Jan. 18, 2017
By Andy Demetra | Voice of the Yellow Jackets
– The statement would have seemed preposterous at the beginning of the year, and especially so in the closing minutes of the North Carolina A&T game. But given how the ACC standings look so far, it could be true: Georgia Tech won’t be taken lightly anymore.
After conquering NC State Sunday, the Yellow Jackets (11-6, 3-2 ACC) head into the Commonwealth of Virginia for a pair of road tests beginning Wednesday against Virginia Tech (13-4, 2-3 ACC). Ball distribution, balanced scoring, rebounding — North Carolina may have been a bigger win, but N.C. State was a better game. They now turn their attention to a Hokies squad that was ranked in the top 25 earlier this month, and has aspirations of reaching their first NCAA Tournament since 2007.
It won’t get any easier. Then again, as the first two weeks of ACC play have shown, Georgia Tech doesn’t plan on making it any easier, either.
Here are my five favorite notes from my chart on Wednesday’s matchup versus Virginia Tech (9 p.m. EST, Georgia Tech IMG Sports Network):
Josh Heath grew up surrounded by college basketball. His Dad, Stan Heath, was the head coach at Kent State, Arkansas and USF, where Josh began his career before transferring to Tech. Stan now serves as an assistant coach at Boston College, meaning opportunities to watch his son play in person have grown scarce. But with BC playing Syracuse on Saturday, and the Yellow Jackets facing NC State on Sunday night, Heath had a rare in-season opening. So he and Josh’s Mom, Ramona, flew down to Raleigh and watched the NC State game from behind the Georgia Tech bench.
Josh treated them to a career night. The senior poured in 10 points, dished out a career-high 10 assists and grabbed seven rebounds in an 86-76 win over the Wolfpack. In the last two games, Heath has made 6 of 7 field goals — he had only gone 1 for 26 in his previous nine starts dating back to last season.
On Wednesday, Heath will reunite with one of his former teammates at USF, 6-7 center Zach LeDay, who leads the Hokies in scoring (16.2 ppg) and ranks second in rebounding (7.3 rpg). Virginia Tech has the smallest frontcourt in the ACC (LeDay’s running mate, Chris Clarke, only stands 6-6), but they’re mobile, offensive rebound well, and force opposing forwards into awkward guarding situations. Clarke, in particular, can be a matchup migraine because of his ability to run the floor.
From the “looks can be deceiving” department: Georgia Tech ranks 11th in the ACC in free throw percentage (69.4 percent). Yet in the last five minutes of their ACC wins, the Yellow Jackets have shot 84.8 percent at the free throw line.
FT shooting — Last 5:00
vs. UNC – 11-12
vs. Clemson – 9-10
vs. NC State – 8-11
Free throws often serve as the “rally repellent.” Georgia Tech has made truth of that title during conference play.
Despite returning 85 percent of their scoring from a season ago, the Hokies have undergone an interesting transformation this year. Last season, Virginia Tech ranked 14th in the ACC, getting only 23 percent of its points from three-point range. This year, they rank fourth (31 percent). Augusta, Ga., native Ahmed Hill, who scored a season-low two points in their last game against Notre Dame, ranks third in the ACC in three-point percentage (44.2 percent).
The Yellow Jackets’ troubles defending the three-point line have been well documented. However, the bigger key Wednesday might be defending transition: the Hokies love to generate offense through their speed. In a win over Syracuse last week, Virginia Tech outscored the Orange 19-0 in fast break points.
It may get obscured amid their other positives, but Georgia Tech has done a good job lately of shutting off transition, walling off the paint and locating shooters early. They’ll need to hold form on Wednesday — Virginia Tech plays with as much energy as any team in the ACC.
The number, fittingly, matched his point total.
There were 27 players committed to ACC schools on Rivals’ Top 150 list who were rated higher than Georgia Tech forward Josh Okogie. The Snellville, Ga., native now leads all ACC freshmen in Rookie of the Week honors, having earned his third on Monday. Okogie’s 27 points against NC State came on 10-of-18 field goal shooting, and also represented a welcome reversal: he had only been shooting 30.4 percent in road games this year. Okogie’s versatility could come in handy against Virginia Tech’s scrappy, undersized front line.
Virginia Tech’s Seth Allen sank the game-winning free throw with three seconds left in last year’s 78-77 win over the Jackets. A Maryland transfer, Allen earned the free throws following a foul from Charles Mitchell, his old roommate at UM.
Now that we’re prepared, we hope you are as well. Our pregame coverage starts at 8:30 p.m. EST on the Georgia Tech IMG Sports Network. See you in Blacksburg.