Jan. 18, 2018
By Andy Demetra
– The shot clock has existed in college basketball since the 1985-86 season. Contrary to what the scoreboard might read, it will still be in use Thursday.
On the heels of its largest ACC road win in seven years, Georgia Tech (10-7, 3-1 ACC) heads home to McCamish Pavilion Thursday to face newly minted No. 2 Virginia (16-1, 5-0). The Cavaliers lead the nation in defensive efficiency; the Yellow Jackets lead the ACC in league play. Virginia plays at the slowest adjusted tempo in college basketball; Georgia Tech ranks 323rd.
Together, they may create a different kind of #ThrowbackThursday: a labor-intensive, low-possession grindfest with a score reminiscent of the pre-shot clock era.
Georgia Tech can also turn back the clock in a different way Thursday: they last beat a top 2-ranked team at home January 12, 1994.
As you get ready for tip-off, here are the top five notes from my chart in preparation for a sold-out night at McCamish (8 p.m. EST, Georgia Tech IMG Sports Network):
Any conversation about Virginia has to begin with the Cavaliers’ sound, yet savage “Pack Line” defense. As its name implies, the Cavaliers want to condense the floor and play in gaps, blockading teams from getting inside the paint.
Under ninth-year head coach Tony Bennett, the Pack Line limits post touches, forces east-west passes, and coaxes teams into driving the middle of the paint. The Cavaliers “dig” hard, meaning the ball-side defender takes a step into a driving lane to ward off penetration before recovering on his man. Virginia will also hedge hard on ball screens, which can turn halfcourt possessions into disjointed, bogged-down messes. Adding one last layer of treachery, head coach Josh Pastner says Virginia has its longest, most athletic team ever under Bennett.
Georgia Tech ranks 13th in the ACC in shooting percentage, a stat that might suggest a long night ahead. The Yellow Jackets, though, have a few things in their favor. They’ve already faced a Pack Line defense this year in Wright State. Pastner said the Yellow Jackets got good looks when they played Virginia last year — they simply missed too many layups. And they might benefit from the insights of assistant coach Julian Swartz, who played for Dick Bennett – the father of Tony and innovator of the Pack Line – at Wisconsin.
Among Tech’s keys for generating quality shots Thursday: be “ball tough,” make available threes, and be aggressive seeking fast breaks — Virginia does an excellent job in transition defense. Can the Yellow Jackets also be opportunistic on the offensive glass? In five ACC games, Virginia has allowed an ungainly 37-percent offensive rebounding percentage.
Among those in attendance at Pittsburgh Saturday was the family of guard Brandon Alston, who treated them to a career-high five assists. Family and school ties will collide Thursday: Alston’s parents met as law students at the University of Virginia.
Having settled into a “3-and-D” niche with the Jackets, Alston will try to deny clean looks from a trio of Virginia guards who average better than 40 percent from three-point range. Six-foot-5 Devon Hall (47.5 percent), leading scorer Kyle Guy (44.5) and sophomore Ty Jerome (43.1) all move off the ball well.
Virginia’s bracing defense could make scoring a challenge Thursday. But the setting — and UVa’s ranking – may bode well for sophomore Josh Okogie, who has posted some monster numbers against ranked opponents at McCamish:
Josh Okogie — Career vs. Top-25 opponents at home (6 games)
Opponent Points Rebounds Assists
North Carolina — 27 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists
Louisville — 15 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists
Florida State — 35 points, 14 rebounds, 5 assists (all career highs)
Notre Dame — 8 points, 6 rebounds, 1 assist
Miami — 30 points, 9 rebounds, 1 assist
Notre Dame — 17 points, 4 rebounds, 5 assists
In six home games against ranked opponents, Okogie has averaged 22.0 points, 7.5 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game, with 47.6-percent field goal shooting and 78-percent foul shooting. Equally impressive, he’s averaged 9.8 free throw attempts per game. And in his worst scoring game of those six, Okogie still scored the game-winning layup at the buzzer to beat Notre Dame.
Okogie should have an intriguing foil Thursday in Hall, who pumped in a career-high 25 points in a win over NC State Sunday. Like Okogie, Hall can score at all three levels and has a knack for getting to the foul line. Isaiah Wilkins, stepson of Dominique and a quick-twitch, ACC All-Defensive player, may also get the assignment on Georgia Tech’s leading scorer.
Pastner has talked often about Abdoulaye Gueye‘s production opening up the floor space for the rest of his teammates. Gueye’s emergence continued Saturday when the junior poured in a career-high 16 points against Pittsburgh.
Just how stealthily substantial have Gueye’s contributions been? In Georgia Tech’s wins, his average offensive efficiency rating is 89.2. In Georgia Tech’s losses, it’s 66.3.
Pay attention to Virginia’s low-post defense Thursday. The Cavaliers favor doubling in the post, but opted to single-guard Ben Lammers when they met last year. The tactic paid off: Lammers only made 3 of 12 shots against rugged Virginia center Jack Salt, and his seven points were an ACC low. If Virginia single-guards the post again, can Gueye and Lammers take advantage? And if the Cavs send extra defenders, can they be heady enough to find the open man?
Sometimes the best nuggets come from the end of the bench. Virginia junior guard Justice Bartley, a Lilburn native, has only played 18 minutes for the Cavaliers this year, but he has a connection to Georgia Tech royalty: his godfather is Yellow Jacket great Kenny Anderson.
Now that we’re prepared, we hope you are as well. Our pregame coverage starts at 7:30 p.m. EST on the Georgia Tech IMG Sports Network. See you at McCamish. –AD–