By Andy Demetra | Voice of the Yellow Jackets
Balanced offense and bracing defense helped give Georgia Tech (11-12, 5-7 ACC) its fifth win of conference play Tuesday.
They now hope that combination can propel them to something they’ve yet to accomplish this year.
An ACC win streak.
Curiously, every one of Tech’s five conference wins has been followed by a loss. The wins have been impressive – three on the road, three by double digits – but momentum has been elusive. The Yellow Jackets will try to stop that trend Saturday while also breaking apart from a five-way tie for eighth place in the ACC, a spot they currently share with their next opponent Pittsburgh (14-9, 5-7 ACC). Enjoy the top five notes from my chart in preparation for Saturday’s matchup in snowy Pittsburgh (2 p.m. ET, Georgia Tech Sports Network from Learfield IMG College):
In sizing up Jose Alvarado and Michael Devoe’s 32-point, 10-assist, 2-turnover stat line against Virginia Tech, Josh Pastner saw it as more proof of a belief he’s espoused throughout the year.
“It’s a guard’s game,” Pastner’s said in our post-game radio interview. “It’s all about guard play. And when our guards play well, it gives us a really good chance to win.”
Get ready for another guard’s game Saturday. Pittsburgh regularly rolls out a four-guard lineup, which they use to isolate ballhandlers and get them downhill. Sophomore Xavier Johnson (12.0 ppg), who broke Pitt’s freshman scoring record against Georgia Tech last year, is a fearless driver who hoards free throws. Sophomore Trey McGowens (12.8 ppg) uses his athleticism to make crafty finishes around the rim. Au’Diese Toney (8.7 ppg) is 6-5, long-armed and bouncy in the lane. They also have a likely freshman All-ACC candidate in 6-5 Justin Champagnie (11.8 ppg, 7.3 rpg), who gives Pitt a fluid, versatile presence on the wing. Champagnie was impressive against Notre Dame’s John Mooney Wednesday, finishing with 20 points and 11 rebounds in an 80-72 loss.
The Yellow Jackets leaned heavily on their 1-3-1 zone against Virginia Tech, discombobulating the Hokies’ young guards and making them tentative in their dribble-drives. Can Tech coax that same confusion out of Pitt’s guards? The Panthers have struggled at times to score against zone defenses, though they played their last two games without three-point specialist Ryan Murphy (41.5 percent on threes at home) due to a concussion. Something else to consider: Johnson, McGowens and Toney shot a combined 6 of 25 against the Jackets last year.
Sophomore guard Michael Devoe (photo by Danny Karnik)
Tuesday’s game marked the first time all year that Tech had three different players make two or more three-pointers:
- Jose Alvarado: 3-6 3pt.
- Michael Devoe: 2-5 3pt.
- Bubba Parham: 2-4 3pt.
That resulted in one of the statistical upsets of the season for Tech. The Jackets, 337th in the nation in made three-pointers per game, doubled up a Hokies team that ranked ninth. Unlike Virginia Tech, Pittsburgh would much rather attack the rim than jack threes. Tech’s guards will have to defend well without fouling.
Georgia Tech will see the ghosts of recruits past this weekend.
Pastner recruited Xavier Johnson along with Michael Devoe for his 2017 signing class. Without knowing whether Josh Okogie would stay in the NBA Draft, Pastner could only commit to using one scholarship between them. That ultimately went to Devoe, who made his decision before Johnson.
The Georgia Tech staff also recruited Trey McGowens before he reclassified to 2018 and was signed by Pittsburgh. His Dad, Bobby, was a two-sport star at South Carolina State and played against Kentucky in the 1998 NCAA Tournament at the Georgia Dome.
Senior center James Banks III (photo by Danny Karnik)
In the last three games, Georgia Tech has had its first-, third- and fourth-best games of the season in turnover rate.
Not surprisingly, Georgia Tech also had its second-, third- and fourth-best offensive efficiency ratings of the season.
Perhaps that’s why Pastner was searching for the nearest wood to knock on when asked about his team’s recent decline in turnovers Friday. Tech will look to continue that trend against a Pittsburgh defense that loves to extend up the floor and disrupt passing lanes (Johnson and McGowens can be especially bothersome). They also use a three-quarters court press that can speed up opposing guards.
After playing a pair of finesse teams in Notre Dame and Virginia Tech, the Jackets can’t shrink away from Pitt’s grimy defensive style. James Banks III and Moses Wright may also have an opportunity for stickbacks Saturday: the Panthers have the worst defensive rebounding percentage among power-conference teams in the nation (34.2 percent). Offensive rebounds may have the added benefit of slowing down Pittsburgh’s running game. Pastner calls Pitt’s transition offense one of its strengths.
Could the Yellow Jackets be flying Good Karma Airlines this weekend? Georgia Tech flew to Pittsburgh using the same plane that ferried back the Tech women’s team from Pittsburgh on Friday. The Yellow Jackets hammered the Panthers 77-48 at the Petersen Events Center on Thursday.
Now that we’re prepared, we hope you are as well. Join us for pregame coverage starting at 1:30 p.m. ET on the Georgia Tech Sports Network from Learfield IMG College as well as our TuneIn and GT Gameday apps. See you in Pittsburgh.