By Andy Demetra | Voice of the Yellow Jackets
If you told him his team would shoot 50 percent from the field against the nation’s leader in field goal percentage defense, Josh Pastner would have gladly taken you up on that offer.
That deal, though, doesn’t take into account turnovers, which again proved the bane of the Yellow Jackets in a 63-58 loss to Virginia. It capped a week in which Georgia Tech (8-10, 3-5 ACC) shot better than 50 percent in both games yet still came away empty-handed.
Pastner knows his team is close to turning a corner; through nine games Tech ranks second in the ACC in field goal percentage in conference play (46.7 percent). But before the Jackets can turn the corner, they first have to stop turning it over.
They’ll try to marry better ball security with better shooting when they take on No. 6 Louisville (15-3, 6-1 ACC) at the Yum! Center Wednesday. Enjoy the top notes from my chart as the Yellow Jackets shoot for their first win over the Cardinals in the ACC (7 p.m. ET, Georgia Tech Sports Network from Learfield IMG College):
The “n” is silent. Little else about his game is.
Louisville returned six of its top seven scorers from a year ago, but none was more impactful – or more unexpected – than preseason ACC Player of the Year Jordan Nwora. The 6-6 junior declared for the NBA Draft in the spring, but a calf injury limited his ability to participate in workouts.
“He’s a pro. I was hoping he went pro last year,” quipped Pastner, who recruited Nwora out of Buffalo, N.Y., and brought him on an official visit to Tech.
Nwora was held to a season-low six points in Louisville’s 79-73 win over Duke Saturday, but he remains the ACC’s scoring leader at 19.6 points per game. A cerebral, controlled small forward, the Cardinals like to run him off pindowns and dribble handoffs where he can use his high, quick release to squeeze off shots. In two career games against Tech, Nwora has averaged 20.5 points on 57-percent three-point shooting (8-of-14).
The Cardinals, though, haven’t climbed to the top of the ACC standings with Nwora alone. Center Steven Enoch, 6-10, is a sledgehammer on the block who can finish over either shoulder. He can also draw out post defenders as a pick-and-pop threat. Power forward Dwayne Sutton (6-5, 9.4 ppg, 8.9 rpg) has averaged a double-double over his last four games and can wilt opponents with his high motor. Three-point specialist Ryan McMahon (44-percent on threes) orbits around the perimeter and makes teams pay for straying across the split line. Freshman David Johnson scored 19 points against Duke and gives the Cards another scorer off the bench.
All of those weapons allow Louisville to keep the floor spaced, which has enabled them to shoot a remarkable 44.9 percent from three-point range in ACC play. Discipline, closing out with high hands, matching Louisville’s physicality inside and its work rate off the ball – all will be key for the Yellow Jackets Wednesday.
Nwora chose Louisville, but his recruitment at Tech paid other dividends. Pastner said he was watching Nwora’s New York Rens AAU team at a Sunday 8 a.m. game when he took note of a fiery point guard lighting into his teammates for their perceived lethargic play. Pastner became enamored. Before long he had a commitment from Jose Alvarado.
Also, by season’s end Pastner and Nwora’s Dad Alex will have something in common: both will have coached Josh Okogie. Alex Nwora is the head coach of the Nigerian men’s national team, which has Okogie on its roster for the 2020 Summer Olympics.
The good news for Tech: Louisville doesn’t force a high volume of turnovers. The Cardinals’ turnover rate (16.9 percent) places them 13th in the ACC.
The bad news for Tech: Louisville still plays an abrasive style of defense. The Cardinals rank 13th nationally in defensive efficiency, allowing just 0.88 points per possession.
Louisville isn’t big on denials, preferring to pack it in and blockade the paint (they rank 11th nationally in 2-point FG percentage defense). They’re also good in their ball-screen coverages and can switch liberally thanks to the versatility of Sutton. Can Tech be “ball tough” and make disciplined, sound decisions when they get inside the paint? Can they negotiate Louisville’s hedges better than they did against Virginia? Kickout threes could be a weapon Wednesday; pay attention to Jose Alvarado, who has made eight of his 17 three-pointers in Tech’s road ACC wins. Moses Wright has also shot 67.6 percent from the field in Tech’s road ACC wins (23-of-34).
Is there a magic number when it comes to Georgia Tech’s turnover rate? Perhaps:
Georgia Tech’s record when…
- TO% is less than 23%: 7-3
- TO% is more than 23%: 1-7
Jordan Usher missed an opportunity to face Derryck Thornton, his former teammate at Southern Cal, when Georgia Tech visited Boston College on Jan. 11 (Thornton sat out with an ankle injury). He missed a chance to face his former high school teammate, E.J. Montgomery, when the Yellow Jackets played at Kentucky on Dec. 14 (Usher made the trip but wasn’t yet eligible).
The junior will finally have a chance at an on-floor reunion Wednesday. While at Wheeler High School in Marietta, Ga., Usher starred alongside Darius Perry, now Louisville’s starting guard. Perhaps it will inspire the same quote he gave Randy Waters when asked about his aborted reunion with Thornton in Chestnut Hill:
“I wanted to guard him. I told him I was going to guard him 94 feet the whole way, like we used to do in our workouts,” Usher told Randy in our post-game interview.
Now that we’re prepared, we hope you are as well. Join us for pregame coverage starting at 6:30 p.m. ET on the Georgia Tech Sports Network from Learfield IMG College, as well as our TuneIn and Georgia Tech Gameday apps. See you in Louisville.