By Andy Demetra | Voice of the Yellow Jackets
He’d love to savor the stat some more.
After finishing 15th, 13th and 8th in his first three seasons at Georgia Tech, Josh Pastner’s Yellow Jackets have now climbed to second place in the ACC in field percentage in conference games (46.3 percent). Their next opponent, No. 5 Louisville (21-3, 12-1 ACC), ranks third.
Field goal percentage – ACC Games
- Duke – .490
- Georgia Tech – .463
- Louisville – .461
- Florida State – .451
For perspective, those three teams around Tech rank 1-2-3 in the ACC standings. It’s enviable company, and for Pastner, undeniable proof that his team has improved offensively. Yet turnovers continue to temper any enthusiasm he has over that stat. Too many possessions are ending without a shot, too many games ending in close losses despite lofty shooting numbers.
The latest example came Saturday, when the Yellow Jackets committed 22 turnovers in a 73-64 loss to Pittsburgh. They flared up Jan. 22, when 17 turnovers thwarted a near-upset of Louisville at the KFC Yum! Center. Tech fell 68-64 despite having a chance to win in the closing seconds.
Since that game, Louisville has won five straight by an average of 14.4 points, extending its league-best win streak to 10 games. A team like that offers little margin for error – and turnovers shrink that space even more.
Georgia Tech (11-13, 5-8 ACC) knows how close it came to a win over the Cardinals last month. They’ll aim to savor both a stat and a final score tonight. Enjoy the top five notes from my chart as the Yellow Jackets look for their first win over a Top 5 program since 2016 (8 p.m. ET, Georgia Tech Sports Network from Learfield IMG College):
Georgia Tech has connected in 41 percent of its three in its last two games, its best two-game stretch this season. (photo by Danny Karnik)
They were teammates on the New York Rens AAU team since the ninth grade, so few secrets exist anymore between Jose Alvarado and Louisville’s Jordan Nwora.
That doesn’t make what Alvarado did last month any less impressive. Despite giving up seven inches to the ACC’s leading scorer (19.5 ppg), Alvarado pestered the 6-7 Nwora all night, holding him to 11 points on 3-of-11 shooting. His ability to fight over screens and crawl underneath him caused the “Nwora Aura” to lose some of its luster.
Georgia Tech played mostly man-to-man against Louisville, wary of the Cardinals’ dangerous three-point shooting. If the Yellow Jackets put Alvarado on Nwora again, how does Louisville head coach Chris Mack adjust in the rematch? Do they post him up more? Do they use him as a screener, where he can try to detach himself from Alvarado after releasing from his picks? Pay attention to that game-within-the-game Wednesday. Nwora, who took an official visit to Tech as a high school senior, scored 21 points in the first half at McCamish Pavilion last year.
In its first two ACC home games, Tech allowed Syracuse and Duke to rain an avalanche of threes on them. The Jackets have tightened up considerably since:
Georgia Tech 3pt.% defense – ACC home games
- First 2 games: 20 of 45 (44.4%)
- Last 4 games: 21 of 83 (25.3%)
Louisville may present their stiffest test yet – the Cardinals rank fifth nationally, making 40.9 percent of their three-pointers.
Senior center James Banks III scored 24 points against Louisville’s frontline last year at McCamish Pavilion. (photo by Danny Karnik)
The Cardinals made an interesting tactical change to spark their comeback from an 11-point deficit last month. After Alvarado and Michael Devoe drove the paint with relative ease in the first half, Mack played a pair of freshmen, 6-5 David Johnson and 6-7 Samuell Williamson, over his starting backcourt of 6-2 junior Darius Perry and 6-0 grad transfer Lamarr Kimble.
The gambit worked: Johnson and Williamson’s length made it harder for Alvarado and Devoe to get clean looks in the lane. Expect that to be a point of emphasis for the Cardinals in the rematch. Johnson, who scored 19 points in a win over Duke last month, also gives Louisville a kinetic breakdown artist off the dribble.
The Cardinals like to play inside-out on their pick-and-roll coverages, with a “rush guy” stepping over the screen and staying with Tech’s roll man for as long as possible. Tech’s guards will have to do a good job re-attacking the “second side” and being aggressive on Louisville’s closeouts. They also have to be effective on their kickout threes: the Yellow Jackets have made 41 percent of their three-point attempts over the last two games, their best two-game stretch of the season.
Nwora wasn’t the only Cardinal who struggled in that Jan. 22 matchup. The Yellow Jackets also quieted redshirt senior Dwayne Sutton (3 points) and reserve guard Ryan McMahon (4 points), who were both held to less than half their season averages. Their scoring – Sutton a hard-nosed, 6-5 banger, McMahon a hold-your-breath three-point specialist – often gives the Cardinals their biggest emotional lift.
Yet Louisville, which ranks seventh in the nation in offensive efficiency, overcame that thanks to a pair of 13-point efforts from forwards Malik Williams and Steven Enoch. The Yellow Jackets’ forwards will have to prevent Williams and Enoch from getting deep seals; their ability to smash defenders and duck in made a difference in last month’s game. Don’t forget that Banks scored a career-high 24 points against Louisville’s front line last year.
It’s hard enough to face an opponent with a double-digit win streak, let alone beat one. Yet with a win Wednesday, Georgia Tech could join some venerated company.
The last time the Yellow Jackets beat an opponent with a 10-game win streak?
Oklahoma State in the 2004 Final Four.
Now that we’re prepared, we hope you are as well. Join us for pregame coverage starting at 7:30 p.m. ET on the Georgia Tech Sports Network from Learfield IMG College as well as our TuneIn and GT Gameday apps. See you at McCamish.