By Andy Demetra | Voice of the Yellow Jackets
You can chalk it up to a lineup that’s loaded with veterans. Or an offense that ranks second in the ACC in field goal percentage in conference play.
Or, if you’re Josh Pastner, you can chalk it up to rousing pregame sermons.
“It’s an incredible coaching job – Knute Rockne-type speeches in the locker room. They should just pay me all over the country for motivational speaking,” Pastner said this week on “GT:60.”
The Yellow Jackets’ head coach said it with tongue planted firmly in cheek. Still, Pastner has seen his team race out to some impressive starts in ACC play lately. But the biggest factor behind those hot starts may be what the Jackets aren’t doing:
The only time Tech led in spite of committing a heap of turnovers was Pittsburgh – and perhaps it’s no surprise that the Yellow Jackets lost that game.
That stat could be salient for a number of reasons Wednesday. Georgia Tech’s next opponent, Wake Forest (11-14, 4-11 ACC) has lost three of its last four games. The Demon Deacons can surpass their ACC win total from each of the last two seasons with a win Wednesday. They’ll also be honoring head coach Dave Odom and his 1995 ACC Tournament championship team, with Tim Duncan scheduled to be in attendance.
The energy at Joel Coliseum will belie a team that’s 14th in the ACC standings. Can Georgia Tech (12-13, 6-8 ACC) match that intensity en route to another tone-setting start? If so, it could lead to a tone-setting start to the final stretch of the regular season. Enjoy the top five notes from my chart as the Jackets look to wrap up their first win in Winston-Salem since 2014 (7 p.m. ET, Georgia Tech Sports Network from Learfield IMG College):
Michael Devoe took an official visit to Wake Forest before committing to Georgia Tech. (photo by Danny Karnik)
In an alternate universe, Michael Devoe could have been backcourt teammates with Wake Forest guard Brandon Childress. The Orlando, Fla., took an official visit to Wake before committing to Tech in September of 2017.
Devoe will instead try to shut down Childress Wednesday. The 6-foot senior (15.0 ppg, 4.6 apg) is the centerpiece of Wake Forest’s ball-screen continuity offense, which uses a conveyor belt of pick-and-rolls and high post entries. Childress, who scored a career high 28 points on 7-of-10 three-point shooting against Georgia Tech last year, excels at using both sides of the screen and making tough shots. On the perimeter, graduate transfer Andrien White (38.3% 3pt.) and freshman Ismael Massoud (41.4%) lurk as kickout threats. The Demon Deacons also feature 7-0 center Olivier Sarr (12.5 ppg, 8.8 rpg), a mobile junior who can face up at the elbow and barrel to the rim on screen-and-rolls.
Because of the stress they put on opponents with their ball screens, the Demon Deacons get to the foul line often: the Demon Deacons rank seventh nationally, getting 24 percent of their points off free throws. Sarr, in particular, can be a handful, ranking second in the ACC in free throw attempts. Key for Tech: be sound in their ball-screen coverages; “gap up” on Wake’s off-the-ball players; and rebound well out of their area. It may help them avoid the foul trouble that’s an occupational hazard when facing Wake.
Mark Price knows a sharpshooter when he sees one. The Yellow Jacket legend signed Andrien White as part of his first recruiting class at the UNC Charlotte in May of 2015. White may look for some heatseekers early after being held scoreless for the first time this year in a 71-54 loss to Miami Saturday.
Also, let’s hope twine-burning shooting against Tech doesn’t run in the White family. His brother Andrew, a former grad transfer at Syracuse, set a Syracuse Carrier Dome record with 40 points (on 8-of-9 three-point shooting) in a 90-61 win over the Yellow Jackets in March of 2017.
Which Yellow Jacket has quietly put together some strong stat lines against the Deacs?
Career vs. Wake Forest (3 games)
- PPG: 9.0
- RPG: 7.0
- BPG: 1.7
- FG%: 64.7% (11 of 17)
Surprise – it’s Evan Cole, whose first career start came at Joel Coliseum in February of 2018. With Isaiah Mucius and Ismael Massoud both capable of stretching defenses from the “4,” could Cole – a native of Forsyth County, Ga., who will be playing in Forsyth County, N.C., on Wednesday – give Tech some quality minutes off the bench?
Jose Alvarado will make his first appearance on the parquet floor at the Joel Coliseum, where his idol Chris Paul played. (photo by Danny Karnik)
If not a mirror image, Georgia Tech faces a close facsimile of it Wednesday.
Like the Yellow Jackets, Wake Forest alternates between a man-to-man and a switching matchup zone that can be tricky to decipher. Even head coach Danny Manning acknowledged the similarities with Tech, saying, “They’re a team that they play a unique zone, kind of like us. It’s just different.”
Unlike Georgia Tech, though, Wake Forest ranks last in the ACC in steals and blocks in league games. It’s all the more reason for the Jackets not to force passes against a Wake defense that prefers to compact the floor rather than gamble for steals.
Tech handled Wake’s defense last year, shooting 55.8 percent in a 92-79 win in the ACC opener. If the Yellow Jacket guards attack the rim, or if James Banks and Moses Wright assert themselves in the alley (Pastner’s term for the area behind the basket), they’ll need to finish with authority. The numbers suggest the Deacs aren’t the steal or shot-blocking merchants of their ACC peers. Banks had a strong game against Wake Forest last season (20 points, 9-11 FG).
At long last, Jose Alvarado will play on the parquet of his idol.
The junior from Brooklyn, N.Y., said his favorite player growing up was former Wake Forest legend Chris Paul. Alvarado practiced beneath a billowing banner of Paul at Joel Coliseum Tuesday night.
In addition to his point guard skills, Alvarado says he admires the 10-time All-Star’s competitive fire.
“Chris Paul had a quote that I love. He said, ‘I hate losing more than I love winning.’ That’s something I’ve always remembered,” Alvarado told us on the Georgia Tech Basketball Report. As a freshman, Alvarado fractured his elbow one game before Tech faced Wake Forest in Winston-Salem.
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 GT Gameday apps. See you in Winston-Salem.