By Andy Demetra | Voice of the Yellow Jackets
The wins have grown. And so have the stakes.
After back-to-back road routs, Georgia Tech (12-8, 8-6 ACC) will now look to keep its surge to the NCAA Tournament intact against another team trying to claw into bubble contention. Tech and Syracuse (13-7, 7-6 ACC) have played late-season ACC games before (2014, 2017, 2020). Rarely have they felt as pitched as this one, with both teams separated by a half-game in the ACC standings. Their recent matchups have also featured a lively mix of runs, comebacks, wild swings, and unexpected performances.
That should only add to what will be, limited attendance and all, a fevered late-February atmosphere inside McCamish Pavilion. As we get ready for tip-off, enjoy the top five notes from chart in preparation for Saturday’s matchup in Atlanta (12 p.m. ET, Georgia Tech Sports Network from Learfield IMG College):
Just don’t expect a “Josh Pastner Game” this Tuesday. The Yellow Jackets’ opponent, No. 16 Virginia Tech (14-4, 8-3 ACC) has emerged as the surprise team of the ACC, rising from a preseason 11th place pick in conference to a solidly-seeded NCAA Tournament team. The Hokies are also 5-0 at Cassell Coliseum in ACC play – and Tech is just 1-10 all-time in Blacksburg.
Virginia Tech, however, hasn’t played since February 6 when the program was put on pause due to a positive COVID test. It’s hard to divine exactly how a team will play coming off a long break – Georgia Tech emerged from a 16-day layoff and drilled 16 threes in a rout of Clemson, but Louisville came back from an 18-day break this weekend and got drilled by 45 points at North Carolina.
Wherever your spot on the bench Tuesday, grab a seat. It’s likely to be a battle. Enjoy the top notes from my chart in preparation for another game with big NCAA Tournament implications for the Yellow Jackets (7 p.m. ET, Georgia Tech Sports Network from Learfield IMG College):
Tech has made 41.3 percent of its three-point attempts in its last two games. (photo by Matt Gentry)
Syracuse isn’t the only team that can “flood the zone.”
Georgia Tech defended for 57 possessions against Virginia Tech Tuesday. The Jackets played zone on 56 of them. Only on the final play of the first half did Tech switch to a man-to-man.
The dedication paid dividends: the Jackets held the Hokies to their third-worst offensive rating of the season (0.93 PPP). Josh Pastner still favors mixing, multiple defenses, and that could come in handy against a free-flowing Syracuse offense that shoots far more dangerously than its numbers (10th ACC FG%, 9th ACC 3pt.%). While it’s partly a function of both teams playing short rotations, Saturday’s game features 6 of the top 12 scorers in the ACC:
Leading scorers – ACC
- Moses Wright 16.8
- Jose Alvarado 16.5
- Buddy Boeheim 15.5
- Alan Griffin 15.0
- Quincy Guerrier 14.8
- Michael Devoe 14.5
Boeheim and Joe Girard III (10.0 ppg) have permanent green lights, able to fly off curls and handoffs and rain down deep threes. Boeheim leads the ACC in made three-pointers per game, but Girard may be the bigger bellwether: the sophomore has had an up-and-down season and has only scored five points in his last two games, but he can open the floor significantly when he’s in rhythm. In addition to Boeheim and Girard, guards like Griffin and freshman Kadary Richmond (7.2 ppg) can isolate defenders and back them down into the paint for pull-ups. The 6-7 Guerrier gives Syracuse a battering-ram driver and tenacious offensive rebounder (No. 3 ACC OR/g).
The Orange have trailed by 20 points in each of their last two games, though they did rally to stun Notre Dame last weekend. They’ll no doubt be looking for a sharp, engaged, contagious shooting start this Saturday. Can the Jackets be solid defending around screens, get behind the Orange in defensive transition, get “first chance” defensive rebounds, and make Syracuse feel them on the perimeter like they did with Virginia Tech’s shooters?
In a six-game stretch from January 23 to February 10, Moses Wright shot just 39.5% from the field.
In his last four games, he’s shot 77.5% (31 of 40).
The senior poured in a career-high 33 points in last year’s game at Syracuse, showing a soft touch at the foul line and a willingness to rip-and-drive to the rim. His ability to be a zone buster from the “5” spot could again be critical Saturday.
Jose Alvarado shouldn’t have many challengers for ACC Defensive Player of the Year.
He does, however, have strong competition for another prestigious award: “ACC player who feels like he’s been in the league forever.”
Aside from Alvarado, no player has earned that status more than Marek Dolezaj, Syracuse’s reedy, 6-10 senior forward. One of the best glue guys in the ACC, Dolezaj (11.3 ppg, 5.3 rpg) almost singlehandedly rescued the Orange from an 11-point halftime deficit at the Dome last season. Time and again he dive-bombed to the rim off a ball screen and found contact, resulting in a perfect 12-of-12 night at the foul line.
Dolezaj has played out of position with starting center Bourama Sidibe injured, but he can still create mismatches with his passing, screening and face-up game (it’s worth noting that Georgia Tech doesn’t play a conventional “5” man either). He’s a Josh Pastner favorite for his hustle and high-motor plays, and both he and Guerrier will chase rebounds relentlessly. Pastner’s “50-50 ball” chart may be closely monitored Saturday.
Moses Wright has hit 31-of-40 shots from the floor in his Tech’s four games. (photo by Matt Gentry)
After a mid-season lull, Georgia Tech’s three-point shooting has perked up lately, with the Jackets connecting on 41.3 percent of their attempts over the last two games (19 of 46). Facing a 2-3 zone, that may seem like a welcome development – Syracuse annually forces the highest volume of three-point attempts in ACC play. Yet over the last three seasons, Georgia Tech is responsible for four of the seven lowest three-point rates against Syracuse.
Making open threes will still be key, of course, but Georgia Tech can’t stare down passes when trying to crack Syracuse’s zone. The Orange like to sit on passes, with Richmond – who ranks third in the ACC in steals despite averaging only 21.7 minutes per game – particularly adept at anticipating and shooting gaps.
Syracuse fans have grumbled lately about the zone’s lack of effectiveness, and Jim Boeheim has challenged his forwards, Guerrier and Griffin, to defend with more intensity. Yet the Orange still lead the ACC in steals and rank second in turnover percentage behind Georgia Tech. Can the Jackets play with poise and patience through the elbow, and force rotations so they don’t get swallowed by Syracuse’s length?
Turnover Rate Defense (ACC games only)
- Georgia Tech 23.2%
- Syracuse 20.1%
Steal Percentage Defense (ACC games only)
- Georgia Tech 13.7%
- Syracuse 13.3%
As a high school junior, Alan Griffin lost to Khalid Moore’s Archbishop Molloy in the New York state intersectional semifinals. The son of nine-year NBA veteran and current Toronto Raptors assistant Adrian Griffin, the 6-5 guard played his first two years at Oak Park River Forest High School while his Dad worked on the staff of the Chicago Bulls.
That high school may sound familiar: it’s the alma mater of Yellow Jacket great Iman Shumpert.
And yes, the Orange have both a player named Alan Griffin and an assistant coach named Allen Griffin – who also played at Syracuse.
Now that we’re prepared, we hope you are as well. Join us for pregame coverage starting at 11:30 a.m. ET on the Georgia Tech Sports Network from Learfield IMG College. See you at McCamish.