Feb. 11, 2018
By Andy Demetra
– Shaking off a loss by facing the No. 9 team in the country is hard enough.
Shaking off a loss by facing the No. 9 team in the country – when that team has dropped three of its last four – is even more arduous.
Alas, Georgia Tech can’t control the motivations of its opponents, only its own. The Duke Blue Devils (19-5, 7-4 ACC), fresh off a rivalry loss to North Carolina, will come in to McCamish Pavilion with its teeth sharpened. But after turnovers, missed layups and an avalanche of threes made for a long night in Louisville, Georgia Tech (11-13, 4-7 ACC) won’t be lacking for motivation either.
To prepare you for tip-off, here are the top five notes from my chart on the eve of another sold-out showdown in Atlanta (6 p.m. EST, Georgia Tech IMG Sports Network):
— GT Men's Basketball (@GTMBB) February 11, 2018
In addition to nine turnovers or less, Josh Pastner has rolled out a new goal for his team that involves the number nine. As he revealed recently, he also wants Tech to allow nine or fewer offensive rebounds.
The Yellow Jackets hit that benchmark Thursday, holding Louisville to five offensive boards in their 77-54 loss. The Cardinals, of course, circumvented the need for rebounds by making plenty of shots on the first try. A greater challenge awaits them Sunday: Duke leads the nation in offensive rebounding percentage (40.8 percent). Forwards Marvin Bagley III (21.2 ppg, 11.4 rpg) and Wendell Carter, Jr. (14.3 ppg, 9.4 rpg) are a formidable duo down low, capable of overpowering defenders and keeping the floor spaced for Duke’s shooters. Duke has also trotted out a lineup lately that includes Bagley, Carter and 6-11 sophomore Marques Bolden.
Limiting second chances pushed Tech to an upset of North Carolina last year (and squandered its chance at an upset against the Tar Heels this year). Can the Yellow Jackets gang-rebound with authority and prevent the Blue Devils from cashing in on easy stickbacks? And can Ben Lammers and Abdoulaye Gueye, after muddling through a 3-of-17 shooting performance against Louisville, take advantage of their own chances down low?
“The biggest thing we did that was successful for us last year was we always kept an even keel… I think it’s my job here as a team captain – if I see guys getting low, it’s my job to boost their spirits up, no matter what the score says… Nobody feels good losing like that, but you never know what a couple words of encouragement, how far they may go.” -Josh Okogie in our post-game radio interview Thursday. Even with the game in hand, Okogie continued to counsel teammates Jose Alvarado and A.D. Gueye in the closing minutes.
After a 25-point night against Louisville, Okogie will now test his scoring chops against a Duke team that has struggled with perimeter defense lately. Okogie is averaging 20.8 points and 6.9 rebounds in his career against Top 25 opponents at home. **
Yet another “go figure” stat that has popped up this season:
In its four best three-point shooting games of the season, Georgia Tech is… 1-3.
In its four worst three-point shooting games of the season, Tech is… 3-1.
That trend continued Thursday when Tech lost 77-54 in spite of 7-of-13 three-point shooting against the Cardinals.
Their roster has almost completely changed from a year ago, and no one would blame him for keeping the game tape under lock and key. But Josh Pastner did point to one lesson from Tech’s 110-57 loss to Duke last year that he wants his team to heed Sunday. Pastner says the Yellow Jackets need to shrink the floor and not allow the Blue Devils to “put us on skates” as they did so often last year. It resulted in Duke burying 16 of 31 three-pointers, an ACC record by a Tech opponent.
Can the Yellow Jackets prevent Duke’s guards from getting to their spots and making the “plus-one” passes on which Louisville feasted? Can their switching defenses invite some tentativeness out of the young Blue Devils? Senior Grayson Allen has terrorized Tech for 21.0 points per game in the last two seasons, but pay closer attention to 6-6 freshman Gary Trent, Jr. (2nd ACC, 44.7 percent on threes). Trent has made six three-pointers in an ACC game four times this year. Georgia Tech has only done that twice as a team.
After committing a season-high 20 turnovers against Louisville, could some succor be waiting for the Yellow Jackets Sunday? Duke comes in with the lowest defensive turnover percentage in the ACC (16.4 percent). The Blue Devils only forced two turnovers against North Carolina Thursday, the fourth game in college basketball this year that a team committed two or fewer turnovers.
Now that we’re prepared, we hope you are as well. Join us for pregame coverage starting at 5:30 p.m. EST on the Georgia Tech IMG Sports Network. See you at McCamish. –AD–