candidates for free throw trips Wednesday: Ben Lammers and Abdoulaye Gueye. The pair has combined for only two free throw attempts in the last two games. Moore and backup center Olivier Sarr each average close to 3.5 fouls per game in ACC play.
One last cruel consequence of Alvarado’s season-ending elbow injury: it robbed the freshman of a chance to play on the parquet of his idol. Alvarado told me he watches a highlight mixtape of former Wake Forest legend Chris Paul before every game. Alvarado attended Paul’s skills camp as a player at Christ the King High School in New York City, and still reveres the Rockets’ All-Star point guard. When asked about a between-the-legs bounce pass he threw on a fast break against Yale in early January, leading to a Josh Okogie for a slam dunk, Alvarado smiled and said, “That was Chris Paul.” **
Now that we’re prepared, we hope you are as well. Join us for pregame coverage starting at 8:30 p.m. EST on the Georgia Tech IMG Sports Network. See you in Winston-Salem. –AD–