By Andy Demetra
Both Georgia Tech’s depth and its resolve will be tested Saturday.
After a flat road loss to Clemson in which it played without seniors Abdoulaye Gueye and Brandon Alston, the Yellow Jackets (10-7, 2-2 ACC) will look to regroup against surging Louisville (12-5, 3-1 ACC) at McCamish Pavilion. Friday brought a fresh layer of adversity: head coach Josh Pastner announced that Tech will also be without leading scorer Jose Alvarado, who injured himself late in the second half against the Tigers.
(Perhaps the basketball gods needed to even things out. When the Yellow Jackets met the Cardinals at the Yum! Center last year, Louisville played without its top scorer, guard Deng Adel).
Shorthanded or not, the Yellow Jackets will look to persevere and protect their home court Saturday. Enjoy the top five notes from my chart in preparation for Saturday’s sold-out showdown in Atlanta (4 p.m. ET, Georgia Tech IMG Sports Network):
All coaches lament the ones that got away. Doubly so when they have to face them.
Josh Pastner vigorously recruited Jordan Nwora, a former AAU teammate of Alvarado, out of Buffalo, N.Y. Nwora and Alvarado first played AAU ball together as ninth graders, and Nwora took an official visit to The Flats as a senior. He opted instead to sign with Louisville, where he’s now turned into an impact player in his sophomore season.
(If it’s any consolation, MaChelle Joseph signed Nwora’s sister Ronni as part of Georgia Tech’s incoming women’s basketball recruiting class).
The 6-7, 225-pound Nwora (18.1 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 41 pct. 3pt.) exploded for a career-high 32 points in the Cardinals’ win over Boston College Wednesday. Look for Louisville to put him in rolling action at the top of the key, where he can use his athleticism and quick release to either pull-up or get downhill. Nwora is the centerpiece of a fast, space-‘em-out Louisville offense that attempts the second-highest volume of threes in ACC play (45.2 percent). Graduate transfer Cristen Cunningham (46.3 percent) and rugged wing Dwayne Sutton (36.1 percent), the reigning ACC Player of the Week, are also capable from deep.
That said, Nwora has had some up-and-down performances in true road games this year (34.6 percent FG). His two lowest-scoring games of the season have both come on the road.
Jordan Nwora FG% splits
- Home/Neutral: 3% FG
- Road: 6% FG
Can Georgia Tech’s shape-shifting defense – and a sold-out McCamish crowd – bother him into some uncharacteristically erratic shooting?
Shembari Phillips played 10 minutes at Clemson in the absence of Jose Alvarado and Brandon Alston.
They were unbecoming numbers for any player, let alone one with a reputation as a deadeye shooter in high school. Heading into the Clemson game, freshman Michael Devoe had only made three of his last 10 free throw attempts; he began ACC play averaging 80 percent from the foul line.
After watching tape from the Syracuse game, Pastner noticed a design flaw that had recently crept into Devoe’s pre-shot routine.
“As he’s picking the ball up on his final dribble to shoot, his eyes are downward at the floor,” Pastner said on our radio show. “As he picks the ball, he starts looking at the rim as he starts shooting the ball.”
Devoe, Pastner explained, was essentially making the rim a moving target. Stop, take a deep breath, lock in on the target, and then shoot, he said.
Devoe debuted that tweaked routine against Clemson. He responded by making all four of his free throws.
With Alvarado out, Devoe faces the biggest test of his young career against Louisville. After too many late-possession shots doomed them against Clemson, Devoe will need to do a good job negotiating Louisville’s hard hedges and keep the offense moving briskly. Louisville does a lot of switching off the ball; that could lead to mismatches if Tech swings the ball decisively. Also worth noting: Louisville ranks last in the ACC in steals, and Cardinals head coach Chris Mack has criticized his team’s on-ball defense at times.
Georgia Tech fans can thank Louisville for giving them some long-overdue company. The Cardinals turned heads when they throttled No. 12 North Carolina 83-62 at the Smith Center last weekend. Only once before had an unranked ACC team beaten a ranked ACC team on the road by 21 or more: Wake Forest’s 81-58 win over then-#16 Georgia Tech on January 21, 1993.
For a depth-depleted team like Georgia Tech, Louisville may not be an ideal first opponent. The Cardinals rank among the nation’s leaders in free throws made and free throw point-percentage:
Louisville – FT%
- Free Throw Point-Percentage – 24.1% (#10 NCAA)
- Free Throws Made – 328 (#8 NCAA)
Can the Jackets avoid the fouls caused by Louisville’s rim pressure? The Cardinals have also hammered out 10 or more offensive rebounds in eight straight games (6-11 Malik Williams, who has started the last three games, is especially active on the offensive boards). Gang rebounding and rebounding out of Tech’s rotations will be critical, especially if Tech wants to get its transition offense going. The Yellow Jackets were held to two fast-break points against Clemson, their lowest total since the Tennessee game.
Louisville guard Ryan McMahon will play beneath his player comparison Saturday.
The redshirt junior had career highs in rebounds (6), assists (5) and steals (4) against the Yellow Jackets last year, and provides the Cards with a reliable catch-and-shoot threat off the bench. He also drew an interesting comparison from former head coach Rick Pitino when he recruited him out of high school in Sarasota, Fla.
Said McMahon in an article on 247Sports: “He said I reminded him of Mark Price when he was in high school. That’s a very big compliment.’”
Now that we’re prepared, we hope you are as well. Join us beginning with pregame at 3:30 p.m. ET on the Georgia Tech IMG Sports Network. See you at McCamish.